Capitol Reef National Park: Chimney Rock Canyon to Pleasant Creek

Discover a private paradise in Capitol Reef National Park by crossing the park's convoluted Waterpocket Fold on this 32-mile point-to-point.
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Discover a private paradise in Capitol Reef National Park by crossing the park's convoluted Waterpocket Fold on this 32-mile point-to-point.

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.

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.

MAPS: USGS 7.5-minute topos: Twin Rocks, Fruita, Golden Throne, and Notom ($8 each, store.usgs.gov)

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 west on UT 24 for 3 miles to Chimney Rock trailhead.
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: 51.5

Waypoints

CAP001

Location: 38.315662, -111.304016

Hike northeast from Spring Canyon trailhead.

CAP002

Location: 38.317577, -111.298274

Continue straight at signed 3-way intersection with Chimney Rock Loop Trail. Head east toward Spring Canyon.

CAP003

Location: 38.317379, -111.284911

Turn left at signed intersection with Chimney Rock Loop Trail.

CAP004

Location: 38.323979, -111.263415

Turn right/east/downstream at this signed junction with Spring Canyon.

CAP005

Location: 38.319375, -111.250505

Slot canyon on the right. Stay high on slickrock.

CAP006

Location: 38.319168, -111.250413

Narrows: The route traverses left of the narrows on a slickrock bench. You can descend the narrows, but this usually requires two steep down-climbs and skanky pool swims. Hike 5 minutes to see first drop.

CAP007

Location: 38.317297, -111.248702

Traverse a narrow trail on steep slope.

CAP008

Location: 38.317192, -111.247169

Narrows end as steep traverse trail descends back to wash.

CAP009

Location: 38.316638, -111.245188

Good place to take a break or eat a snack.

CAP010

Location: 38.31173, -111.234534

Cottonwoods in the wash turn bright yellow in fall.

CAP011

Location: 38.30796, -111.226836

Springs emerge from a boulder pile and run 1/4 mile down-canyon. Water quality gets better downstream.

CAP012

Location: 38.307004, -111.226079

Water

CAP013

Location: 38.306233, -111.225607

Clearer water source

CAP014

Location: 38.302956, -111.222897

Make sure your water reserves are full. From this point onward, there are no more water sources in this canyon.

CAP015

Location: 38.292914, -111.204238

Campsite #1. Sandy wash below sandstone cliffs.

CAP016

Location: 38.290741, -111.203018

Rock amphitheater on the right side of trail.

CAP017

Location: 38.285374, -111.197379

Ford Fremont River; usually thigh-knee deep, but conditions always change. Bushwhack to UT 24. Tip: Scout water levels during shuttle to avoid surprises.

CAP018

Location: 38.284996, -111.197081

Drive your shuttle car 0.6 mile south on UT 24 to the Grand Wash trailhead.

CAP019

Location: 38.278217, -111.192558

Grand Wash trailhead and parking pull-out. Hike west, following Grand Wash.

CAP020

Location: 38.269112, -111.209361

Turn left, leaving the main wash. Head south.

CAP021

Location: 38.268806, -111.209155

Turn left and ascend rocky slopes, which climb to a slickrock ramp.

CAP022

Location: 38.262792, -111.210635

This saddle offers superb views of slickrock peaks ahead. Climb the sandstone mound to the left and follow it south to a pinyon-covered ledge up-canyon.

CAP023

Location: 38.253378, -111.208299

Rope up for rock scramble. Tip: Haul packs up with rope as well. This climb is harder than it looks. (A short rope is good for safety and pack hauling.)

CAP024

Location: 38.248621, -111.207657

A hidden ledge runs southwest to northeast, accessing sandy wash below fins.

CAP025

Location: 38.24394, -111.20754

Turn east down-canyon.

CAP026

Location: 38.24369, -111.208157

A pothole is located below pour-off (it's off-route 100 yards).

CAP027

Location: 38.244334, -111.200468

Potential water source in hidden pothole. To continue: Climb south toward ridgeline.

CAP028

Location: 38.242739, -111.200555

Bear right and ascend slopes to slickrock amphitheater.

CAP029

Location: 38.242684, -111.200871

Small pothole

CAP030

Location: 38.242683, -111.201938

Campsite #2. Top of rock amphitheater. Next day: Backtrack to Waypoint 28, then bear right, heading south.

CAP031

Location: 38.242586, -111.200212

Easy scramble up crack chimney. Simpler if you hand up packs.

CAP032

Location: 38.242016, -111.200277

Saddle

CAP033

Location: 38.241298, -111.200208

Look up the canyon wall to the southeast for views of a rock formation: it resembles a snowman standing on a diving board.

CAP034

Location: 38.240866, -111.199499

Enter basin with decent camping. Descend the wash, heading east.

CAP035

Location: 38.24207, -111.193953

Good potential sandy, cozy campsite.

CAP036

Location: 38.243466, -111.191426

Big pothole. Traverse south across an exposed slab, then descend the gully at the southern end.

CAP037

Location: 38.242593, -111.190658

Carefully descend rock gully. Watch footing.

CAP038

Location: 38.243243, -111.190511

Bottom of gully descent. Turn right, heading east.

CAP039

Location: 38.243813, -111.18865

Possible water source

CAP040

Location: 38.243901, -111.184799

Broad slickrock basin makes an excellent campsite. Turn south.

CAP041

Location: 38.242748, -111.184202

Pass: Follow ledge east-northeast. Descend slabs when possible.

CAP042

Location: 38.242401, -111.181447

Canyon bottom: Turn left, heading northeast.

CAP043

Location: 38.242952, -111.180134

Pothole

CAP044

Location: 38.243815, -111.178457

Rock ramp

CAP045

Location: 38.243883, -111.178333

Possible water

CAP046

Location: 38.244161, -111.173681

Canyon bottom

CAP047

Location: 38.244938, -111.172471

Camp #3. Slickrock slab with potholes. Good LNT campsite in broad slickrock basin. Often water in shallow potholes.

CAP048

Location: 38.245764, -111.167913

Big pour-off. Climb the dirt ridge to the southwest. Avoid stepping on biological soil crusts.

CAP049

Location: 38.241196, -111.173696

Ridge ramp

CAP050

Location: 38.232385, -111.183353

Incredible views of neighboring sandstone formations.

CAP051

Location: 38.232818, -111.183

Scramble up rocks to top-of-the-world views of the Waterpocket Folds' sliced up sandstone.

CAP052

Location: 38.233031, -111.182445

Superb views of canyons and sandstone domes. Descend across red saddle to the south, then scramble up ridgetop and follow it east.

CAP053

Location: 38.236764, -111.171766

Scramble up rock ledge.

CAP054

Location: 38.240817, -111.154612

It's difficult to pick the right gully to descend. Wait until you can see an obvious cliff/outcrop on the left wall of the canyon below you. Enter this gully and descend to the southeast (careful: rotten rock). You'll have to maneuver down one steep drop-off half-way down the gully.

CAP055

Location: 38.240079, -111.153536

Turn left at T in wash.

CAP056

Location: 38.24015, -111.151055

You have the option to do two things at this canyon junction. Option 1: Turn left to bypass a potentially chest-deep pothole wade. This easier bypass route winds northeast to Pleasant Creek, then turns south to Capitol Wash. Option 2: Turn right and hike south, then southwest. This more difficult alternate route rejoins the bypass route in Capitol Wash in 5.6 miles.

CAP057

Location: 38.241934, -111.138336

Duck under NPS boundary fence.

CAP058

Location: 38.246071, -111.129075

Campsite #4: Camping available in Pleasant Creek's sandy wash just west of this point.

CAP059

Location: 38.223064, -111.138098

Duck under NPS boundary fence.

CAP060

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.

CAP061

Location: 38.219139, -111.144438

Follow the ridge to the southwest.

CAP062

Location: 38.207608, -111.152307

View

CAP063

Location: 38.201253, -111.154026

Watch your step as you navigate through this cryptofield.

CAP064

Location: 38.199878, -111.15484

Begin descent.

CAP065

Location: 38.199222, -111.156157

Slickrock expanse

CAP066

Location: 38.197455, -111.157949

Slickrock

CAP067

Location: 38.196235, -111.158583

Small potholes

CAP068

Location: 38.19602, -111.15816

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

CAP069

Location: 38.195273, -111.15753

Slickrock basin dotted with ponderosa. Excellent campsite.

CAP070

Location: 38.192939, -111.159392

View

CAP071

Location: 38.194419, -111.155382

Potholes and ponderosas

CAP072

Location: 38.191979, -111.153572

Broad slickrock saddle

CAP073

Location: 38.190495, -111.151159

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

CAP074

Location: 38.190858, -111.149265

Large pothole below cliff

CAP075

Location: 38.192749, -111.144432

Pothole

CAP076

Location: 38.194169, -111.142461

Pothole

CAP077

Location: 38.194471, -111.142189

Pothole

CAP078

Location: 38.195021, -111.140775

Pothole

CAP079

Location: 38.195838, -111.13766

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

CAP080

Location: 38.195291, -111.129209

Creek crossing. Jump across banks.

CAP081

Location: 38.193609, -111.128522

Cross Pleasant Creek.

CAP082

Location: 38.193551, -111.128143

Road and campsites sit above the bend in Pleasant Creek.

CAP083

Location: 38.193571, -111.126088

End of route. Pick up your shuttle car.

