Capitol Reef Backpacking
- Fantastically remote wilderness
- Stunning slot canyon and narrows hiking
- Campsites beneath 1,000-foot sandstone cliffs
- An extremely rare double-arch!
- Surreal and other-worldly rock formations
- Exceptional levels of solitude
- The clearest night sky you've ever seen
- Exceptional service and amazing backcountry cuisine
Scientists have determined that sixty-five million years ago, the same compacting forces that created the Rocky Mountains formed a fold in the earth under southern Utah. Less than a century ago, that tangle of crevices, canyons and chasms became the last-mapped landscape in the lower 48. This is country that hid Mormon moonshiners, polygamist safe houses and Butch Cassidy. It held the last horsepacking town in America. And even today it feels a step from the edge of the earth.
Our Capitol Reef Backpackinging trip visits one of the only double arches in the world before traversing to the southern edge of the Park for a unique hike through a slot canyon similar to the famous Zion Narrows (but with virtually no visitors other than ourselves). After our Narrows experience, we’ll skirt the Waterpocket Fold north, and visit the iconographic but seldom-seen Hamburger Rocks, then do the Lower Muley Twist through its namesake canyon. Our challenging Capitol Reef Backpacking concludes at one of the most scenic byways in America before making the journey back to St. George.
- April 19-24, 2020
- October 5-10, 2020
- Shuttle to Capitol Reef: 7 hours
- Hiking Mileage: 5 miles
- Elevation Loss: 800 feet
Our early-morning drive to Capitol Reef begins with an ascent into the high desert country of the Colorado Plateau, in the heart of which lies the tremendous topography of the Waterpocket Fold – our semi-private playground for the next six days. After passing by popular Bryce National Park and through the pioneer towns of Escalante and Boulder, UT, we’ll turn onto a scenic Utah road that takes us into Capitol Reef. The views of the surrounding canyon country, their incredible isolation and Lake Powell beyond are our reward for our long morning’s drive.
Hungry with both appetite and anticipation, we’ll arrive at the edge of the map. A remote trailhead surrounded by stunning canyon country is our jumping off point into the Fold. Here, we’ll indulge in a hearty lunch before descending 800 feet into the Grand Gulch drainage.
A mile of hiking brings us to the bottom of the gulch where we’ll drop packs and explore up a serene slot canyon to find one of the most impressive (yet seldom visited) geologic features in the American Southwest. A stunning natural bridge, which is a spectacular, 120-foot-wide double arch – one arch perched atop another – and one of just a hand full of such rock formations in the world. Returning to our packs, we’ll select our campsite near one of the namesake waterpockets and enjoy dinner while the sun sets beyond the Fold.
- Hiking Mileage: 4-6 miles
- Elevation Loss: 400 feet
Today’s hike takes us to the southernmost boundary of Capitol Reef National Park. We’ll follow the remnants of the old wagon trail supply route pioneered in 1881 by Mormon settler Charles Hall. Early in the day we’ll pass the impressive, 500-foot Red Slide while following the faint wagon tracks along Halls Creek. We’ll also take time to explore one of the numerous side canyons that branch off from Grand Gulch. At the end of the day, we’ll camp near Halls Divide in preparation for the next morning’s adventure in the Narrows!
- Hiking Mileage: 5.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 200 feet
- Elevation Loss: 200 feet
Comparable in size and similarity to the famed Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park, Capitol Reef’s remote Halls Creek Narrows receives less than 1% of the visitation of its famous cousin. Odds are we’ll have the place pretty-well to ourselves.
Today is largely a day hike, at the end of which we’ll return to our previous night’s camp to either bed down or pack up and move up-drainage to get a jump on the next morning’s miles. By traversing the Narrows in light daypacks, we’ll be better able to explore and enjoy the incredible scenery around us. Wildland will provide the use of Neoprene socks for warmth while hiking through water – a seasonal necessity in the chilly Narrows.
Depending on the time of year, the water in the Narrows can be deep enough to swim. For this reason, there is no guarantee today’s hike will be completed as a full loop. If the guide deems conditions unsafe we will turn around, and return to camp.
- Hiking Mileage: 10 miles
- Elevation Gain: 500 feet
Here we’ll begin our hike north, retracing our steps beyond Halls Creek Overlook and following the historic wagon route further up Grand Gulch. While today’s hike is long, the forgiving terrain will make it easy to take in the scenery.
