The Desert Narrows: Sulphur Creek In Capitol Reef

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.  I 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Tips for hiking Sulphur Creek:

  • Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet.  I wore tennis shoes, but my Chacos would have been perfect.
  • Like I said, it’s really hot when you’re not in the creek.  Drink lots of water and wear sunscreen.  The backs of my knees got a little sunburned.
  • Wear a swimsuit if you want to cool off in the water.  There is a little pool at the top of the last waterfall (closest to the visitors center) that you can sit and hang out in.
  • If you don’t want to do the whole hike, park at the visitors center and go in a bit from there.  The first waterfall isn’t too far and it’s easy going between the first and second.
  • Be prepared to make the walk back to the car or to hitch a ride if you do the whole hike.

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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