Capitol Reef National Park
Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash, and Sheets Gulch are deep, narrow, "slot" canyons that have been carved through the heart of the Waterpocket Fold by intermittent flood waters.
13.3 miles south of Utah Hwy 24
One mile up the wash you will encounter a major side drainage on the right (north); stay left at this junction and, a few minutes later, stay right at the next junction. One mile farther, the wash bottom narrows and you may find a few pools of water associated with a couple of minor pour-offs. Yet another pour-off and pool are encountered 3.5 miles from the trailhead, probably the most difficult obstacle along the route. A good climber can negotiate this without assistance, but it is easier if there are two or more people to help one another. About 4.5 miles from the trailhead the last obstacle is reached. This is a high pour-off in a cave-like chamber; it can easily be bypassed by backtracking about 100 yards and climbing out of the wash on the south side. Beyond this point, numerous stands of Douglas Fir begin to appear on cool, shaded north slopes, and the canyon walls begin to change from the white Navajo Sandstone to the red Wingate Sandstone. Six miles in from the Notom Road lay an intermittent seep and cottonwood trees. Soon thereafter, the canyon opens up and becomes much wider. Though it is possible to continue for several more miles. reaching this point and returning to the Notom Road will constitute a full day for most people.
7.8 miles south of Utah Hwy 24
About 2 miles in from the Notom Road, the canyon begins to narrow as it cuts into the Navajo Sandstone, the buff colored rock that is the most visible component of the Waterpocket Fold. At this point, the canyon consists of bedrock that has been sculpted by flood waters into smooth, fluted walls, and pot-holes. As you proceed further up the canyon, two sets of narrows are encountered that are just wide enough to squeeze through while wearing a day-pack. About three miles in from the trailhead lies an unscalable "jump." This obstacle can be bypassed, however, by backtracking a couple of hundred yards, then scrambling up the steeply sloping north wall of the canyon and, finally, descending to the wash above the jump. Another mile of hiking through the narrow, winding canyon brings you to a final, impassable jump where it is time to turn back.
9.1 miles south of Utah Hwy 24
About a mile up the wash from the trailhead, a tributary drainage enters from the north and could be mistaken for the main drainage—stay left. A few hundred yards farther, the main canyon narrows and enters a quarter-mile-long stretch that is choked with large boulders and requires scrambling to negotiate. After another third of a mile, a tributary canyon enters from the south. This canyon might also be mistaken for the main drainage—stay right. Shortly beyond this point, the canyon abruptly narrows to a thin slot. A deep pool of water often stands at the entrance to this narrows and may require swimming to pass. If the weather is cool and the pool is full, this obstacle may turn you back. For the next mile, the canyon alternates between tight narrows and somewhat more open stretches. You will encounter a number of chockstone pour-offs that must be climbed and, sometimes, pools of water that require swimming or wading. An unscalable, 35-foot "jump" blocks the way at the end of this stretch of narrows (about 3 miles in from the start of the hike), and marks the end of the route.
These three canyons are located within a few miles of each other and all can be accessed form the Notom-Bullfrog Road, a graded dirt road that has its junction with Utah Hwy 24 just east of the park. Each of these hikes starts where the wash crosses the Notom Road. All of the crossings are signed, and the mileage to each wash is listed below with the route description. Currently, there are no developed parking areas; just find the best pull-off you can, but beware of deep sand. Never park in the wash bottom if there is any chance of flash flooding.
USGS 7.5 Minute Series. Burro and Cottonwood Canyons: Golden Throne, and Notom. Sheets Gulch: Bear Canyon and Sandy Creek Benches or Earth Walk Press, Capitol Reef National Park. Available from the CRNHAat the park Visitor Center.
These are unmarked hiking routes, not developed trails. All of these canyons contain obstacles in the form of dry falls and "chockstones" (large boulders that have become wedged in the bottom of the narrow slots). Often there are pools of water, sometimes deep enough to require swimming. The amount of water present depends on recent precipitation patterns and is not predictable based on season of the year. Always carry plenty of water with you and don't count on finding water in the canyons. All three routes proceed west and up-canyon from the Notom Road. The first 1.5 to 2 miles of each hike are in a wide, sandy wash surrounded by low, shale hills. The narrows begin abruptly where the canyons cut into the Navajo Sandstone on the east flank of the Fold.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication