Capitol Reef National Park, Utah: Sulphur Creek
Discover Capitol Reef National Park on an unique exploration and desert canyon hike full of water adventures through Sulphur Creek. This experience is one your family will never forget as you traverse redrock, wade through water, slide down small waterfalls and jump in natural pools surrounded by towering rock formations.
Fun: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (out of 5)
Difficulty: Very Easy Easy Moderate HARD Very Hard
(both easy and hard depending on which way you hike and for how long)
Distance: 1.5 (easy) to 5.8 (hard) miles
Elevation: 500 feet elevation loss on 5.8 mile hike, slight gain on 1.5 mile hike
Terrain: Water (creek, pools, waterfalls), sand, rocks, exposed trail in areas
Time: 2 to 9 hours (depending on how far you go and how much you play on the way)
When to Go: Spring, Summer, Fall
Bathrooms available at Capitol Reef Visitor's Center
No water for public at Visitor's Center, plan accordingly
If hiking full 5.8 miles, there is no water or bathrooms at trailhead
THINGS TO BRING
Sturdy hiking shoes or sandals that can get wet
Hiking clothes you can get wet in
Plenty of water, 1 – 2L per person
Snacks and/or lunch
Waterproof bag to carry supplies in
Small first aid kit
Sulphur creek is one of our family's all time favorite hikes. The kids loved hiking through the creek and playing in the natural pools and waterfalls.
We took our time and spent a solid 9 hours on this beautiful 5.8 mile hike. Our GPS's tracked it closer to 7 or 8. It won't take most people this long, especially if you choose the shorter route option. Sulphur creek can be hiked in two ways: an out-and-back shorter hike from the visitors center or a longer 5.8 mile one-way hike from the top. Details are below to help decide what works best for you.
Narrow/Slot Canyon Safety
It is very important to check weather conditions before attempting to hike any narrow canyon or slot canyon. Flash flooding can happen creating a dangerous situation. Before hiking any narrow canyons we check the National Weather Service at www.weather.gov/slc/flashflood for Flash Flood Potential. We only attempt to hike if flash floods are not expected.
You can also check in with the rangers at the Visitor's Center to check for flash flood warnings.
Shorter Hike 1.5 miles+
If you want a shorter hike but still want to enjoy the scenery of Sulphur creek, I suggest starting from the backside of the Capital Reef National Park Visitor’s Center and hiking upstream from the bottom up.
The sandy trail will lead you past an old stone kiln used by farmers in Fruita and then to Sulphur Creek. You can then walk in the creek upward or take the trail to the side. The narrow tall walls that surround the creek provide beautiful scenery and some shade.
After 0.7 miles of hiking you will come to a natural pool surrounded by red rock. This is a fun place to swim and cool off. There is a natural water slide and places to rock jump.
From the natural pool you can turn around and head back to the visitor’s center to finish your hike. Another option is to continue upward following the creek. This is not the recommended way to hike the creek. It can be difficult to get up some of the slickrock in the pool areas hiking this direction. However, having now hiked the full 5.8 as a family, I know we could have made it starting from the visitor’s center and continuing onward to each of the 3 waterfalls. However, I would say we are a quite a bit more adventurous than most families.
Longer Hike 5.8 Miles
For the full Sulfur Creek hike experience it is recommended to hike downstream from the top to bottom as a one way trip. Before making this adventure check with the ranger station for flash flooding risk and water depth. There is an area between the first and second waterfall that may require swimming depending on water depth. The water levels vary throughout the year due to upstream water usage.
If you have multiple vehicles in your party you can have someone drop you off at the trailhead which is 3.3 miles from the visitor’s center. You can also leave a car at the visitor's center and another car at the trailhead, which is what we did. I have also heard of people planting a bike at the Visitor's Center and then riding up the 3 miles to get to their vehicle at the trailhead after the hike.
The trailhead is just a paved pullout located on the south side of Highway 24, 3.3 miles west of the Visitor’s Center near chimney rock.
