Home » 2021 Utah Off-Roading

Notom Bullfrog Road, Upper Muley Twist, and the Burr Trail, UT

Monday, May 17, 2021 - 12:30pm by Lolo
83 miles and 3 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Along the Notom Bullfrog RoadAlong the Notom Bullfrog RoadThe Notom Bullfrog Road was a surprise bonus for us. We had never heard of it before, and only did when we Googled how to get to the Strike Valley Overlook and the start of the scenic Burr Trail

Notom Bullfrog Road runs south through the lovely Strike Valley along the eastern boundary of Capitol Reef National Park, between the Henry Mountains and the Waterpocket Fold, all the way to the Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell. We would only be going as far as the turnoff for the Burr Trail switchbacks.

Google Maps had estimated that we would only be able to travel 20 mph on this road, but it was so well graded that we did it in half the time. The scenery along the way was so unique and beautiful that we stopped several times along the way. The ranches set against the base of the Waterpocket Fold provided a lovely juxtaposition of man-made and natural beauty.

Burr Trail switchbacksBurr Trail switchbacksAt 34 miles, we turned right towards Strike Valley and began our climb up the Burr Trail switchbacks, which although dirt, were doable in a 2WD car. However, they did climb 1,000 feet in a mile, so they were still pretty exciting. We stopped several times to gaze down at the tiny vehicles winding their way up the twists and turns of the switchbacks.

A short distance after the completion of the switchbacks, we came to the 3-mile spur road to the Strike Valley Overlook, where we planned to start the long 9.4 mile Upper Muley Twist hike tomorrow morning. The guide books said the road was extremely rough, so we decided to not scout it out today, but just do it once when necessary.

Some rock scrambling along the Upper Muley Twist hikeSome rock scrambling along the Upper Muley Twist hikeSince dispersed camping is not allowed in the national parks, we drove a few miles further until we hit asphalt, which told us we were now out of the Park, and camping was allowed. It wasn’t long before we found a nice spot in a pinyon forest, already decorated for us with several creative cairns around the firepit.

We had been going at a ridiculously fast pace so far on this, so we thought some down time would serve us well. It was nice to spend the afternoon without an agenda, just relaxing, reading, and building some cairns of our own.

The next morning we drove the short distance back to the turnoff for the Strike Valley Overlook, stopping first at the 2WD parking lot to walk out for a view over the valley. For those that don’t have 4WD, you have to start the Upper Muley Twist from here, adding 2.5 miles each direction.

Atop the Waterpocket Fold along the Upper Muley Twist hikeAtop the Waterpocket Fold along the Upper Muley Twist hikeFortunately, we have a 4WD, because I had no desire to add 5 miles to an already long hike. The books were right though. The next 2 miles were very rough and definitely required high clearance. We were the only car in the parking lot.

From the parking lot, we set out north along a wash through Upper Muley Twist Canyon that paralleled the Waterpocket Fold. The initial part of the hike was quite easy, but we knew that wouldn’t last. There were several places along the wash branches off, but we always stayed to the right, as described in the trail guide.

At 1.5 miles we came to an unnamed arch on the left, about 200 feet above the wash, the first of half a dozen arches that we would pass that day.

Herb enjoying the view of the Strike ValleyHerb enjoying the view of the Strike ValleyJust 0.2 miles further, we arrived at Saddle Arch, located above a large crack on the canyon wall. This is an important landmark, because it is where the loop portion of the trail begins. An old wood sign points to the right for the Rim Route, but we followed the advice of the hiking guide to do the loop in a clockwise direction and continued straight up the canyon where we would eventually ascend to the rim.

As we continued up the wash, the colors of the canyon kept getting better and better. We kept our eye out to the west for more arches, and counted at least three more of them.

More views of the Strike Valley from atop the Waterpocket FoldMore views of the Strike Valley from atop the Waterpocket FoldAt around 3.2 miles, the canyon constricted dramatically and we arrived at a pouroff. Here we had a choice: squeezing our way through a narrow slot, or taking the recommended well-cairned bypass route on a ledge to our right.

After wandering a few feet into the narrow slot and finding it not to our liking, we chose the bypass route and climbed a slickrock slope up to a shelf about 150 feet above the wash. We followed the cairns for about a mile before it descended back down and joined the wash again.

We continued up the wash, and at 4.9 miles we reached an old wood sign marking the beginning of the Rim Route. From here, we left Upper Muley Twist Canyon and ascended a series of switchbacks through the Navajo sandstone to the ridge atop the Waterpocket Fold.

More Strike ValleyMore Strike ValleyWe followed the prolific and well-placed cairns southeast along the top of the Fold. The views along the way were breathtaking - colorful Strike Valley to the east, the white sandstone domes of Capitol Reef to the north, and the red Wingate sandstone canyon walls, which we had just passed through, to the West. We could even see some of the arches we passed while walking up the wash.

After a few more miles of sensory overload and wondering which way to look, as it was all so incredible, at 7.3 miles we finally came to the very welcomed wood sign pointing us back to the Canyon Route, from which we came. After descending steeply over ledges and across slickrock, we were once again back in the Upper Muley Twist Canyon.

