Halls Creek Narrows |

Waterpocket Fold

Hiking Halls Creek Narrows - Waterpocket Fold Hiking Halls Creek Narrows

Waterpocket Fold

Overview

RATING: Strenuous Day Hike, Moderate Backpack
MAPS: STEVENS CANYON NORTH, UT; HALL MESA, UT; DEER POINT, UT

Sun

A chance of snow before 8am, then a chance of rain and snow between 8am and 11am, then a slight chance of rain after 11am.  Partly sunny, with a high near 52. Windy, with a west southwest wind 29 to 33 mph, with gusts as high as 55 mph.  Chance of precipitation is 40%. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

52 | 35

Mon

Mostly sunny, with a high near 54. North wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest 11 to 16 mph in the morning.

54 | 31

Tue

Mostly sunny, with a high near 57.

57 | 35

Wed

A slight chance of rain after 11am.  Partly sunny, with a high near 57.

57 | 36

Thu

A chance of rain and snow.  Partly sunny, with a high near 54.

54 | 33

View Full Weather Details
SEASON: Spring, Fall
GEAR: Standard Hiking or Backpacking Gear
WATER: Filterable along the way; possible waist deep wading or short swims in the narrows
FLASHFLOOD: High in the narrows.
NOTES: Reaching the trailhead requires a high clearance vehicle.

Sun

A chance of snow before 8am, then a chance of rain and snow between 8am and 11am, then a slight chance of rain after 11am.  Partly sunny, with a high near 52. Windy, with a west southwest wind 29 to 33 mph, with gusts as high as 55 mph.  Chance of precipitation is 40%. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

52 | 35

Mon

Mostly sunny, with a high near 54. North wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest 11 to 16 mph in the morning.

54 | 31

Tue

Mostly sunny, with a high near 57.

57 | 35

Wed

A slight chance of rain after 11am.  Partly sunny, with a high near 57.

57 | 36

Thu

A chance of rain and snow.  Partly sunny, with a high near 54.

54 | 33

View Full Weather Details
Deep alcove in Halls Creek Narrows - Capitol Reef National Park

Deep alcove in Halls Creek Narrows - Capitol Reef National Park

Tucked at the south end of Capitol Reef National Park, Halls Creek Narrows is a stunning, convoluted canyon that makes a meandering path through Navajo sandstone. The canyon has a bit of everything: deep alcoves, a spring feed stream, narrower sections, and towering walls. I would compare it a little in scale and experience to Coyote Gulch, but it is also quite different.

This is one of those hikes that has been on my list for literally decades. When I started going to the desert, a friend showed me photos and told me the story of his trip through the narrows. It looked and sounded like an incredibly magical place! Finally, in 2023, I made it a priority to visit. It did not disappoint!

Visiting is not an easy task. The shortcut route is about 15-16+ miles round-trip, depending on your twists and turns; the standard route is about 22-25 miles.

Which Route: The shortcut route requires route-finding and scrambling experience. This is not a route for beginners. The scrambling is generally low-exposure, but I would not recommend it with a heavy pack. Experienced desert backpackers with some scrambling experience would likely feel comfortable with a light overnight pack.

Are you new to the desert or don't have much scrambling experience? Opt for the standard route from Halls Creek Overlook. Though longer, it is more straightforward and doesn't require scrambling.

With either route, most groups do this as a 1-2 night backpack. If you are backpacking, you are required to get a permit from the park service in person at the visitor center. If you are fit and comfortable with the distance, doing it as a day hike via the shortcut route is a good option. With no permit needed and requiring only a light pack, this was the option I chose. At a pretty good pace with a few extended breaks, it took me 7 hours roundtrip on a 75 degree fall day.

Season: Spring and fall are the recommended seasons. Summer brings brutal heat on the fully exposed approach and exit hikes and the possibility of biting insects. Spring and fall bring moderate temperatures, but you will be spending much time in the stream and need to be prepared for cold water.

Water: Generally, you will find water to filter every 3-5 miles of the hike. Don't skip on a chance to fill up, especially if it is hot. Once in the narrows proper, you will have 2+ hours of constant wading in the stream. Floods change the water levels, but the deepest spots can be anywhere from knee-deep to swimming. The most common, and what I encountered, was a lot of mid-calf wading with a few short pools about waist deep. I would recommend a dry bag to keep food, an extra layer, etc. dry just in case of a deep pool or stumble.

Dramatic streaked wall in Halls Creek Narrows

Dramatic streaked wall in Halls Creek Narrows

Getting There

Travel east out of Capitol Reef National Park on highway 24. Just past the park, 0.25 miles, is the well signed Notom road.

