From beginning to end, this has been the most amazing loop I've experienced, surpassing even the renown "four-pass loop" in Maroon Bells.
It includes the neck straining vertical sandstone walls Capital Reef is known for, a slot canyon, amazing views, head exploding geological shenanigans, massive boulder falls, scrambling, river crossings, and curious big horn sheep.
The descent down Sulphur Creek
does require a some work and scrambling, so read the description before diving into this to know what you are getting into. It is only a couple of places along this section that makes this a "Very difficult" loop as opposed to a "intermediate/difficult" loop.
This loop starts by heading up the Lower Spring Canyon
. There is no specific trailhead, but use the TRP map to find the starting point and there will be a couple of paved pullouts for access. The other option is to park at the finishing point, Grand Wash Trail
TH, where you'll be finishing and head half a mile up the road to the starting point.
You'll start this thing out right, by fording a creek. Worry not, with single-digit humidity, your feet will dry out soon enough. Also, this filters out the crowds leaving you to enjoy the canyon to yourself. You'll work your way up the small (likely) dry creek to find your way to the main wash. The sheer immensity of the walls is breath-taking and they keep changing and morphing in color, shape, size, and texture.
Early on you'll reach a spring that may yield a little water. As you climb higher the walls will narrow at times, massive rock falls will necessitate some navigating, and bighorn sheep will likely be spotted. This will eventually lead to an area, about 6 miles in that will require you to take a trail up and around to the right. If you reach a dry water fall that can't be climbed, this is likely where you'll need to backtrack and find the trail that is above you to the right.
This trail continues past the obstacle and it is littered for the next mile with giant boulders that have crashed down from above. Soon you'll hit Chimney Rock Canyon
, which hits to Chimney Rock Trail
. From this point you'll have some amazing views and will be able to quickly drop down the the Chimney Rock Trail
TH. Cross the road and you'll begin the Sulphur Creek
trail. If you've stashed water here, refill for the second half.
trail is where attention needs to be paid. I went through in late April when flows were fairly high and was able to navigate it easily enough. It looks more daunting than it is but it still does require wading through the creek, scrambling with wet shoes, and navigating a ledge through water that may leave you submerged if you slip. Gauge your level of comfort for such adventuring and make your decision accordingly...
Trail begins by following a lovely and gentle dry wash for about 1.5 miles. It'll hit Sulpher Creek and at that point you take a right and head downstream. Often the creek is the trail and other times there is a trail that will lead around the creek. The walls soon begin to narrow as you enter the gooseneck section. If you look up you'll see an overlook for people to observe this area. Once past the goosenecks, you'll reach the narrows and this is where the games begin. If you take your time, look for routes that tend to be well marked with cairns, and navigate carefully, you'll be fine.
The waterfalls generally have routes around them that head up to the right. The biggest challenge, when I was there (with a higher flow) was a constriction in the walls that resulted in a deep pool and no way up and around it. The way to navigate this is along a ledge, that was a few feet below water. Using the ledge as a place for footing while using the good handholds, this section can be fairly easily, and memorably, navigated. Continue the rest of the way down until you get to one last falls that requires a long climb up and around and will carry you all the way back to the visitor center.
From the visitor center, head up the unspectacular visitor center trail. If you need more water you can find it at the Picnic Area. This will take you to Cohab Canyon Trail
This trail is a stout climb offering amazing views of the surrounding area. Once in Cohab Canyon you'll get a completely new canyon wall experience. This will lead to Frying Pan Trail
, more gorgeous views and possible bighorn sheep spottings and you'll drop to the appropriately named Grand Wash Trail
. Enjoy the splendor of this trail (hit is late to have it to yourself) on the way back to you car as you marvel in all that you've just experienced.