Julie United States 2 Comments

Desert vistas, slot canyons, colorful hills made of bentonite and sandstone, marine fossils…these are just a few of the things that you will see when you Loop the Fold in Capitol Reef National Park.

This incredibly scenic drive takes you through the remote, southern section of Capitol Reef. On this drive, you will circle around part the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that stretches for almost 100 miles.

Often overlooked by most visitors to Capitol Reef, this road, and the hiking trails that lead away from it, get very few visitors. When we did this (November 2020) we saw just two people on the entire drive.

If you like scenic drives, short hikes through slot canyons, and leaving the crowds behind, keep reading! This is an underrated experience in Capitol Reef National Park.

Overview of the Drive

Distance: 125 miles round-trip

Length of Time: It takes roughly 4 hours to drive this loop, but with detours, overlooks, and short hikes, looping the fold takes one full day.

Direction: The best way to Loop the Fold is in the clockwise direction. In this direction, the timing is best for photography and you get to hike the slot canyons in the morning, before it heats up (if you are in Utah in the summer).

Type of Vehicle: Part of this drive is on a gravel road. When conditions are good (it hasn’t rained or snowed recently), this road is suitable for standard cars. There is one detour where a 4WD is necessary (Strike Valley Overlook). However, if you don’t have a 4WD, you can skip this detour or hike down the road on foot (more on this later). Before doing this drive, get updates on road conditions at the Capitol Reef Visitor Center.

When to Go: You can Loop the Fold all year. Spring and summer storms can temporarily make the roads impassable, even for a 4×4. Notom-Bullfrog road is not plowed in the winter.

Our Experience

We did this drive in early November.

Our day started off great, with bright sunny skies. As you will see in our photos, midday clouds moved in, and by the time we reached Boulder, the first snowflakes were falling. On the drive from Boulder to Torrey it snowed, so unfortunately, we don’t have photos of the overlooks from this part of the drive. But it just goes to show how you need to be prepared for snow, even in the middle of autumn.

Best Things to See & Do

These sights are discussed more below, but here is a list of the best things to see and do when you Loop the Fold.

  • Burr Trail Switchbacks
  • Surprise Canyon
  • Headquarters Canyon
  • Strike Valley Overlook
  • Long Canyon

How to Loop the Fold

In this post, we provide two route descriptions.

The first route is the complete route Loop the Fold route, which is done round trip from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center.

The second route we describe is a one-way route, which can be done in either direction. This route goes point-to-point on Notom-Bullfrog Road and Burr Trail Road, the two roads that are the best part of Looping the Fold. This is a great option if you want to drive these scenic roads when traveling between Capitol Reef National Park and Escalante or Bryce Canyon National Park.

Route #1: Loop the Fold

This loop is described in the clockwise direction, since that is the recommended way to do this drive.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (things to do and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

The number for each overlook/detour/hike is the mile marker, starting at the Capitol Reef Visitor Center. The distances of the detours we mention are not included in the calculation of the mile markers.

Note: These mileage numbers are from the odometer of the Jeep Wrangler we rented. Odometer readings can vary slightly between vehicles.

0.0 Start: Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center

Reset your odometer. From the visitor center, head east on Utah State Route 24.

9.0 miles: Notom-Bullfrog Road

Turn right onto Notom-Bullfrog Basin Road. This road starts off as a paved road.

Start of Notom Bullfrog Road

16.7 miles: Burro Wash

Look for the signed parking area on the right side of the road. This slot canyon hike is 7.5 miles long and strenuous. There may be pools of water in the canyon.

17.4 miles: Notom Road Twin Rocks

Look for a pull-off area on the right side of the road directly opposite of the hoodoos. This is a great place to view these Entrada sandstone formations.

Bullfrog Notom Road Hoodoos

18.0 miles: Cottonwood Wash

Similar to Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash is a strenuous slot canyon hike. It is 6 miles long, out-and-back, and there may be pools of water in the canyon.

21.6 miles: Sheets Gulch Trailhead

This is the third and final hiking trail in this area. Sheets Gulch is the longest and most challenging slot canyon. It is just under 14 miles long.

25.3 miles: Dirt Road

At this point, Notom-Bullfrog Basin Road turns into a dirt road.

Bullfrog Notom Dirt Road

27.7 miles: Entrada sandstone

To your left you can see Entrada Sandstone, which formed over 140 million years ago when this area was covered with water.

