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Capital Reef Extravaganza

Difficult
 4.8 (8) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

The best Capital Reef has to offer wrapped into one phenomenal loop.


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Map Key

26.8

Miles

43.1

KM

Loop

6,452' 1,967 m

High

5,210' 1,588 m

Low

6,105' 1,861 m

Up

6,105' 1,861 m

Down

9%

Avg Grade (5°)

99%

Max Grade (45°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Geological Significance · Historical Significance · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildlife

Overview

From beginning to end, this has been the most amazing loop I've experienced, surpassing even the renown "four-pass loop" in Maroon Bells.

It includes the neck straining vertical sandstone walls Capital Reef is known for, a slot canyon, amazing views, head exploding geological shenanigans, massive boulder falls, scrambling, river crossings, and curious big horn sheep.

The descent down Sulphur Creek does require a some work and scrambling, so read the description before diving into this to know what you are getting into. It is only a couple of places along this section that makes this a "Very difficult" loop as opposed to a "intermediate/difficult" loop.

Need to Know

Stock a resupply of water at the Sulphur Creek or Chimney Rock Trail TH for the second-half. Sulphur Creek has water you'll have access to for filtering and the picnic area also has water along the Visitor Center Trail.

The only bathroom along the route is at the Chimney Rock Trail TH.

Parking at Chimney Rock Trail TH and Grand Wash Trail TH can fill up and get quite busy. Parking by the Lower Spring Canyon trail simplifies things.

Description

This loop starts by heading up the Lower Spring Canyon. There is no specific trailhead, but use the TRP map to find the starting point and there will be a couple of paved pullouts for access. The other option is to park at the finishing point, Grand Wash Trail TH, and head half a mile up the road to the starting point.

You'll start this thing out right, by fording a creek. Worry not, with single-digit humidity, your feet will dry out soon enough. Also, this filters out the crowds leaving you to enjoy the canyon to yourself. You'll work your way up the small (likely) dry creek to find your way to the main wash. The sheer immensity of the walls is breath-taking and they keep changing and morphing in color, shape, size, and texture.

Early on you'll reach a spring that may yield a little water. As you climb higher the walls will narrow at times, massive rock falls will necessitate some navigating, and bighorn sheep will likely be spotted. This will eventually lead to an area, about 6 miles in, that will require you to take a trail up and around to the right. If you reach a dry waterfall that can't be climbed, this is likely where you'll need to backtrack and find the trail that is above you to the right (now on your left, if you are returning to look for it).

This trail continues past the obstacle and it is littered for the next mile with giant boulders that have crashed down from above. Soon you'll hit Chimney Rock Canyon, which hits to Chimney Rock Trail. From this point you'll have some amazing views and will be able to quickly drop down to the Chimney Rock Trail TH. Cross the road and you'll begin the Sulphur Creek trail. If you've stashed water here, refill for the second half.

Sulphur Creek trail is where attention needs to be paid. I went through in late April when flows were fairly high and was able to navigate it easily enough. It looks more daunting than it is but it still does require wading through the creek, scrambling with wet shoes, and navigating a ledge through water that may leave you submerged if you slip. Gauge your level of comfort for such adventuring and make your decision accordingly...

Sulphur Creek Trail begins by following a lovely and gentle dry wash for about 1.5 miles. It'll hit Sulpher Creek and at that point you take a left and head downstream. Often the creek is the trail and other times there is a trail that will lead around the creek. The walls soon begin to narrow as you enter the gooseneck section. If you look up you'll see an overlook for people to observe this area. Once past the goosenecks, you'll reach the narrows and this is where the games begin. If you take your time, you can find routes that tend to be well marked with cairns, and navigate carefully, you'll be fine.

The waterfalls have routes around them up and to the right. The biggest challenge, when I was there (with higher flow) was a constriction that resulted in a deep pool and no way up and around it. The way to navigate this was along a ledge on the left, that was a few feet below water. Using the ledge as a place for footing while using the good handholds, this section can be fairly easily, and memorably, navigated. Continue the rest of the way down until you get to one last falls that requires a long climb up and around and will carry you all the way back to the visitor center.

From the visitor center, head up the unspectacular visitor center trail. If you need more water you can find it at the Picnic Area. This will take you to Cohab Canyon Trail.

This trail is a stout climb offering amazing views of the surrounding area. Once in Cohab Canyon you'll get a completely new canyon wall experience. This will lead to Frying Pan Trail, more gorgeous views and possible bighorn sheep spottings and you'll drop to the appropriately named Grand Wash Trail. Enjoy the splendor of this trail (hit it late to have it to yourself) on the way back to you car as you marvel in all that you've just experienced.

Flora & Fauna

Bighorn sheep and a variety of wildflowers, if the timing is right

Contacts

Shared By:

Jason Doedderlein

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 8 votes

#1025

Overall
  4.8 from 8 votes
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4 Star
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Recommended Route Rankings

#76

in Utah

#1,025

Overall
44 Views Last Month
1,301 Since Apr 26, 2021
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Photos

I find the boulder wedged in here adds to the interest.
Jan 14, 2020 near Loa, UT
Overlooking Fruita from the Cohab Canyon Trail.
Sep 2, 2016 near Loa, UT
The Castle in front of the Waterpocket Fold
Jan 6, 2019 near Loa, UT
Shortly after the switchbacks - a peak at how the trail looks.
Apr 21, 2016 near Loa, UT
Your first view of Cassidy Arch after the bend.
Apr 24, 2016 near Loa, UT
The trail skirting along the canyon rim on the way to Cassidy Arch.
Apr 24, 2016 near Loa, UT

Weather


Current Trail Conditions

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Check-Ins

May 29, 2022
Shannon Rauter
Friday night to Sunday morning, starting and finishing at the sulphur creek trailhead
Oct 5, 2021
BC85
Garmin wrong. Great loop! Took longer than expected. Lower Spring spectacular. Sulphur Creek cold. Cohab and Frying Pan hot! Grand Wash lovely. Thx — 9h 54m