Enjoy a dynamic, yet easy to access trek through a splendid canyon during your visit to Capitol Reef National Park. Sulphur Creek is one of the park’s most enjoyable hikes, because it is a fairly easy downhill one-way hike. Trip highlights include waterfalls, a 600-foot deep gorge, and opportunities for scrambling and canyoneering.
An ideal experience for adventurous families and those of almost all skill levels, your 5-mile route will ideally include a car or bicycle shuttle, so keep logistics in mind before setting out. A car or bicycle shuttle involves taking two vehicles and parking one at the end of the trail; likewise, locking bicycles at the end of the trail would provide for an enjoy return ride. You can also hike three miles along the road back to the trailhead. This hike is best done between late spring and early fall.
Park your car at the Chimney Rock trailhead — the hike starts on the opposite side of the street — and descend 500 vertical feet to the terminus at the Capitol Reef Visitor Center. The shade of the canyon walls and, at times, hiking through knee-deep water makes this route a refreshing respite from the summer heat of the desert.
The hike begins on a dry creek bed before reaching the confluence with Sulphur Creek. From here, depending on conditions, there can be several miles of, at most, knee-deep wading through the creek. A sturdy pair of shoes that drain well is especially helpful; during months when the water is cold, a pair of neoprene socks will be of benefit.
As you continue along the creek, the gorge stays fairly wide open until you come to the first waterfall, when, fairly suddenly, you are surrounded by sheer 600-foot canyon walls on either side. Halfway through the hike, you’ll step into the one-mile section of stunning narrows that makes Sulphur Creek memorable. You’ll find waterfalls, deep pools, and overhanging, subway-like channels. If you’re lucky, you’ll be hiking through when the layered, orange-red hues of the canyon walls seem to be aglow because of the way the sunlight bounces off the sandstone.
The cave-like channel is the most unique feature of the hike, and is reminiscent of some slot canyons in Zion National Park. The perennial creek has cut the rock walls away so that you are almost completely enclosed as you walk through this section. Meander along at your own pace to a slightly higher waterfall. Once the slot opens up, you’ll spot the final falls and the largest pool on the creek. In less than two miles, your hike will come to its end at the Visitor Center.
Note that there is moderate flash flood potential in Sulphur Creek, so check the forecast and play it safe if eminent weather looms. Additionally, there are three sections where children and new hikers might require aid, but in general, this is an easy hike for all ages and skill levels.
Trailhead: 38.315371, -111.304141
Trail end: 38.291361, -111.261818