2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – June 2011

National Parks: Capitol Reef

Discover a private paradise by crossing the park’s convoluted Waterpocket Fold.

by: Steve Howe

Slickrock traverse in Capitol Reef National Park (Kim Phillips)
Slickrock traverse in Capitol Reef National Park (Kim Phillips)
Waterpocket Fold's sliced up sandstone (Kim Phillips)
Waterpocket Fold's sliced up sandstone (Kim Phillips)
View of the Henry Mountains (Kim Phillips)
View of the Henry Mountains (Kim Phillips)
Slickrock bowl in Capitol Reef (Kim Phillips)
Slickrock bowl in Capitol Reef (Kim Phillips)
Henry Mountains form the backdrop to this route (Kim Phillips)
Henry Mountains form the backdrop to this route (Kim Phillips)

That search eventually turned into a 10-year, stop-and-go effort. Once GPS units and desktop mapping improved, I could explore and later see exactly where I had been, and how that related to neighboring peaks or gullies. It soon became clear I wasn’t looking for a single route, but a braided series of possibilities, weaving the best threads together into an original fabric.

With this revelation, it became less about finding a way through and more about finding hidden gems within. A ponderosa-ringed pothole here, a gymnasium-size slickrock bowl there, a pool of tadpoles, a vertigo-inducing overlook, or a bighorn trail through ancient, fragile cryptobiotic soil. I finally put all the links together and completed the point-to-point journey on a 2005 solo. But by then I knew I wasn’t done. The finish line changes. I’m still working on extending the route farther north and south, finding ever better campsites, imaginative detours, and hidden passes.

The best part? After all those years of exploration, I’m sharing my secret hideaway—yes, including all of that hard-earned GPS data—with you. But make no mistake: Even when you know the way, this backcountry demands respect. I’ve completed the traverse half a dozen times, and I still have to bail when conditions are bad, or improvise detours because of ice-slickened rock or flood-caused changes.

Of course, I want you to exercise good LNT etiquette, but I’m not too worried about newcomers messing up my backyard. Most of the route is on slickrock or sandy wash. With a little smarts, you can travel the entire way leaving literally no mark. Stay off the cryptobiotic soil, and follow game trails when you must cross small patches. Don’t build fires because they’re illegal. And don’t leave cairns or campsite rock piles because that spoils the adventure for the rest of us.

So come see why Capitol Reef is the national park system’s best-kept secret. Or better yet, discover your own private paradise here or in any other wilderness. I’ve found equally remarkable pockets of wild terrain in some of America’s busiest parks—deserted passes in Yosemite, vacant slickrock plateaus in Zion, secret rhododendron-lined swimming holes in Great Smoky Mountains. You can do the same: Just develop the skills and confidence to get off the trail, and forge your own route. Capitol Reef has taught me that anyone can discover a whole new level of adventure, wonder, and commitment simply by looking at a pass, a ridge, or a blank spot on the trail map, and wondering, “Can I get to the other side…?” Do it Author Steve Howe crafted this ideal 32-mile thru-hike (with a recommended detour around the trickiest section). Allow about five days. Start with the hike through Spring Canyon, and camp downstream from the spring. When you hit UT 24, turn left and go .3 mile to Grand Wash. After 1.8 miles through this canyon, arrive at an unmarked wash heading south. Here, you’ll begin 16 miles of off-trail hiking and scrambling, crossing the headwaters of 11 unnamed canyons.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -


May 04, 2012

Link is not working, it is saying link is private.

BP Web Producer
Mar 09, 2012

The link is working now. Thanks.

Drew Doty
Feb 25, 2012

Yup the gps link would be nice!

Feb 23, 2012

The link to the GPS tracklog is bad. Any ideas I really wanted to do this hike!


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Buddhist Extremist Cell
Posted On: Aug 19, 2014
Submitted By: craigwill
Trailhead Register
Tips for long road trips?
Posted On: Aug 19, 2014
Submitted By: Cloudwalker

View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions