Burr Trail

Utah Scenic Backway

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.

Upper Section

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

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.

Bullfrog Basin

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.

Named after John Atlantic Burr, who was born in 1846 aboard the SS Brooklyn somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. He and his family lived in Salt Lake City, then later moved south and established the town of Burrville, Utah, in 1876. John Burr soon developed a trail to move cattle back and forth between winter and summer ranges and to market. This cattle trail through the rough, nearly impassable country around the Waterpocket Fold, Burr Canyon, and Muley Twist Canyon came to be known as the Burr Trail.


Segment begins at 14:20

Junction with Utah State Route 12/Boulder 37.90126410454625, -111.42509978379955

The Burr Trail ends (or begins) here at Boulder, Utah on State Route 12. Located in Boulder are services such as food, fuel and lodging as well as Anasazi State Park. Thirty-two miles south is the town of Escalante; 40 miles north over Boulder Mountain is the town of Torrey.

Deer Creek Campground 37.85464151119144, -111.35538232253803

This small campground is located at 5,800 ft on BLM land. There are seven campsites ($10.00 per night) and no potable water. Due to size constraints it does not accommodate travel trailers.

The Gulch 37.85037546088651,-111.31450801658502

The Burr Trail leaves Long Canyon here at its confluence with its sister gorge, The Gulch, and climbs onto the lower slopes of Boulder Mountain.

Singing Canyon 37.86484106215648, -111.30044543336513

This quick and easy slot canyon is known locally for its acoustic properties. Be careful, at the end of the canyon is a steep dry fall. The pullout for parking is located on the east side of the road.

Long Canyon 37.88351451670801, -111.2739907164512

This narrow canyon is enclosed by sheer walls of Wingate sandstone which tower hundreds of feet above the road. The sandstone has fractured and eroded, forming alcoves. Some of the dark red sandstone has been leached by water to a whitish shade, and black desert varnish stains the vertical walls.

East Entrance to Long Canyon 37.91841244183056, -111.23930847045081

Here, the road enters/exits Long Canyon to the east. The lighter, golden sandstone crowning the red cliff is known as the Diadem. As you enter or exit the canyon there is a pull out with scenic views to the southeast.

Wolverine Loop Road 37.865010920156934, -111.10338892311228

This 28 mile loop road leads to a beautiful but remote and rugged area near Wolverine Canyon. Many side roads lead from the Wolverine Loop Road and the road is not well marked. 4-wheel drive vehicles may access some of these side roads; others are accessible only by foot or horseback. This area features stunning examples of petrified wood, but remember that collection of petrified wood is not allowed on National Park Service lands or within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Boundary 37.86317210610352,-111.07685792557425

Here the paved portion of the road ends if you are traveling towards Bullfrog, or begins if you are heading towards Boulder. To the east is a panoramic view of the jagged, brilliantly colored west side of the Waterpocket Fold. All five peaks of the Henry Mountains can be seen from this viewpoint, and far in the distance are the red mesas and buttes of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon Trailhead 37.85349036375739,-111.04310454384722

This hike provides narrow canyons, multiple arches, expansive vistas and a clear view of the Waterpocket Fold. The trailhead is located on the west side of the Burr Trail Road, 2-wheel drive vehicles will be able to navigate the .3 miles past the trailhead, after that a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle is necessary for the remaining 2.9 miles to the Strike Valley Overlook parking area.

Lower Muley Twist Canyon Trailhead 37.85348509375631,-111.0431044126122

Muley Twist Canyon was so named because it is so narrow and twisty that it would twist a mule to get through it. A hike through the Lower Muley Twist Canyon can be done as a long day hike or as an overnight trip by starting and ending at The Post parking area. Hiking the entire canyon from the trailhead on the Burr Trail Road and back is best done as a two to three day trip. A backcountry permit is required for overnight trips, available at the Bullfrog Visitor Center.

Top of the Switchbacks 37.84717563417226,-111.0266104935669

The scenic view to the east is superb. 

Bottom of the Switchbacks in Burr Canyon 37.84966649485409, -111.02281018591454

Here, in the Burr Canyon, the Navajo sandstone has been completely eroded away, leaving a huge notch in the Waterpocket Fold. The Burr Trail switchbacks steeply up through the canyon. Originally, only the switchbacks were named the Burr Trail, a route used by cattleman in the late 19th century to move cattle back and forth between winter and summer ranges. Today, the entire road from Bullfrog to Boulder is known as the Burr Trail. Although the views are spectacular, do not stop on the switchbacks. Cars ascending the switchbacks have the right of way.

