Capitol Reef National Park: Capitol Gorge to Pleasant Creek

Spend the night at a five-star campsite tucked in the broad slickrock bowls between Capitol Gorge and Pleasant Creek on this 7.7-miler in Capitol Reef National Park.
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Spend the night at a five-star campsite tucked in the broad slickrock bowls between Capitol Gorge and Pleasant Creek on this 7.7-miler in Capitol Reef National Park.

Forget the national park system. Heck, forget America. Some of the world’s best campsites sit in the broad slickrock bowls between Capitol Gorge and Pleasant Creek. Exploring this country requires routefinding southward from the eastern park boundary in lower Capitol Gorge, up along anonymous piñon-juniper ridgelines, and past superb viewpoints of the Waterpocket Fold’s amazing geology.

There’s no trail, but it’s a relatively short distance, with no hazards (if you encounter any technical terrain, you’re off route). After just two miles, break out onto naked slickrock, where you can wander almost at will, searching for flat tent sites, small ponderosa groves, and clear-water potholes. It’s easy to follow the stony saddles southward. Most highpoints offer superb vistas along the Reef, or southeast toward the distant Henry Mountains. Take extra food. You won’t want to leave.

WATER: You need carrying capacity for 2 gallons per person in warm weather and a filter to treat sometimes murky water. Our GPS track includes waypoints for potholes that are typically reliable, but sources can come and go.

CAUTIONS: Expect scrambling, difficult routefinding, and uncertain water sources. Never trust the rocks, which are loose. Cell reception is nil in the backcountry, so don’t count on a speedy rescue.

KEY GEAR: High-cut boots or ankle gaiters to repel grit; trekking poles; water shoes or sandals; 40-foot rope for pack hauling.

SEASON: Spring is popular for wildflower seekers. Late September and early October see far fewer visitors, calm blue skies, and gold cottonwoods. Summer highs reach the 90s.

PERMIT: Overnight camping in Capitol Reef National Park requires a free backcountry permit. Get more trip planning details at nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/hiking.htm.

MORE INFO: Capitol Reef National Park, (435) 425-4111; nps.gov/care.

-Mapped by Steve Howe

TO TRAILHEAD: Start: From the park visitor center, drive 9 miles east on UT 24, then turn south on Notom Rd. Continue 0.5 mile, then turn right. In 0.3 mile, bear left and go .25 mile to the trailhead on the right (west side of road).

Shuttle/end: From the park visitor center, drive 9 miles east on UT 24, then turn south on Notom Rd. Continue 6.2 miles (road becomes dirt). Turn east at 5560 South/ Pleasant Creek Diversion Rd. Go 1.6 miles and park in a turnoff overlooking Pleasant Creek.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.4

Waypoints

CAP001

Location: 38.2334, -111.12411

Trailhead

CAP002

Location: 38.223065, -111.1381

Duck under NPS boundary fence.

CAP003

Location: 38.221042, -111.141147

Side trip: Drop packs, then bear right (west) for a .8-mile out-and-back up Capitol Wash. On return, turn south, following the wash.

CAP004

Location: 38.219139, -111.144438

Follow the ridge to the southwest.

CAP005

Location: 38.207608, -111.152307

View

CAP006

Location: 38.201253, -111.154026

Watch your step as you navigate through this cryptofield.

CAP007

Location: 38.199878, -111.15484

Begin descent.

CAP008

Location: 38.199222, -111.156157

Slickrock expanse

CAP009

Location: 38.197455, -111.157949

Slickrock

CAP010

Location: 38.196235, -111.158583

Small potholes

CAP011

Location: 38.19602, -111.15816

Campsite #5. This slickrock amphitheater makes a stunning campsite overlooking the Henry Mountains.

CAP012

Location: 38.195273, -111.15753

Slickrock basin dotted with ponderosa. Excellent campsite.

CAP013

Location: 38.192939, -111.159392

View

CAP014

Location: 38.194419, -111.155382

Potholes and ponderosas

CAP015

Location: 38.191979, -111.153572

Broad slickrock saddle

CAP016

Location: 38.190495, -111.151159

Descend slickrock bowls. Stay left, then right, to avoid rollover cliff bands.

CAP017

Location: 38.190858, -111.149265

Large pothole below cliff

CAP018

Location: 38.192749, -111.144432

Pothole

CAP019

Location: 38.194169, -111.142461

Pothole

CAP020

Location: 38.194472, -111.142192

Pothole

CAP021

Location: 38.195021, -111.140775

Pothole

CAP022

Location: 38.195838, -111.13766

NPS boundary fence: This tall fence doesn't touch the ground.

CAP023

Location: 38.195291, -111.129209

Creek crossing. Jump across banks.

CAP024

Location: 38.193609, -111.128522

Cross Pleasant Creek.

CAP025

Location: 38.193551, -111.128143

Road and campsites sit above the bend in Pleasant Creek.

CAP026

Location: 38.193571, -111.126088

End of route. Pick up your shuttle car.

Climbing slickrock bowls

Location: 38.197516, -111.157878

Sunset on the Henry Mountains

Location: 38.196027, -111.158115

Campsite

Location: 38.196027, -111.158096

Rock Formations

Location: 38.193383, -111.154866

Henry Mountains

Location: 38.191952, -111.153458

Redrock Hiking

Location: 38.191788, -111.152898

Slickrock Bowls

Location: 38.191771, -111.152818

Pothole

Location: 38.193091, -111.143856

Pothole

Location: 38.193091, -111.143856