Hike Utah's Sleeping Rainbow
Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Hike the iconic Waterpocket Fold – a geological feature known as the “sleeping rainbow” – in Capitol Reef National Park to experience one of the most beautiful and under-explored landforms on the Colorado Plateau. This monocline “reef” rises to 3,000 feet, exposing an incredible array of multicolored sandstone and limestone layers. The breathtaking rock formations and spectacular slot canyons are among the most beautiful geologic features on earth.
This trip includes visits to Fruita, a historic Mormon settlement known for its delicious stone fruit orchards, and intricately carved petroglyph panels of the Fremont people, who farmed and hunted these canyons from 700 to 1300 AD. Hiking trips include iconic trails in Capitol Reef National Park and in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
Day 1: Your trip officially starts in the late afternoon in Salt Lake City. Gather with your new trip mates at the historic Little America Hotel before heading out for a dinner in the city. Plan for the upcoming adventures and share trip expectations this evening.
Day 2: Enjoy breakfast before hitting the road to travel through "Happy Valley" and the "Red Gate" to Torrey Utah, the launching point for Capitol Reef National Park. Have lunch and take a short hike as you get your first look at this park's spectacular geological structures. Settle into your accommodations for the next two nights before relaxing at dinner as we plan for the next days' adventures.
Day 3: Our first stop will be to the town of Fruita, a historic Mormon settlement inside Capitol Reef National Park, known for its many stone fruit orchards. Spend time learning about the Fremont people, who hunted and farmed the surrounding canyons from 700 to 1300 AD. In the afternoon visit the Visitor Center to learn about the area before hiking through the Cohab Canyon, one of the park’s most popular canyons. As you hike through the speckled walls, towering fins, and thin slots, it is hard not to let your imagination run wild. Take time to learn about the legends of this very special place before heading back to Torrey for happy hour and a group barbecue.
Day 4: Start the day early as we travel on scenic Highway 12, often listed as one of the most scenic drives in the world, to Boulder, UT. Visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where you will take a gentle 3-mile hike through the lower Calf Creek Falls. The next two nights' accommodations will be on a beautiful ranch, set amongst the surrounding Navajo sandstone cliffs. Relax, unwind and enjoy a sunset happy hour and group dinner.
Day 5: After a hearty breakfast, hike a section of the acclaimed Burr Trail. This trail was originally developed as a cattle trail and is now one of the most picturesque trails in Utah. Today's hiking options include one of the many stunning lower sections of the Waterpocket Fold, or a hike through one of the spectacular Escalante side canyons. After a long day of hiking you will celebrate the trip with dinner at the renowned and award winning Hell’s Backbone Grill.
Day 6: Amidst the canyon, enjoy one last breakfast before returning to Salt Lake City. We will make a mid-morning stop at the Torrey Art Gallery before the trip ends in the early afternoon. Drop-offs can be made at the airport or back to the Little America Hotel.
A note about the itinerary: Our trips are real adventures in the outdoors. While we'll make every effort to follow the itinerary listed here, elements may change due to weather or reasons beyond our control.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE: Hiking routes will be primarily on established, yet rugged desert canyon trails. There are a wide variety of trails to choose from including relaxing strolls along smooth paths to strenuous hikes up steep inclines. Hikes may take you into narrow gorges, high top cliffs, under natural arches, and much more.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: Hikes range from 2-8 miles for an average of 4-5 hours of physical activity per day. You will carry a day pack with only what you will need during the day. No previous experience is needed to complete this trip; however, some trails are fairly steep and being relatively fit and enthusiastic is important. The group will travel in 15-passenger vans between destinations.
WEATHER: Weather in Southern Utah changes frequently. Temperatures range from high 60s to low 80s during the day with cool nights. Be prepared for all types of weather. Rain is likely, so a good raincoat is important.
YOUR GROUP: The group will be 6-11 people total with 1 Wilderness Inquiry staff and a local guide. Each group could consist of people of various ages, backgrounds, and abilities, including people with disabilities. Our trips are cooperative in nature. Staff will assist you in whatever areas you need, however most people pitch in where they can.
ACCOMMODATIONS: We will sleep in a variety of lodges and motels at night. Typically there are 2-3 people per room, matched by gender or requests to room together. In most rooms, solo travelers have single beds and couples share beds.
SINGLE TRAVELERS: If you are traveling alone, you will feel at home with a welcoming group. If you would like to have your own room throughout the trip, you may purchase a single supplement for an additional fee. Please email or call us if you would like this option.
MEALS: All meals will be prepared for us. Meals will offer fresh, healthy ingredients for bountiful dishes. Vegetarian meals and other dietary needs are easy to accommodate. There will be plenty of snacks provided throughout each day. We'll enjoy happy hours together, but the purchase of alcoholic beverages is not included in the trip fees.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: Wilderness Inquiry will provide all group equipment. You will need to provide your personal gear as outlined in the packing list. If you are new to outdoor activities, you do not need to spend a lot of money. Wilderness Inquiry can usually arrange for you to borrow most items.A note about the itinerary: Our trips are real adventures in the outdoors. While we'll make every effort to follow the itinerary listed here, elements may change due to weather or reasons beyond our control.
Geological features provide the source of many of the park’s names in the area. The vast expanse of white Navajo Sandstone atop the sloped side of the monocline is dotted with numerous natural tanks or potholes that collect rainwater, contributing to the name "Waterpocket" Fold. Navajo Sandstone domes resemble the Capitol building, hence the name "Capitol." Many early prospectors were former sailors who likened the vertical cliffs of Wingate Sandstone to a barrier common in nautical travel, "Reef."
The area of Capitol Reef has been a home to many people for thousands of years. Originally this was home to Archaic hunters and gatherers who migrated through the canyons. Then Fremont Culture solidified, 500 CE, from food foraging groups and farmers. Petroglyphs etched into rock walls and painted pictographs remain as sacred remnants of the ancient natives' saga. Explorers, Mormon pioneers, and others arrived in the 1800s, settling in to what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, and peaches, which are still present today.
The Waterpocket Fold defines Capitol Reef National Park. An 87-mile long warp in the Earth's crust, the Waterpocket Fold is a classic monocline: a regional fold with one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers. A monocline is a "step-up" in the rock layers. The rock layers on the west side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet higher than the layers on the east.
More recent uplift of the entire Colorado Plateau and the resulting erosion has exposed this fold at the surface only within the last 15 to 20 million years. The name Waterpocket Fold reflects this ongoing erosion of the rock layers. Erosion of the tilted rock layers continues today forming colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches.
Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres in the slickrock country of Utah. Plant and animal life is diverse because of a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper, perennial streams, dry washes and rock cliffs.
Standard Meetings Places and Times
Start: Little America Hotel, Salt Lake City UT at 6:00 PM (local time)
End: Little America Hotel, Salt Lake City UT at 2:00 PM (local time)
This trip begins at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City at 6:00 PM. You will ride in a WI van throughout the trip and be returned to the the Little America Hotel by 2:00 PM on the last day of the trip. Detailed meeting place instructions will be sent to you when you are confirmed for the trip. Booking a flight? We recommend flying into Salt Lake City by 5:30 PM on the first day of the trip, and flying out no earlier than 5:00 PM on the last day of the trip.