The Desert Narrows: Sulphur Creek In Capitol Reef

Updated April 2021

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After first hearing about the Sulphur Creek hike on a podcast, I knew I had to do it.  I started thinking of it as the desert narrows.  Yes, the narrows in Zion technically are the desert, but this actually felt like desert.  

finally hiked part of the narrows in Zion the week before, still out of order, I know, and now I got to do Sulphur Creek to compare them.  This is the perfect hot weather day hike in Capitol Reef.

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I knew going into it that they would be very different, like not even close to the same thing, but I was more excited about this.  I don’t like water things so I was very nervous about hiking the narrows in Zion, but more on that later.  We made the drive from Bullfrog to Capitol Reef and parked in the Chimney Rock parking lot, just across the street from the Sulphur Creek trailhead.

You have two options for doing the hike: visitors center to Chimney Rock or vice versa.  It is easier to start at Chimney Rock so you can go down the waterfalls instead of up them.  Obviously we started at Chimney Rock.

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The trail is really easy to follow.  It’s on the longer side at 5.5 miles for the trail, plus three miles to get back to your car, unless you have two cars (one at each end,) a bike to get back to your car, or hitchhike.  

It doesn’t seem like that bad of an addition, but trust me, after the actual hike, you probably don’t want to walk three more miles along the road in the blazing sun with no breeze.  Maybe you do.  I don’t know.  Anyways, we set off and I was not immediately impressed.

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It starts out in a wash and there is no breeze at all.  You are directly in the sun and it feels like you’ll never get to the water.  During this part you pass through the bottom of the Goosenecks.  Apparently you can look up to see the overlook platform, but I never saw it.  I wasn’t actually sure when we were at the Gooseneck part either, though.

And fear not, you do get to water, and when you do it is glorious.  Even for me.  Someone who avoids water activities like it’s my job.  There is a breeze all of a sudden and it’s nice and cool.  At this point it’s still easy to go around the water and to cross from side to side on rocks in the creek.

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There are three waterfalls of varying height along the trail, which I can’t really even call it, as it is technically a route.  You’re really just following a wash and a creek, which can change based on rainfall.  They aren’t terribly difficult to get down, but they do involve a little scrambling.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing the scrambling, you can always turn back.  No shame in that, either.  I won’t lie, I was nervous about going down the first waterfall (I think) but we pushed on and I was fine.  I really did enjoy wandering along through the water.

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Compared to the narrows in zion, the water is a lot more shallow, but that can always change, and it was easier walking in the creek as the rocks weren’t as big and you could usually see them easier.

While I was nervous, I knew this was something I really wanted to do and pushed myself to do it, even though I was afraid.  I’ve been getting (a little) better at pushing myself to do new things or try things I’m afraid of.  After pushing on, there was a sense of accomplishment finally making it to the visitors center.

Then it sank in that we had three more miles to walk.  Thankfully between waterfalls two and three we saw a family and chatted a bit.  We ran into them again at the last waterfall where they told us how to get down it: slide into the water or scramble down around the side.  I’ll let you guess what I did.

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We sat at the visitors center for a minute to just sit and drink water before setting off on the final, scorching trek.  I wouldn’t say we were more than a mile out before a truck flew by with the family in it.  We kept hoping people would stop to offer a ride, but no one did.

And then they turned around and became our favorite people ever.  We climbed into the back of the truck and they dropped us off back at the car.  Overall it was a pretty cool hike, something I would definitely recommend if you have a little more time in the park, but I don’t know if I would want to do it again.  There are so many other hikes in the park I would love to do.

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Where is the Sulphur Creek Trailhead?

The Sulphur Creek trailhead is at the same parking area as Chimney Rock. Park in that little parking lot and cross the street. There is a little sign leading down into the wash and that’s the trail.

This isn’t a really well marked trail but it’s easy to follow. It’s pretty much just the wash then you’ll come to the confluence with Sulphur Creek and the trail is to the left.

How long is the Sulphur Creek hike?

The actual hike is 5.8 miles if you have two vehicles. This is a one-way hike so you either need two cars (one at the trailhead and one at the visitor center, or a bike at one of the locations. If you don’t have that, you’ll have another three miles to hike back to the trailhead.

Another option is to try and hitch-hike back to the trailhead, but it’s obviously not guaranteed you’ll get a ride. We managed to catch a ride and I’m so glad because this three miles felt way harder than the actual hike.

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How long do you need for the Sulphur Creek hike?

I would plan most of your day for this, especially if you don’t have two cars. It’s a lot of hiking and it’s pretty tiring. You can always just do part of it, leaving from the visitor center if you want to do this but just want a shorter hike.

Is the Sulphur Creek hike hard?

I would say it’s moderately-strenuous. It doesn’t have tons of elevation gain but it’s a long hike with some rock scrambling in water. The distance was definitely the hardest part and once you’re through the actual hike and facing the walk back on the road, it’s rough.

The water levels in the creek will vary and higher water levels will make it more difficult. If it’s really hot it’s also going to be a little more strenuous. The first part before the water is so hot with almost no shade and the walk back along the road is super hot with no wind so make sure you have enough water.

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What to bring on the Sulphur Creek Hike

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  Even if it’s not hot you need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are, time of day, and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.

Good hiking shoes – If you’re hiking when it’s warmer, Chacos will be good.  If it’s fall, muddy, or a little cooler out, you’ll want closed toe shoes.

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Is hiking Sulphur Creek worth it?

Yes! If you want an off-the-beaten-path hike in Capitol Reef, the Sulphur Creek trail is perfect. This is a particularly good hike for hot days since the majority of it is in water. That beginning part is super hot in direct sun though so make sure you drink plenty of water (just do that anyway.)

Have you hiked sulphur creek?  What did you think of it?  Do you want to do it?  What is your favorite hike in Capitol Reef?

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