Capitol Reef National Park
An overnight hike through the Waterpocket Fold with day hiking options. This hike passes through a representative portion of the 100-mile eroded uplift (monocline) called the Waterpocket Fold, most of which lies within Capitol Reef National Park. Hikers not only experience a slickrock canyon wilderness but retrace the very steps of Mormon pioneer companies.
In 1880, Charles Hall operated the Hole-in-the-Rock ferry across the Colorado following its creation by Mormon pioneers. Due to the extreme difficulty of this trail and river crossing, he soon moved to a better site about 35 miles up-river. Probably, Halls also blazed the trail across the fold to the new crossing.
To reach the crossing, travelers struggled east from Escalante on the Hole-in-the-Rock trail, then turned into Harris Wash. They then crossed the river and continued east, ascending Silver Falls Canyon.
Upon reaching the crest of the Waterpocket Fold, the pioneers dropped into a funnel between two cliffs, descending a thousand feet into the winding depths of Lower Muley Twist Canyon. From 1881 through 1884, this canyon heard the rumble of wheels and braying mules as companies moved through the narrow gorge to a new life in San Juan County (then a Mormon "mission"). Today, little trace remains of the pioneers' passage, but you can retrace their journey.
Anytime—but especially in summer—you must carry water with you. During rainy periods water can often be found in the steam bed or in waterpockets tucked away in steep, shaded side canyons. However, this water is ephemeral and cannot be relied on. During June, July, and August, temperatures often rise to over 100 degrees.
You can start this hike at either of the trailheads mentioned above. The following narrative describes the route as beginning at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks.
From the trailhead parking at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks, you descend immediately into Lower Muley Twist. The canyon winds tortuously through its entire length, enough to "twist a mule" pulling a wagon.
The canyon narrows in some reaches while widening in others. For the most part, the slickrock canyon walls are white Navajo Sandstone that has been colored by streaks of desert varnish and lichens. The red sandstone are the Kayenta and Wingate formations. It is most commonly the Wingate that has been undercut in the canyon, forming high, arching overhangs and "sandstone caves."
About four miles down Muley Twist, you will reach the junction of the cut-off trail to The Post. Day hikers should not walk much farther south; either backtrack to the trailhead or take the cut-off to The Post. If you keep going south through Muley Twist, it will be eight more miles to Halls Creek, the continuation of Charles Hall's road to the old Colorado River crossing.
Near the end of Muley Twist, the canyon suddenly narrows and heads directly east. As the narrows open, you will see sheer cliffs, the east rim of Strike Valley formed by Halls Creek. From here it is five miles north to The Post.
If you study your map, you'll see that Muley Twist Wash turns south and parallels Halls Creek for nearly a mile before joining that drainage. At the point where Muley Twist turns sharply to the south, you can climb a low ridge to the east to enter the Halls Creek drainage and save considerable hiking time.
If you are hiking south from The Post, it is easy to miss this short cut into Muley Twist Canyon. Track your location on the map and scan the steep slickrock slopes of the Fold for the upper portion of the north-facing wall of Muley Twist Canyon. It is stained with desert varnish and visible from a good distance up Halls Creek. When you are nearly due east of this landmark, look for a way over the low ridge separating Muley Twist and Halls Creek.
Between Muley Twist and The Post, there is a section of Halls Creek that can be bypassed by following an old jeep trail. In this area, Halls Creek cuts a meandering channel into the Navajo Sandstone, making for a longer but more scenic route.
At The Post, the road runs south to Bullfrog Marina and north to the junction of the Burr Trail, thence to Notom and Utah Hwy 24. If a car is parked at The Post, your hike is over. For those parked at the Burr Trail Road trailhead, you must decide whether to walk the Notom Road north and then up the Burr Trail switchbacks (4.25 miles), or return to the trailhead via Muley Twist and then the cut-off trail (6.4 miles to the trailhead).
Trailheads: At the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks, about 35 miles south of Utah Hwy 24 and two miles west of the Notom Road—Burr Trail junction. At The Post, located at the end of the short spur road about three miles south of the Notom Road—Burr Trail junction. The Notom Road is hard packed dirt, usually passable by passenger cars.
Best Seasons to Hike: Spring and Fall
Note: Always carry a topographic map. Extremely hot in Summer. Always carry water.
Burr Trail trailhead to The Post cut-off - 4
Burr Trail trailhead to Halls Creek - 12
Halls Creek to The Post - 5
The Post to Lower Muley Twist via Cut-off Trail - 2
The Post to Burr Trail trailhead - 4.3
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication