A spur trail off the already remote Burr trail will lead to a short hike to what is known as the Strike Valley Overlook. Strike Valley is a geological term referring to what is formed when the earth's layers are tilted and the resulting form is a long valley between the eroded layers. One of the best examples is the valley along which the Notom road travels.
From the Strike Valley overlook, high above this nearly 100 mile long uplift, the view of the valley is indeed very striking.
To get there take the Upper Muley Twist road at the top of the Burr trail switchbacks. 4x4 and high clearance is required for this short road up a rough wash. At the end of the road the trail leads up 1/4 mile to the overlook. Take water, and pack food. You'll want to linger to watch the changing colors, watch for hawks, and enjoy the breeze.
Walking through this tight winding crevice I had a grin on my face the whole time, either that or an open mouth in awe at what was there.
While this is not in Capitol Reef it is a great extension to a visit to this park. It is in an area that is being considered for official designation of some sort as part of the San Rafael Swell. Little Wild Horse is also a great introductory slot canyon, easy, fun, accessible. The trailhead is five miles down a dirt road off the road to Goblin Valley state park. Most of the time the road is traversable. But don't try it if there is water on the road as it is full of heavy clay that keeps even the best 4 wheel drive vehicles stuck. There are also sandy areas that can be a bit tricky to get across. But overall not a hard dirt road to navigate. Park in the designated area and read the signs. Flash flooding does occur, be aware of weather conditions and don't go if it threatens rain.
Okay, then you head down the wash and after about a half a mile is the first obstacle. It is easy to get around with a little scrambling. Just after this, look for the turn off to Little Wild Horse on the right. It isn't hard to spot IF you are paying attention. Staying straight will take you to Bell Canyon. And while this is also nice it is not your destination.
Just as soon as you turn off you'll enter into a crack in the earth. With curving stone walls and narrow walk ways you'll soon be enchanted by this little space. Slot canyons are addictive and after awhile in this one you'll understand why. They are fascinating. Knowing they are carved by the water that swirls through them during the rains for hundreds of years the connection between water and earth seems real and concrete.
There are two captivating very narrow passages, each about a mile long. At the end of the second is another large dryfall. I used a wobbly rock stool to help me up and over it. Just after this the canyon opens up. Here is a good place to rest and enjoy a snack or lunch before heading back down the canyon.
Do not tell anybody-but the scoop is there is a large fossil find of dinosaur bones near Hanksville. Location is off Hwy 24 about 5 miles north and past Hwy 95 to the east. Locals come here and pick through the fossils to sell. It is on an old rocket missile firing range of the Government. It is supposed to be ringed off, but local people get to the find.
This road starts at the north end off Hwy 24, and about 9 1/2 miles east of the visitor center, but only 3 miles from the park entrance. Going down this road, you can see some of the backside rock formations of Capitol Reef, and it goes right through the Waterpocket Fold wilderness for 70 miles. It follows Oak Creek bed, and the Muley Twist canyon. I did not take this road down too far, but can only imagine the beauty along it, but maybe also the difficulty in driving over rough terrain. The road is paved for 10 miles at the north, and 10 miles at the south, where it intersects to Bullfrog marina on Lake Powell. The road is impassible when wet, or afterwords for a while.
The leg on the north end has some big homes overlooking the park views, and one ranch to stay at that I saw.
These strange looking rock formations were formed over millions of years of water and wind erosion. They sit in a valley floor, and are surrounded by a ridge of hills. They are called mushrooms because of the similarity. The rock on top is harder than that underneath, and over time the surrounding ground around these pinnacles eroded away, leaving these standing out. They are called hoodoo's, meaning soft rock topped by harder rock.
The area was used for grazing for years. In 1926 Arthur Chaffin came here and helped to try to preserve the rock formations. Not until 1954 did it get a protected status, though, and a state park in 1964. Admission is $7. The viewing only may be less than an hour for you to enjoy. If you hike among the rocks and contiguous area, then maybe all day. The different rocks seen here are worth the trip, I believe.
From Capitol Reef, the park is about 45 miles to the north on Hwy 24, or around 24 miles off Hwy 70 going south on Hwy 24.
This huge expanse of territory surrounds much of the national parks in southern Utah. It is in different pieces around the area, and much of it is for long term camping to enjoy the serenity. Forest Service manages the arks, but does have a lot of volunteers to assists in staffing the various campground and stop off area.
It is said the view can go on for close to 150 miles. I do not disagree with that after this clean air environment and the views I saw for a multitude of miles
Another treat was the Western Tanager. The beautifully colored bird is bright yellow with gray wings and a red head. We saw some avid birders making a big deal at seeing one pretty far away in a tree on the Fremont River Trail. I told them we got a picture of one catching a bee but later realized that was a flycatcher. I was happy to finally get a picture of one playing around in the Fruita Campground.
