Driving Through Capitol Reef Country
BURR TRAIL LOOP / BURR POINT TRAIL
The Burr Point at the end of this tour is one of the great overlooks in Utah. The Dirty Devil River Canyon is 1,400 feet deep here. It is a very remote and lonely place but easily accessible with your vehicle (RVs may have some difficulty). Head South from historic Hanksville on Utah 95 which is the Bicentennial Highway. At mile marker 15.5 make a left hand turn onto Burr Point Road. This is a maintained dirt road. Follow signs east 11 miles to a looped dead end. There are numerous spots to park and provides several places for a picnic lunch. Return the same way you came in. Please remember the roads my become impassable during inclement weather.
At the junction of Highways 12 and 24, Torrey offers access to some of the most scenic routes in Capitol Reef Country. Heading south on Scenic Byway 12 leads to Boulder, where you can detour east to the Burr Trail Loop. The 66-mile scenic backway follows the cattle trail blazed by rancher John Atlantic Burr and cuts through the extraordinary, untamed wilderness of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With the exception of a remote stretch through Capitol Reef National Park, the road is mostly paved and fairly well maintained although it can be muddy and impassable when wet. There are no services along the backway, so be sure your tank is full and your vehicle is in good working condition before heading out. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for portions of this trip.
The western section of the road, beginning near Boulder, cuts through pale Navajo sandstone dunes and domes, past The Gulch gorge and the lower slopes of Boulder Mountain on the way to Long Canyon. The narrow canyon runs for about seven miles, surrounded by sheer sandstone walls which tower hundreds of feet above the road. About five miles down the road you’ll pass the unusual formation known as The Lampstand, as you approach Wolverine Loop Road. This 28-mile loop is optional, and rejoins Burr Trail Loop near the western border of Capitol Reef National Park. From here, there are stunning panoramic views to the east of the rugged Waterpocket Fold and the peaks of the Henry Mountains. Continue driving across the red sandstone Circle Cliffs and through a section of pinion and juniper forest, down the east slope of the Waterpocket Fold. As you approach the junction for Muley Twist Canyon, there is a picnic area. The road through Muley Twist Canyon is a serious of narrow, winding switchbacks; this is where four-wheel drive comes in handy. At the bottom of the switchbacks you’ll approach the junction of Burr Trail Road and 1670/Notom/Bullfrog Road. Head north on Notom, along the east side of the Waterpocket Fold, about 40 miles to Caineville, or turn west onto Highway 24 and head back to Torrey.
FISHLAKE SCENIC BYWAY
This is a trek through mountains and meadows of the Fishlake National Forest to two of the most scenic and popular fishing spots in the state. Early on, you will experience a change in terrain from sagebrush and occasional trees to high mountain aspen, shimmering in their summer greenery or blazing fall foliage. Wildlife is abundant along the way. Deer and elk are a common sight among the trees, and moose were recently reintroduced to the area. Mountain lions make their homes in the surrounding mountains, but are rarely seen. At Fish Lake a variety of waterfowl and birds are established including golden and bald eagles. The fishing is excellent at both Fish Lake and Johnson Reservoir. To access the Fishlake Scenic Byway, take Utah SR 24 20 miles north of Loa. Watch for a righthand turn on Utah SR 25 with signs to the Fishlake Recreation Area. Follow Utah SR 25 to Utah SR 72 back to Utah SR 24. The total loop is 60 miles. Resorts, day-use areas, and campgrounds are located all along this route. Look for the unusual rock monuments, found along the west end of SR-25, which were built over a period of 40 years by a local sheepherder.
Fishlake Scenice Byway (U-25) winds for about 16 miles through the Fish Lake Basin in the Fishlake National Forest. At an 8,850-foot elevation, there’s no shortage of scenic wonders along this route, which makes for a lovely, leisurely day trip. Loa, just 20 miles southeast of Fish Lake, is a great starting point for this scenic drive. Head northwest on Highway 24 until you reach the turnoff for Highway 25/Fishlake Scenic Byway. Be sure to fill your tank prior to heading out, as gas is only available on the byway during the summer months at Lakeside Resort. Keep in mind that in winter Fishlake Scenic Byway is only plowed as far as Bowery Haven resort.
Scenic stops along the byway include the Lorenzo’s Rock Monuments, a series of mid-20th century man-made stone formations hidden in the hills, beginning about 2.5 miles past the junction of Highways 24 and 25. About 5.5 miles along Fishlake Scenic Byway, a scenic overlook gives travelers a first glimpse of the incredible Fish Lake Basin. The highlight of the route is the 2,500-acre Fish Lake, the largest mountain lake in Utah, which boasts excellent trout fishing. In fact, some of the biggest trout scored in Utah have been fished from this lake.
At mile seven, near the southern end of Fish Lake, there is access to two trailheads, the Dr. Creek trail which climbs to over 10,000 feet, and the 6-mile Lakeshore Trail along Fish Lake’s western shore. The Lakeside Resort is just ahead, followed just over a mile down the road by the historic Fish Lake Lodge. Near the lodge you’ll see the Aspen Heart, the heart-shaped—and largest—grove of aspen trees in the Basin.
Continue on Highway 25 past Twin Creek Fishery, a natural tributary to Fish Lake, on the way to Bowery Haven (mile 10), where Mormon pioneers once held Sunday services on log benches beneath the spruce trees. Two miles down the road, Pelican Point offers a view of the fault that caused the formation of Fish Lake. More history can be seen less than a mile down the road at Jorgensen Creek, the site of a late 1800s ranch. Johnson Reservoir, around mile 16, offers fewer crowds but equally good fishing. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has stocked the lake with Tiger Muskie, which can grow upwards of three feet long, to control the non-game fish population.