DTR001

Location: 38.240118, -111.151079

Hike south, then southwest.

DTR002

Location: 38.23655, -111.15725

Pothole

DTR003

Location: 38.233747, -111.164503

Big pool

DTR004

Location: 38.23343, -111.165005

Climb up slickrock on left (south).

DTR005

Location: 38.232265, -111.167277

Descend slab into wash bottom.

DTR006

Location: 38.232067, -111.170367

Pothole

DTR007

Location: 38.231405, -111.171255

Decent campsite with pothole water.

DTR008

Location: 38.230229, -111.172929

Slot canyon pool. Rib-deep or deeper wading. Unavoidable.

DTR009

Location: 38.22635, -111.18111

Climb south up loose, brushy gully.

DTR010

Location: 38.224251, -111.180145

Top of gully

DTR011

Location: 38.223612, -111.179892

Hike through an open basin flanked by pinnacles. Follow sandy washes; stay off soil crusts.

DTR012

Location: 38.221198, -111.178835

Pass: Descend brushy gully.

DTR013

Location: 38.220219, -111.176445

Slickrock basin: Chimney down crack in drainage.

DTR014

Location: 38.219536, -111.175347

Big pothole

DTR015

Location: 38.219517, -111.170298

Pothole with reeds

DTR016

Location: 38.218853, -111.167783

Small potholes

DTR017

Location: 38.217716, -111.162891

Hidden ramp. Find exposed ledge left (north) side of gully behind ponderosa. Cross carefully.

DTR018

Location: 38.217708, -111.162011

Descend very loose boulder field to slickrock bench.

DTR019

Location: 38.214647, -111.159331

Stay on slickrock or trail to reach large canyon ahead.

DTR020

Location: 38.214193, -111.156265

At signed intersection, turn east (down-canyon) in wash bottom.

DTR021

Location: 38.218256, -111.147802

Old dam

DTR022

Location: 38.219577, -111.145645

This alternate route joins the main route at this point. Follow the wash to the north toward the NPS boundary fence.

Chimney Rock Trailhead

Location: 38.315857, -111.303908

Chimney Rock Trail

Location: 38.316816, -111.303028

Views to the south

Location: 38.318251, -111.300087

Northwest Views

Location: 38.318202, -111.299262

First Trail Junction

Location: 38.317378, -111.297367

Descent into Chimney Rock Canyon

Location: 38.317305, -111.297159

Views to the west

Location: 38.317464, -111.296239

Descent into Chimney Rock Canyon

Location: 38.317128, -111.29034

Chimney Rock Canyon

Location: 38.3231, -111.273339

Chimney Rock Canyon

Location: 38.323095, -111.27231

Chimney Rock Canyon

Location: 38.319382, -111.250496

Nearing Spring Canyon

Location: 38.31625, -111.245004

Sandy Wash

Location: 38.313389, -111.243289

Nearing Spring Canyon

Location: 38.313359, -111.24307

Fall Colors

Location: 38.313315, -111.24041

Rock Pinnacles

Location: 38.313132, -111.240015

Rock Spires in Spring Canyon

Location: 38.311884, -111.24044

Pothole Water

Location: 38.306993, -111.225466

Cottonwoods in Spring Canyon

Location: 38.304569, -111.223489

Camping in Spring Canyon

Location: 38.292951, -111.203849

Leaving Spring Canyon

Location: 38.290021, -111.202691

Grand Wash

Location: 38.278542, -111.193732

South of Grand Wash

Location: 38.268891, -111.209206

Slickrock Ramps above Bear Canyon

Location: 38.26274, -111.210397

Slickrock Ramps above Bear Canyon

Location: 38.262421, -111.2102

Slickrock Traverse

Location: 38.262286, -111.210089

Slickrock Ramps above Bear Canyon

Location: 38.26173, -111.209759

Rock Formation above Bear Canyon

Location: 38.253121, -111.208875

Campsite

Location: 38.245039, -111.172221

Potholes

Location: 38.245115, -111.171888

Slickrock Ramp

Location: 38.241193, -111.173626

Rocky Perch

Location: 38.23245, -111.183153

Views of the Henry Mountains

Location: 38.233153, -111.180655

Rocky Scramble

Location: 38.236782, -111.171732

Slickrock Bowl

Location: 38.197513, -111.157875

Sunset on the Henry Mountains

Location: 38.196008, -111.15808

Campsite

Location: 38.196046, -111.15793

Rock Formations

Location: 38.193386, -111.15486

Henry Mountains

Location: 38.191948, -111.153455

Redrock Hiking

Location: 38.19175, -111.152759

Slickrock Bowls

Location: 38.191647, -111.152464

Pothole

Location: 38.193095, -111.143861

Pothole

Location: 38.192899, -111.144166

Pothole

Location: 38.193095, -111.143861