I knew very little about Capitol Reef National Park before this year. Honestly it was one that I didn’t know existed. Before our trip our last national park was Yosemite and minds blown. So what would this park offer to keep us interested, to make us want to come back. Was it going to be worth the drive?
National Park: Capitol Reef National Park ♦ Established: 1971 ♦ Size: 241,904 acres ♦ Fun Fact: Capitol Reef National Park was first a National Monument in 1937 and didn’t become open to the public until 1950. ♦ Second Fun Fact: 37th National Park in United States.
The landscape of Utah in general is something that I love. It’s so diverse and in the south it’s nothing like anywhere else. We loved that we were able to add this to our challenge and to experience a new national park!
Miles: 6 ♦ Elevation Change : N/A ♦ Trail Type: One Way ♦ Trail: Easy (couple rock scrambles)
Hiking Sulphur Creek in Capitol Reef National Park
The recommended route is to start at Chimeny Rock Trail Head. (see below on getting to and options for the hike) It is across the road and has it’s own sign, but it’s actually not a trail head.
Take a left in the large wash (and stay in the wash) and you are on your way!
The hike is a little unassuming at first. You are just walking through a dry river bed, in desert conditions. At some point I knew someone mentioned water and waterfalls, but it was hard to believe at first!
Eventually you come to the water! Take a left and head down stream.
We were able to keep our feet dry for quite some time, but by half way through we were walking in the water. It felt good since it was a hot day. You have about another three quarters of a mile and you reach your first waterfall! This was the easiest waterfall to navigate down. Just stay to the right. This was as close as we could get to it because there was about 15 kids and we didn’t feel like waiting since they didn’t seem like they were going anywhere for awhile.
They say that there are only 3 waterfalls but we counted four. The third is really small, so they probably didn’t include that and there isn’t any rock scrambling on that one. After this you have a beautiful walk through the canyon.
Then your second waterfall. This was the hardest to navigate. Stay to the right and stay to the far right to find the way down.
I really enjoyed this hike. There is always something to see or explore. Something new around ever corner and all three (four) waterfalls were unique. I love moments in hikes where I forget where I am and I am just enjoying my time. It’s a moment of complete calm.
More beautiful canyons and rock formations are what lie ahead. This area was more than what we could have hoped for and our expectations were far exceeded. It had two of my favorite features. Waterfalls and high canyon walls. I couldn’t decide which was my favorite!
The “third” waterfall was a nice place to stop for a moment. I was a little nervous at the last waterfall, when we were trying to get down. So this was an easy one to navigate and enjoy fully.
After this it opens up again and you are hiking in the sun through the the high walls.
It’s not too long until you hit your final waterfall. There were a couple people here just relaxing. We were told that this one could be the busiest because it’s within a couple miles of the visitor center. So we got a little lucky. We hung out for a bit and then decided that the left was the easiest way to get down. It doesn’t look that high, but if you would jump or just fall it would hurt!
Then just a mile down the river you will see a sign on your right if you are walking on the path for the visitor center. You will also see the path going up on your left.
You will reach and old kiln to mark that you are going in the right direction.
Then just up and over a small incline and one more creek crossing and you are back at the visitor center. Don’t worry, not the big hill in the distance, just the rugged one in front of you!
We absolutely loved this trail! The 6 miles felt like a breeze an we would definitely do it again. Highly recommend, especially if you have kids. They will be entertained, there really is not a dull moment!
Getting to Sulphur Creek Trail Head
There isn’t an actual trail head or trail for this and it’s a one way hike unless you want to do 9 (hike plus 3 miles on highway 24) or 12 (round trip) miles. The hike starts at Chimney Rock Trail Head and ends at the visitor center. If you have two cars, then perfect! If you don’t you either have to walk the three miles on the road from the visitor center to Chimney Rock Trail Head, or hitch hike.
We were lucky enough to hitch a ride right outside the visitor center! Phew. While we don’t recommend, it is legal in the park. Get dropped off at the parking lot for Chimney Rock Trail Head and then safely cross the street.
Chimney Rock Trail Head Coordinates: 38.315142, -111.304346
Visitor Center Coordinates: 38.291240, -111.261468
Closest Town: Torrey
What to Bring
Water, snacks, water shoes, sun screen, hat, towel, lip balm and poles if you are used to it.
While you are walking in water the national park recommends that you DO NOT drink it. I wouldn’t even purify it. Contaminated by grazing animals and human waste, I was a little iffy even walking in it. But no harm and a quick shower when we got back to the RV.
Want to see a little more? We had only a day and a half to check out Capitol Reef and I highly suggest our hike and the Scenic Drive.
Drive the Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park
Starting at the visitor center, the scenic drive is one of the most beautiful drives in Utah. Drive 8 miles, passing the Fruita campground and multiple vista points, hikes, washes and points of interest. At 8 miles the Scenic Drive ends and goes two different ways (and leaves the park). We chose to check out Capitol Gorge Road. This road is gravel with some blind turns and single car lanes but you are driving through a canyon! It was one of the coolest drives we have done so far!
Boondocking close to Capitol Reef National Park
There is a lot of free camping very close to the national park. We stayed about 5 minutes from the entrance sign and 15 minutes to the visitor center. It can get crowded but we were lucky enough to have it to ourselves!
I know we missed a lot in this national park. What did you do here that we should do next time?!
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