Twisted Hiking

Upper Muley Twist
Dead-end cairn

Not often do I swear in my diary.

But twice I see “G. Damn” in my entry for Upper Muley Twist Canyon, curses aimed at our guidebook and the National Park Service.

“We walked for hours and never came to the Rim Trail. 20.6 kilometres and no Rim Trail! Anyway, we survived and it was beautiful. The stillness. Absolute. The chill. Deepening. The Light. Lingering. Bed. Beckoning.”

Getting to Upper Muley Twist was Rove-Inn’s biggest struggle, to date.

If she kept a diary it might read: “Sunday, April 10. Drove Burr Trail Road from Boulder to Capitol Reef National Park where the pavement ends. Then Strike Valley Overlook road. Whoa baby! The rocks and dips I manoeuvred—at one point I was a three-legged machine with a tire sucking air! Took me forty-one minutes to go 4.5 kilometres. Overheard Magellan say it’s likely a Class 3 road. Hard to tell from the footage I’m guessing; Spice is no videographer. Resting now but a bit nervous as there’s a sign nearby that says no overnight camping. At my age (nine) motoring down in the dark I might ‘strike’ out on Strike Valley Overlook road.”

By camping at the end of the road, we were on the trail at 8:30 the next morning.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon cuts lengthwise along the spine of the Waterpocket Fold, offering hikers a chance to experience panoramic views from one of  the longest (161 kilometres) continuously exposed monoclines in the world.

The trail, 15.1 kilometres and estimated to take five to eight hours, starts off easy following the wash. After a few kilometres you reach Saddle Arch, created after millions of years of erosion. Although the route isn’t officially maintained by the National Park Service, our guidebook said that at 7.9 km, elevation 1951 metres, to “be alert for a sign directing you to the Rim Route…Cairns indicate the way up, then you must hike the writhing, squirming route along the crest without guidance. Navigation shouldn’t be a problem, because the Fold drops away steeply at both sides…”

If there was a sign, we missed it on the way in. And on the way out.

We intended to hike the Rim Route loop in a counterclockwise direction to get the most strenuous part over at the beginning. “It requires careful attention as some sections of the trail deviate from the anticipated route to bypass obstacles,” we’d read on the US Parks site. “It is easy to miss this bypass route if you are not watching for cairns. It is possible to explore the narrows, but a pour-off near the beginning requires a difficult climb using old hand- and toe-holds carved into the rock. The narrows end at an impassable pour-off where water can sometimes be found.”

Whatever trail we got onto, it deviated too far northwest, the canyon constricted and my view narrowed to Magellan’s backpack in front of me.

Did I mention no one else was on this kick-ass trail?

Finally, when the “writhing and squirming” made us feel like twisted mules, we abandoned our stubborn pursuit of finding the Rim loop and turned around.

Maybe we were lucky not to have found it. “As you approach the lower (south) end of the rim route, watch for an NPS-placed sign directing you right (west) to the route that drops back down to the canyon bottom. The rim is fairly wide in this area, and it’s easy to miss the route down if you aren’t watching for cairns,” reads the National Park’s online description of the Rim Route loop. If we’d gotten stuck up there, Rove-Inn might have never had the downhill joy of traversing Strike Valley Overlook road.

“A drive to repeat. Totally Classic,” was my last diary entry of the day. I think Rove-Inn would agree.


Copeland, Kathy & Craig. Hiking from here to WOW UTAH CANYON COUNTRY. Birmingham, Alabama: Wilderness Press, 2015. Our favourite guide to hiking in Utah but not for this adventure.

Maybe the National Park Service’s directions for hiking Upper Muley Twist Canyon will help you find the Rim Trail. Or the US Parks site. Good Luck!


11 Responses

  1. Good grief! What a road! I hope you didn’t have to back-up all the way down – doesn’t look like there was much room to turn around. Spectacular photos!

    1. Where we were driving the canyon wasn’t too narrow so there were many places to turn around. But a risk we kept our eye on was the possibility of a rain storm in the watershed above us that could flood the canyon.

    1. When we were nearly back to the car (about 2:30), we saw a family with tweens just starting out. I hope they were luckier in finding the Rim.

  2. Awesome looking country.
    I bet you almost have to drag “The Engineer” ⛏ away from places like this, almost too much to see
    for those that check out all the nooks and crannies.
    When you can overnight right on the trail, you are indeed, one with nature.
    Any idea how cool it was overnight?


    1. This Engineer was too preoccupied trying to find the trail to be looking at the rocks. Plus these special sites are best set aside for preservation of nature rather than mineral exploitation. By camping standards it wasn’t very cold that night, but we did wear a toque and gloves for the first half-hour hiking in the morning.

  3. Beautiful photos! Worth the trek in? That video reminds me of a road we took in Ghana to see a school Kyle had help to build. We were in a taxi so didn’t have to worry about wear and tear on the vehicle,
    Your supper looked scrumptious!

    1. The hike was worth the trek in but it was very frustrating not to find the loop out.
      We bought Rove-Inn used so it wouldn’t matter as much if she got a little road rash. I was perhaps a bit cautious driving because if we got stuck we would have to self-recover without the benefit of a winch.

    2. It’s amazing how many calories you (need to) eat when you’re hiking that much, hence the avocado heaped on the chili and slabs of cornbread to accompany it.

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