Entrada Sandstone

28.0 miles: Enter Capitol Reef National Park

At this point you enter Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef Park Sign

31.9 miles: Oyster Shell Reef

Oyster fossils can be seen in the rocks on the left hand side of the road. There is no pull-off area here so you have to park along the side of the road.

In this ridge of sandstone, you can see tiny oyster fossils that date back 95 million years, when this area was once under water. Please do not disturb or take the fossils.

Loop the Fold Oyster Beds

Oysters Capitol Reef

38.7 to 39.3 miles: Viewpoints of Notom-Bullfrog Road

This is a slightly hilly section of Notom-Bullfrog Road with awesome views all around you. This portion of the road can be impassable when wet due to the clay consistency of the soil.

Notom Bullfrog Road

39.3 to 39.4 miles: View of the Waterpocket Fold

Just past the S-turn, look for a small turn out. Park here and walk to the viewpoint of the Waterpocket Fold. The white rock is Navajo Sandstone and the red, jagged layer underneath is the Carmel layer.

Waterpocket Fold

41.6 miles: Road Junction

If you continue straight on Notom-Bullfrog Road, you head to Bullfrog and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. If you turn right, you head towards Boulder on Burr Trail Road. To Loop the Fold, you will turn right here. However, we recommend continuing south on Notom-Bullfrog Road for the best detour of the day.

Loop the Fold Road Junction

Detour #1: Surprise & Headquarters Canyons

This detour to two slot canyons is well worth the short drive and the extra time. This was our favorite thing to do when Looping the Fold. Because of the remote location, there is a chance that you could have these two slot canyons all to yourself (we did and it was a blast!).

This detour adds 5 miles onto the loop and a total of 2 to 2.5 hours, if you hike both canyons.

Surprise Canyon (0.9 miles from the Road Junction)

Distance: 2.2 miles out-and-back | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 hour

Look for a small parking area on right that can support 3 vehicles. The trail starts here and heads directly towards the colorful hills of the Waterpocket Fold. This slot canyon is somewhat wide and the trail dead ends at a rockfall.

Surprise Canyon Sign

Surprise Canyon Trail

Surprise Canyon

End of Surprise Canyon

End of Surprise Canyon

Headquarters Canyon (2.4 miles from the Road Junction)

Distance: 2.6 miles out-and-back | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 to 1.5 hours

Look for the trailhead sign on the right and a parking area just past the trailhead sign on the left. The parking area can support 3 vehicles.

Headquarters Canyon Parking

Like Surprise Canyon, this trail heads directly into the Waterpocket Fold. Headquarters Canyon is also very easy to hike. But with its narrower sections this is the more thrilling of the two slot canyons here. If you only have the time and energy for one hike, I recommend Headquarters Canyon over Surprise Canyon.

Headquarters Canyon Sign

Entering Headquarters Canyon

Headquarters Canyon Loop the Fold

Headquarters Canyon

Headquarters Canyon Capitol Reef

Once you finish these hikes, backtrack to the Road Junction.

41.6 miles: Road Junction & the Burr Trail Switchbacks

Back at the road junction, turn left to take Burr Trail Road to Boulder. This is the start of the Burr Trail Switchbacks, another highlight when you Loop the Fold.

Entering the Switchbacks

For 2 miles, this road climbs up through the Waterpocket Fold. It is known as being one of the most scenic drives in Utah.

This road dates back to the late 1800’s, when John Atlantic Burr constructed a trail in order to move cattle across the Waterpocket Fold, between summer and winter grazing ranges.

43.7 miles: Top of the Burr Trail Switchbacks

From the top of the switchbacks, enjoy the view over Strike Valley.

Burr Trail Switchbacks

44.8 miles: Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road

Turn right on this road for the next detour, a stunning view over Strike Valley.

Upper Muley Twist Road

Detour #2: Strike Valley Overlook

There are two ways to get to Strike Valley Overlook: drive the extremely rough Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road to the trailhead (4WD vehicle is necessary) or hike along the road.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road is 2.9 miles long, one-way. It ends at the trailhead for Strike Valley Overlook and for the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trail.

If you do not have a 4WD vehicle, there is a parking area that is located 400 meters from Burr Trail Road. To get to the trailhead for Strike Valley Overlook, you will have to walk just over 2.5 miles, one-way, to get to the trailhead.

