Sulphur Creek
Capitol Reef Trail Guide created by Dave
  • Overview

    An exceptional point-to-point day hike along the narrow stream bed of Sulphur Creek within Capitol Reef National Park. The route drops into the creek's narrow gorge, following the waterway as it cuts beneath soaring cliffs and tumbles over a series of small waterfalls.

    Sulphur Creek is a rarity in Capitol Reef, as it follows a perennial water source through a cool and shady canyon. It can be hiked from the top down or bottom up, though most hikers who complete the entire point-to-point route will do so in the downhill direction.


    Sulphur Creek is best completed with a car shuttle or arranged transportation.

    If approached from the top down, the trail begins west of Fruita at the Chimney Rock Trailhead (38.315371,-111.304141) on the north side of Utah State Route 24. The trail terminates at the Capitol Reef National Park visitor center (38.291361,-111.261818) and a shuttle vehicle should be left at this location.

    If approached from the bottom up, reverse the locations and drop a shuttle vehicle at the Chimney Rock Trailhead.

    It is also possible to create a loop by hiking between the two points along SR 24, though this adds signifiant drudgery. Hikers may attempt to hitch a ride from passing motorists or sympathetic tourists, but this cannot be depended upon or recommended.

    NOTE: It is important to check conditions with the rangers at the visitor center. Also, it's wise to consider water level in the creek before committing to the hike. Both can be easily done when dropping a shuttle vehicle at the visitor center. Ideal conditions exist when the water is about ankle deep or lower at that location. Water levels significantly higher will result in hazardous or impassable flows in the narrows. Significant pools requiring wading or swimming can remain in the canyon even days after periods of high flow. Hikers carrying cameras, food or electronics should consider the use of a dry bag.

    If in doubt, stay out.

    The Hike

    From the Chimney Rock Trailhead, hikers cross SR 24 to the south-west and follow the obvious dry wash. The sandy path follows the terrain, gradually losing elevation as it winds generally southward. During the summer months, this portion of the hike can seem longer than it is, due to the lack of shelter from the sun. Continue on downhill and listen for the sound of running water.

    The dry wash

    After 1.5 miles, the dry wash will join Sulphur Creek at a perpendicular angle (38.303642,-111.304287). Turn left (east) and begin following the creek downstream. The canyon walls begin to rise on both sides, though the waterway will initially remain fairly wide. Depending on the level of flow, hikers should be able to avoid walking directly in the creek bed. This is another good point to evaluate conditions. If the creek seems high or weather is at all questionable, turn back and return another day.

    At 38.297208,-111.301250 the creek makes a sharp curve to the west. Look up at the left wall of the canyon and try to spot the Goosenecks Overlook high above. It may be possible to see tourists there looking down into the winding canyon.

    View down into Sulphur Creek from Goosenecks Overlook

    Half a mile beyond the Goosenecks Overlook area, hikers will encounter the first of three waterfalls. At 38.294966,-111.293806 the creek will drop abruptly through a narrow chute into a shadowed pool. A large weathered log is wedged here between the canyon walls, testament to the power of the floods that at times scour Sulphur Creek.

    The waterfall is bypassed along a ledge running along the south (right) wall of the canyon. Exposure here is mild but hikers should watch their footing, especially if they have young children in tow. Follow the ledge until it narrows, then descend back to the creek bed. The creek flattens here and it might be necessary to wade. Water has cut under the rock in places below the first waterfall, creating some dramatic nooks. Hikers can also wade a short distance back up the creek to play in the pool created by the first waterfall.

    Bypass the first waterfall along the prominent ridge to the right

    The first waterfall also marks the beginning of the Sulphur Creek narrows. The walls of the canyon constrict enough to cast long shadows during most parts of the day. This provides a cool respite from the typical heat during late spring, summer and early fall. A second waterfall appears a short distance later and is bypassed in a similar fashion.

    Eventually the canyon walls will lose some of their height, signaling that the third waterfall is near. It is a bit of a different challenge from the first two waterfalls. The third falls sit at about 38.290463,-111.271883. Depending on the flow of the creek, a significant pool might be gathered at the base of the broad pour-off. The surface of the rock is often slick and the path down might not be immediately clear. Hikers can edge along the narrow ridges to the left side (north/east) of the waterfall, working down the steep but short slope gradually until they once again reach the stream bed.

    The Castle becomes visible toward the end of the Sulphur Creek hike

    Below the third waterfall the canyon opens significantly. The walls will drop as the creek winds around wide floodplains and brushy hills will start to replace the towering cliffs. At 38.289874,-111.268120 turn toward the north and look up to see the prominent face of the Castle peeking over the top of the canyon wall. From this point the end of the route is near. Social trails appear to the east at about 38.289943,-111.264352, crossing over a small hill. Hikers can shortcut here or, if feeling responsible, stick to the creek bed as it makes one last major turn to the north and reveals the visitor center.

    Cross Sulphur Creek one last time and head up the small hill. Continue on behind the back side of the building, looping around to reach the parking lot from the north side.

    Permits & Regulations

    Sulphur Creek sits within the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park, so typical NPS rules apply.

    Permits for day hikes are not required.

    Flash floods do routinely impact this area. While the narrows are short, being caught there during a flood would likely prove deadly. Hikers should not enter the Sulphur Creek narrows if bad weather is forecast or occurring. The Sulphur Creek drainage is fairly large and storms a fair distance away, even up on Thousand Lake Mountain, can flood Sulphur Creek. This can occur when skies within Capitol Reef National Park appear clear.

    Relevant Books & Maps

    USGS Twin Rocks 7.5 minute quadrangle map

    National Geographic Trails Illustrated - Capitol Reef National Park

    Capitol Reef National Park: The Complete Hiking and Touring Guide by Rich Stinchfield
DrNed, TannerT, Laura and 2 others like this.
  1. Dave
    It's about three miles on the road, but if you're hiking back on the road you will have to climb a long significant hill. It's completely exposed to the sun and weather. The nearest camping would be in Fruita. Dispersed backcountry camping within the park requires a permit. You might also be able to find a spot on BLM land outside the park boundaries.
  2. DrNed
    Do you know the distance between trailheads if one were to hike on the highway? Are there any camp spots in the vicinity of Chimney Rock Trailhead? Thanks
  3. Laura
    Fantastic write up! I've always been curious about this trail but never tried it. Next time I'll make it happen!
  4. Moabchic78
    great write up! Now I want to make it happen this year :)
    Nick likes this.
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