A hike through a deep, dry canyon with towering Wingate walls and Navajo domes. The entire canyon can be done as a two to three day backpacking trip. Upper Spring Canyon can be done as an overnight trip. Lower Spring Canyon can be done as a long day hike.
Upper end of Spring Canyon: via the Holt Draw Road which is located 7.2 miles west of the visitor center on Hwy 24. The Holt Draw Road is a dirt road on the north (right) side of the road (.9 miles from the park boundary.) Midway (Provides access to the lower end of the Upper Spring Canyon section and access to the top of the Lower Spring Canyon section): at the Chimney Rock trailhead located 3.2 miles west of the visitor center on Hwy 24. Lower end of Spring Canyon: across the Fremont River and a short distance downstream of the picnic area parking lot which is located 3.6 miles east of the visitor center on Hwy 24. MAPS USGS 7.5 Minute Series: Fruita and Twin Rocks. Alternatively: Earth Walk Press, Capitol Reef National Park. Available from the CRNHA at the park Visitor Center.
Spring and fall. Extremely hot in summer. Can be snowpacked and icy in winter. Carry adequate water; no reliable water along route.
The Spring Canyon hike traverses a 23-mile section of canyon stretching from the shoulder of Thousand Lake Mountain to the Fremont River. The canyon is broken into two sections: Upper and Lower Spring Canyon. The canyon can be accessed midway via Chimney Rock Canyon. The junction of Chimney Rock Canyon with Spring Canyon delineates the end of Upper Spring Canyon and the start of Lower Spring Canyon.
Upper Spring Canyon is a strenuous 21.5 mile hike from Holt Draw to Chimney Rock. Route finding skills and the ability to read and use a topographic map are necessary. This route should only be attempted by experienced canyon country hikers. To access upper Spring Canyon, park at the gate and follow the old Holt Draw Road until it ends near Sulphur Creek approximately 1.5 miles from Hwy 24. Here you will find a horse trail angling north toward Sulphur Creek. Follow this trail a short distance to the creek then walk upstream in the creek bed approximately 3 miles (this should take 1.25 to 1.5 hours). Here, the Wingate cliffs will tower directly over you. At this point, you will find a small drainage on the right (northeast) side of the wash that is marked with rock cairns. Follow this drainage up (approximately .3 mile) to a bench above the wash; you will be on the soft, grey-green Chile formation below the Wingate cliffs. There is a USGS cadastral marker on the bench near this point. If you are using a USGS topographic map, this cadastral marks the four-corner meeting point of sections S24, S25, S29, S30. Follow the bench in an easterly direction around an outcropped prominent point in the Wingate cliff. As you round the point, you will see two deep clefts cutting through the Wingate wall ahead. This is known as the "W" pass. The distance from the bed of Sulphur Creek to the "W" is approximately 1 mile and is intermittently marked with rock cairns. Take the left side of the "W" to pass easily through the Wingate and down into Spring Canyon (a distance of about .5 mile). The route through the "W" is easy and does not require ropes or climbing; if you encounter sections that require this, then you are in the wrong section of the "W." Sporadic rock cairns continue to the canyon bottom.
Once you reach the canyon, follow the drainage downstream. In approximately 1 mile, you will encounter an impassable pour off. Bypass this on the right (south) side of the canyon. After another mile, a large side canyon joins the main canyon on the left . From this point, the route has no distinctive landmarks until you reach the spring, approximately 13 miles down canyon from the "W." The spring is marked on topographic maps and is identified as a large alcove on the left (north) side of the canyon. It is surrounded by large cottonwood trees and usually has a large plunge pool at the bottom. Please use this water sparingly and do not pollute it with soaps, lotions, etc. Swimming is discouraged. You may camp in the vicinity, but do not camp right next to the spring. From the spring, the junction of Chimney Rock Canyon is 1.5 miles downstream. This junction is marked with a sign. At this point, you can continue down the canyon 9 miles through Lower Spring Canyon to the Fremont River or you can exit the canyon via Chimney Rock Canyon and the Chimney Rock Trail. It is 4 miles from the spring to the Chimney Rock parking area. Note: The "W" pass will be difficult to find when hiking Upper Spring Canyon in the opposite direction of the route just described.
Lower Spring Canyon is a moderately strenuous nine- mile hike from the Chimney Rock parking area to the Fremont River. The hike can also be done in the opposite direction, hiking up the canyon from the river. From the Chimney Rock parking area, follow the Chimney Rock loop trail. At the top of the switchbacks, take the left side of the loop trail and follow it one mile to Chimney Rock Canyon which is marked with a sign. Follow Chimney Rock Canyon approximately 1.5 miles to Spring Canyon. This junction is marked with a sign. While in Chimney Rock Canyon, 3 large side canyons will join the main canyon on the left (west.) These side canyons are good places to set up camp if you are on an overnight trip.
When you reach the junction with Spring Canyon, continue downstream (right/east) to access Lower Spring Canyon. From the junction it is 6.5 miles to the Fremont River. Approximately 1 mile down canyon, you will encounter a short section of narrows with two 10-15 foot vertical dry falls. Please be aware that either of these dry falls will be much more difficult to negotiate if there are pools below. The upper dry fall is more difficult to negotiate than the lower. To climb down this obstacle, sit on the lip of the pour off facing down canyon, dangle your feet over the edge as you brace yourself by pushing your hands against the canyon walls. Search for a finger pocket in the rock face on the left wall at approximately waist level. By placing your left hand into this pocket while bracing off the walls, you can significantly increase the friction needed to successfully negotiate this dry fall obsacle. Slowly lower yourself onto a ledge (barely visible from above) that is approximately 3.5 feet below the lip. This is a somewhat difficult and exposed friction move that probably will not be negotiable to any person less than about 5 feet 8 inches tall. Once you have your feet on the ledge, you should be able to climb the rest of the way down without too much difficulty. A short piece of rope is helpful to lower packs (20+ foot length). You can climb down the lower dry fall without too mcuh trouble if you stay left in the main chute. The two dry falls can be bypassed entirely by following a cairned route on the left (north) side of the canyon. The bypass route is an extremly narrow footpath and has steep, loose sections with extreme exposure. This is not a maintained route, and conditions can change drastically due to storms. Fallen rocks obstruct this route in several places. Use caution, especially if wet, snowy or icy conditions exist. Below the dry falls, continue down canyon approximately 5 more miles to the river. The river is normally less than thigh deep and is not difficult to ford. Use caution if flood conditions are present, which may produce swift, deep water and floating debris. If you left a vehicle at the picnic area on Hwy 24, it will be located a short distance upstream from the point you exited the canyon. If you left your vehicle at the Chimney Rock parking area, hike west (right) along Hwy 24 to your starting point (7 miles).
MILEAGES (approximate) Upper Spring Canyon from Holt Draw to Chimney Rock parking area: 21.5 miles Lower Spring Canyon from Chimney Rock parking area to the Fremont River: 9 miles Upper and Lower Spring Canyon from Holt Draw to the Fremont River: 28.5 miles Spring Canyon from Chimney Rock parking area via Chimney Rock Canyon: 2.5 miles