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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. I would definitely say this is one of my favorite Capitol Reef National Park hikes now.
Headquarters Canyon is a slot canyon in Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold. 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.
Tips for hiking Headquarters Canyon:
- This is NOT in the main part of Capitol Reef on the scenic drive. You have to take Notom Road into the Waterpocket Fold.
- The hike isn’t super long, 2.2 miles, and takes 2-3 hours with just over 400 feet of elevation gain.
- There are no facilities nearby unless you go all the way down to Bullfrog. Bring lots of water and snacks. Make sure you fill up on gas, too.
- If it’s rainy when you’re visiting, skip the slot canyons. You don’t want to get caught in a flash flood.
- Wear shoes you feel comfortable walking in sand in. You know I wear my Chacos for everything, but they’re perfect for this.
- Four-wheel drive and high clearance are not necessary to get to the trailhead. They certainly won’t hurt, but you’ll be fine without it.
Have you done this hike? What about Surprise Canyon? Which did you prefer?