Arches and Slot Canyons in Capitol Reef National Park

A narrow but shallow section giving a view of the sky.

Just like our previous trip, this was a spur of the moment decision. Except, this time, there were no campsites available at Capitol Reef National Park. In fact, all campsites were reserved for months in advance. This is quite different from our last visit here in 1988 (a long time ago, I know) when we just rolled in to the campground and grabbed a great site. Those days are long gone, I think.

We did some research online and found a nice Bed & Breakfast located just a few miles outside of the park; we made reservations for three nights at the Sunlit Oasis B&B in Notom, Utah. It’s very nice and we enjoyed our stay there.

We arrived at the B&B in late afternoon and sat down to dinner a few minutes later—then watched the fading light on the eastern hills. With a really nice wraparound deck, we found ourselves outside watching the darkness settle in until it got just a bit too chilly.

Sunset view from the deck at Sunlit Oasis Bed & Breakfast.
Sunset view from the deck at Sunlit Oasis Bed & Breakfast.

The next morning, we were off early for a day of hiking in the park. Our plan was to do a couple of short hikes in different sections of the park. What we did, instead, was one long hike.

The Elijah Cutler Behunin Cabin in Capitol Reef National Park.
The Elijah Cutler Behunin Cabin in Capitol Reef National Park.
Narrow section of Grand Wash in Capitol Reef National Park.
Narrow section of Grand Wash in Capitol Reef National Park.

We started in Grand Wash—a canyon with some narrows along the short hike. Early morning provided deep shadows in the narrow sections so I spent a fair bit of time shooting photographs. At the upper end of the wash is another trailhead and parking area. Instead of turning around, which was our plan, we continued up the Cassidy Arch Trail. Whereas the Grand Wash Trail has little in the way of elevation gain, Cassidy Arch trail wastes no time in climbing up out of the canyon onto the upper sandstone benches. Apparently, the arch is named after Butch Cassidy who may have had a hideout in these regions.

First view of Cassidy Arch.
First view of Cassidy Arch.
Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef National Park.
Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef National Park.

Along the way, a couple passed us carrying ropes and other technical gear. We learned that they were headed to the arch to start a series of seven rappels into the slot canyons below. Sounds exciting! I managed to get several interesting photos of the two as they descended into the canyon below. Afterwards, we could still hear them as they set up for subsequent rappels but we were unable to see them.

Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.
Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.
Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.
Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.

We returned via Grand Wash in mid-afternoon. By this time, the sun was high overhead and there was little in the way of shade or photogenic scenery. After returning to the car, we drove farther into the park and along Capitol Reef Scenic Road towards Capitol Gorge. The last time we visited this park, this road was gravel. It is now paved. Progress!

Our plans for the next day were a bit more ambitious. We found a couple of interesting slot canyons that had their starting points just a short distance from our B&B, then traveled westward and into the park. The middle and upper stretches of these canyons had many narrows and slots. One might even have water in this dry year. We chose Burro Wash which has less water. On this trip, it had none.

The beginning section of Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
The beginning section of Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
Some climbing moves are required to get past the chockstones in Burro Wash.
Some climbing moves are required to get past the chockstones in Burro Wash.

The first part of the hike was through dry grasslands and sandy washes but soon enough we entered the confines of the canyon. Several locations had chockstones blocking the route and we had to find ways to climb up and over. Most were pretty easy; some were trickier. The narrows got really narrow. Several times we just barely had enough width for a boot at the bottom and we had to turn our shoulders slightly sideways. On top of that, the slot was actually tilted a few degrees so you could not stand up straight. What fun!

Approaching the first set of narrows in Burro Wash.
Approaching the first set of narrows in Burro Wash.
Wide enough to walk. Not all the narrows and slot sections were this easy.
Wide enough to walk. Not all the narrows and slot sections were this easy.
Narrow and tilted! Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
Narrow and tilted! Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
Looking back at what we had just traversed. This required ducking under some rocks and climbing others. And it's tilted.
Looking back at what we had just traversed. This required ducking under some rocks and climbing others. And it’s tilted.
A narrow but shallow section giving a view of the sky.
A narrow but shallow section giving a view of the sky.

Eventually, we reached a chockstone that was more challenging that the rest. We took a lunch break at this spot. A few minutes later, a younger hiker ambled by and found a way up and over the chockstone. He returned about 15 minutes later and said we JUST HAD TO SEE THE NEXT SECTION! With his help, we ascended the large chockstone and found ourselves in a very narrow, deep, and dark slot. After a short distance it ended in an open area with a large pouroff — and no way to continue. After a short time spent enjoying this spot, we returned to our lunch spot and packs.

End of the trail. Behind is a tall pouroff preventing further travel.
End of the trail. Behind is a tall pouroff preventing further travel.
A deep and dark section of the slot canyon in Burro Wash.
A deep and dark section of the slot canyon in Burro Wash.
A wavy section of the canyon on our way back out.
A wavy section of the canyon on our way back out.

Clouds had begun to build. There was no threat of rain reaching the ground — and certainly no threat of a flash flood — but being in a slot canyon with rain nearby is never my idea of a smart thing. Fortunately, the clouds cut down on the intensity of the sun and the hike back out through the grasslands and sandy washes was much more comfortable than it would have been otherwise.

We arrived back at the car and began to put our gear away. I took off my shoes to empty out the sand and was astounded at how much sand was in them. How was it even possible for this much sand and my feet to coexist in the shoes?

Petroglyph panel in Capitol Reef National Park.
Petroglyph panel in Capitol Reef National Park.
Orchards and meadows in the main visitor area of Capitol Reef National Park.
Orchards and meadows in the main visitor area of Capitol Reef National Park.

We left early the next morning and drove westward through the park and then on Utah 12. It’s been several decades since I’ve been on this road and it was fun to see again. There are some great views from many locations along the highway.

A section of Utah 12 northeast of Escalante.
A section of Utah 12 northeast of Escalante.

We stopped in the small town of Escalante for lunch and then continued home.

Fun trip!