Lower Muley Twist Canyon provides solitude on long hikes in a remote and wild setting with interesting views, features, and geology, and a few cool tributaries to explore. Among its most characteristic and fun features are the large alcoves under which the canyon cuts deeply in many places. It also provides a chance to hike over the Waterpocket Fold.
one of many alcoves in Lower Muley Twist Canyon
It is thought that the canyon was discovered by Charles Hall (for whom nearby Halls Creek is named), and the name derives from the saying that it is so narrow it could "twist a mule." In fact, it is wide enough to have been traveled by wagon by Mormon pioneers in the early 1880s. Little trace of this use of the canyon remains.
There are two trailheads; both are accessible by passenger car (except in bad conditions), and hikes from 6 to 24 miles or more in length are possible.
peering out from inside one of the alcoves the stream has cut
start of the trail from the Post
The area can be accessed by 4WD via the Burr Trail from Boulder, but this description will focus on the approach from the north. Turn south from Highway 24 onto the Notom-Bullfrog Road just east of the Park boundary, and follow this road until past where it reenters the Park. It is advisable to check with Park personnel on the road conditions before your travel, especially if there have been recent storms. In average conditions, the road is mostly smooth but has rattling washboard sections. In bad conditions, even 4WD is not good enough.
The road passes the Cedar Mesa Campground not far past the Park boundary and continues south. After some distance, it intersects the Burr Trail, and this is where it becomes up to you what to do. Lower Muley Twist Canyon can be hiked all the way through from the Burr Trail as a multiday trip, or as two separate hikes, an upper section and a lower section. Ascending the switchbacks of the Burr Trail over the Waterpocket Fold provides access to the top of the upper section of the canyon, while continuing south to the Post (or rather, to a spur road that leads a short distance past the Post to a trailhead with a toilet and a corral) provides the option of hiking up the upper section or of hiking the lower section as a day hike instead of a backpack (though strong hikers could do the entire canyon in a day as a 17-mile partial loop plus a shuttle).
view from the Cut-off trail
feature in the Waterpocket Fold along the cut-off trail
There are several ways to experience Lower Muley Twist Canyon, suitable for moderate to long day hikes, overnighters, or extended trips all the way through and then down Halls Creek. This is because there is a 2-mile "Cut-off Trail" that climbs over the Waterpocket Fold between the Post and a point in the canyon 4 miles south of the Burr Trail. The Cut-off Trail is highly recommended, because the Waterpocket Fold is geologically fascinating and the views are excellent from on top. The elevation change is also a welcome change of activity for the leg muscles given the miles of flat slogging involved in the rest of any of the routes. Most published material warns of exposed scrambling on this part, but in my opinion this aspect is overrated. At most there is easy class 2 with very mild exposure, and the route is very well-marked.
With a bicycle or car shuttle, a 6 mile hike between the Burr Trail and the Post via the Cut-off Trail (in either direction; which one is preferred depends whether you'd rather hike down or ride down, but if you have a car shuttle, you probably want to start from the top) is the shortest option other than an out-and-back from the Burr Trail that misses the best parts; for example there is a short section of narrows just before the Cut-off Trail is reached. The total loop distance is over 10 miles if you do not have a shuttle.
interesting side canyon the inside wall of Cowboy Cove desert varnish on the canyon wall southern tip of the canyon, before it heads east The final narrows
From the Cut-off trail, the canyon continues south, winding along between impenetrable walls for a few miles, occasionally undercutting the walls very deeply. About halfway from the Cut-off to the southernmost point, the west side becomes more open and side canyons in the wall to the east are observed, which would be fun to explore (though perhaps difficult to squeeze into a day hike that is already at least 15 miles). Later, the wall becomes continuously unbreached all the way to where the canyon takes a final turn to the east just past the confluence with a small, attractive tributary on the west, which is itself around a corner or two from probably the largest alcove, Cowboy Cove. At this point you've walked about 9+ miles if you had started at the Post. There is a section of narrows as it heads toward Grand Gulch, and then watch for cairns on the left marking the shortest way back to the Post (otherwise, the canyon empties into Halls Creek a little farther south). From here it is a 5 mile walk more or less straight north back to the Post in an open valley on a trail popular with riders on horseback, for a total lower-loop (from the Post) distance of 15 miles, or 17 miles from the Burr Trail, not including a shuttle or extra 4+ mile hike.
Backpacking requires that you obtain a free backcountry permit from the Park visitors center (in Fruita along Highway 24) during its business hours, and except in official campgrounds you must camp 1/2 mile from any road.
Also, aside from the usual Leave No Trace, do not carry firearms, collect firewood, or build ground fires. If you are not used to Colorado Plateau hiking, be sure to study up on cryptobiotic soil and then avoid stepping on it, even if the horse riders passing you in Grand Gulch are doing so.
Not far south past the Park boundary along the Notom road, there is a free "primitive" Park campground called Cedar Mesa with around half a dozen sites, a pit toilet, and picnic tables. This is the closest car camping to the trailheads. If it's full, you can camp on BLM land back up the road outside the park, or else you must obtain a backcountry camping permit and camp 1/2 mile from any road.
External LinksCapitol Reef National Park
NPS Lower Muley Twist Canyon
Watch this page
for the BLM to fix their Road Conditions link
Capitol Reef climate sheet
NWS 7-day forecast
for near the Waterpocket Fold at 5000 ft elevation.
The Earthwalk Press Hiking Map and Guide, Capitol Reef National Park
is a good one and comes on recycled paper for only 5 bucks.
USGS Wagon Box Mesa
The Trails Illustrated map for Glen Canyon and Capitol Reef is not very detailed.