More scrambling along the Upper Muley Twist hikeMore scrambling along the Upper Muley Twist hikeFrom here we retraced our steps back along the wash to the trailhead. We had only passed three parties that day, and all of them were backpacking, which made us pretty proud to have accomplished this strenuous hike in a single day. The final stats were 10.7 miles with a 1,050 foot elevation gain. Doesn’t sound like that much, but much of that elevation gain (and eventually loss) required a lot of rock scrambling.

What a terrific hike!

After maneuvering back over the rocky Strike Valley Overlook spur road and heading west, we were soon once again on the asphalt of the Burr Trail. We had already done the most exciting part of it when we came up the Burr Trail Switchbacks yesterday, but there was still much great scenery to be had on the remaining 30 miles to the town of Boulder.

Along the ridge of the Waterpocket FoldAlong the ridge of the Waterpocket FoldThe Burr Trail used to be an old Mormon track used to bring livestock from the high-altitudes of Boulder to the warmer grazing areas of the Waterpocket Fold. The country is still wild and remote, but in the 1980s, the old trail was paved right up to the boundary of Capitol Reef. Today it is strictly used for recreational purposes, and there is nary a sign of a Mormon or a cattle herd to be seen.

There certainly were a lot of people out recreating and the trailhead parking lots were full to overflowing. We had already done more hiking than we needed that day, so we were perfectly satisfied watching the beautiful scenery go by from our car.

Back down in the Canyon along the Upper Muley Twist hikeBack down in the Canyon along the Upper Muley Twist hikeThe nicest section of the drive was the last 10 miles or so through Long Canyon, which passed through sheer red sandstone cliffs covered with desert varnish. We stopped at a pullout that looked out over the canyon. It was lovely.

However, we were tired from our big hike that morning, dirty from five days of camping in the back of our 4Runner, and anxious about where we would find a decent hotel room for the night. We had had no cell coverage for days and the only thing we knew about Boulder, the next town we would be coming to, was that we should really try to eat at the Hell’s Backbone Grill.

As soon as we hit the end of the Burr Trail, we got a bit of cell coverage and I immediately jumped on my phone to try to find nearby hotels. While I was busy typing madly into my phone, Herb said, “that place says Vacancy,” and pointed at the rustic Boulder Mountain Lodge with a restaurant on the premises. That restaurant was the Hell’s Backbone Grill. We had struck gold.

Burr TrailBurr TrailThe woman in the office seemed hesitant at first when we asked if there was a room available. We had clearly seen the Vacancy sign and was wondering if we weren’t passing muster for some reason - I could think of a few. However, her dilemma was that someone had called earlier to inquire about a room and she thought they might still be coming. No money had been put down though, and we were there with credit card in hand. She finally agreed to give us the last room. I think I would have cried if she didn’t.

I thought I couldn’t be any happier, until she asked us if we wanted to book a time in the hot tub, which was now restricted to one couple at a time because of Covid. It was already 6:00 and we wanted to have dinner first, so we booked the 9:00 to 9:30 slot.

Along the Burr TrailAlong the Burr TrailThe place was beautiful. After a well-needed shower, I sat out on our back patio with a glass of wine, looking out over a lovely pond. Eventually, the man one patio over asked me if I was with the bicycle group. When I told him no, and that we had just wandered in off the Burr Trail and seen the Vacancy sign, he almost fell off his chair. He told me that this place was usually booked a year in advance and that I had been extremely lucky to have gotten a room. Whew!

He also advised me to call the restaurant if I was interested in having dinner because they are usually booked up. However, they did give preference to lodge guests, which I was now in the elite company of. I called them and asked for a 7:30 seating and they told me they would call me when my table was ready.

Boy were we happy to find this placeBoy were we happy to find this placeWe were seated at our table promptly at 7:30. It was very hard to believe that we were in Utah, in the town of Boulder (population of 226), one of the most remote towns in America.

This restaurant, which was started by two women from NYC over two decades ago, has been featured in The New Yorker, O: the Oprah Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sunset Magazine, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Organic Gardening, Outside Traveler, Outside, Travel and Leisure, Washington Post, Men’s Journal, More, SLUG Magazine and National Geographic Traveler.

I could go on and on about all the awards and accolades they have rightly earned. The restaurants follow the Buddhist principles of commitment to sustainability, environmental ethics, and community responsibility. Much of their produce is grown on their six acre farm and their meat comes from local ranchers.

Dinner at the Hell's Backbone GrillDinner at the Hell's Backbone GrillNeedless to say, the food was delicious, the service impeccable, and the ambience lovely. I couldn’t stop feeling like we had just won the lottery.

Our perfect day concluded with a half hour of soaking our aching muscles (from our big hike) in the hot tub. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Tonight was certainly a contrast to our last 5 nights camping out in some very remote and beautiful places. However, Life is full of contrasts, and it is those contrasts that make things special. The totally different experiences of those nights in the wild and our cushy night tonight of fine dining followed by a hot tub enhanced our experience of each of them. However, I think a 6th night in the truck might have pushed me over the edge.

Notom Bullfrog Road, Upper Muley Twist, and the Burr Trail location map in "high definition"

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