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When it comes to Utah slot canyon backpacking trips, Halls Creek Narrows is definitely one to add to the bucket list! Every year, I try to do at least one desert backpacking trip, and Halls Creek Narrows did not disappoint.
Between the high red rock cliffs of Hall Mesa and the watery hike through Navajo sandstone in the narrows, there’s a lot to see on this Utah backpacking trip.
Things we’ll cover in this post:
- quick trail facts
- how to get to the trailhead
- the best time of year to backpack Halls Creek Narrows
- how and when to get a permit
- hike description
- water availability
- campsite options
- hazards and challenges
- possible itinerary
1. Halls Creek Narrows Quick Trail Facts
- Location: Halls Creek Narrows is located in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.
- Mileage: 22.4 miles round-trip
- Trip Duration: I think this trip is best done as (at least) a 3-day trip. I would not try to do it any faster than that.
- Difficulty: I try not to give difficulty ratings because I think they’re very subjective. For me, I thought that the hike itself was on the easier side, but it is a slot canyon. Even if the trail is mostly flat, it’s still important to be prepared for desert and slot canyon hiking. More on this below.
- Navigation: There are no signs marking the route. There are many different trails, and at times, no trail. Route finding, navigation, and map reading skills are all crucial.
- Pets: Pets are not allowed on this trail.
- Trail Condition: Check with the rangers at the visitors center for the most current conditions on the trail and water levels in the canyon. These will change from year to year.
- Park Alerts: Since this hike is in Capitol Reef National Park, check for any park-wide alerts and closures here.
- Park Map: Download the national park Halls Creek Narrows map here to help you plan your trip.
2. Halls Creek Narrows Trailhead
The Halls Creek Narrows trail starts at the Halls Creek Overlook in the southern part of Capitol Reef National Park.
It’s quite the journey to get to the trailhead.
From the Capitol Reef Visitor Center, the most direct route to the trailhead is about 56 miles away. This drive took us about 2 hours because a lot of it is on dirt roads. The unpaved portions of the drive are hard-packed dirt, usually passable to passenger cars until the final 3 miles.
The final 3 miles leading to the Halls Creek Overlook are rough and require high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. I really would not try to drive this portion of the road unless you have a high clearance vehicle.
There is an alternative way to get to the trailhead that’s longer in mileage, but since there’s much less dirt road, I think it ends up being faster.
We took this route home (road 276 and road 95 into Hanksville) and liked it much better. Note: Even with this alternate route, you still need to drive the last 3 miles of rough road!
Lastly, depending on where you’re driving from, there’s another road through Boulder, Utah that might make more sense to take.
No matter what route you take, the drive out to the trailhead from the visitors center is long, remote, and there’s no cell service. Make sure your vehicle is prepared for the journey.
Car camping at the trailhead in the national park is prohibited.
3. The Best Time of Year
The Spring and Fall are the best times to backpack Halls Creek Narrows.
In the Spring, temperatures should be comfortable, and there will likely be more water than in the Fall months.
I went towards the middle of October and the weather was perfect! We were still able to find plenty of water near and in the narrows portion of the hike.
The Summer months are so hot in the desert, so it’s best to avoid these months if possible.
The Winter is very cold in Capitol Reef. Since hiking through Halls Creek Narrows will require you to get wet, going in the winter will likely be very uncomfortable and dangerous. The water in October was very cold, so I can’t imagine how cold it would be in the winter!
4. Backpacking Permits
A backcountry permit is required for all overnight trips.
They are free and can be obtained at the Capitol Reef Visitors Center, Bullfrog Visitor Center, Anasazi State Park, and the Escalante Interagency Visitors Center.
Currently, there’s no online reservation system. Permits must be obtained in person.
5. Hike Description
The hike begins at Halls Creek Overlook.
From this beautiful overlook, you’ll start hiking down a steep trail with loose rocks that descends 800 feet over 1.2 miles to the Halls Creek drainage. This is a steep descent that can be slippery at times with all the loose rocks.
There are no signs. When you reach the Halls Creek drainage, take note of landmarks to make sure you don’t miss the point where the route climbs back out of the canyon on your return hike. Maybe add a waypoint in your GPS here.
The rest of the route is unmarked, as you hike south through the canyon until you reach the narrows. From the bottom of the canyon to the beginning of the narrows loop is about 7.3 miles.
At the narrows, you’ll enter a beautiful Navajo sandstone slot canyon on the west side of the canyon. The change in scenery is pretty dramatic here.
All of a sudden you’re hiking through a deep, narrow canyon that always requires at least walking in water. On my trip, it required swimming.
