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The spectacular Waterpocket District, or southern section, of Capitol Reef National Park is open all year. Vehicles with good ground clearance, such as pickup trucks, vans, and a variety of passenger cars, can usually negotiate most of the roads without difficulty. However, road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent weather conditions. Spring and summer rains and winter snows can sometimes leave roads slick, muddy, washed out, and impassable to the best four wheel drive vehicle. Many of the roads are unpaved, and are often rough, sandy, and corrugated. Check at the visitor center for current road and weather conditions before you begin.
Vehicle and foot travel in the southern part of the park can be light to moderate, depending on the time of year, so be prepared for the unexpected. If you have problems, help may not arrive for hours or even days. Carry plenty of water, food, gas, adequate clothing, a shovel, and emergency supplies. Cool/cold temperatures will accompany sudden summer storms or an unexpected night out in the backcountry. Daytime temperatures in the summer may top 100 degrees and winter highs may stay below freezing, so dress and plan accordingly. THE LOOP TOUR Most visitors to the southern part of the park drive the 125 mile loop, or various sections of it. Start at the visitor center and follow Hwy 24 east to the Notom Road; take the Notom-Bullfrog Road south to the Burr Trail Road; continue on the Burr Trail Road west to Boulder; continue north on Hwy 12 to Torrey; and then drive east on Hwy 24 back to the visitor center. Highways 24 and 12 and the first 5 miles of the Notom Road from Hwy 24 are paved. The Burr Trail Road from the park boundary west to Boulder is also a surfaced road.
Side trips can be taken south of the Burr Trail Road junction along the Notom- Bullfrog Road to short day hikes at Surprise and Headquarters Canyons (each is a moderate 2-mile round trip), or to the Hall's Creek Overlook, which may require high clearance or four wheel drive, for an outstanding view of the Fold and Brimhall Natural Bridge. Along the Burr Trail Road, a four-wheel-drive-only side road follows Upper Muley Twist Canyon to the Strike Valley Overlook, a colorful, bird's eye view of the Fold and the Henry Mountains.
Camping is restricted to the 5-site Cedar Mesa campground located along the Notom-Bullfrog Road 20 miles south of Hwy 24. The campground is free and is run on a first-come, first-served basis. Picnic tables, grills, and pit toilets are provided. Water is not available. Wood collecting is not permitted in the park. A 3-mile round trip hike to Red Canyon, a colorful, high-walled box canyon, starts from the campground.
Backpackers must obtain a free backcountry permit at the visitor center before starting their trip. Multi-day backpacking trips can be done in Hall's Creek, Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons, and other areas in the south.
Approximate Distances From the Visitor Center: 9 mi Notom Road 31 mi Cedar Mesa Campground 43 mi Burr Trail Road Junction 45 mi The Post 60 mi Hall's Creek Overlook 80 mi Boulder (via the Notom-Bullfrog and Burr Trail Roads) 47 mi Boulder (via Hwy 12) Notom-Bullfrog Road to Lake Powell (at Bullfrog Marina) The Notom-Bullfrog Road south from the Burr Trail Road junction traverses approximately 25 miles of spectacular desert country to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell at Bullfrog marina. After leaving Capitol Reef, the unpaved road continues 10 miles to a major road junction. The road to Lake Powell is paved from this point south, approximately 10 miles, to the boundary of Glen Canyon NRA. The access road to Hall's Creek Overlook is located along this section of road and is marked by signs. Within Glen Canyon, the road is unpaved until you reach the developed area approximately 4 miles from the marina. The road from Capitol Reef to Bullfrog is normally in good condition, with the exception of the Bullfrog Creek crossing (several miles north of the marina) which occasionally is impassable due to deep water and mud.
Approximate Distances From the Burr Trail and Notom-Bullfrog Roads Junction: 2 mi The Post 3 mi South Park Boundary 15 mi Junction with Paved Road to Bullfrog Marina 15.5 mi Hall's Creek Overlook Access Road 25 mi Bullfrog Marina GEOLOGY A drive south along the Notom-Bullfrog Road offers comprehensive views of the 100-mile long geologic structure known as the Waterpocket Fold . The Fold, a monocline in geologic terms, is a premier example of the bending and folding of rock layers. The Waterpocket Fold is notable for its great length, as well as for the dramatic manner in which its colorful sedimentary rock layers have been exposed, deformed, and carved by erosion. The monocline extends from Thousand Lake Mountain in the north to the vicinity of Lake Powell in the south.
Pressure deep within the Earth caused the overlying horizontal rock layers to be pushed upward and folded over. Today this monoclinal structure appears as a step with one sloping side that ends in an abrupt cliff line. The east side of the Fold is tilted as much as 60% from the normal horizontal which caused accelerated stream erosion to occur. An estimated 7,000 feet of overlying rock has been eroded away since the formation of the Fold, 60 million years ago. The west side, or escarpment face, is a near vertical cliff line and a formidable barrier to travel.
Erosion and the resulting geological features provide a source of park names. The vast expanse of white Navajo Sandstone atop the sloped side of the monocline is dotted with numerous natural tanks or potholes that collect rain water, contributing the name "Waterpocket" Fold. Navajo Sandstone domes resemble the rounded roof of the Capitol building, hence the name "Capitol." Many early travelers were former sailors who likened the vertical cliffs of Wingate Sandstone to a barrier common in nautical travel: a "Reef."
As you travel along the Notom-Bullfrog Road you will be driving through Strike Valley, which runs parallel to and on the east side of the Waterpocket Fold. The Burr Trail Road crosses through the Fold via a series of steep switchbacks. Both roads offer an outstanding viewing platform for this geologic wonder and of the Henry Mountains to the east. Enjoy your visit to this land of extraordinary rock formations...it's time well spent!