Imagine you’re on top of the world on the only road that crosses the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef has some great hiking trails and viewpoints within the park – red rock domes, monoliths, canyons, meadows and forests – but to my mind, this part paved, part dirt, road is nothing short of spectacular. John Burr, a rancher, developed the trail in the late 1800s to move his cattle through impassable country.
The road begins at Boulder and runs to Bullfrog Marina, some 67 miles distant. From Boulder the twisting and turning paved road descends into beautiful, red rock walled Long Canyon. Then it climbs to the top of the Waterpocket Fold. Once you reach the Capitol Reef park boundary the road becomes gravel and graded dirt. Most people stop here and the views are stunning over the Henry Mountains, Circle Cliffs and Long Canyon, but I urge you to keep driving and descend the steep switchbacks for more stunning vistas down to the desert below. You don’t need high-clearance, though it is bumpy in places, or a 4WD vehicle if the road is dry. Close to the intersection with the Notom Road there’s a deep wash which can be very muddy. Do get out and check before you attempt to cross. I’ve seen passenger cars cross when the wash condition was bad – they made it but it wasn’t pretty. After rain it can be very slippery for any vehicle. There are many trailheads along the way if you feel like stretching your legs.
Once at the bottom, at the junction of the Notom Road, you can turn right towards Bullfrog Marina or take a left and head north towards Notom and UT24. Either way is very scenic though the road to Bulldog is faster. If you're aiming to take this road south to catch the ferry across to Hall's Crossing, then do check the departure times or you may have to wait a few hours. The road north towards Notom follows the base of the Fold all the way. It can be a little bumpy along the way but it’s a fun drive, though nothing can match that ride over the Fold. Allow half a day if you’re not driving any of the spur trails or hiking. (Note: I’ve given this trip an overall rating of 4 but that’s for the part of the Burr Trail down to the bottom of the switchbacks. I would give the a rating of 3 for the Notom-Bullfrog road section.