The depth of the pools can vary greatly from year to year and season to season.
The hike through the slot canyon is about 3.8 miles.
There’s an additional 1.7 mile hike to complete the loop either before or after the narrows section, depending on the direction you hike the narrows. This is a very hot and dry part of the hike.
You can hike the narrows in either direction. We chose to enter on the north end.
We suspected that the deepest pools would be on the south end of the canyon and we wanted to do any cold water swimming last so that we could get out of the canyon and warm up on the sunny hike back to camp.
We were correct. The deepest pools (on the year and time I went) were closer to the south entrance of the narrows canyon. After the deepest swim, we were able to find lots of sun to dry off and warm up easily.
After completing the narrows loop, simply hike out of the Halls Creek drainage the way you came. Make sure you pack enough water for the journey out. You’ll have a steep 800-foot climb at the very end of your hike!
Since you’ll be hiking through water in the canyon, you’re going to need a way to keep your gear dry. We brought two dry bags on this trip to put things like our phones and cameras into for the deeper swim.
6. Water Availability
For my trip in October, there was no water until we reached the Halls Creek Narrows. We had to pack in enough water for the entire first day of hiking. We were able to filter water the first night at camp.
Water availability is going to vary by season and year.
Check with a ranger at the visitor’s center for the most current information on water availability so you can plan accordingly.
I’ve been using the Sawyer Squeeze water filter for years now and I love it. It’s so small, lightweight, and reliable. Nick and I both carry one on every backpacking trip.
7. Campsite Options
We camped near a large grove of cottonwood trees located near the north entrance to the narrows.
There were a few different campsites nearby, and 3 other groups of backpackers in the area at the same time as us.
Everyone was able to find their own space and it didn’t feel crowded.
8. Hazards and Challenges
Flash floods can result from heavy rain and thunderstorms, and they’re a serious danger in slot canyons. The rocky landscape doesn’t absorb the water very well and all that water runs off into narrow side canyons forming flash floods.
Always check the weather and for any flash flood warnings before your trip.
Flash flood potential is high in the desert and you need to be prepared to cancel or change your trip if there’s any flash flood warning.
Take flash flood warnings seriously. It’s hard to understand how a deadly flood can rip through a seemingly dry area all of the sudden, but it happens and you definitely don’t want to be anywhere near it.
Hydration is crucial. Pack enough water for your hike and make sure you drink frequently throughout the hike.
I like to pack Nuun hydration tablets and have at least one per day when I’m hiking in the heat. They taste good, and they help keep me hydrated.
I add a tablet to this collapsible water bottle so I don’t have to put it in my main water reservoir.
No Cell Service
There’s no cell service in this area. Don’t count on it. Make sure you’re confident in your route finding, navigation, and map-reading skills.
Hiking on Sandstone
Hiking on sandstone can be very slippery, even when dry. That’s why sometimes it’s referred to as slickrock. Be careful as you hike up and over it.
There are snakes in the desert. Listen and watch where you’re stepping.
Trekking poles make hiking so much easier. They get your arms involved and help you balance as you climb up and over things.
On this particular trip, they’re also helpful in the slot canyon to prob for how deep the water is and help you balance over wet and slippery rock. The trekking poles will really help on that steep climb at the beginning and the end of the hike too!
9. Possible Itinerary
This trip is best done as at least a 3-day, 2-night trip.
That’s what I did and I thought it was the perfect pace. I didn’t feel rushed to complete the hike and I got to spend some time relaxing at camp.
Below is a possible 3-day itinerary:
Start at the Halls Creek Overlook, and hike to the junction with the narrows. This would be about 8.5 miles of hiking for the day.
Set up camp and get a good night’s sleep.
Hike the narrows loop. The loop is about 5.5 miles.
The narrowest section is the west portion of the loop and it’s about 3.8 miles long. Take your time through this section. It took us almost 3 hours to casually wander through the canyon!
It’s during this section of the hike that you’ll encounter water that you must hike and possibly swim through at points. As mentioned above, how much water will depend on the season and the year.
On my trip, I had to swim, and the water was really cold!
After the narrows loop hike, relax at camp for the evening and make a delicious dinner.
On the last day, have a relaxing morning at camp as you slowly pack up your gear and enjoy the scenery.
Hike the 8.5 miles out the way you came. Remember that you have a steep 800-foot climb at the end of the hike, so make sure to pack enough water for the journey!
Halls Creek Narrows is a spectacular Utah backpacking trip!
It’s definitely one of my favorites, and I hope this guide helps you plan your own Utah slot canyon adventure.
If you have any questions about the trail, ask me in the comments below!