OK, let’s get the important warnings out of the way first. Traversing the full route of Burr Trail into Capitol Reef National Park or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will require that you drive over some pretty rough ground that could present (potentially) dangerous situations. Most of Burr Trail is a dirt and gravel road. Rock slides and road wash outs resulting from distant storms are possible. Dependent upon the season, extreme heat to snow squals are possible. This is a seldom traveled route in a wilderness area. There are no services (nothing) available for 60-70 miles, which can translate into several hours wait (at minimum) for help. So, to be safe, consider the following recommendations:
- Check for weather and road conditions before you start out (wash out or rock slide can close road)
- A Four wheel drive or AWD, high clearance vehicle is recommended
- Take at least a 2 day provision of food and drinking water with you
- Be prepared (blankets, etc.) to spend the night in the vehicle, if necessary
- Leave your trip itinerary with someone so you can be located in case of car trouble or other mishap
Having said all the above, is it worth checking out the Burr Trail? Absolutely. Even if you only travel from the Burr Trail Grill just outside of Boulder (off Scenic Highway 12) to the end of Long Canyon and return, it is a drive you will long remember.
The first 10-12 miles from Highway 12 may not impress, but once you enter into Long Canyon…the fun begins. As you enter the canyon, dark red cliffs hover hundreds of feet above both sides of the road. Truck size boulders litter the sides of the trail, remnants of past cliff collapses and rock slides. The cliff colors will change as you travel deeper into the canyon, eventually turning to light gold sandstone near the end. At the end of the Long Canyon, there is a parking area that provides a scenic overlook of an upper sonoran zone of junipers, dunes, and cliffs that spread below you. On clear days, you can see the Henry Mountains (often snow capped) rising in the distance.
From this point forward, the road conditions become rougher as the topography continually changes. The trail passes through the Circle Cliffs and Studhorse Peaks. Shortly past the Studhorse Peaks you will enter into the western boundary of Capitol Reef National Park. Several roads and trails cross Burr Trail, from this point forward, providing side adventures into places like Muley Twist Canyon, Strike Valley Overlook, and Halls Creek Valley Overlook. You will pass Peek-a-Boo Arch and impressive sandstone rock formations prior to reaching the top of the “Burr Trail Switchbacks”.
The “Switchbacks” are one of the highlights and reasons for traveling the Burr Trail. This area is truly a photographer’s playground. In all directions are striking views of rock formations, high desert vegetation, the Water Pocket Fold (below), and the Henry Mountains (framing the background of many photographic opportunities). The picture at the top of this page was taken from within the switchbacks. If there are storms in the area, particularly thunderstorms, it would be wise not to venture down into the lowlands from this point. Flash floods and wash outs could strand you or overtake your vehicle if you proceed under stormy conditions.
The desert floor is beautiful and provides up close views of the end results of the extreme forces that shaped the topography of this area. The Burr Trail comes to an end at Norton-Bullfrog Road here at the base. Turning left, on Norton-Bullfrog, takes you alongside the Water Pocket Fold.
The drive along the “fold” is long and time consuming, but worth exploring. There are several points of interest within the park along this section of road such as Cedar Mesa, Burro Wash, and Sheets Gulch (slot canyons). You’ll exit Capitol Reef National Park while still driving on Norton-Bullfrog, though you’ll likely never see any sign that you are leaving the park. Be forwarned, ranchers occasionally travel at high speeds down this section of road (in their pickups) pulling horse or cattle trailers. This is a narrow dirt road and they won’t be inclined to slow down for tourist traffic. Norton-Bulfrog road, eventually, comes to an end at Scenic Highway 24. If you turn left on Scenic Highway 24, and continue, it will become the Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Highway and the end of the Burr Trail adventure.