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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Capitol Reef National Park: Sulphur Creek

This hike is definitely my favorite non-technical hike in Capitol Reef.  It's got it all- narrow canyons, waterfalls, water to play in, and lots of options for pictures. It's also one that most of the touristy type miss.  Officially, it's a route, not a trail, so the park doesn't advertise it. 
The route starts at the Chimney Rock parking area and ends at the Visitor Center.  I've seen several different lengths on the hike, most of them putting it 5-6 miles long.  From the Chimney Rock Trailhead, cross over the highway and follow the wash south until you encounter running water at Sulphur Creek. 
From that point on, you just follow the creek.  I mentally divide the hike into 3 parts: the wash, the narrows, and the meanders. 
The first section goes from the trailhead, to just above the first waterfall.  The canyon is pretty open with deepening ledges as you get further downstream.  There is also plenty of vegetation on the bench above the creek and it's pretty easy to stay dry.  The canyon winds a little but, but the course of direction is generally to the east and south.
The second section "the narrows" starts just above the first waterfall, as the canyon closes in and the cliffs come essentially to the water.  This is the section you can look down on from above if you stop at the Goosenecks Overlook. 
Staying dry is not an option here, but in the summer why wouldn't you want to get wet?!  The water is mostly ankle to calf deep, with some deeper spots mixed in.  There are two waterfalls here, along with numerous smaller drops.  The narrows is the best part of the hike and is a complete romp.
The waterfalls appear nearly impassible at first glance to most hikers, but are generally easy to navigate if you stay to the right.  Some easy downclimbing is available  if you stay south of the creek at the base of the cliffs.  All three of the waterfalls will require downclimbing. 
The last part of the canyon is the meanders.  The canyon opens up a bit, with cliffs far back from the water. It seems to drag a little bit as you anticipate the visitor center to be around the next bend (and the next and the next).  The last waterfall is in this section, and prevents people from walking up the canyon from the visitor center further. 
Right above the visitor center, be sure to check out the rock shelter at the base of the cliff on the north side of the river as you exit the canyon.  I'm not sure if it's anglo or pre-anglo in origin, but it's worth looking at.

Nearest City: Torrey, UT
Location: N° W°
Time Needed: Half a day
Difficulty: Shuttle needed, hiking in water, some downclimbing
Kid Friendly: Best for older kids, or kids you can carry.  The distance involved (5-6 miles) and some of the downclimbing could make this hike sketchy for some kids.
Additional Info: Bring your own water on this hike!  If you don't bring enough,you'll wish you had.

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