Talk to just about anyone who has walked the loop trail in Upper Muley Twist Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park, and they’ll be happy to rant and rave about just how great the hike is. Hard to argue; this is certainly one of the finest and most rewarding hikes I have ever been on.
In Upper Muley Twist Canyon
The route includes an elegant loop which alternately pokes along the canyon bottom and then traverses the soaring rim of the Waterpocket Fold high above. There is so much to take in: a beautiful and fascinating canyon, spectacular geology, a bunch of natural arches, scattered prehistoric Native American artifacts, eye-popping panoramic views, not to mention a unique and unforgettable name – “Muley Twist”, who came up with that?
One of several arches in Upper Muley Twist
Upper Muley Twist Canyon runs just under the rim of the magnificent 100 mile long Water Pocket Fold, a gigantic geologic feature that dominates most of Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. The trailhead for the hike is near the crest of the Fold, just off the Burr Trail Road, a great back road which runs from the Notom-Bullfrog Road in Capitol Reef to the settlement of Boulder on Utah’s highway 12.
About a mile west of the exhilarating Burr Trail Road switchbacks, turn north onto the Strike Valley Overlook Road. Passenger cars can navigate this dirt track for about 0.4 miles before it drops steeply into the bed of Upper Muley Twist Canyon. Four wheeled vehicles are needed to drive the next 2.5 miles to a small parking area at the base of the Strike Valley Overlook Trail.
Wildly eroded Wingate sandstone
From the 4WD parking area, wander up the bed of Upper Muley Twist for about 1.8 miles. On the west wall of the canyon you will see Saddle Arch, and you may notice a metal sign on the east side of the wash which marks one end of the rim trail and the closing point for the big loop.
Two more miles up the bed of the canyon be alert for a bypass route marked with rock cairns leaving the wash on its east side. With this bypass, hikers avoid a narrow slot a short distance further up the canyon bottom. The cairn marked path continues up canyon until the narrows below are passed, and then drops back into the wash briefly. Not too far past the top of the narrows, watch for cairns marking the climb out of the bottom, up the east side of the canyon to the rim trail on the very crest of the Waterpocket Fold.
Walking the crest of Waterpocket Fold
Rock cairns mark the faint rim trail; follow the rim and cairns south for about 3 miles to a metal sign which marks the beginning of the descent westward to the bottom of Upper Muley Twist and the end of the loop.
Season: Fall and spring offer the best chances for pleasant outings. This area is hot in the summer and catches snow in the winter.
Water: Usually scarce; bring plenty of your own.
Note: Overnight backpacking requires a backcountry permit.
Difficulty: Moderately difficult. Those in passenger cars will park about 0.4 miles after turning off the Burr Trail Road onto the Strike Valley Overlook Road. The round trip distance from here is about 14.5 miles. Four wheel drive vehicles (and sometimes high clearance two wheel drive depending upon current conditions) can reach a parking area at the base of the Strike Valley Overlook Trail, which reduces the round trip mileage to about 9.5 miles. Elevation gain on the hike is 800 feet or so. The trail is more of a social trail than a constructed one; it pays to be watchful for the many rock cairns marking the route, especially on the rim portion of the trail.