Originally developed as a cattle trail by stockman John Atlantic Burr, the Burr Trail Scenic Backway passes through three iconic parks starting at Boulder Utah to the north located on Highway 12 to Bullfrog Basin and Ticaboo Utah to the south on Highway 276. The route offers back country access to numerous trails and canyons through the painted rock desert of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Waterpocket Fold and Badlands of Capitol Reef National Park, and slickrock canyons of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The distance is approximately 75 miles from Boulder to Bullfrog. The first 30 miles are paved leading to the Capitol Reef border. From there the road turns to graded dirt and can be rather washboarded in sections. The last 20 mile stretch from the Springs/Bullfrog Basin junction to Hwy 276 is also paved.
A note from the BLM: Although in dry weather the Burr Trail is easily accessible to passenger cars, wet weather may make the road impassable even for 4WD vehicles. Check with rangers or local officials for weather and road conditions. Recreational vehicles are not recommended.
The upper section (paved section) includes Long Canyon and its tributary slot canyon called “Singing Canyon”, Deer Creek campground, and many amazing views. Once you exit Long Canyon there is an amazing panoramic view of the Waterpocket Fold and Circle Cliffs with the Henry Mountains looming in the background. Once you reach the Capitol Reef border the pavement ends and graded dirt begins. A short distance down the road from the border the Peek-A-Boo Arch at Upper Muley Twisted Canyon comes in to view. The first half mile of the side road to this area is passable for passenger cars, then the road enters Upper Muley Twist Canyon and is recommended for 4WD vehicles only.
Burr Trail Switchbacks
One of the highlights of the trip is the Burr Trail Switchbacks. A shorter version of the Moki Dugway in San Juan County (SR 261) with steeper slopes and grade. The view from the top is amazing, worth a stop to get the photo. A short distance from the bottom of the Switchbacks is a junction. This is where the road from Hwy 24 east of Capitol Reef runs parallel to the Waterpocket Fold, passes through the small town of Notom and connects with the Burr Trail. This is a half-way point. From here Bullfrog is 33 miles to the south and 34 miles to the north to Hwy 24. From here the road enters the Badlands.
The Badlands are made up primarily of Mancos Shale and Morrison formations. You see these formations on Hwy 24 from Hanksville to Capitol Reef. Factory Butte and the Cainville Mesa are good examples of Mancos Shale. The road in this section is washboarded quite badly, it’ll shake the fillings right out of your mouth! If you’re lucky you’ll hit it right after it’s been “bladed” by the county.
While negotiating my way through the washboard I came upon the junction with Starr Spring. This was the relief I was looking for! Turn right at the junction, this is where the road turns back to pavement. From here the road connects with Utah State Hwy. 276 in less than 20 miles.
Along this stretch, I stopped the car several times to take it all in. To the south, Upper Bullfrog Bay and Upper Halls Creek Bay can be seen. Shortly down the road is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area boundary.
At approximately 5 miles from Bullfrog, there is a wash called Bullfrog Creek crossing. When Lake Powell is at full pool, water can fill up the wash as far as the road! After a rain, the wash can be wet and muddy. This could be the end of the trail if wet or full. Be sure to check on weather and lake conditions before leaving Boulder. The bigger concern is rain, the lake hasn’t been full pool in many years.
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