How to Loop the Fold

Capitol Reef

 

From the Strike Valley Overlook trailhead, it is a half-mile walk to the viewpoint. Here is the view.

Strike Valley Overlook

Strike Valley Overlook Rocks Loop the Fold

Is it worth it? If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, then it is worth it. However, if you are driving a standard vehicle, it’s about a 6-mile round trip walk to get the view, and in my opinion, it’s probably worth skipping it. You can get a similar but slightly less dramatic view from the top of the Burr Trail Switchbacks.

This detour adds 6 miles of driving and about one hour onto Looping the Fold, if you drive to the trailhead.

47.1 miles: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

At this point, Burr Trail Road turns into a paved road and enters Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

60.9 miles: Viewpoint of Long Canyon

There is a pull-off on the left at the top of the hill for a viewpoint of the Circle Cliffs, Henry Mountains, and colorful hills of the Chinle Formation. You will now enter Long Canyon and have spectacular views of the towering red sandstone walls on both sides of you.

Loop the Fold Viewpoint

Road through Long Canyon Loop the Fold

65.6 miles: Arch/Cave formation

There aren’t any signs here but there is a small pull-off area on the right side of the road to stop and take a look at this arch from the side of the road.

Long Canyon Arch

66.2 miles: Singing Canyon

Park on the right hand side of the road and walk 100 meters to enter a cool, shady canyon. It is called “Singing Canyon” because the acoustics are perfect for music. There is a chance that you will meet a musician or singer here. We weren’t so lucky. 

Singing Canyon

68.0 miles: Long Canyon Viewpoints

As the road climbs out of Long Canyon, there are several small pull-offs on right that offer an amazing view over the canyon.

Long Canyon Viewpoint

77.7 miles: Boulder, Utah

Burr Trail Road ends at the intersection of Utah State Route 12. To continue on the Looping the Fold route, turn right onto Utah State Route 12.

Highway 12 Junction Loop the Fold

78.4 miles: Anasazi State Park Museum

Stop here to visit the Anasazi State Park Museum, which contains a partially excavated Puebloan village.

90.7 miles: Homestead Overlook

Turn right here. It is a short drive to Homestead Overlook, for sweeping views across Utah.

Note: We do not have photos of this section of the drive because of a snowstorm that was perched over Boulder Mountain.

Boulder Mountain in Snow Loop the Fold

This was our view for the rest of the drive.

92.0 miles: Summit of Boulder Mountain

At this point you reach the summit of Boulder Mountain, at elevation of 9,600 feet.

100.3 miles: Larb Hollow Overlook

Turn right here for panoramic views over Capitol Reef National Park and the San Rafael Swell.

114.5 miles: Torrey, Utah

At this point, you arrive at the intersection of Utah State Route 12 and Utah State Route 24. There is a gas station and food services here. You could go directly back to your accommodations in Torrey. To complete the loop, turn right and you will head towards the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center.

125 miles: End of the Route

Now you are back at the visitor center and completed the entire loop.

Route #2: Point-to-Point on Notom-Bullfrog Road and Burr Trail Road

If you are driving north to Capitol Reef National Park from places such as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument or Bryce Canyon National Park, then you can drive the best part of Looping the Fold.

If you will be driving from Capitol Reef National Park and Torrey to Grand Staircase-Escalante or Bryce Canyon National Park, you can also follow this one-way route on Notom-Bullfrog Road and Burr Trail Road.

Driving the paved road from Boulder to Torrey is the more direct and faster way to go. But if you are looking for a drive that is more adventurous and more scenic, you can drive Burr Trail Road to Notom-Bullfrog Road and see the highlights of Looping the Fold.

Below we describe the route from south to north (Boulder to Capitol Reef). You can also do this in reverse, basically following the route above, but once you reach Boulder, turn left to go to Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

From Boulder to the Capitol Reef Visitor Center

0.0 miles: Boulder, Utah and the intersection of Utah State Route 12 and Burr Trail Road. Burr Trail Road starts at this intersection. Turn right onto Burr Trail Road and reset your odometer to zero.

9.7 miles: Long Canyon Viewpoints. As you are descending into Long Canyon, there are several small pull-offs on the left that offer amazing views over the canyon.

11.5 miles: Singing Canyon. Park in the pull-off area on the left hand side of the road and walk 100 meters into the shady canyon.

16.8 miles: Viewpoint at the end of Long Canyon.

