Ted and Cheryl White take us deep into Capitol Reef National Park to tackle the world famous slot canyons. Take off your pack, turn sideways, and squeeze through!
Capitol Reef National Park, located in southern Utah, is a very popular park. People visit for the history, the geologic beauty, the orchards, and just for the general recreational opportunities it offers.
We had been to Capitol Reef a few times and done a bit of hiking, but we returned in April of 2012 to explore deeper into this mysterious National Park and its Waterpocket Fold. The Waterpocket Fold is a one hundred mile long monocline uplift; think of it as a really big hill one hundred miles wide with a sheer cliff on its far western side.
Above: The Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park as seen from the air
Over eons of time, uplift and erosion have formed many canyons running east to west across the fold. Smaller canyons run in all directions, deep into the Navajo Sandstone rock. These canyons are what we were looking for. These are slot canyons.
An Important Note About Slot Canyons
Most of us know that slot canyons can be very dangerous with the possibility of flash floods. Summer thunderstorms can bring water roaring through canyons with little or no warning. Spring is the season for exploring slot canyons, when the weather is more stable and predictable, but still one has to be aware of the weather before venturing into a slot canyon. Never enter a slot canyon when there is a chance of rain anywhere within many miles of the canyon.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir
Above: Enjoying the view of the Grand Wash from the Cassidy Arch Trail
Our first venture was the Grand Wash, a granddaddy of a slot canyon. Purists might not really consider this a slot canyon, but it’s still a fun hike. The Grand Wash is a sandstone canyon about two miles long, maybe eight to ten feet wide at its narrowest, and with walls several hundred feet high.
The canyon twists its way through the Waterpocket Fold from Route 24 on the east side of the park to the scenic road out of the campground on the west edge of the Waterpocket Fold. You can hike it from either direction or one way if you leave a shuttle vehicle.
Above: The Grand Wash
Above: Into the Narrows, The Grand Wash
We hiked the wash from east to west. At the far western end, we turned around and headed back to the camper. About 300 yards down the trail, we found a trail leading to Cassidy Arch, named after the famed outlaw Robert “Butch Cassidy” Parker. Reputedly the “Hole in the Wall” gang had its, never discovered, hideout here in the Grand Wash.
The one and three-quarters mile Cassidy Arch trail, with 680 feet of elevation gain, is a steep, well maintained trail, up to the top of the walls of the Grand Wash. It’s a bit of a hike, but the views of the Grand Wash from atop its canyon walls are spectacular. It is worth every bit of the effort.