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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite it's situation between Arches N.P. and Bryce Canyon N.P., the Capitol Reef is an off the beaten path destination. Maybe also because it falls in the shade a little with these gigantical special National Parks. On the other hand maybe because our human view is not able to see the larger picture (see photo at General!). Like with the Canyonlands nature's spectacular forms here are so wide and over such a large territory that only a areal view can understand it's magnificence.
These small cliffs were created by the uplifting of the Colorado Plateau. They appear as small hillls along this unusual landscape. Many contain cliffs along their irregular profiles.
I'm not sure why this is here, but there are several structures along the scenic drive. including the blacksmith's shop, that are either replicas or relics from another time.