  • Reset your odometer as you turn on to the Notom Road. ( 12S 488766mE 4237257mN / N38° 16' 60" W111° 07' 42" )
  • 7.7 Cross Burro Wash ( 12S 491754mE 4226057mN / N38° 10' 57" W111° 05' 39" )
  • 9.0 Cottonwood Wash Turn Off ( 12S 492222mE 4224163mN / N38° 09' 55" W111° 05' 20" )
  • 10.0 Five Mile ( 12S 492659mE 4222775mN / N38° 09' 10" W111° 05' 02" )
  • 12.7 Sheets gulch trailhead ( 12S 493747mE 4218694mN / N38° 06' 58" W111° 04' 17" )
  • 13.6 Sandy Ranch Junction - go right ( 12S 493907mE 4217293mN / N38° 06' 12" W111° 04' 10" )
  • 13.8 Stay Right ( 12S 494098mE 4216859mN / N38° 05' 58" W111° 04' 02" )
  • 15.2 Stay Straight ( 12S 494085mE 4215042mN / N38° 04' 59" W111° 04' 03" )
  • 16.3 Cattle Guard Stay Straight ( 12S 494292mE 4213481mN / N38° 04' 09" W111° 03' 54" )
  • 19.0 Cattle Guard ( 12S 494227mE 4209220mN / N38° 01' 50" W111° 03' 57" )
  • 21.2 Cedar Mesa Campground ( 12S 492761mE 4206627mN / N38° 00' 26" W111° 04' 57" )
  • 24.8 Bitter Creek Divide ( 12S 494269mE 4201193mN / N37° 57' 30" W111° 03' 55" )
  • 32.6 Burr Trail Junction - Stay left ( 12S 498876mE 4189808mN / N37° 51' 21" W111° 00' 46" )
  • 34.4 Surprise Canyon Trailhead ( 12S 500987mE 4187885mN / N37° 50' 18" W110° 59' 20" )
  • 34.9 Headquarters Canyon Trailhead and The Post side road. Stay left. ( 12S 502184mE 4186128mN / N37° 49' 21" W110° 58' 31" )
  • 43.6 Junction, go right toward Bullfrog ( 12S 508099mE 4179108mN / N37° 45' 33" W110° 54' 29" )
  • 44.4 Turn off to Halls Creek Overlook. Reset odometer as you turn off the main road. ( 12S 508000mE 4177705mN / N37° 44' 48" W110° 54' 33" )
  • 0.1 Stay Left ( 12S 507756mE 4177654mN / N37° 44' 46" W110° 54' 43" )
  • 2.5 - For the Halls Creek Overlook/standard route, go right. Follow this short and very rough side road to its end in less than 1/2 mile. There is a picnic table and sign at the trailhead. For the shortcut route, stay straight, heading south. ( 12S 506386mE 4174733mN / N37° 43' 11" W110° 55' 39" )
  • 4.8 Small side road on the right that goes to an overlook. Stay straight. Only mentioned so it is not confused with the next right just after it at 4.9. ( 12S 507731mE 4171311mN / N37° 41' 20" W110° 54' 44" )
  • 4.9 Two-track road on the right. Take this side road. It heads west briefly, then south east, finally turning back west. ( 12S 507761mE 4171209mN / N37° 41' 17" W110° 54' 43" )
  • 5.85 Parking area and the shortcut trailhead. The road continues heading south, but is much rougher and not well travelled. ( 12S 507543mE 4170019mN / N37° 40' 38" W110° 54' 52" )
Stripped walls in the lower section.

Stripped walls in the lower section.

Route

Halls Creek Overlook (Standard Route) to Shortcut Junction (about 5 miles):
From the Halls Creek Overlook trailhead, follow the signed Brimhall Arch trail. It is easy to follow as it descends a bit and heads north before making a quicker and steeper descent down to Halls Creek. There are some old cowboy signatures along the way. This must have been an incredibly isolated place to be passing though back in the early 1900s!

Once at Halls Creek, if you have time, consider taking the side trip up to Brimhall Arch. This is in the first side canyon on the right.

Trail Note: There is a good well-worn social trail that heads all the way down to Halls Creek Narrows. It cuts corners where it seems reasonable. There are spots where it braids a bit, and there are spots where it is easy to lose it where it enters and then leaves the stream bed proper in a different spot. On my visit, during an extended dry spell, the sandy trail was a fair bit of effort. I walked it one direction, but opted for the longer but much more firm path of just staying in the streambed on the return.

As you head down Halls Creek, you will mostly be passing along the base of the impressive sandstone reef, but at about 4 miles, it turns to a steep dirt hill known as Red Slide. The second side canyon after Red Slide, at about 4.5 miles from the Halls Creek Overlook trailhead, is Fountain Tanks, a spot that contains large pools of water. It is a reliable place to filter water if needed. You may need to scramble up and around a bit to find pools depending on conditions.

From Fountain Tanks, it is a short 0.5 miles to a steep side canyon coming in on the left (east). This is where the shortcut route comes down.

