The pleasant surroundings and interesting landscape are best appreciated by those who won't mind creek-crossing scrambles or plenty of sand underfoot.
The Pleasant Creek trail follows a runner-made route through a pretty canyon. The perennial stream must be crossed many times — usually by hopping from rock to rock. The route also traverses long sandy benches and navigates through vegetation at water's edge. An optional diversion to a good slot canyon is detailed below.
The trail heads northeast, away from the parking area and runs through a transition zone above the creek. At one third-of-a-mile, it drops toward the stream for the first crossing. As with many of the crossings, determining the best rocks to use while hopping across the stream may require a little study. A less obvious path heads up the flat ledge on the other side to join an old road. Ahead, a dense stand of big sage appears right before the trail rounds a point around the southern wall.
The second stream crossing leads to a long sandy bench that can be a spectacular flower garden during a wet spring. After this pleasant stroll, the crossings occur more frequently, and some routes are easier and more obvious than others. While there are a couple of spots where low water levels or recent deposition may change the number of crossings, usually there will be 16 required to get to the east park boundary.
At the sixth crossing, a huge Navajo dome patterned with heavily eroded fractures looms on the right side of the canyon. The canyon becomes less wide at the next ford, and after two more crossings, Pleasant Creek runs through an interesting sluice in the bedrock.
Around the 2.4 mile mark the sheer wall on the south side ends, and a large sand flat extends further south. A nice optional diversion is possible if you re-cross the creek to the right and follow a visible runner-made path to a wash leading from an opening in the Navajo Sandstone. This part of the canyon has a couple of good slot sections for runners to explore before turning around at a large chockstone near the end of the slot. Several obstacles are present and pools of water can be found during wet times.
Back on the main trail; two more crossings proceed a climb up a sandy slope to a gap in the neck of a tight meander. The trail quickly descends back to the creek from there. The canyon walls begin to lower after this point, and the stream follows a more direct path. The trail comes to an end at a fence that crosses the creek near the east boundary of the park. From this point, retrace your steps 3.8 miles back to the parking area.
This content was contributed by author Rick Stinchfield. For a comprehensive hiking guide to Capitol Reef National Park and to see more by Rick, click here
During a wet spring (late April or early May) the section after the second stream crossing can turn into a spectacular flower garden: globemallows, prickly pear cacti, scorpionweed, lupines, Utah penstemons, scarlet gilia, and a host of yellow composites all compete for attention. Barberry, Utah serviceberry, and skunkbush add their blossoms at varying times as well.
October is another spectacular time to visit when the cottonwoods flame out in brilliant yellow and gold.