“A strenuous adventure through narrow and impressive slot canyons.”
— Eric Ashley
Do not attempt Burro Wash if there is any chance of storms or significant rain. This route is best in colder months to minimize the chance of monsoons.
Several obstacles require climbing moves that may be difficult for inexperienced canyoneers.
Despite the minimal mileage, Burro Wash takes much longer to complete then a typical trail. The time will be extended as group size increases, and while it is nice to have a helper or two, large groups would cause real bottlenecks at several points.
If your ideal visit to Capitol Reef includes venturing into one of the areas scenic slot canyons, this moderate route has a lot to offer. This canyon has a range of obstacles, and visitors can turn back at any point. With a combination of scenic side slots and a wide open start, this route appeals to both seasoned canyoneers and beginners alike.
Begin by following the trail, located at the south of the parking area. This trail is significantly shorter and substantially firmer than following the sandy wash. At around one mile, Burro Wash starts to narrow as it enters the Carmel Formation.
A couple miles in, an impressive stand of Utah serviceberry surrounds the park boundary fence, and a canyon junction is located just beyond. Stay left on the ramp and drop into the wash bottom at the top. Shortly after the park boundary, the canyon again divides with a smooth rock pour-off on the left and a sandy narrows to the right.
This time, head right on the sandy wash to a minor chockstone that requires a climb up the left side. Often, there is a pool at the base of this stone. If water blocks your path, a cairned and steep bypass route on the left (south) leads to your detour from the pour-off. If you can make your way past the boulder, it is worth continuing on because the next barrier (which is more difficult) is located at the far end of a scenic slot section.
A short ways after the entry chockstone, great sweeping crossbeds in the Navajo Sandstone are exposed on both sides of the canyon. The first slot, which slants to the right, cuts through sculpted, sandstone walls, and only a little ways along you'll find a good long shoulder-width slot that is equally aesthetic. The chockstone here is awkward and about eight feet high, requiring at least one member of a party to scramble over it.
A couple of openings in the canyon above the slot grant pleasant interludes before the next slot, also shoulder width, but not very deep. Another short, iron-rich sandstone section follows, and then one more, which has had a log obstacle at the end for several years. A short distance down from the log, you'll come into a peaceful diamond-shaped opening. This is a good spot for lunch and to leave your daypacks for the last section of trail.
The final slot canyon is guarded by two difficult chockstones that are passable by proficient canyoneers, but may stump beginners. The route behind these sentinels starts easy, but quickly deepens and narrows to less than a boot width in spots. There are several obstacles, both rock and wood. This spectacular slot terminates into a deep sand-floored chamber below the entry to the pour off. Even on a clear day, this chamber has a bit of an eerie feel, and is a little dungeon-like, especially after the dark and narrow slot that is the only route in or out.
This content was contributed by author Rick Stinchfield. For a comprehensive hiking guide to Capitol Reef National Park and to see more by Rick, click here
Flora & Fauna
Sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and Entrada spaceship-like features are about the only amusements for the first mile. As the wash enters the rock formations, cottonwoods and Fremont barberry are a welcome
change - though there also signs that the invasive salt cedar is beginning to achieve a toe hold here. Abundant
clumps of rough mules ears add cheerful color in early summer.
Utah serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) is a member of the rose family and one of the early bloomers in the area. In April, clumps of the plant can be found entirely covered in sweet-smelling white flowers. Serviceberry fruits, generally bluish or purple and a little less than a half-inch in diameter, are an important food source for dozens of species, including a wide variety of birds. Not only are the berries nutritious, but they also mature very early, becoming available when other foods are not yet abundant.