Upper Muley Twist Canyon
Covering both the panoramic crest of the Waterpocket Fold and the depths of an arch-studded canyon, Upper Muley Twist has it all.
- 15 km
- 461 m
- 461 m
- Low Point
- 1.8 km
- High Point
- 2 km
The trailhead is located down a rough side road from the Burr Trail Road, which is itself a long dirt drive from the main park area. High clearance 4WD can make it all the way to the Strike Valley Overlook trailhead, and the start of the route mapped here. Low clearance cars can’t make it very far, however, and should park at a spot 0.4 miles from the turn off of Burr Trail, with hikers walking the remaining 2.5 miles from there. Walking the road isn’t the worst thing, though, as there are arches and other formations to see along the way. Backpackers might choose to walk this road then also see Strike Valley Overlook and camp near the start of the Upper Muley Twist route. Note that backcountry permits are required for overnight trips.
The first portion of the hike is up a sandy wash where the scenery isn’t especially remarkable, but streaked cliffs and pocketed fins give a taste of more to come. The first arch along this trail is a blocky span in the Wingate called Muley Arch, and it’s followed shortly by the more elegantly formed Saddle Arch. The latter marks the start of the loop portion of the hike.
Clockwise or counterclockwise on the loop is a matter of preference. It’s mapped here going counterclockwise, taking the rim route first and the canyon route second. On the rim, you’ll climb to the undulating crest of the Waterpocket Fold, overlooking Muley Twist Canyon to the west and the broad Strike Valley to the east. Much of it is over trackless bare stone, so pay attention to the map and watch for cairns to aid in navigation. The steepest sections require some friction climbing and careful foot placements.
After this panoramic traverse, you’ll descend into Muley Twist Canyon, which carves through red Wingate and other sandstones. This portion of the hike also crosses a lot of bare slickrock, and though confined to the valley, you’ll have to pick your way around several obstacles and bypasses. There are sections of impressive narrows, but with dead ends at impassable pour offs. Allow extra time for out and backs into the narrows if you want to explore thoroughly. For the most part, you’ll peer into the dark slots from above, with a clear view of the warped rock hills all around.
When the route around the narrows rejoins the bottom of the wash, route finding becomes more straightforward, though there are still some boulders and ledges to work around. You may also encounter muddy sections or pools of water. Don’t forget to look up often, to find arches and alcoves in the red domes overhead. Eventually, the wash leads back to Saddle Arch and the junction with the stem portion of the trail. Then it’s an easy walk back to the starting point.