Upper Muley Twist Trail, Part 1 – Capitol Reef NP

Torrey, UT

The “reef” in the name of Capitol Reef NP refers to a 100 mile long warp in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold.  The fold forms a north-to-south barrier that even today has barely been breached by roads.  Early settlers referred to parallel, impassable ridges as “reefs,” from which the park gets the second half of its name.

During our previous visit to Capitol Reef NP (May 2013) our friends and local residents, Larry and Annette, took us for a long Jeep ride that included a stop at Strike Overlook, a viewpoint on top of the fold with great views to the east.  At the same parking lot for the Strike Overlook is a trailhead for a ten mile hike called the Upper Muley Twist Trail.  We didn’t get a chance to hike this trail then and were determined not to miss it during this visit.  So when we finally had a day with no chance of rain, we were up early (for us) and on our way.  We needed to head out early as it is a drive of over 50 miles, much of it on dirt roads, just to get to the trailhead.

To get to the Strike Overlook Trailhead we first drove east on Rte. 24 through the national park.  Just past the park boundary we turned south on the Notom/Bullfrog Basin Road.  The first ten miles of this road are paved, then it turns to a fairly smooth dirt track.

The Noton/Bullfrog Basin Road with the Waterpocket Fold on the right

After a bit less than 34 miles we turned west on to the Burr Trail Road, a dirt road that quickly winds up and over the Waterpocket Fold in a series of sharp switchbacks.

The Burr Trail Road going up and over the Waterpocket Fold

Looking back down the Burr Trail. The tiny dot on the road above the shadow is a car!

About a mile west of the top of the fold is a road to the north that leads to the trailhead.  This road is a bit rough and four-wheel drive is recommended.  If arriving in a low clearance vehicle you would need to park here and hike three miles to the trailhead.

The road to the trailhead

The small parking area at the trailhead only has room for a few vehicles.  The small lot was not a problem for us as we were the only ones there.  The sign says the trail is nine miles, but someone scratched “10” below the nine.  We agree with the ten!

Most of the first half of this hike is fairly easy as it goes up a wash.  The recent rains have made the wash wet is spots, but not enough to cause a problem.

There are numerous arches on the west side of the wash.  Below are a few that we spotted.

Muley Arch

Saddle Arch – Look closely at the top and see how it resembles a saddle

Shy Arch

Dome Arch

Cap Arch

About a mile and a half up the trail the wash enters a section called the narrows.  You can go in for a few hundred feet but it eventually ends below a high pour-over, forcing you to turn and go back out.

Entrance to the dead end narrows

Just before entering the narrows there is a cairn on the east side of the trail sending you up and around it.  This is a pretty difficult hike of about seven tenths of a mile before you return back into the wash.

Start of the go-around to avoid the narrows

Sections of the go-around require some scrambling

It’s a bit narrow in a few spots but the footing is good

At one point the view to the west looks like giant cow paddies!

After an exciting scramble up and around the narrows, we came back into the wash.  A short distance from there we came to the sign directing us to the east for a climb up to the Rim Trail, which will lead us back toward the trailhead.

The turn headed up to the Rim Trail

At this point we were at the halfway point in the hike.  We’ll share the return trip with you in our next blog.  So stay tuned . . .

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33 Responses to Upper Muley Twist Trail, Part 1 – Capitol Reef NP

  1. LuAnn says:

    Looks like a very interesting hike. How was it on the ankles? Love that cow patty photo. 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      LuAnn, this is the first time hiking that my ankles were very tired. It was a constant walking on the side slant or straight up and down. Of course, some of the wash was deeper sand which works the ankles as well. But they were fine the next day:)

  2. allisonmohr says:

    Amazing rock formations!

  3. That is cool you guys did this hike! I love all the arches and the cow paddies! Can’t wait to see the rest!

  4. Lenore says:

    Thanks for all this great hiking info for Capital Reef NP. It’s one of our favorite places. When we go back we’ll definitely look back at these posts for guidance.

  5. Janna says:

    Glad you at least found one sunny day! It’s pouring rain in Montana this morning.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was our last sunny day, Janna, before two very cold rainy days. I can’t believe how few days we were able get out during our 18 day stay. The weather was not our friend!

  6. Erin says:

    Fantastic arches … so worth the hike, but I don’t know if we could 16 miles since we’d have to do the additional three miles to get to and then back to the low-clearance vehicle parking lot.

    • placestheygo says:

      The arches were amazing and there were many others we didn’t include. I know I couldn’t have done another 6 miles if we had had to park beyond the 4×4 road. The hike was very challenging and exhausting. From my reading, some backpack in and make it two days.

  7. Gay says:

    Love the arches…and oh my the cow paddies photo is gorgeous! Looking forward to the second half!

  8. I’m here in the green countryside very much enjoying your photos of terracotta countryside!

  9. pmbweaver says:

    You two sure do find some waaaay out there trails.

    Saddle Arch is awesome. Of the the wear on the rock. All the arches are wonderful.

    Giant cow paddies rocks are so cool. I don’t think we have ever seen anything like them. Really neat trail.

    • placestheygo says:

      It is amazing how large Capital Reef NP really is. It is so long and this trail is in the park, of course, way down at the other end! But the drive went by so fast because of the beautiful scenery. The cow paddies were very unusual. I’d love to know how they were formed.

  10. Pam Leonard says:

    God, I love Utah! I saw Utah plates in front of me yesterday and thought what the heck are they doing here? Maybe they left family behind when they escaped the wintry Midwest!

  11. Laurel says:

    Wow, what a great trail with so many arches! It looks like a beautiful drive to get there, too — the Waterpocket Fold formation is so unique. You definitely are getting to a lot of places we’ve never been. You are making our list very, very long…… 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Laurel, you need to plan about three months and do all the parks across southern Utah. That’s what we did two years ago. There is so much to see that you need to stay awhile in each location.

      • Laurel says:

        Sounds good to me! We’ve spent a lot of time over the years in Arches, Zion, Bryce, and Canyonlands, but not much in Capitol Reef. I’d like to do the same as you, and just focus on southern Utah for several months. Thanks for all of the great hiking ideas!

      • Nancy says:

        I agree with you on this! Utah is so beautiful!

  12. Bill-Joan says:

    We loved the cow paddies photo, so amazing! We are impressed with the length of your hikes. Thanks for the link to Andrew’s blog.

  13. Holly Ritger says:

    Beautiful arches and land formations. Love the “cow pies”!

  14. debbiemc14 says:

    Awesome hike so far! Love the cow patties!

  15. Nancy says:

    The cow paddies are my favorite. Looks like a cool hike! Even if you are slanted. 😉

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