“A strenuously long but technically moderate trek into Spring Canyon housing the famous "W" passage.
— Hunter R
Flash flooding can turn an adventurous day in the canyons of Capitol Reef into an absolute nightmare. Check with the visitor center for daily predictions of flash flood danger before embarking into the backcountry.
The Upper Spring Canyon route requires levels of fitness, route-finding ability, and tolerance of solitude that are well above average. It can be done as an extremely long day run or as a two or even three day pack. The lack of reliable water for a long portion of the middle of the trek adds to its difficulty.
Whether done in a day or as a backpack (permit required), Upper Spring is a point-to-point run that requires a shuttle between the two trailheads or a 3.9-mile road run back to the starting point. The shuttle vehicle or a bike should be left at the Chimney Rock Trailhead, which is 3.1 miles west of the visitor center on Highway 24. Please note that you'll have to make your exit on the Chimney Rock Trail
and the Chimney Rock Canyon
before reaching the parking area. Parking is available on the outside of the circle, and there is a pit toilet.
To start the journey, drive west to the Holt Draw Trailhead which is 7.0 miles west of the visitor center on Highway 24 at milepost 72.4, outside of the park. A short track heads north from the pavement, ending in 150 yards at a fence. Park there, or closer to the paved road if the track is too rough for your vehicle.
For more than a mile, the route follows an old road and then the stream bed of Sulphur Creek at a gentle grade. A steep climb out of the drainage leads to a pleasant stroll across the high bench of Cooks Mesa to the base of the climb up through the fabled “W,” a passage through a wall of red Wingate sandstone. Minor scrambling is required to pass through the cleft and descend to Upper Spring Canyon. After passing one significant obstacle and several smaller ones, the journey down canyon is easy going.
After reaching the end of Upper Spring Canyon in a triple junction with Chimney Rock Canyon
and Lower Spring Canyon
, follow Chimney Rock Canyon
to your shuttle vehicle or bike. The way out to Chimney Rock Canyon
and the Chimney Rock Trail
is preceded by a lovely section of mature cottonwoods under heavily veiled Wingate walls.
This content was contributed by author Rick Stinchfield. For a comprehensive running guide to Capitol Reef National Park and to see more by Rick, click here
Flora & Fauna
Cottonwoods are abundant during the latter portion of Upper Spring Canyon.