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Waterpocket Fold Narrows - Capitol Reef National Park

Summary: Four half day hikes through canyons with good narrows in the northern part of Waterpocket Fold. Expect to do some wading in these canyons. Do not attempt these hikes if the forecast calls for rain.
Directions: The easiest way to get to these canyons is from Utah Highway 24. Drive west of Fruita and look for the signed intersection for the Notom-Bullfrog Road. Drive south on this unpaved, but well graded road. These canyons are located one after the other and are marked by a sign where the road crosses it's drainage - they are (in order north to south): Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash, Fivemile Wash & Sheets Gultch. Burro Wash is about 7 miles south of Highway 24, it's only a couple miles between each of the others.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car, though you'll save yourself some uninteresting walking if you have a High Clearance Vehicle 
Navigation: Easy
Length: Arbitrary, turn around when you want
Date Hiked: October, 2001
Weather Conditions: Nice, partially overcast
Required Skills: None
Hike Description: Sheets Gulch - Drive right up the wash of Sheets Gulch as far as you can (a high clearance vehicle will save you 15 minutes of walking in an uninteresting wash). As you head up canyon the canyon walls will gradually become steeper and after a half hour you'll come to a junction. The left junction ends in a rotary about 300 feet later, so we'll turn right. A short distance later you'll pass through a short stretch of narrows with a few easy boulder climbs. About 30 minutes past the junction the canyon becomes predominantly yellow Wingate sandstone and is not particularly narrow, though it's nice enough. The turn around point is arbitrary, head back when you feel like it.
Fivemile Wash - There is no way to drive up Fivemile Wash, so just find a place to pull off the Notom-Bullfrog road and begin hiking up canyon. The canyon is wide and boring at first, then becomes deeper. About 45 minutes from the start of the hike you'll come to a dryfall. A use trail on the left (facing up canyon) leads up and around this obstacle. Fifteen minutes later you'll reach a very narrow and deep slot canyon which is likely full of water (which was extremely rank and unappealing when the author was there). I chimneyed around the first pool, then waded up a bit. It appeared that there was a 12 foot climb that blocked further progress at that point, however, it was difficult to see from my position and didn't want to wade in the nasty water any further than my waist, so I turned around :) I then looked for a route around by climbing high on the right canyon wall (facing up canyon), but was stopped by a steep slickrock slope (though it looked like the slot continued for quite a while. Return the way you came.
Cottonwood Wash - Drive up the wash as far as you can go (a high clearance vehicle will save you 15 minutes of trudging). After 30 minutes you will come to a dry fall that can be passed on the left (facing up canyon), then you'll cross a wide slickrock area. When you come to an area with several large boulders, look for the use trail that leads up and around on the left (facing up canyon) to avoid these obstacles. About an hour from the start you'll come to an intersection (straight and right), if you continue straight the canyon boxes out about 200 feet further, so we'll head right. There are a couple moderate climbs as you pass through more boulders then you'll hit a very large chockstone which appears to block your path. There is a short tunnel route beneath that allows you to continue. Shortly thereafter you'll come to a nice section of water filled narrows which require deep wading or maybe swimming. The author waded in a short distance, but the water was ice cold, so turned around when it became greater than waist deep.
Burro Wash - Finally a good one! Once again, drive up the wash as far as you can go (a high clearance vehicle will save you 30 minutes of walking). Same as before, walk up the dry boring wash until the canyon deepens. After about an hour of walking the canyon slots up nicely and you'll be in and out of some very tight shoulder wide narrows. Once past this section you'll reach a wider area with some small trees growing right in the wash and some boulder climbs ahead. Continue up and around the boulders then wade through a small pool to a short, but very deep and pretty slot canyon. The slot boxes out a short distance later in a room with a high dry fall (which must be great when flowing). If you'd like to explore further, head back down canyon just past the trees and look for a cairned route on canyon left (left side of the canyon when facing down canyon). You can climb up and around the narrows and dry fall by following the cairns up the slick rock to the ridge you can see high on the canyon wall (note: this route is rather tricky and potentially dangerous, with some travel on a very steep slick rock slope required, do not even attempt this route if wet). If you do decide to continue, follow the cairns up the steep slope, then up to the exposed ridge. The ridge will allow you to walk up past the dry fall, then follow the cairns down to the canyon bottom once again. Unfortunately the canyon enters the yellow Wingate Sandstone at this point and is not as interesting as the narrows below. When ready, return the way you came.
Rating (1-5 stars): - Sheets Gulch, Fivemile Wash, and Cottonwood Wash
- Burro Wash
My initial information prior to hiking these canyons was very sketchy. In Burro Canyon we met some people that had a small spiral bound book entitled 'Exploring Capitol Reef' (? - or something to that effect). They let us look at it and it seemed to have some great write ups for these canyons. According to these hikers the book is available at the Capitol Reef visitors center for less than $10. I would suggest picking up this book if heading into this area (which was also my plan, but the visitors center was closed when I arrived).
The author and his wife spent about 2 1/2 hours each exploring Sheets Gulch, Fivemile Wash, and Cottonwood Wash. We spent 4 hours exploring Burro Wash. The author hiked the cairned route around the dry fall in the upper part of this canyon, then headed back down to try to look into the dry fall from above, but was stopped by several large drop offs that occur in the stream bed just prior to the large falls. 
Maps: USGS - Notom (1:62,500)
Books:  Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

Narrows in Sheets Gulch. The deep dark narrows in 
the upper end of Burro Wash.