Looking east from the top of the Waterpocket Fold
into Upper Muley Twist Canyon
Distance: 9.4 miles (plus 4.8 miles by bicycle)
Walking time: 6 hours
Elevations: 740 ft. gain/loss
• Upper Muley Twist Trailhead: 5,860 ft.
• top of Waterpocket Fold: 6,600 ft.
Trail: There is no developed trail for this hike, but the route is not too difficult to follow. Initially it follows the bottom of a desert canyon, then it loops back across the slickrock of the Waterpocket Fold. Where needed, the way is well marked with rock cairns. There is no water, so carry plenty.
Season: Spring, summer, fall, winter. Capital Reef is very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The ideal times for the hike are spring and fall. For current conditions call the Visitor Center, Capital Reef National Park, at (801) 425-3791.
Vicinity: Capital Reef National Park
No other hike in Capital Reef National Park offers as many scenic geological features as the loop through Upper Muley Twist Canyon. The canyon has been cut through a particularly interesting part of the Waterpocket Fold where the deep red Wingate Sandstone formation slopes down from the west, dipping under the eastern wall of white Navajo Sandstone. The Wingate Sandstone in this area has a tendency to erode into arches, and if you are observant you will see at least five arches on the west side as you hike up the canyon. The return portion of the hike is along a high slickrock ridge of Navajo Sandstone above the eastern side of the canyon, and the views from the top are magnificent. From this vantage point you will be able to see a large part of the hundred-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust that geologists call the Waterpocket Fold.
From the end of the road at the bottom of Upper Muley Twist Canyon you should begin this hike by walking north along the Muley Twist streambed. Another trail on the right side of the parking area leads east to the Strike Valley Overlook, but don’t be confused. This is not your trail. As you proceed be sure to scan the left side of the canyon occasionally, and after 1.6 miles you will see the first of five natural arches about 200 feet above the canyon floor. Another few hundred yards will bring you to a large crack in the canyon wall, with the second arch above it. This one is called Saddle Arch, and it is the only one of the five that has been given a name. Just below Saddle Arch you should also see a sign on the right indicating the beginning of the Rim Trail. You will be joining the Rim Trail farther up Muley Twist, and this is where you will later drop back into the Canyon.
Continuing up the wash for another 1.3 miles will bring you to a break in the red Wingate Sandstone where, again, you should be able to see two arches. The arches are about 200 yards on either side of the break, but this time they are higher up on the side of the wall. The fifth and last arch is another 0.8 miles upcanyon. This one is just at the bottom of a slot canyon joining the main canyon from the left and, unlike the others, is easily accessible.
A short distance beyond the last arch the canyon narrows and is blocked by a pouroff. In order to avoid the obstacle the trail climbs up the right side of the canyon to a shelf about 100 feet above the streambed. Watch for the rock cairns that show the way. The trail stays high for 0.6 mile before dropping back down to the bottom of the wash. Then, after only 0.1 mile more you will see another sign that says “Rim Trail”. This is where you will finally leave the canyon.
It is very easy to loose the way climbing out of the canyon on the Rim Trail, so be sure to watch carefully for stone cairns. There are plenty of markers, and if you walk for more than a hundred feet without seeing one you are probably off the trail. Most of them, however, are small and hard to spot. The trail goes straight up for a while and then doubles back through a break in the sandstone cliffs. Finally, after an altitude gain of only 200 feet, it breaks out onto the top of the Waterpocket Fold. The view comes upon you with no warning, and it is extremely impressive. One minute you are threading your way through the juniper forest, and the next minute you are on top of the world looking fifty miles down the Grand Gulch.
For the next two miles the view is nonstop. On one side of the slickrock ridge is the Grand Gulch, with Tarantula Mesa and Swap Mesa beyond, and on the other side is the Wingate Formation, containing all of the arches previously seen. In between, the top of the Waterpocket Fold seems to go on forever in both directions.
After about an hour you will come to another small sign saying “Canyon Route”, and from there the trail drops back down to the bottom of Muley Twist Canyon near the Saddle Arch. Again, pay attention to the rock cairns-it is easy to loose the way. From Saddle Arch, you will have to retrace your steps back to your car or bicycle at the trailhead.