From the trailhead follow a sandy path for 0.1 miles to a dry wash. You will be hiking in the dry wash for 1.7 miles until you reach Sulfur Creek. There are some small trails on the inside of the dry wash that you can follow to cut off some distance. This area is the least exciting part of the hike, luckily it is done in the beginning when the kids legs were fresh.
Once we reached the creek the kids spent the majority of the time walking and playing in the water. There is beautiful scenery with areas enclosed with tall narrow cliffs.
After coming to the creek, you will continue another 1.5 miles to the first waterfall. There is so much to look at and play in along the way. There is a layer of earth exposed through erosion that contains countless geodes.
When you reach the first waterfall you will need to climb down some red rock about 12 feet. There are plenty of hand and foot holes along the way to assist you down.
The first waterfall has a small pool you can play in that is mostly shaded.
Between the first and second waterfall there is a long pool between narrow red rock walls. This pool was close to 5 feet deep. My kids that are good swimmers swam through it. We brought floaties for my seven year and three year old. I knew there would be pools and I wasn’t sure how deep the water would be. Our three year old ended up staying in the hiking backpack while my husband was able to walk through.
The second waterfall is only 750 feet from the first. It requires some more scrambling in between some rocks to get down to it. The younger kids needed a little help getting down but did really well.
The second waterfall has a small shallow pool to play in.
The third and last waterfall is 1.7 miles from the second. This feels like a lot longer, luckily the views continue to be beautiful and there are fun pockets of water to play in and mini waterfalls for the kids to slide down. This area was probably my most favorite part of the trail.
The third waterfall is by far the most fun. This is one you can actually slide down as a natural water-slide.
There are three ways to get past this point in the hike. You can hike to the left and descend the slickrock and swim through the pool, go down the water-slide and then swim through the pool, or climb down to the right avoiding the swim. We tried all three options. If you are hiking with little kids, I recommend an adult climb down the slick-rock to the right and then another adult hand kids down or at least assist kids down.
We had so much fun in this area sliding down the natural water-slide and jumping into the pool.
From the third waterfall, you have only 0.7 mile to go until you reach the visitors center. Continue following Sulphur Creek until you see a sign directing to a sandy trail to the Capitol Reef Visitor's Center. This will lead you to an old rock kiln and then to the backside of the visitors center. This last stretch has beautiful vistas of Capitol Reef.
PROS & CONS
Waterfun for the kids while hiking, including creek, pools and waterfalls
Can be done in spring, summer or fall
Fun for all ages
First 1.8 of hike is completely exposed if started from the top and doing the full 5.8 miles
Need transport back to the top if doing full 5.8 miles
Do not hike if there is any chance of rain due to flash flooding
No water at trailhead
If hiking the shorter length, you will start from the backside of the Capitol Reef Visitor’s Center. If hiking the full 5.8 miles from the top you will drive 3.3 west of the Visitors Center on Highway 24. There is a small pull-out on the south side of the road that you will park in. Make sure to have a ride back to your car so you don’t have to hike another 3.3 miles on the highway when you are done.
There is an excellent map here or you can pick one up from the Visitors Center that also gives excellent detailed information on the hike. I loved having this on the way as it helped me figure out how much hiking we had left.
Map to Capitol Reef Visitor's Center
Map to Trailhead for full 5.8 mile hike
OTHER NEARBY ADVENTURES
Petroglyphs inside Capitol Reef National Park (3 minutes)
Other hikes within Capitol Reef National Park (3 minutes to 1 hour)
Gifford House (3 minutes)
Fish Lake National Forest (1 hour)
Goblin Valley State Park (1 hour 15 min)
Lower Calf Creek Falls (1 hour 15 min)
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (1 hour 45 min)
Arches National Park (2 hours 15 min)
Bryce Canyon National Park (2 hours 15 min)
Canyonlands National Park (2 hours 30 min)
Peek-a-boo & Spooky Slot Canyons (2 hour 30 min)
Hi, I'm Corrine! I'm an outdoor
enthusiast, mother of four, wife, nurse and runner. I believe God gave us this beautiful earth to explore, enjoy and protect.
My goal is to inspire you to get outside and create your own amazing memories as a family. Life is precious and there are too many adventures to be had to spend life on the couch or in front of a screen.
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