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.

Hiking Severe

Distance
15 km
Ascent
461 m
Descent
461 m
Duration
3-4 hrs
Low Point
1.8 km
High Point
2 km
Gradient
Upper Muley Twist Canyon Map

This stem-and-loop route goes through the bottom of a canyon and along the top of a slickrock ridge. With several sandstone arches, spacious alcoves, sinuous narrows, and panoramic views, it offers a little bit of everything to be found in Capitol Reef’s remote Waterpocket District. The off-trail route is quite challenging, but just getting there is no easy matter, either.

Description

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.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/upper-muley-twist-canyon.htm https://liveandlethike.com/2015/03/01/upper-muley-twist-canyon-capitol-reef-national-park-ut/

Difficulty

Severe

Hiking challenging trails where simple scrambling, with the occasional use of the hands, is a distinct possibility. The trails are often filled with all manner of obstacles both small and large, and the hills are very steep. Obstacles and challenges are often unexpected and can be unpredictable.

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

March, April, May, June, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Summit Hike
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area