The Surprise Canyon Trail begins by quickly crossing the wide and flat Halls Creek drainage. On the approach, the trail enters and exits a wash a number of times before reaching the mouth of the canyon.
For the remainder of the hike, the route will stay on the bottom of the canyon, sometimes on rock, but mostly on sand. A little ways ahead, the canyon begins a series of curves and becomes very deep. The walls rise hundreds of feet above and are decorated with dramatic desert varnish. A recent rockfall has dropped a pretty banded sandstone into the wash just after the bends in the canyon start. A small pour-off and rock jam are easily passed.
The canyon remains impressive and easy to navigate up to an undercut and chockstone. This obstacle can be bypassed by retreating 100 feet down canyon and finding a user-made bypass on the south side. This steep, loose climb drops easily back in the canyon which soon ends in a rubble slope.
Since the canyon beyond the bypass is not quite as interesting as that below, the undercut in the main wash is probably a good point to turn around for most. The return trip changes the light and offers different aspects along the way, and, like most Capitol Reef canyons, the way out is just as good as the way in.
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
Surprise Canyon is graced with a rich assortment of shrubs and trees that add
to the pleasure of the journey. Gambel oak, Fremont barberry, box elder, roundleaf buffaloberry, skunkbush, Utah serviceberry, single leaf ash, Mormon tea, littleleaf mountain mahogany, and virgins bower are all common.