From the Shortcut Trailhead to Halls Creek (less than 1 mile):
From the parking area, head west off the cap rock. An emerging trail here works west down to the top of a very steep dropping rocky gully just a few minutes from the trailhead.

From the top of the gully, initially start on the left and down the first short (6') cliff band. A No Hunting sign post here is a good landmark to find a way down the initial section. Head down just a short distance, then traverse right across the drainage. There were cairns here on my trip, but require a sharp eye. You will lose just a little elevation before crossing back left across the drainage on slickrock. This, to me, was the crux of the route and required a few scrambling moves across and down with a little exposure to move back across to the left (south) side of the drainage.

Once back on the left side of the drainage, a social trail and sparse cairns moves generally down and left, away from the drainage. The trail splits in spots here, but a close eye for either a trail or cairns should keep you on track. Look to the very bottom of the slope, and you should spot the social trail heading away from the bottom of the slope and toward Halls Creek. This makes a good landmark to know where you are aiming for. If you find exposure or hard climbing, look around. Nothing in this lower section should be more difficult than a move or two of class 4 scrambling.

You will intersect the well-travelled standard route trail on the flats before reaching Halls Creek. Be sure to make a note of this spot and route, so you can recognize it on the way back. I ended up coming down a wash and joining the standard route right at a nice sized tree that makes a great landmark.

To the Narrows (3.5 miles from the shortcut/standard route junction):
Continue down from where the standard and shortcut routes join. During an extended dry period, I didn't find water for about 3 miles. The massive walls west of Halls Creek make this a dramatic hike. About where I found water there began to be many very nice campsite and large trees. If doing the trip as a backpack, I would consider camping here and doing the loop through the narrows with a lighter pack.

At about 3.5 miles from the standard/shortcut junction, just before Halls Creek turns west and clearly becomes a deep canyon, the trail splits to begin the loop.

The Loop

Which way to do the loop? You can either hike the open Halls Divide road first, then come up the Halls Creek Narrows or vice versa. If the day is going to get hotter, I would hike the divide first, so the hottest part of the day will be spent in the cool, shaded, and stream filled narrows. If is in the afternoon, I might consider doing the opposite. I think the divide first is the better approach for most groups, so what I describe below.

The trail that leaves Halls Creek proper and follows the old road was more difficult to spot at the start than I expected. Keep an eye on the map, and look for small cairns and a trail leaving the creek bed.

Halls Creek Divide (1.75 miles)
Once you have found the old Halls Creek Road, it is easy to follow. It meanders up. To the east (left) are some really dramatic red cliffs and smaller entrada sandstone cliffs lower down. The old road summits the divide, and begins descending.

It is about 1.75 miles (45 minutes) from when you leave the Halls Creek stream bed to when the old road re-enters the creek bottom. A few minutes before, there are several side trails that shortcut down to Halls Creek instead of following the old road. Take any that look appealing, it should be an easy walk to the bottom of the flowing willow lined creek. Or just stay on the old road until it reaches the creek bottom.

Up the Narrows (4-ish miles)
Ah, the main event! Head up the bottom of the creek and into the deep walled canyon that is Halls Creek Narrows. This lower part is very dramatic and, on my visit, held the most water of the day with several short sections of waist deep wading. It is sublime.

The next 4 miles settle into a rhythm of big, wide open bends, with narrower sections between them. Be sure on the bends to look up! I did not realize how deep many of the eroded bends were until looking up. Very impressive!

At about 4 miles, the walls fairly abruptly subside, the creek bends, and you find yourself back at the start of the loop. What a sublime 4 miles!

Retrace your approach route back up Halls Creek. Be sure to fill up on water here if needed before starting the long journey back.


Maps

Standard Route / 23.95 miles / Elevation Range 3,933 - 5,288 ft.
Shortcut Route / 15.42 miles / Elevation Range 3,933 - 5,035 ft.
Printable Maps:
Halls Creek

12S 505314mE 4174760mN

N37° 43' 12" W110° 56' 23"

Fountain Tanks

12S 506482mE 4170383mN

N37° 40' 50" W110° 55' 35"

Halls Creek Overlook Trailhead

12S 506164mE 4174516mN

N37° 43' 04" W110° 55' 48"

Bottom Halls Creek

12S 511238mE 4163221mN

N37° 36' 58" W110° 52' 22"

Shortcut Trailhead

12S 507535mE 4170009mN

N37° 40' 38" W110° 54' 52"

No Hunting Sign / Down

12S 507343mE 4169936mN

N37° 40' 36" W110° 55' 00"

Tree and Wash

12S 506975mE 4169736mN

N37° 40' 29" W110° 55' 15"

Grafitti

12S 505825mE 4175090mN

N37° 43' 23" W110° 56' 02"

Divide/Narrows Junction

12S 509934mE 4165051mN

N37° 37' 57" W110° 53' 15"

Water

12S 508938mE 4165910mN

N37° 38' 25" W110° 53' 55"

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