Capitol Reef National Park

Sulphur Creek

Three waterfalls, water, and high canyon walls that narrow to less than 10 feet are the major attractions on this premium day hike.

Starting from the Visitor Center, walk to Sulphur Creek, just behind the headquarters complex. Walk upstream. You soon enter the sheer walls of the Moenkopi Formation, with interlaced gypsum bands in the walls. Keep your eye out for dinosaur tracks under some of the ledges at the beginning of the hike.

Fremont cottonwoods line the hike, in the fall casting golden reflections in the perennial waters of the creek. Along the way, small cascades fall from the cobble strewn bed. Soon, you will enter the Kaibab Limestone then the White Rim Sandstone, marking the beginning of the waterfalls and narrow, sheer walled canyon.

The first waterfall can be skirted on the right, a tricky ledge traverses a few feet above the creek. This waterfall circumvention is the toughest on the hike, so heed this warning. The canyon bottom then becomes slickrock, with many pools for reflection photographic shots. The second waterfall is bypassed on the left. This section between the second and last waterfall is a narrow canyon, the walls sometimes just 10 feet across. The last waterfall is the highest, and is bypassed again on the left. Look for rock cairns to guide you up and over. From the top, carefully look down on the waterfall and through the slot where you just came.

From the last waterfall, you re-enter the Moenkopi Formation, the walls looming over 800 feet high. Soon, high on your right, you might see visitors at the fenced Goosenecks. The overlook from above is an important landmark. At the next major canyon on your right, follow it up-canyon, always staying in the main drainage. This canyon will twist and turn, eventually taking you back to Utah Hwy 24 at the Chimney Rock trailhead.

Trailhead: A shuttle is necessary to complete this trip in one day. You can start from either of two trailheads, leaving a bicycle or vehicle at either end. One is located at the Chimney Rock trailhead, located approximately 3 miles west of the Visitor Center on Utah Hwy 24. The second is located at the Visitor Center. If you are shuttling a bicycle, it is recommended that you park your vehicle at the Chimney Rock trailhead, then bicycle to the Visitor Center, and hike up Sulphur Creek to the trailhead. This is recommended due to a large hill that would be very strenuous to climb after your hike but is great fun to bike to the Visitor Center.

Maps: USGS 7.5 Minute Series: Fruita, Twin Rocks or Earth Walk Press, Capitol Reef National Park. Available from the CRNHAat the Visitor Center.

Distance: 4.5 miles one-way.

Note: If you are hiking in the summer, take water with you and wear a hat. Although water is always present in Suphur Creek, it is very bad tasting because of, you guessed it, the water's sulphur content. And, never enter Sulphur Creek if the weather is threatening. Flash floods can, and do, occur and can leave you stranded in the canyon.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 24 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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