Sulphur Creek has cut a deep canyon that passes through the oldest rocks exposed at Capitol Reef. It is a perennial steam with a flow that varies significantly in response to upstream water usage, snowmelt, and heavy rain. There are about two miles of scenic narrows and three small waterfalls. Bypassing the falls requires the ability to scramble down 12-foot ledges. The route nearly always requires some walking in shallow water, but it is not uncommon for there to be much deeper water that might even require swimming. This route may be difficult for children if deep water is present. Ask at the visitor center for the latest condition report. Dangerous flash floods are an occasional hazard on this route - do not hike the Sulphur Creek route if there is a chance of rain.
The 5.8-mile (9.3 km) one-way hike through Sulphur Creek Canyon involves leaving a shuttle vehicle at each end. If you don't have two vehicles, a 3.3-mile (5.3 km) hike along Highway 24 is required to return to your starting point. Vehicle shuttles are not provided or facilitated by the park. Though legal, hitchhiking is not recommended.
This route is not an official, maintained trail. Route conditions, including obstacles in canyons, change frequently due to weather, flash floods, rockfall, and other hazards. Routefinding, navigation, and map-reading skills are critical. Do not rely solely on unofficial route markers (rock cairns, etc.); they are not maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), may not indicate the route in this description, or may be absent.
Note: Capitol Reef National Park recommends hikers do not fully submerge themselves or ingest water directly from Sulphur Creek because E. coli bacteria can be present in the water. Bacteria levels occasionally exceed Utah's recreational health threshold. Sources of E. coli bacteria in waterways may include runoff from upstream agricultural and grazing land, and human and wildlife waste.
The upper end of the Sulphur Creek route can be accessed from the designated parking lot, 3.3 miles (5.3 km) west of the visitor center, which is 0.3 miles (0.5 km) west of the Chimney Rock trailhead, on Highway 24. The route ends (or begins) behind the visitor center.
For those wishing to hike a short section of the canyon to a small waterfall, begin your hike at the visitor center and follow Sulphur Creek upstream 0.7 mile (1.2 km). Parking for this section of the Sulphur Creek route is by the bridge on State Route 24, just west of the visitor center in a gravel parking area. Please do not park in the visitor center parking lot while hiking.
Many hikers choose to hike the entire route in the downstream direction, starting at the paved parking area 3.3 miles (5.3 km) west of the visitor center and ending at the visitor center. This description details the hike in that direction.
Just over the hill next to the parking area is a short hiker-made trail that leads down into a small wash after 0.1 mile (0.16 km). Walking in the wash bottom reduces the hiker impacts on the sparse plant community. Continue downsteam in the small wash for 0.4 mile (0.6 km) until it runs into a much larger wash. Bear right (south) and follow the wash for another 1.3 miles (2.1 km). Before the confluence with Sulphur Creek, the wash narrows and there are two 6-foot (2 m) pour-offs to downclimb. If you are hiking in the opposite direction (visitor center to Chimney Rock), the exit is at UTM 0473452mE, 4239348mN (NAD27 datum).
Once at the creek, turn left (east) and walk downstream. Several crossings of the creek may be necessary, but if the flow is low, it may be possible to jump over the creek. The canyon very quickly deepens. A half mile (0.8 km) along is the first view of the fence at Goosenecks Overlook, about 800 feet (244 m) above. From here it is another mile (1.6 km) of creekside walking to the first falls and the beginning of the narrows section.
To pass by the falls, keep to the right (south) and cross angled slickrock. Next to the wall, scramble down a 10-foot (3 m) pitch; this will require the use of hands to negotiate. Below the falls, the canyon tightens with undercut walls. Note that flash floods rearrange Sulphur Creek significantly and have, in the past, created six-foot-deep (1.8 m) pools that cannot be avoided. It is only 750 feet (229 m) to the next falls, also passed on the right (south). Here, pass under a large rock against the south canyon wall and scramble down three separate short pitches, slightly more difficult than the first falls. Beyond this falls there are narrows that usually require walking through water. After the second falls, it is 1.7 miles (2.8 km) to the third and final waterfall. Though only about eight feet (2.4 m) high, this obstacle requires a short but slippery traverse on a narrow ledge to the left (north), followed by a short downclimb - use caution. A faint hiker made bypass trail can be accessed by returning upstream about 20 yards (18 m) to a point where it is possible to climb out on the south side via a series of ledges. Once atop the ledges, follow the bypass to the east, traversing the slope above the lower cliffs south of the creek. The bypass eventually descends back to creek level well beyond the falls.
The lower 0.7 mile (1.2 km) of the route follows the creek until it passes by the park headquarters and visitor center. Alternatively, when the cliff to the north of the stream ends, find a hiker-made track that leads to that point, where there is an old lime kiln built and used by the early residents of Fruita. Please preserve this fragile historic relic by not climbing on or inside the kiln.The trail continues over a low hill and down to Sulphur Creek behind the visitor center. Go around the left (north) side of the buildings to the parking lot.
Note: Capitol Reef National Park recommends hikers do not ingest water from Sulphur Creel because E. coli bacteria are occasionally detected at frequencies greater than Utah water quality standards. Sources of E. coli bacteria in Sulphur Creek may include runoff from upstream agricultural, grazing, and urban land, and human and wildlife waste.
Trailhead/parking area to Sulphur Creek confluence..............................................1.8 miles (2.86 km)
Sulphur Creek confluence to first waterfall...............................................................1.5 miles (2.5 km)
First waterfall to second waterfall...............................................................................750 feet (229 m)
Second waterfall to third waterfall............................................................................1.7 miles (2.8 km)
Third waterfall to lower end of route (visitor center)..................................................0.7 mile (1.2 km)
Total route distance (UT Highway 24 trailhead to visitor center)............................5.8 miles (9.3 km)
Rules and Regulations
Pets are not permitted on trail or in off-trail or backcountry areas. Pets are permitted on roads and in designated campgrounds.
Fires are prohibited.
Collecting or damaging any park resource (plants, animals, wood, rocks, bones, antlers, artifacts, etc.) is prohibited.
Recorded park information available 24 hours a day. Phones are answered when staff is available. If no one answers, please leave a message, your call will be returned. Questions may also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.