From the parking area, enter the wide sand wash and head north. As you continue along the trail, a number of washes come in from the left; keep right at these intersections throughout the hike.
Just over a mile and a half from the trailhead, Muley Arch is visible on the left, followed soon by the impressive Saddle Arch. Across from Saddle Arch, you can see the return route entering back into the wash. To the north, the wash is usually dry, but rain or melting snow can create all kinds of pools and mudholes that can add considerably to the hiking time.
Continuing along the wash, a short section of low-angle sluice adds aesthetic punch with almost every step. Soon, two more arches appear. About a mile ahead, a sharp left-hand bend in the canyon proceeds a steep bypass rising straight ahead up the slickrock. The canyon slot can be explored, but isn’t passible so you’ll end up back at the bypass.
The bypass contours high above the narrows, with some exposure, before a steep descent briefly returns to the wash before heading up to the ridge above. The climb to the ridge can be a little complicated and requires some navigating and a little scrambling, but you’ll soon find your way to the top.
From the ridge, the route continues south in long pleasant descents with plenty of opportunities to soak in the views. Occasional drops in elevation followed by scrambling climbs interrupt this mellow progress. A final long descent ushers hikers back to the wash below for the return to the trailhead.
This content was contributed by author Rick Stinchfield. For a comprehensive hiking guide to Capitol Reef National Park and to see more by Rick, click here
The top of the Navajo Sandstone has an abundance of the waterpockets for which Capitol Reef ’s signature feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is named. Shallow depressions weathered into the rock capture precipitation, which is important for wildlife and plants. Many of these tiny basins also fill partially with windblown sand, which can then host small plant communities.
A common species in this environment is greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula), a member of the heather family. It is an evergreen, and its bright, dark green leaves on reddish branches stand out especially well during winter and early spring, before other plants leaf out or flower. During dry periods in warm weather, manzanita leaves orient themselves vertically to minimize water loss. When in bloom with many small, bell-shaped pink blossoms, manzanita is even more handsome.