The picnic area just up the Scenic Drive from the visitor center is an alluring spot. It is a pretty and lush park with an atmospheric old fashioned wooden fence surrounding it. Normally such a tame spot would not be a big attraction for me when so close to an array of more wild natural sights but this place has a real soul to it. The star attractions are two huge cottonwood trees that must be 100 years old. It took us a while to realize they were cottonwoods as we'd never seen any that size before. How anyone could cut something like this down is beyond me. It's like killing an old man with a wealth of knowledge and memories. There are some picnic tables and fields for kids to run around. It's a great place to have a meal if you are not camping. You'll pass this if you continue up the Scenic Drive from the visitor center to the Historic Gifford Farm.
Capitol Reef National Park is a great birding park. We saw many while enjoying the lush valley floor, quite comforting after being in more desert surroundings in most of Utah. This Flycatcher was a particular favorite. With a name like flycatcher you would imagine they are quite the hunter for insects and we were lucky to see him catch this yellow jacket in quite an easy manner. He then went up to a branch and savored his little prize immensely. It was quite a show and a reminder at how proficient different species are at surviving in the wild.
Cathedral Valley is in the northern section of the park. It is best to have a 4x4 or at least a high clearance sturdy vehicle to travel this road. The 60 mile loop road is wonderful, but could wreck havoc on a passenger car. Do not attempt this if the road is wet. Crossing over the clay of the bentonite hills would be impossible. Very few people get to this section so if you are looking for something off the main path you'll find it here. The magnificent monoliths which are the stars of the drive can seem every bit as reverent as a man-made cathedral. The best light is early morning or late evening. For that reason camping is a great option. The campground in the middle of the loop is on the Hartnet mesa and is primitive, no water.
The solitude and remoteness of this section is hard to imagine in this day of constant technological buzz. I find it good to disconnect once in awhile and this is a great place to do it. Summer time temperatures would be high so spring or fall are better times to visit.
The shorter drive in on the Caineville Mesa road to the Lower Cathedral Valley at 30 miles round trip is a good alternative to doing the entire loop.
Along the Hickman Bridge Trail these natural bridges were formed over long periods of time. Water seldom travels through these canyons but when it does the resulting erosion creates interesting landforms.
These Bridges were the result of potholes in the wash which were formed and then undercut by the sand heavy seasonal floods that torment the landscape.
You have to get to this southern section of the park from the town of Boulder off Hwy 12, south of Torrey. You'll pass through Grand Staircase-Escalante NM before coming back into Capitol Reef. Some of the good places you will pass are the Gulch, where you can take a walk to some petroglyphs, Long Canyon which is a beautiful and long narrow canyon. Climbing out of Long Canyon you go through the wonderful Circle cliffs into White Canyon flat. So far the road is paved. Once you reach the park boundary however the pavement ends. It is best to know road conditions in order to continue. You'll pass the Muley Twist trailhead, where you can hike (or with 4x4 drive) to the Strike Valley overlook- stunning. Then before long you arrive at the switchbacks. Mr. Burr, back in the 1800's built this road to get his cattle down the Waterpocket fold. It has been improved a little bit, but the last time I was there a hugh rock fall had blocked a part of it. Again, ask ahead. Once past the switchbacks you can turn right/south and head towards Bullfrog basin on Lake Powell. Or you can turn left/north and follow the Notom trail back up to hwy 24. There are lots of side canyons to explore and hike.
In the Fruita area, there are 15 day hiking trails with trailheads located along Utah Hwy. 24 and the Scenic Drive. These trails offer the hiker a wide variety of options, from easy strolls along smooth paths over level ground to strenuous hikes involving steep climbs over uneven terrain near cliff edges. Hikes may take you deep into a narrow gorge, to the top of high cliffs for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area, under a natural stone arch, to historic inscriptions...and much, much more! Round trip distances vary in length from less than 1/4 mile to 10 miles.
I really enjoyed the Frying Pan Trail, although I did it as a through hike. It would be difficult to do this trail as an out and back (total 14 miles) especially in the summer. The trail is totally exposed to sunlight the entire way.
Finding the trail can also be difficult at times, especially while crossing some of the small dry washes. Make sure you have plenty of water if you are hiking in the summer or late spring.
The Grand Wash trail can be reached by several trail heads. The first way to get into the wash is from route 24 but the parking here is very difficult. You can also get into the wash from the end of the Frying Pan Trail.
The wash is very wide with cliffs on either side up to about 400 feet high. The total trail is about 5 mile round trip from route 24. One good way to do this trail is if you have two vehicle, park one on route 24. Hike the Frying Pan Trail from the main campground in Capitol Reef. At the end you will find yourself in Grand Wash. The canyon floor has deep sand and gravel so have sturdy boots and be prepared for a slow go.