Capitol Reef National Park

Slide into Utah's Canyon Wonderland

This is the place: the rocky fun zones of Capitol Reef     Photo: Corel

Kick Back in Torrey

Surrounded by some of the Southwest’s most colorful desert views, Torrey, population 120, is an easily overlooked pleasure. Take a walk along the cottonwood-lined main street and visit local galleries and cafés, or check out the local Entrada Institute’s offerings—from cowboy poetry readings to Bach recitals—at Robber’s Roost Books and Beverages. Bunk four miles west of Torrey at Red River Ranch (www.redriverranch.com), a 2,200-acre private reserve with a three-story, 15-room lodge. For dinner, head to nationally known Cafe Diablo (www.cafediablo.net), a southwestern-fusion joint that turns local lamb, trout, and rattlesnake into feisty fare.
ONE FINE DAY: Get your morning fructose buzz strolling among 2,700 cherry, peach, and apricot trees in Capitol Reef’s Fruita Orchards, the sweet remnants of an abandoned fruit-growing town. Then the guides at Cowboy Homestead Cabins (435-425-3414, www.cowboyhomesteadcabins.com) can take you on a daylong horseback ride up Indian Farm Hill, with views of Capitol Reef’s rock domes. —Jason Daley

Acres: 241,904 Contact: 435-425-3791

CAPITOL REEF is the perfect place to find the type of free-form adventures that abound in U.S. national parks. Slickrock junkies will love the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long lopsided wrinkle of earth that offers one of the best backcountry playscapes in the Southwest. Satisfy your cravings on the park’s south end, where canyons have sliced the Fold with narrows that require swimming through blackwater holes, scrambling over chockstones, and negotiating the odd rappel.

This trip’s main event is a 21.9-mile backpacking loop that takes you from Halls Creek Overlook to Halls Creek Narrows. From the Brimhall Bridge trailhead at the Halls Creek Overlook, off Notom-Bullfrog Road, descend 800 feet to Halls Creek. Flanked by the Fold’s red- and buff-colored cliffs, you’ll hike seven and a half miles down a dry wash to the narrows, where you can set up base camp on a grassy bench.

Spend day two snaking through the three-mile-long slot canyon, whose tight walls will funnel you through pretzel twists and perpetually shaded pools. Head back to camp by going up Halls Divide, east of the narrows. The next day, retrace your footprints to Halls Creek Overlook. Throw your pack in the car and drive north on Notom-Bullfrog Road; crash at the park’s Cedar Mesa Campground or sleep roadside near the mouth of Burro Wash, your destination for day four.

Burro is one of several drainages that penetrate the Fold, and—depending on how far you scramble—it may require technical canyoneering skills. Burro offers two sets of narrows with deep pools sandwiched between smooth, fluted walls that almost touch in some places. After four miles you’ll come to an impossible pour-over. Turn around and head for more slots in nearby Five Mile and Cottonwood washes before calling it a day.

GETTING THERE: For guided trips in Capitol Reef, contact Wild Hare Expeditions (888-304-4273, www.colorcountry.net/~thehare). A free permit is required for backcountry camping, and even when it’s hot, bring a wetsuit for the canyons’ cold pools.

WHEN TO GO: Anytime but winter; and beware of summer flash floods.

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