Sierra in Surprise Canyon

Surprise Canyon

Capitol Reef National Park

          A hike into Surprise Canyon offers a wonderful introduction into slickrock canyons of the Waterpocket Fold. This hike is suitable for families with small children.

          The route allows you to view a number of the Capitol Reef sandstone formations. Entrada Sandstone, Carmel Formation, Navajo Sandstone, Kayneta Sandstone and Wingate Sandstone are all visible on this route.

General Information:
Click Here for Map           Surprise Canyon is a route the entire family can enjoy. This canyon is often combined with Headquarters Canyon to create an enjoyable half-day adventure. The canyon contains no serious obstacles and is suitable for small children. Normally the canyon is dry but you could encounter a small amount of wading if it has been raining heavily in the area.

          Total time required for a round trip is 1 to 2 hours. A vehicle shuttle is not required for this out and back route. Navigation for this route is easy. A GPS is a waste of good batteries. The USGS 7.5' Map titled "The Post" shows the area of interest. Portions of the route are marked with cairns (small stacks of rocks) to help guide hikers in areas that might be confusing.

          Surprise Canyon is rated 1A I using the Canyon Rating System. This canyon has a minor flashflood danger, check the local weather report before entering this canyon.

Sign pointing to Surprise Canyon in the background. Sierra playing in a narrow canyon cleft

Trailhead Information:
Capitol Reef is criss-crossed with roads. Stay on the road described until told to turn off of it. Any vehicle can access this trailhead during good weather.

          From the Capitol Reef Visitor Center take Highway 24 east for 9.1 miles to mile marker 88.9 and the signed Notom-Bullfrog turn-off. Turn south at the intersection and follow the Notom-Bullfrog Road for 33.2 to the signed Burr Tail Junction. The Notom-Bullfrog road is paved for the first 10.3 miles to the Wayne County line. The remainder of the road is a well-maintained gravel road.

          At the Burr Tail Junction the road heading west (right) leads to Boulder and Escalante. The road heading south (straight ahead) leads to Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell. Follow the road south towards Bullfrog Marina for 1.8 miles to a small parking area on the west side of the road that will accommodate 3 vehicles. This is the signed trailhead for Surprise Canyon.

Route Information:
          From the Surprise Canyon Trailhead (N37 50' 18", W110 59' 19") begin hiking west and follow the well-established trail towards the Waterpocket Fold. Stroll along the trial for 1/4 mile you will cross the normally dry and tamarisk lined wash of Halls Creek. After crossing the small wash the trail climbs over a small, sandy, juniper dotted hill and than descends into Surprise Wash. Follow the wash up stream as it cuts into the Waterpocket Fold.

          After hiking about 1 mile the canyon walls become deep and narrow, but never form into a slot. The route soon reaches an interesting undercut followed by a very narrow cleft through the sandstone. Many will turn back at this point. The experienced or adventurous can scramble up and through the cleft and hike a little further. The canyon is not as interesting above the cleft.

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