Slot canyons in and around Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
Capitol Reef National Park
and its main geological feature the Waterpocket Fold
are less well known for slot canyons than either the San Rafael Swell
to the north or the Escalante
area further south, partly because the slot-forming Navajo and Wingate sandstone layers are inclined and so exposed at the surface for a relatively short distance, yet there are quite a few hidden, water-carved ravines that equal any in terms of narrowness and pretty rock formations. Along the main scenic drive south of the visitor center are two deep canyons - Grand Wash
and Capitol Gorge
, both of which have easy, level trails and are not particularly enclosed, but most of the official paths
in the national park are to overlooks, summits or sandstone arches; the majority of the other canyons are more remote and harder to reach.
Two long, watery canyon hikes are along the Fremont River
and Sulphur Creek
, both on the west side of the national park, where permanent streams flow through gorges several hundred feet deep, encountering waterfalls, long pools and some narrowish sections. Most of the other interesting canyons are on the east side of the Waterpocket Fold, reached by the mostly unpaved but good quality Notom-Bullfrog Road
. From Pleasant Creek
, not far from Notom near UT 12, to the Millers Creek
region 50 miles south, there are over two dozen narrow canyons and their tributaries cutting through the tilted strata and huge sandstone domes of the reef. They all tend to become quite narrow, often containing flooded passages and dryfalls, but the effort spent hiking into them is well rewarded by the spectacular geology and the peaceful, little-visited surroundings. Full exploration for many of the deeper canyons needs to begin at the upper (west) ends because the streambeds have one or more sheer drops that requiring rappelling, but some can be seen by walking upstream starting in the east; of the best canyons, all of Sheets Gulch
, most of Burro Wash
, about half of Cottonwood Wash
but not much of Five Mile Wash
may be seen this way.
Further south, two quite well known canyons are Muley Twist
- a long drainage featuring huge alcoves and overhanging cliffs - and the narrows of Lower Halls Creek
, where a seasonal stream has eroded deep into the Navajo sandstone forming quite an impressive slot section, partly flooded for much of the year. Both are accessed from Notom-Bullfrog Road, and both need a long day to explore fully. The Waterpocket Fold north of UT 24 is much less accessible so the numerous canyons here are yet to be fully explored - there are many tributaries of Deep Creek
and Spring Canyon
that have long or short slot sections. One place within reach of a (long) day hike is Pandora's Box
, a south-side tributary of Spring Canyon north of Meeks Mesa. This has several sheer dryfalls between quite lengthy stretches of tight narrows.