18.1 miles (plus 5.0 miles by car or
Muley Twist Canyon
day 1: 6 hours
day 2: 4 hours
1,000 ft. loss, 200 ft. gain
Lower Muley Twist Trailhead (start):
Cowboy Camp: 4,770 ft.
The Post Trailhead: 4,860 ft.
There is no trail for most of this hike,
but the route is easy to follow. You
will be walking down the streambed of
a desert canyon for the first day, then
5.6 miles back to The Post along an
old abandoned wagon road. The walk is
easy, but unfortunately there is no
water. In hot weather you should carry
1.5 gallons of water per person just
Spring and fall. Summer hiking is possible,
but it is very hot. The hike can also
be pleasant during winter warm spells.
For current conditions call the Visitor
Center, Capital Reef National Park,
at (801) 425-3791.
Capital Reef National Park, southern
silence of Muley Twist Canyon was briefly
broken in the late 1800s, when it was
discovered to be a feasible route for
getting wagons through the formidable
Waterpocket Fold of southern Utah. Getting
around the rugged, hundred-mile-long
sandstone ridge had long been a major
problem for travelers in the area-especially
the Mormons, who were trying to settle
the southeastern corner of the Utah
Territory. On their famous Hole in the
Rock expedition from Escalante to Bluff
in 1879 it took the Mormon settlers
six months to travel around the southern
end of the barrier, so when Muley Twist
Canyon was discovered two years later
it quickly became the preferred route.
The narrow canyon was said to have so
many hairpin curves it could twist
a mule. Nevertheless, it was much
shorter and less hazardous than the
notorious Hole in the Rock Trail.
Twist Canyon was probably discovered
by a man named Charles Hall, who operated
a ferry service across the Colorado
River thirty miles south of the canyon.
Demand for his ferry increased dramatically
for two years after his discovery, and
his business thrived. However, in 1883
a new rail link across Utah was completed
by the DRG&W Railroad, and communications
between the eastern and western parts
of the state were greatly simplified.
Halls ferry service was shut down in
1884, and the winding trail through
Muley Twist Canyon was rarely ever used
are many short, steep canyons running
from the top of the Waterpocket Fold
into the Grand Gulch on its western
side. Muley Twist Canyon is unusual,
however, because it runs in a southerly
direction for a substantial distance
before turning into the Grand Gulch.
From its start at the Burr Trail Road,
Lower Muley Twist Canyon descends down
through the center of the Fold for some
10.7 miles before turning west. As you
walk down the canyon you will encounter
two or three large side canyons coming
in from the west. Bear to the left in
each case to stay in Muley Twist Canyon.
4.1 miles you will come to a junction,
where a wooden sign marks the Cutoff
Trail leading to The Post. If you are
looking for a shorter hike you can take
this two-mile shortcut and avoid the
bottom portion of Muley Twist. The most
interesting part of the hike, however,
is the part below the Cutoff Trail.
on past the Cutoff trail you will notice
many huge alcoves higher up the sides
of the canyon. These would seem to be
excellent places to find Indian ruins,
but the scarcity of water makes it unlikely
that Indians ever lived in the canyon.
1.7 miles below the Cutoff Trail the
streambed makes a deep swing inward
on the left side of the canyon, creating
a huge overhang in the cliff above.
For some 200 yards the trail continues
under the overhang. The cave-like nature
of the trail is enhanced by a 30-foot-high
pile of rubble on the right side of
the streambed that extends upward nearly
to the top of the overhang. This stretch
of the trail feels like nothing so much
as a subway tunnel. Then, 1.4 miles
beyond this tunnel the trail enters
another similar subway tunnel. The cool
air under the overhangs is a welcome
relief. At times there may also be pools
of water under them, but dont
expect to be so lucky during the hot
months of summer.
most of the Muley Twist Canyon there
is no trace of the fact that it was
once a major wagon route. Only in the
Cowboy Camp, 6.6 miles below the Cutoff
Trail junction can one still see a few
relics of the pioneers that once passed
through. The Cowboy Camp is in another
large alcove that has been undercut
into the west side of the canyon. This
time, however, the wide, flat floor
of the alcove is about ten feet above
the streambed; hence it is an excellent
camping area. For over a century travelers
and cowboys have broken their journeys
at Cowboy Camp, and now it contains
abundant signs of human occupation.
The collection includes a pile of old
rusted tin cans, a few leaf springs
from the wagons and, above all, graffiti.
There are many dated signatures on the
back of the alcove from the 1920s. Unfortunately
the camp floor is also liberally sprinkled
with old cow pies. There haven't been
any cattle in the canyon for many decades,
but the normal decay of organic material
occurs very slowly in this dry desert
leaving the Cowboy Camp, Muley Twist
Canyon finally turns east to begin the
final leg of its journey through the
Waterpocket Fold to the Grand Gulch.
The towering canyon walls begin to come
together, then their height gradually
starts to diminish, and finally the
impressive canyon is transformed into
nothing more than an insignificant desert
gully. About 0.2 mile after leaving
the Fold you will see another trail
crossing Muley Twist gully. This is
the trail to Brimhall Arch, and you
will have to turn left at this point
to get back to The Post. Watch closely
for the trail crossing because there
are no signs at the junction.
you have turned onto the Brimhall Arch
Trail it is an uneventful 5.6 miles
back to The Post where your shuttle
car or bicycle is parked. Again, there
is no water along the way.
are desperate for water when you reach
the Grand Gulch, there are two small
water holes called the Muley Tanks 1.0
mile south of Muley Twist. To get there
just turn right instead of left when
you see the Brimhall Arch Trail and
walk south until you see a sign directing
you to the Muley Tanks. Dont expect
a clear mountain spring, however. The
tanks are little more than two muddy
potholes at the bottom of a large slickrock
runoff. As their name suggests the tanks
are used primarily by pack animals,
and the water is usually pretty wretched.
If you really plan to drink it you had
better have some way of killing it first.