Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. These posts highlight one of the best hikes from around the U.S. and beyond. We hope that they'll inspire you to get out there and see them for yourself!
This week's hike takes us to Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah on the Halls Creek Narrows Trail.
Featured Photo: Waterpocket Fold (photo by Page)
Why This Hike?
Just hearing the name Capitol Reef, you might think this park is somewhere on a tropical island. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. But, you will find plenty of mesas, canyons, and other geological wonders along this route. The Halls Creek drainage, also known as Grand Gulch, is located near the remote Waterpocket Fold region of the park.
- Length: 23 miles
- Trail type: Lollipop loop
- Trip length: 3 days, 2 nights
- Rating: Moderate
- Total elevation gain: 2,830 feet
- Best time to visit: March through November. Spring and fall are better times to avoid the intense summer heat.
- Halls Creek Overlook makes a photogenic starting point.
- The Narrows holds water year-round.
- The slot canyon provides some enjoyable shade on this high desert trip.
- Geological wonders all around-The Narrows are filled with rock walls of many colors and patterns. Be sure to look at the rocks near the creek on your breaks too. You might find some agates!
- There is a nice alcove at the end of the Narrows loop on day two.
- The towering canyon walls seem to get bigger and even more awe-inspiring the further you go.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- This is not an official trail. Route finding, navigation, and map reading skills are essential.
- Depending on the time of year, you may even need to swim through some of the canyon pools. (Some dry bags for your electronics might be a good idea.)
- As with any desert hike, check for flash flood warnings before embarking. Keep your eyes open for signs that one may be coming too. (rising water, storms in the distance-even if they seem very far away). Flash flood season is usually July-September here. Don't take warnings lightly.
- No cell service is available.
- The sandstone can be slippery, wet or dry.
How Do I Get There?
Grand Junction Regional Airport (3 hours) or Salt Lake City International (3.5 hours) are the closest to Capitol Reef. Your journey begins before you even reach the trailhead, though. It is over 50 miles away from the Visitor Center. A high clearance vehicle is needed to get down the last 3 miles of the rough road. Here are the driving directions from the National Park Service:
From the Visitor Center, travel 9.0 miles (14.4 km) east on Highway 24 to the Notom-Bullfrog Road, then south 43.2 miles (69.4 km) via the partially-paved Notom-Bullfrog Road and unpaved Burr Trail Road. Then turn right (south) at an intersection with a paved road (shown on some maps as “Eggnog Junction”), and drive 0.9 miles (1.5 km) to the turnoff for Halls Creek Overlook. Turn right (west) and drive 2.8 miles (4.5 km) to the rough spur road leading to the trailhead at Halls Creek Overlook. Total distance from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center is 56.1 miles (90.3 km). The unpaved portions of the Notom-Bullfrog and Burr Trail roads are hard-packed dirt, usually passable to passenger cars. The final 3 miles (4.8 km) leading to Halls Creek Overlook are rough and require high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended camp sites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Halls Creek Overlook to beginning of The Divide (9 miles)
- Day 2 - The Divide to Halls Creek Narrows Loop back to campsite (6 miles)
- Day 3 - The Divide campsite to Halls Creek Overlook (9 miles)
Enjoy the panoramic views from the Halls Creek Overlook upon arriving. The first leg of your trip is the steepest. You'll descend about 800 feet over a mile. Luckily, this is the most taxing part of the trail. If you happen to have some binoculars, you should be able to see Double Brimhall Arch in the distance. Enjoy the cottonwoods and sporadic wildflowers in the bottom of the drainage. Watch for mucky creek beds as well. Take care on the slippery sandstone in the first canyon. Travel a short distance more and reach your first and only campsite. There are plenty of nice sites nearby to choose from. Set up under a shade tree and soak your feet in the creek before turning in.
Start day 2 by traversing The Divide. A short half-mile later brings you to the Narrows entrance. You can do this loop either way. But, the west side usually has much deeper pools. You may want to save those for last so you can dry out in the sun sooner. You will see a sign for the Narrows, but will still need to rely on a map. A very tall brushy section guards the entrance. After entering the slot canyon, striped rock walls of many colors rise up and up. They're both awe-inspiring and make you feel like a tiny ant. The chilly water wades through narrow rock faces is the ultimate in seclusion. You'll know you're near the end when you reach the enormous, popular alcove. (Another great photo op.) Head back to camp, dry out, and eat a hearty meal.
Since this is a lollipop loop, head back the way you came. Make sure to stock up on water at the Fountain Tanks. These pools usually have water in them year-round. You'll want that water for the steep climb back to your vehicle!
What Will I Need?
Average highs range between 50 and 90°F, lows between 30 and 60°F. (March through November) A versatile down quilt will serve you well at night. Pair this with a quality ultralight sleeping pad to get a good night's sleep.
Speaking of trekking poles, these can help navigate slippery and loose rocks. Plus, you can use them to check water depth.
A pair or lightweight trekking poles like our Tri-Fold Carbon Cork trekking poles help traverse the slippery rocks of the Halls Creek Narrows.
You'll definitely want to bring some quick-drying shoes or water sandals for wading through the Narrows section.
With all of the rocks, why not indulge a little? Grab a super light sit pad for a comfy spot to pop a squat.
For a comprehensive list of what to bring, check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. Print out the free checklist to make packing a breeze!
Do I Need a Permit?
Free permits need to be obtained in person. You can get these at several locations, including the Capitol Reef Visitors Center, Bullfrog Visitor Center, Anasazi State Park, and the Escalante Interagency Visitors Center.
For a fun trip exploring slot canyons that isn't terribly strenuous, you can't beat the Halls Creek Narrows trail. Have you completed this route? What are your favorite slot canyons to explore?
Looking for more hike ideas in the Desert Southwest? Read our "Best Backpacking Trips in the Desert Southwest" roundup post for a slew of ideas. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trips in the area.
Hike of the Week: The Wave
Hike of the Week: Toiyabe Crest Trail
Hike of the Week: Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon
Hike of the Week: White Rock Springs in the Superstition Mountains
Hike of the Week: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
Hike of the Week: Trans-Zion Trek
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles. These cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking.