Upper Spring Canyon |

Capitol Reef

Hiking Upper Spring Canyon - Capitol Reef Hiking Upper Spring Canyon
Capitol Reef

Overview | Getting There | Route | Photos | Maps | Comments


RATING: Strenuous Dayhile / Backpack
MAPS: Twin Rocks, UT; Torrey, UT;


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SEASON: Fall, Spring
GEAR: Standard Hiking Gear
WATER: One spring 14 miles into the hike, bringing all you need is recommended.


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Upper Spring Canyon is one of those hikes that tests your mettle. It is seldom trodden, long, and has beautiful scenery. The hike is one I would recommend only to very fit and experienced desert hikers. The route contains moderate route finding, sections of rough terrain, and has very limited water availability, the types of difficulties that can spell disaster for the unprepared. Though challenging, it is also a very rewarding hike, ascending through layers of sandstone, up and over the Wingate layer, then meandering down the long and deep walled Spring Canyon.

Upper Spring Canyon can be visited as part of a multi-day backpacking trip that includes Lower Spring Canyon. For most groups, I would recommend breaking it up into two different trips. If doing both sections at once, expect at least two full days and quite possibly three or four to complete the route.

Warning: It is about 14 miles to the only water source available on the hike, and that spring can be quite small at times. If relying on the spring, contact the Capitol Reef Visitor Center before setting out to inquire about the current status. Be sure to carry enough water to make it to the spring!
Note: If backpacking, camping requires a free backcountry camping permit available at the Visitor Center. You are also required to camp at least 300' away from the spring.

Getting There

Holt Draw (Trailhead)
The trailhead is about 3.8 miles west of Torrey on the way to Capitol Reef. Head east out of Torrey. At mile marker 72.5, a side road goes off on the north (left) side of the highway. It is dirt and offers a few primitive campsites. Follow it about 0.2 miles to a fence and gate. This is the trailhead.

Chimney Rock Trailhead (Exit)
You will need to spot a car at the Chimney Rock trailhead. Chimney Rock trailhead is about 3 miles east of the Meeks Mesa trailhead turnoff on the north side of the road. It is well signed, with a large parking area and a pit toilet.


Trailhead to the W (4.2 miles / 2.5 - 3 hours)
From the Holt Draw trailhead, follow the old road through the gate and continue along it. After about 1.3 miles (20-30 minutes), it seems to end, and a well-trodden horse trail goes off on the right. Follow the horse trail and even faint old road down to the main Sulphur Creek Wash. Stay in the bottom of the main Sulphur Creek and follow it upstream. Side trails leave in a few spots, but stay in the main drainage. About 3.5 miles from the trailhead (2 hours), the Wingate cliffs loom directly in front of you and the wash divides.

Go right here, up a minor side drainage. A trail begins forming in this section. Follow it up to the bench where it seems to disappear again. Go east on the bench until two notches become visible to the north. The notches are called the W and provide passage over to Spring Canyon. Though it looks improbable from a distance, the west (left) notch is the one to go through. Hike up to the notch.

To the North Fork (2 miles / 1 - 1.5 hours)
From the notch, scramble down the narrow canyon, then down the dirt and rock slope to the bottom of Spring Canyon. This upper section of Spring Canyon is relatively steep and has quite a few boulders to hike around. A dryfall is soon reached. Go up the right bank, then down canyon 1-2 minutes until an unlikely gully allows access back down to the canyon floor. (Or continue above the canyon along the rim until it is easy to re-enter the canyon.)

The North Fork of Spring Canyon comes in on the left at a wide confluence. Spring Canyon becomes less steep from here and is much easier going.

To the Spring (7.7 miles / 4-5 hours)
The walking is easier but much sandier. Spring Canyon has repetitive scenery from here down, with tall Wingate Walls towing over the canyon. After about 2.7 miles, a canyon comes in on the right. This side canyon is the bottom end of Pandora's Box.

Continuing down Spring Canyon, there aren't any more landmarks until the spring, which comes in on the left. There is a small side canyon with a grove of trees at the spring. This spring is likely the only place water will be available.

Out Chimney Rock (4.3 miles / 2 hours)
From the spring, it is 1.6 miles (30-45 minutes) down to where Chimney Rock Canyon comes in on the left. This junction seems pretty obvious, but at least one group has walked by it.

Go up Chimney Rock Canyon. The trail is easy and well traveled. About 1.5 miles up Chimney Rock is the loop junction. Either way works, but right is about 0.8 miles shorter than the left (south) loop. I would recommend right (the north loop) for most. A final junction is reached at the edge of the mesa where the trail descends steeply 0.5 miles to the Chimney Rock Trailhead.


Route / 18.23 miles / Elevation Range 5,874 - 7,782 ft.
Printable Maps:
Trailhead - Holt Draw

12S 467406mE 4242036mN

N38° 19' 33" W111° 22' 22"

End of Road

12S 466047mE 4242811mN

N38° 19' 58" W111° 23' 19"


12S 463694mE 4244962mN

N38° 21' 07" W111° 24' 56"


12S 464361mE 4245531mN

N38° 21' 26" W111° 24' 28"


12S 465159mE 4245890mN

N38° 21' 38" W111° 23' 56"

North Fork

12S 466812mE 4246023mN

N38° 21' 42" W111° 22' 48"

Pandora's Bottom

12S 470284mE 4245216mN

N38° 21' 17" W111° 20' 24"


12S 475787mE 4243117mN

N38° 20' 09" W111° 16' 37"

Chimney Rock Exit

12S 476904mE 4241825mN

N38° 19' 27" W111° 15' 51"

Lower Junction

12S 475099mE 4241074mN

N38° 19' 03" W111° 17' 05"


12S 473927mE 4241088mN

N38° 19' 03" W111° 17' 54"

Trailhead - Chimney Rock

12S 473418mE 4240870mN

N38° 18' 56" W111° 18' 15"


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