Before making camp for the night, we’ll take a visit to Hamburger Rocks, one of the more notable geological sites in Capitol Reef National Park. This iron-infused crop of red rock mushroom plumes carries delightful contrast to the white slickrock below. We’ll wander among and photograph these tranquil geologic wonders before continuing the short distance to our camp near Muley Tanks – tired from the long day’s hike, but peaked with anticipation for tomorrow’s route through Lower Muley Twist.
- Hiking Mileage: 8 miles
- Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Lower Muley Twist Canyon is a labyrinth of rock piles, sheer canyon walls, and overhanging amphitheaters. Because the streambed meanders dizzyingly between steep walls, the canyon earned its name for having enough turns to “twist a mule.” Notable sites include Cowboy Cave with inscriptions from early settlers and cattle rustlers of the 19th century and impressive alcoves that cut overhangs above the canyon walls.
Because Lower Muley has no reliable water sources at any time of year, we will carry enough water from the previous night’s campsite till the trip’s end. Thankfully our packs will be lighter now towards the end of our journey and the terrain provides easy hiking along a gradual rise. After a fulfilling day’s hike, we will find camp and enjoy our last evening in the canyon wilderness.
- Hiking Mileage: 4 miles
- Elevation Gain: 400 feet
- Shuttle to St. George: 5 hours
After all the hiking completed by this point, our last day’s hike will be a breeze. With walls that never cease to impress, we’ll continue up Lower Muley Canyon until the trailhead emerges quickly from the wash, and we are back at the road we started on and our waiting vehicle. Here we will make the drive back to Saint George over the rolling slick rock domes and canyons.
Please Note: We always do everything in our power to follow the set itinerary, however it can change occasionally based on temporary access restrictions, weather, lodging/campground availability, guest ability/injury, natural events like fires and flooding, and other potential causes.
- A professional, knowledgeable, certified trip leader (full-time Wildland Trekking guide)
- Roundtrip transportation from your hotel in St. George, UT to the trailhead and back
- Backcountry dinners in the field
- Bear cannisters when/where required
- Entrance fees and national park permits
- Emergency equipment including a company-issued first-aid kit and satellite phone
- You will receive a Lifetime Hiking Membership entitling you, your spouse and kids to a lifetime discount of 10% off any Wildland Trekking hiking trip after your first one!
- Backpack, tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, trekking poles, cooking gear (gear list below)
- Breakfasts, lunches and trail snacks
- Clothes, raingear, and footwear (Oboz hiking shoes and boots recommended) (clothing list below)
- Sunscreen, toiletries and personal items
- Trip leader gratuity (industry recommendation is 10+% of trip cost)
- Trekking poles
- Backpacking stove and fuel (if your breakfasts only need boiled water, guide can boil water for the group in the morning at camp eliminating need for personal stoves and fuel)
- Waterproof matches and/or lighter
- Water filter (guide can filter water for the group at camp but if you would prefer to bring your own)
- Camera, spare batteries
- Notebook or paperback book
- Fly fishing gear, if you want to fish (area-specific)
Please leave a shoe-box's worth of room in your pack for accommodating approximately 5 pounds of group gear that the guide will disperse to the group on the night of the trip orientation. Group gear will include food items for the group dinners as well as group dinner cookware, stoves, water filtration, etc.
Your guide will plan and prepare all of the dinners for the duration of the trip for the group. Our prepared backcountry dinners include a diversity of tasty meals packed full of critical carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We carry foods that travel well in the backcountry – rice, pastas, lentils, beans, couscous, packaged meats, etc.
We regularly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, kosher and non-gluten diets and will make adjustments for food allergies. These and other special dietary requests may require an additional fee.
- Multi-day backpack (recommended 4000-5000 cubic inches)
- Backpacking tent
- 15 degree sleeping bag (down or synthetic)
- Sleeping pad
- Trekking poles (optional)
- 2 1-liter water bottles or hydration system and a water bottle
- Headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries
- Bowl, plate, mug, fork, spoon, folding pocket knife and personal cookware needed for your breakfasts and lunches
- Folding pocket knife
- Waterproof matches and/or lighter
- Backpacking stove and fuel
- Camp pillow, lightweight, packable camp pillow.
