Rock Canyon Trail
9.7 miles (plus 6.9 miles by car)
time: 5 1/2 hours
260 ft. gain, 1,1080 ft. loss
Trailhead (start): 6,050 ft.
Most of this hike is through the sandy bottom
of a desert canyon. There is no maintained trail,
but the route is easy to follow. At the end of
the hike it is necessary to ford the Fremont River.
This is usually not a problem, but if there has
been a lot of rain you should check the river
before beginning the hike.
Spring, summer, fall, winter. There is snow on
some parts of the trail during the winter months.
The trail is very hot in the summer, with temperatures
often exceeding 100 degrees F. There is no reliable
water along the trail, so be sure to carry plenty.
For current conditions call the Visitor Center,
Capital Reef National Park, at (801) 425-3791.
Capital Reef National Park
Rock Canyon is a long, narrow desert drainage
on the northwestern side of Capital Reef National
Park. It begins just outside the park on the eastern
slopes of Thousand Lakes Mountain and meanders
for some 15 miles through the Waterpocket Fold
before draining into the Fremont River. This hike
intersects the canyon at its midpoint and follows
it for its last six miles.
The hike is particularly
interesting from a geological point of view because
it passes through so many different geologic strata.
The route begins in the Moenkopi Formation, then
passes through the Shinarump, Chinle, Wingate,
and Kayenta Formations, and finally ends in the
center of the Waterpocket Fold at the base of
the Navajo Sandstone. The sequence is unusual
because the Navajo Sandstone was deposited about
forty million years after the Moenkopi Formation,
yet here it lies a thousand feet lower.
As you descend through
the canyon you will see successive layers of younger
rock slanting downward along the walls to meet
the older layers at the bottom. The Waterpocket
Fold is a giant wrinkle in the earths crust that
was formed in southern Utah about 65 million years
ago. Because of the uplifting and subsequent erosion
along the Fold, the exposed rock is now older
on the west side than the east. The streambed
of Chimney Rock Canyon cuts into the Waterpocket
Fold from its western side and ends near its midpoint.
Rock Canyon was named after Chimney Rock, an impressive
pinnacle of Moenkopi Shale that rises from the
desert floor near the trailhead. The trail begins
by winding gently upward from the parking area
on the west side of Chimney Rock and then around
to its north side. After walking 0.5 mile and
climbing 250 feet you will come to a junction
where another trail takes off to the right. This
alternative route veers south again to pass by
the base of Chimney Rock and then rejoins the
main trail 1.7 miles later. If you have the time
you might want take this detour for a closer look
at the monolith, but doing so will add about a
mile to the total length of the hike. If you take
the shorter route, to the left, you will reach
the point where the two trails come together again
after about 20 minutes.
After the second
junction the trail descends gradually down a short,
unnamed canyon for about 1.6 miles before finally
intersecting Chimney Rock Canyon. To reach the
Fremont River you must turn right when you reach
the main canyon, but if time permits, or if you
are doing this hike as an overnighter, you may
want to make a side trip to the canyons
best known spring. The spring lies about 1.0 mile
upcanyon to the left. It is situated in an alcove
just above a small pool of water under the north
wall of the canyon. You will know you are near
when you see a grove of large cottonwood trees.
(Cottonwood trees in the desert country of southern
Utah usually mark the presence of water.) Chimney
Rock Canyon is often called Spring Canyon, because
of this spring.
From the point where
the trail first meets Chimney Rock Canyon it is
6.9 miles to the Fremont River. There is no real
trail, but the route is generally easy to walk.
You will be following the sandy creek bed nearly
all the way. There are some deer tracks in the
canyon bottom, but the most interesting aspect
of the hike is the geology. Much of the rock is
a deep red color, and in the section of the canyon
that passes through the Wingate Formation, the
sandstone walls are sheer and smooth. You may
be surprised to find frequent boulders of black
volcanic rock. These worn boulders were washed
downstream by flash floods from a volcanic area
near the source of the canyon. Now they lie in
stark contrast to the reddish sandstone and shale
of the Waterpocket Fold.
About half way through
the gorge you will enter a half-mile section of
narrows, where the canyon walls converge to a
mere five feet apart. There are also two ten-foot
pouroffs, or dry falls, in the bottom of this
stretch of canyon. These falls are relatively
easy to climb down and should not be a problem
unless you are carrying a large backpack. But
if they do present a problem, there is an alternative
route around them. When you come to the first
pouroff retrace your footsteps a few hundred feet
back to a point where you can climb up to the
ledge on the north side of the narrows. There
you will find a primitive path that bypasses the
obstacles before dropping back to the canyon bottom.
Finally, just before you
reach the end of the hike, the canyon widens and
becomes less arid. The walls change from the ruddy,
fissured Wingate and Kayenta Sandstone to the
smooth, white crossbedded texture of the Navajo
Sandstone. Soon you will round the last bend in
the canyon and be confronted with your last obstacle-the
Under normal circumstances,
fording the Fremont is no problem. It is seldom
more than 18 inches deep. If there has been a
lot of rain, however, its depth can easily rise
to twice that. Find a stout stick to help you
with the crossing. Walk slowly, taking small steps,
and make sure the stick and one foot are firmly
planted before moving your other foot. The stick
should be positioned on your downstream side,
with your right side facing upstream as you walk.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order
his book Utah's
Favorite Hiking Trails.