I am thrilled to bring to you another amazing secret hike in a National Park! I have been so eager to share this one with you because it is one of the most fun hikes you will ever do. Seriously! You and your family will love it.
Capitol Reef is probably the least-known National Park in Utah, but is one of my favorite areas to visit. This hike is called Sulphur Creek, and while technically it is a backcountry trail (you can find it on the map), you are not provided with any additional information. That is why I consider this a secret hike, because you definitely have to know what you are looking for.
The reason this hike is SO MUCH FUN is because the river is your trail. Much like the very popular and busy Narrows trail in Zion, you get a similar experience without all of the time and preparation. The Sulphur Creek trail is shorter and more kid-friendly with spectacular views and three beautiful waterfalls.
What You Need to Know
Whenever I have hiked the Sulphur Creek Trail in the past, I have taken the traditional route. This route is about 6 miles and requires a shuttle car parked at the Visitor Center to get back to the trailhead. If you can do the whole route, I definitely recommend it!
This weekend, John and I decided to try hiking up from the Visitor Center to see if we could find a nice hike for someone who didn’t want to worry about a shuttle car or who had small children that might not make it the whole 6 miles. What we found was great! It didn’t require any climbing or scrambling (which made me feel better with a little baby in tow) but we still got to hike in the water and see a waterfall.
This hike is best done in the middle of the day, when it is hot and sunny. It is very refreshing and nice way to cool down. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and snacks. You will want to wear shoes that can get wet and dirty but have good traction. I like to wear my hiking sandals (chacos). Also, check the weather before you go because flash floods can sweep through this route. The water level in the creek should not be much higher than your ankles (mid-calves in some deeper spots) for the hike to be safe.
Take small steps! This creek has a lot of sediments which makes it hard to see the bottom.
To Hike the Traditional Route: Park at the Chimney Rock Trailhead and cross Highway 24 to get to the trail (don’t take the Chimney Rock Trail). You will see a dry wash that looks like a trail. This is where you begin.
For the first 1.5 miles of the Sulphur Creek Trail, follow the dry wash. When you reach the creek, take a left and hike for another 1.5 miles. From here, you will hike through the Goosenecks, the First Waterfall, the Second Waterfall, and the Narrows before finally reaching the Third Waterfall.
The most stunning section of this trail is the 1.7 miles between the First and Third Waterfalls. When you reach the Third Waterfall, it’s just another 0.7 miles or so to the Visitor Center. Some non-technical bouldering and scrambling is required to get past the waterfalls. Just remember, for the first two waterfalls the trail is to the right. For the last waterfall, you will want to go down on the left side.
The hike ends when you get to the Visitor Center, at which point you will need to drive your shuttle car back to Chimney Rock, or walk the 3 miles along the highway.
To Hike the Shortened Route: Park at the Visitor Center. To the right of the Visitor Center, you will find a trail that leads down to the water. Take a left when you get to the water, and just follow the creek for approximately 0.7 miles to the waterfall. Return the same way you came.
From Torrey, take Highway 24 east for about 11 miles to get to the Visitor Center. If you are taking the traditional route, park a car here, and then with the other car, drive west on Highway 24 for 3 miles to get to the Chimney Rock Trailhead to start the trail.
If you are taking the shortened route, your hike will start at the Visitor Center so you can just park there and begin.