Surprise Canyon

*Recommended guides:
The Wildland Trekking Company →
Utah Slickrock Guides →

Capitol Reef Trails

Trail Head: 37.838951, -110.989267
Trail Type: Hiking
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2.15 miles roundtrip

Surprise Canyon is a short, easy canyoneering route along the Waterpocket Fold of Capitol Reef National Park. The canyon is narrow, but never qualifies as a slot canyon. It requires just enough intrepidity and skill so as to be a glorious conquest for children, and a leisurely workout for the average adult. The canyon is normally dry but there may be puddles after storms.

The canyon is located along the Notom-Bullfrog Road, 35 miles south of Highway 24.

Surprise Canyon Trailhead

(37.838951, -110.989267)

The trailhead and parking area are located on the west side of the road, about 1.8 miles south of the Notom-Bullfrog junction with the Burr Trail. The trailhead is easy to distinguish, and marked with a sign.

Canyon Mouth

(37.834066, -110.995858)

From the trailhead follow the obvious path west toward the Waterpocket Fold reef. You'll cross the Halls Creek wash and continue west over a hill and then drop down into the Surprise Canyon wash.

End of the Route

(37.831358, -111.00394)

Hike up Surprise Canyon into the reef. About a mile in the canyon narrows and deepens, but it never becomes tight enough to call it a real slot. It is scenic and offer pleasant hiking, with no real obstacles. After a short distance the route ends against a chute - most hikers turn around at that point. Experienced canyoneers can pick their way through the bottleneck and up into the higher canyon, which curves around to the north. However, the canyon widens out and becomes less interesting above the chute.

Headquarters Canyon

(37.828734, -110.988454)

Another small canyoneering trail just to the south of Surprise, Headquarters Canyon is not as long, but it is narrower, actually becoming a slot canyon toward the end. Surprise and Headquarters Canyons are often combined into a single trip that will take about three to five hours to complete.

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