Lower Muley Twist Canyon
Overview: A day hike with overnight options through part of the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park. You hike through a deep canyon in a remote wilderness with splendid vistas, gaining a historical perspective on the Mormon pioneers who passed through this area in the late 1800s.
Start: Lower Muley Twist Trailhead off Burr Trail Road.
Distance: 6 miles point to point.
Trail surface: Sandy canyon floor.
Seasons: Spring (early April through mid-May) and fall (early October through late November).
Nearest town: Boulder.
Fees and permits: A free backcountry permit is required for overnight use.
Maps: USGS Wagon Box Mesa and The Post quads; National Geographic Trails Illustrated Glen Canyon and Capitol Reef Map. DeLorme: Utah Atlas & Gazetteer: Page 28 D3.
Trail contacts: Superintendent, Capitol Reef National Park, HC 70 Box 15, Torrey, UT 84775-9602; (435) 425–3791; website.
Finding the trailhead: Take Notom-Bullfrog Road south from Highway 24 near the east border of Capitol Reef National Park. After about 35 miles, turn right (west) onto Burr Trail Road and continue another 2 miles to the Lower Muley Twist Trailhead on the left.
For a shuttle hike, drive another 2.3 miles south past the Burr Trail Road turnoff on Notom-Bullfrog Road to The Post. Park here or bear right onto a dirt spur road for another 0.7 mile. The road ends at the signed trailhead for Lower Muley Twist Canyon.
The Lower Muley Twist hike passes through a representative portion of the 100-mile- long eroded uplift called the Waterpocket Fold, most of which lies within Capitol Reef National Park. The canyon offers many opportunities for side trips and off-trail exploring.
There are several possible hikes in the canyon. You may choose an out-and-back day hike starting from the trailhead on the Burr Trail Road, a day or overnight hike from the same trailhead to The Post on the Notom-Bullfrog Road, or an extended overnighter farther into Muley Twist Canyon.
If you choose the overnight option, get a permit at the Highway 24 visitor center in Capitol Reef National Park. Fires are not permitted. Check at the visitor center for other backcountry regulations as well as updates on road and trail conditions.
From the Burr Trail parking area at about 5,640 feet, begin a descent into Lower Muley Twist Canyon. The canyon winds tortuously through its entire length, enough to “twist a mule” pulling a wagon.
Carry at least one gallon of water per person, especially in summer. There are no reliable water sources in the area. And during June, July, and August, temperatures often rise to more than one hundred degrees Fahrenheit.
The canyon narrows in some areas while widening in others. For the most part, the slickrock canyon walls are white Navajo sandstone colored by streaks of desert varnish and lichens. The red sandstone is from the Kayenta and Wingate formations. It is the Wingate that has been undercut in the canyon, forming “sandstone caves” and high arching overhangs.
About 4 miles down Muley Twist, after descending approximately 300 feet, you reach the junction with a cutoff trail to The Post on the left (east). (Day hikers without a shuttle could backtrack to the trailhead at this point for an 8-mile round trip.) Turn left and hike the 2 miles to the lower trailhead (2.7 miles to The Post), climbing up and over the Waterpocket Fold. If you keep going south through Muley Twist, it is 8 more miles to Halls Creek, the continuation of Charles Hall’s road to the old Colorado River crossing.
Option: For an overnight trip, continue south through the canyon from the cutoff trail to The Post for 8 miles. Near the end of Muley Twist, the canyon suddenly narrows and heads directly east. As the narrows open, you see sheer cliffs, the east rim of the Strike Valley formed by Halls Creek. Turn left (north) and hike 5 miles back to The Post, ascending about 300 vertical feet along the way. The land here is parched and dry. You can hike along Halls Creek or follow an old jeep road. You pass reminders of use by stockmen over the years — bleached bones of range cattle, cowboy campsites, and trampled wash banks.
If you’ve left a car at The Post, your hike is over. For those parked at the Burr Trail Road trailhead, you must decide whether to walk the Notom-Bullfrog Road north and then up the Burr Trail Road switchbacks (4.3 miles) to the trailhead or return via the cutoff trail west and then north up Lower Muley Twist (6 miles).