- Contact lenses and glasses if you wear contact lenses please also bring a pair of glasses - your contacts are likely to become dirty and may be difficult to clean
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm
- Bug repellent, preferably a product containing at least 25% "DEET" (some people are sensitive to this product)
- Toiletries, and a small washcloth in stuff sack (bandana can serve as a washcloth)
- Camera, spare batteries (optional)
- Notebook or paperback book, (optional)
- Knee braces, if needed
- Prescription medicine, please inform your trip leader of any medications you are taking
- Vitamins, (optional)
- Money, for tipping your trip leader (optional but appreciated, generally 10+% of your trip cost based upon the quality of your experience)
- Sturdy Hiking boots, mid weight, lug-soled, above the ankle, waterproof and ideally well broken in Important note: Buy your boots 1/2 size to 1 size larger than your street shoes to allow for feet swelling and thicker socks
- Lightweight tennis shoes or Crocs®, for camp
- Hiking socks, one pair for every two days of your trip, plus an extra pair to sleep in. Recommended brands include Bridgedale®, Smartwool®, or similar padded socks (wearing thin liner socks under your hiking socks is highly recommended). No cotton socks!!
- Sunhat or baseball cap and bandana
- Warm hat and gloves, sherpa style hat and light-to-mid weight fleece or wool gloves
- Long underwear, one pair of wicking tops and bottoms that are light-to midweight, example materials include capilene, merino wool, polypropylene, etc.
- T-shirt or nylon travel shirt
- Warm top, mid-weight shirt, sweater or pullover, also wicking material such as merino wool, fleece or polypropylene
- Fleece jacket or insulated coat, warm, lightweight and packable fleece jacket or coat insulated with a synthetic material
- Nylon pants and shorts, or zip-offs
- Bathing suit
- Fleece pants (late August and September backpacking trips and Basecamp Trip only)
- Rainproof jacket and pant - Waterproof/breathable jacket and pant such as Gore-Tex® or coated nylon - with the pants look for side leg zippers or a style that will allow you to remove them without removing your boots
Ready to hike? In the Dates section of this trip page, the green dates are bookable online by simply clicking on the date, and blue dates must be booked through our customer service team for a variety of possible reasons. To email our customer service team, you can click here to get the ball rolling. Our adventure consultants will confirm availability, and if you're ready to register we'll email you a link to a registration profile. You'll have 72 hours to complete your profile (and that of any dependents) and pay the deposit ($500).
Feel free to call us for more info - we're here 7 days a week!
You will rendezvous with the guide and group in St. George, Utah for an orientation meeting at 5:00 PM the evening before the trip begins. Alternatively, you may choose to forfeit the pre-trip meeting and meet us in the town of Escalante, UT on the first morning of our trip. This can be more convenient if you are traveling overland from points North or East, but not recommended if you are a novice backpacker.
Your guide will be in contact approximately 2 weeks before your trip starts to specify the orientation location, and we are more than happy to pick you up if you are staying at a hotel in St. George but the orientation is taking place elsewhere. The guide will then pick you up at your hotel the next morning for transport to the trailhead.
Check out our Travel Resources page for information on flights, shuttles, lodging and more.
Your guide will inform you of the first day's pick-up time at the orientation meeting. Generally, you can expect it to be between 5 and 8 am, although the exact time will depend on current weather and road conditions. We will drop you off at your hotel on the final day normally before 7 PM (this time is not guaranteed, as a variety of circumstances can influence our exact return time).
Your safety is our top priority. Our hiking tours are led by professional hiking guides, all of whom are wilderness-certified first responders or EMT's, each with years of guiding and wilderness experience. We've developed comprehensive risk management protocols that our guides adhere to in case of an emergency, and most tours carry a satellite phone. If you have any further questions about safety, please contact us at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) for more information.
Your tour will be led by a trained, experienced professional with a solid guiding background, years of personal wilderness and hiking experience, medical certifications, and a passion for leading people into breathtaking landscapes. Check out our Meet Our Team page for staff bios.
Guides are required to take 8 hours off each 24-hour period to sleep, recuperate, take personal/down time...etc. In addition, as part of the 8 hours off they must sleep/rest or be in their tents/rooms uninterrupted for a minimum of 5 hours each night. We ask guests to respect these requirements and to not interrupt guides' off time and sleep time unless there is a true emergency.
The standard group size on our Capitol Reef trips is 8 guests and 1 guide. If you have more questions about group size, please give us a call at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) and we'll answer all your questions.
Age restrictions are as follows:
- 14 and older to join scheduled tours (mixed groups)
Weather in Southern Utah
Southern Utah is a high desert. The weather is very moderate: occasional dustings of snow in the winter that melt rapidly, and summer temperatures in the low 90s (°F) that often cool down with thunderstorms. To be fully prepared, please follow the recommended clothing list closely (this list comes as part of your trip packet when you register). The ideal time to be in the Canyon Country is Spring and Fall. Read below for average high and low temperatures in Utah's Canyon Country:
|Average Temperatures (Fahrenheit)|