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I’ve driven past the trailhead for Headquarters Canyon I don’t know how many times over the last three summers without doing the hike. Well, I finally hiked Headquarters Canyon and it was so cool. Plus, there was a Geocache tucked way back in there giving me even more reason to want to see it.
Headquarters Canyon is a slot canyon in Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold along Burr Trail. This is the southern part of the park or the backcountry.
To get here from the Fruita District, you’ll have to take Notom Road, which is dirt. It can be pretty rough sometimes, but it’s not impossible in a regular passenger car.
We took the Smart car down it my first summer. I thought the windshield was going to rattle right out of it, but we didn’t have any issues. The only time it really gets rough is July/August after it rains a lot.
This is a fairly easy trail to follow, though the first time we tried it we ended up on the reef instead of in it. We just missed a cairn, so keep your eyes peeled for those. The trail starts of as a small dirt path before eventually dropping into a wash where you’ll continue to the right.
Before heading into the wash, you come up to a pretty big boulder, go slightly up and to the left here, then down into the wash to the right not far after.
You’ll come to a section of slot canyon before it opens up into a wider canyon with towering walls. While it may not resemble Antelope Canyon, like, at all, it’s definitely the best slot canyon in Capitol Reef. It’s way better than Surprise Canyon, so if you can only do one, I’d recommend Headquarters.
As soon as it opened up, I was in Geocache mode. I was searching up and down, juniper tree to juniper tree, with no luck. I won’t pretend I’m really good at Geocaching, because I’m not, but it’s fun. I figured this one couldn’t be too tough to find since it wasn’t a micro (super tiny) but I saw no sign, so I’ll have to try again sometime.
We continued following the wash as far back as we could before climbing up what was basically a dry rock waterslide. It just looked like a giant chute almost. There was no water in it, just a couple pools higher up.
At the top of that, we would have had to scramble or climb up a tough looking rocky area. It was also pretty chilly back there. It was shady and breezy, plus it just wasn’t super hot since it was late October. So basically, it was perfect hiking weather.
Once we were done in there, we headed up the rest of Notom Road towards the main part of the park to do some more Geocaching on our way home.
I found some pretty fun ones that day (ET, Jeep, and demon frog containers!) so it was a pretty enjoyable day. I would highly recommend Headquarters Canyon in Capitol Reef if you have more than one day to spend in the park.
Overall, I loved this hike and it will definitely be my new go-to if I’m showing people around the area. It’s a nice easy hike and the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Even in the peak of summer it would be nice since it’s relatively cool back in the canyon. I would highly recommend a trip down Notom Road to see this much less visited slot canyon in Capitol Reef if you have an extra day in the park.
National Park Goodies
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- Get yourself a National Park journal for all of the NPS sites (400+!) to keep track of your travels!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
Where is Headquarters Canyon in Capitol reef?
The Headquarters Canyon Trail in Capitol Reef is along Notom Road in the Waterpocket Fold District. It’s about 2.5 hours from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center and one hour from Bullfrog Marina.
How long is the Headquarters Canyon trail in Capitol Reef?
The Headquarters Canyon Trail is 2.2 miles. round-trip and has 406 feet of elevation gain. Overall it’s pretty easy and navigating it is also pretty easy. Just watch out at that little fork for the cairn marking the trail.
Is hiking Headquarters Canyon in Capitol Reef worth it?
Yes! If you just have one day in Capitol Reef, I would probably stick to Fruita but if you’re already planning on driving all of Burr Trail, this is a great hike along the way.
What else is there to do in Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold?
I would definitely also hike to nearby Surprise Canyon but you could also hike to the Halls Creek Overlook or part of Upper or Lower Muley Twist on top of the Burr Trail switchbacks. There aren’t tons of things to do in this part of Capitol Reef but it’s still definitely worth seeing if you have time.
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Have you done this hike? What about Surprise Canyon? Which did you prefer?