Junction with Notom Road 37.8550012810796, -111.0124513763684

The road to the north parallels the Waterpocket Fold, gives access to several canyons and washes which offer good hiking possibilities, passes through the town of Notom and meets Hwy 24 just east of Capitol Reef National Park. There are two primitive campgrounds along the road: Cedar Mesa and Bitter Creek.

Surprise Canyon Trailhead 37.83830921588668,-110.98879640759075

Surprise Canyon is a short, 2 mile roundtrip hike that crosses a wash and leads into a short canyon in the Waterpocket Fold.

The Post/ Lower Muley Twist Trailhead 37.83296348510227,-110.98154102080365

This was once the site of a roundup corral and a cabin, but is now merely a point of reference. To the south is a spur road leading to a parking area. A 6.5 mile one way trail from the parking area leads to Lower Muley Twist Canyon. Within a few miles of the parking area are some of the largest water pockets found in the Waterpocket Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park Boundary 37.831963999534615,-110.96776040967657

Here is a distant view of the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long bend in the earth’s crust, extending from Thousand Lake Mountain to the north to Lake Powell to the south.  John Wesley Powell named this remarkable geologic feature the “Waterpocket Fold”. The formation to the north is composed of Bentonite clay. When wet, this clay can make the road impassable.

Junction with Starr Springs Road 37.75919878553388,-110.90768488046687

Starr Springs Road gives access to the Henry Mountains; a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed. Starr Springs is 21 miles to the east, on the east side of the Henry Mountains. There is a BLM campground at Starr Springs, and from there the road connects in approximately 5 miles with UT Hwy 276.

Halls Creek Overlook 37.746553755926094,-110.90918490945515

Halls Creek Overlook road branches off to the west. It is 3 miles (5 km) to the overlook. The road is very rough and may not always be passable for passenger cars, high clearance and 4-wheel drive are recommended. When it is wet, the road is impassable for all types of vehicles. At the overlook, there is a superb view of the Waterpocket Fold, Brimhall Natural Bridge, and the large, colorful expanse of the desert environment. A rough 2.5 mile (4 km) trail descends the cliffs and leads across the valley floor and into the canyon to Brimhall Bridge. 

View of Henry Mountains 37.6784937136644,-110.85066535114963

Like Navajo Mountain, the Henry Mountains are also laccoliths, formed when magma pushed overlying sedimentary rock up into a dome. Much of the sedimentary rock has since been eroded away, exposing the igneous rock underneath. The Henry Mountains were among the last mountain ranges in the continental United States to be named. When Major John Wesley Powell saw them in 1869, during his exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers, they did not appear on any official map. Powell first called the mountains the “Unknown Mountains” but later named them for Professor Joseph Henry, who was Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute at the time. Each of the peaks were named for the members of the Powell expedition, and Ellen was John Wesley Powell’s wife.

View of Navajo Mountain 37.64659220439634,-110.82325706007187

To the southwest is the rounded form of Navajo Mountain. Known geologically as a laccolith, this mountain was formed by igneous magma (molten rock) which pushed up under the already existing sedimentary layers. To the west is the Waterpocket Fold, a colorful eroded fold of rock layers nearly 100 miles long but only a few miles wide. To the south, Upper Bullfrog Bay and Upper Halls Creek Bay can be seen.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Boundary 37.631081929750636,-110.80154549942125

This area between Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Capitol Reef National Park is a section of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. To the north is an excellent view of Clay Canyon.

Bullfrog Creek Crossing 37.59971781870251,-110.78393020950398

When Lake Powell is at full pool, water can extend up the wash as far as the road! After a rain, the wash can be wet and muddy. Use caution when entering this wash if the streambed is wet.

Pedestal Alley Trail 37.597806341107955,-110.78029571619246

This 3-mile roundtrip hike is suitable for all skill levels and leads to interesting pedestal rocks. The trail is marked with cairns, and there is no shade or water. Spring and fall are the best seasons for this hike. Take sufficient water and wear a hat when hiking this trail. The parking area is located on the south side of the road and the trailhead is found across the road on the north side.

Highway 276 Bullfrog Basin 37.57550179795712,-110.71202705616862

To the south, Highway 276 continues to Bullfrog. From Bullfrog, one can take the Charles Hall Ferry across Bullfrog Bay (part of Lake Powell) to Halls Crossing, if it is operational. Check before you come with Utah Department of Transportation at 435-684-3088. To the north, Highway 276 intersects Highway 95 northwest of Hite.

Notom Bullfrog Road 37.994413274110656,-111.07792750859507
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