From Johnson Reservoir, travelers can turn around and head back on Fishlake Scenic Byway, or loop around to the lake along the Fremont River Road. This route provides access to the Old Spanish Trail and Zedd’s Meadow, around 19 miles into the drive. Pull-outs along the winding road, which follows a river gorge, overlook scenic viewpoints on the way to Mill Meadow Reservoir. The reservoir is near the junction of Highway 24 and SR-72, which will leads to the tiny community of Fremont, just five miles north of Loa.
Cathedral Valley offers scenes unlike any other in Capitol Reef National Park. Towering monoliths, panoramic vistas, and a stark desert landscape await those who venture here. Vehicles with good ground clearance, even those without four wheel drive, can usually negotiate the roads without difficulty. Road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent
changes in weather. Please check at the visitor center for current road and weather conditions before starting your trip. Be prepared for the unexpected. Carry plenty of food, water, gas, adequate clothing, a shovel and emergency supplies. The 58 mile loop starts at River Ford (11.7 miles east of the visitor center on Hwy 24). This follows the Hartnet Road to the Caineville Wash Road and returns back to Hwy 24 just west of Caineville (18.6 miles east of the visitor center). The loop tour traverses the classic Cathedral Valley landscape of monoliths and stark desert vistas, and offers access to Gypsum Sinkhole, Glass Mountain, and the South Desert. If your time is limited, you may want to start the tour at the Caineville Wash Road. From this end, the driving time to lower Cathedral Valley (Temples of the Moon and Sun, and Glass Mountain) and back via the same route only takes about two hours. It is 15 miles from Hwy. 24 to the side road which accesses the Temples of the Moon and Sun; a sign marks the road junction. The access road to River Ford crosses private land. The gate on Highway 24 may be closed, but is not locked. Please close the gate after you drive through, and honor the no trespassing signs along the road near the ford by not parking off road or camping in the vicinity.
When you want to escape the heat of the canyon country on a sweltering summer day, get an early start, pack a picnic lunch and go up and over the Aquarius Plateau. This route is a true high country adventure and may be driven with a car in good weather conditions. This is a maintained gravel road with some rough washboard sections. From Bicknell to Escalante it is 46 miles or from Bicknell to Boulder town it is 58 miles. Start your tour in Bicknell at the Scenic Backways sign going south. This road turns into Forest Rd 154 to Escalante. (Watch for signage and a Forest Service map is recommended.) Continue south past Posey Lake Campground to the intersection of Forest Rd 153. A left-hand turn takes you on Hell’s Backbone Road to the town of Boulder. A right hand turn on Forest Rd 153 takes you into Escalante. A left-hand turn on Utah Scenic Byway 12 takes you 65 miles back to Torrey.
LOOP THE FOLD
Start your driving tour in Torrey. Driving east through Capitol Reef National Park on Highway 24. At the east entrance of the park follow the signage for a right hand turn on the Notom/Bullfrog Road going south. You will have great views of the east slopes of the water pocket fold on the right and the massive Henry Mountains on the left. Follow the signage to the Burr Trail switchbacks and Boulder. The Burr Trail winds through the canyon country of the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument and ends in the community of Boulder. Make a right hand turn onto Highway 12 than climb up to 9400 feet above sea level as you drive over Boulder Mountain. Your trip takes you down through Grover to end where you started in Torrey. This drive is approximately 120 miles, so plan a good half day to a full day. Notom/Bullfrog Road may be impassible during inclement weather.
THE NORTH SLOPE ROAD
Forest Service Road Featured Drive – The North Slope Road 179 locally known as the North Slope Road is a maintained gravel track that twists and turns its way up the northeast shoulder of Boulder Mountain. While traveling up Boulder Mountain you will have excellent views of the surrounding countryside plus opportunities for viewing wildlife such as mule deer and yellow bellied marmots (whistle pigs). The track ends at a trailhead and ATV unloading area. This gives access to Fish Creek, Blind and Pear Lakes. These trails also tie into the Great Western Trail system. To access the North Slope Road, drive south of Torrey about 5 miles on Scenic Byway 12. Watch for a right hand turn with signage for the Great Western Trail and Blind Lake. This road is seven miles long and should be passable with a passenger car. Road conditions are subject to change during inclement weather. This road is impassable during snowy winter months.
SCENIC HIGHWAY 12
Overlooks – When you travel South on Highway 12 over Boulder Mountain (Utah’s first All American Road), you should stop at the many overlooks along the way. Our favorite is the Larb Hollow overlook. Face Capitol Reef which runs north to south and look northeast towards Moab. If you can see the La Sal Mountains in the distance, you are looking out over a hundred
miles. What a view!
HOGAN PASS OVERLOOK
One of Utah’s great scenic vistas can be seen here in Capitol Reef Country. The Hogan Pass overlook sits at 9,200 feet above sea level and looks out over Capitol Reef National Park’s Cathedral Valley towards the Henry Mountains, which are over 40 miles away. From Hogan Pass you can literally see for hundreds of miles. It is truly one of the best views on earth. The desert scenery is in stark contrast to the timbered peaks of the Fishlake Mountain Range. This is a great place for a roadside picnic or a wildlife viewing safari. Deer and elk may be seen from many miles away, so bring your binoculars or spotting scope. The Hogan Pass Desert View Overlook is located 15 miles north of Loa on Utah State Road 72. It is on the right side of the road as you head North with a large parking area and a rest room. Enjoy the view.