Capitol Reef National Park – Burr Trail and Bullfrog Road
Distance: 69 Miles
Date Driven: November 26-27, 2018
Description: An adventurous drive through the more remote, southern reaches of Capitol Reef National Park, with unpaved roads, few services, some crazy switchbacks, and awe-inspiring geology.
I did an incredible drive across Capitol Reef National Park last week, going from Boulder to Fruita via the Burr Trail and Bullfrog Road. The Burr Trail traverses part of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, before crossing into the lower part section of Capitol Reef. From there, I took Bullfrog Road up a beautiful 30 mile stretch across the park, with spectacular views of the Waterpocket Fold and other sights. A lot of this drive was on remote, unpaved roads, but it was an amazing couple of days, and an awesome trip.
I picked up the Burr Trail in Boulder, after a couple days driving Scenic Byway 12. The ranger at the visitor center there said the road was in good condition and passable. I was gassed up, with extra food in the van, and very much ready to see some desert, so off I went.
The Gulch was a few miles from Boulder, and an early highlight on the Burr Trail. This section followed a beautiful canyon, with big red walls all the way through. There were a few trails along the way as well, and I was tempted to stop and check them out, but it was already late in the day and I had to keep moving.
I camped that night in a patch of BLM land between Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase-Escalante, in an area known as the Lampstand. The Lampstand was open juniper plain, with a few dirt roads that went back into the canyons. I was able to find a quiet place to sleep that night, in a small sheltered ravine. It was cold, somewhere in the teens, but I used my little heater in my van and stayed warm.
I came into Capitol Reef early the next morning. The next 20 miles from here were dirt road, but everything looked well maintained and dry. Let’s hope there are no washouts!
Inside the park, the road wound into the Waterpocket Fold, where tons of rock layers started peeking out of the earth. What a cool place!
A few miles in, the road descended a long set of switchbacks down a narrow canyon. This section looked dicey, but getting the van through here was a breeze. It was a lot of fun, in fact!
The Burr trail ended just beyond the canyon here, where it connected up with Bullfrog Road. Bullfrog Road runs north to south, from Highway 24 down to Glen Canyon. I took it north, heading back to Highway 24.
Bullfrog Road runs along the beautiful Waterpocket Fold. Here, the Colorado Plateau basically “folded” over a huge fault, turning millions of years of sedimentary rock layers over on their side. The “fold” then eroded away for millions more years, gradually exposing all the rock layers within. The time scales on this thing are mind-boggling, yes, but it’s now an amazing swath of stratified rock, stretching the entire length of the park.
I also had great views here of the massive domes around the Fruita area, at the north end of the park. Capitol Reef gets its name from these domes, since they resemble the dome on the U.S. Capitol Building. These dome were also thought to be impassible, the way a barrier reef might block the passage of a ship, thus the park was given the name Capitol Reef.
I also had beautiful views of the Henry Mountains to the east. These mountains were the last mountains to be surveyed in the lower 48, and still fairly inaccessible. There’s apparently a jeep road that goes over it, but 4WD is recommended, and I wasn’t sure if my van would be up for it. I’d love to do some climbing up there though. The view would be amazing.
I connected up with Highway 24 late in the day, grabbing a Passport stamp at the Fruita visitor center, just as they where closing. The area around Fruita looked nice, and I ended up coming back the next day to explore more. See more on my Fruita District trip report.
I camped that night in an OHV area, east of Capitol Reef, with a beautiful view of Factory Butte. The butte was lit up with late day sun, and looked stunning. From here I was able to pick up a couple bars on my phone here, and make my check-ins. An excellent day all together.
The Burr Trail – Bullfrog Road traverse is an awesome drive. The Waterpocket Fold, in Capitol Reef, was my most favorite part of the whole thing, but I also enjoyed driving through the Gulch, near Boulder, and the long set of switchbacks along the Burr Trail. About 20 miles of this road was an unpaved dirt road, but aside from some washboarding on Bullfrog, I had no problems getting my van though. Given that, this road is remote and services are limited. The roads can also become muddy and impassable in wet weather, so travelers should check conditions before they leave. Gas, food and other provision are also recommended.
More information for Capitol Reef National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.