30.6 miles: Burr Trail Road turns into a dirt road and enters Capitol Reef National Park.

32.9 miles: Optional Detour to Strike Valley Overlook. Turn left on Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road to walk or drive (4WD is necessary) the 2.9 miles to the trailhead for Strike Valley Overlook.

34.0 miles: Top of the Burr Trail Switchbacks. Start your descent down the switchbacks and enjoy the incredible views.

36.1 miles: Road Junction. Turn left onto Notom-Bullfrog Basin Road to head north towards the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center. Turn right to take the detour to Surprise Canyon and Headquarters Canyon.

Optional Detour: Hike Surprise and Headquarters Canyons

This detour adds 5 miles of driving and a total of 2 to 2.5 hours, if you hike both canyons. See the route above for stats about these two hikes.

38.3 miles: Viewpoint. Pull over here for a stunning viewpoint of the Waterpocket Fold.

38.4 to 39.0 miles: Viewpoints of Notom-Bullfrog Road. This is a slightly hilly section of the road with awesome views all around you. This portion of the road can be impassable when wet due to the clay consistency of the soil.

45.8 miles: Oyster fossils. Oyster fossils can be seen in the rocks on the right hand side of the road. There is no pull-off area here so you have to park along the side of the road.

49.7 miles: Enter Capitol Reef National Park.

52.4 miles: Notom-Bullfrog Basin Road turns into a paved road.

56.1 miles: Sheets Gulch Trailhead

59.7 miles: Cottonwood Wash Trailhead

60.3 miles: Twin Rocks. Pull over here for views of the hoodoos made of Entrada sandstone.

61.0 miles: Burro Wash Trailhead

68.7 miles: Turn left onto Utah State Route 24 to head to the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center

77.7 miles: Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center

Bonus: Quick Detour on Burr Trail Road

If you are driving between Torrey/Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Park, and want to drive a small portion of this route, here’s how to do it.

Once in Boulder, turn onto Burr Trail Road. If you drive 10 miles along this road, you get to the viewpoints of Long Canyon. You could turn around here (20 miles round trip) or keep going for another 7 miles, as the road twists and turns through Long Canyon.

If you like scenic drives and exploring the remote backcountry, driving the Cathedral Valley Loop is another awesome experience in Capitol Reef National Park. Learn more in our Guide to Cathedral Valley.

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Check the weather forecast before you do this drive. The roads can be impassable during and after storms and snow. A portion of Utah State Route 12 does not have snow removal services from dusk to dawn. Road conditions do change, so it is advisable to stop by the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center and ask about the current conditions of the roads before embarking on this adventure. If you are traveling from the south to Capitol Reef National Park, then check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center in Escalante, UT on road conditions.

ATV’s are not permitted on national park land so they cannot be driven on this loop.

Bring extra food, water, and clothing, just in case you get stranded. There are very few people out here and there is minimal cellular service, so if you get stuck, have a breakdown, etc., it could be hours or even days until help arrives.

The only food services we saw along this route was the Burr Trail Grill at the intersection of Burr Trail Road and Utah State Route 12 in Boulder, UT. It was closed when we drove past it so don’t rely on it.

Have a full tank of gas before starting this adventure. We didn’t see any gas stations along this route. Google Maps does show a gas station on Utah State Route 12 that is about one mile west of the intersection of Burr Trail Road and Utah State Route 12 in Boulder, UT. We did not drive past it ourselves to confirm it was there, but you don’t want to rely on a single gas station either. So, start your day with a full tank of gas.

Purchase a copy of the National Geographic Capitol Reef National Park Map before your trip. This map has all of the detour roads on the loop as well as other BLM roads in the area. It will also be useful if you plan to visit Cathedral Valley.

Get updates on park conditions on the National Park Service website.


If you have any questions about how to Loop the Fold, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Capitol Reef

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

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Capitol Reef National Park Loop the Fold

 

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Comments 2

  1. This is absolutely one of the most scenic drives in Utah – and that is a tall order. From the historic sites along the road to the geology of the fold to the fantastic views to the hikes, this road is just superb. I’ll have to add that the aspens in autumn along the stretch from Boulder to Torrey only add to the beauty. We stopped at one of the viewpoints and not only could look miles across the fold to the Henry Mts but looked down and, along the rest stop a herd of cattle were hiking back to their home. Marvelous end to the day – and it was a long day but, oh so worth it. We’ll do it again this summer. Can’t wait.

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