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Driving the Burr Trail

Alan and I are huge fans of driving the country lanes and dirt roads of America. On a visit to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, we had our pick of dirt roads and four-wheel-drive trails to explore. But many of those roads are really long. For an easy half-day drive that leaves time to enjoy lunch on the patio of Kiva Koffeehouse, we recommend the Burr Trail.

Burr Trail travels through Long Canyon on a scenic drive in southern Utah.

That’s Burr Trail down there in Long Canyon.

On a late May road trip, the journey starts as we turn off Highway 12 at Boulder, about 32 miles north of Escalante. Potholes litter the paved road for the first few miles. But once we enter the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument portion, the road smoothes out before descending into Long Canyon.

Recreational vehicles are not recommended on Burr Trail.

For seven miles, red sandstone cliffs rise steeply on either side of the narrow canyon. Dark brown streaks of desert varnish leave their mark on the canyon walls. Earlier in the week, on a hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, we learned that desert varnish is a thin mineral coating caused by living microbes that oxidize iron and manganese found in clay minerals.

The scenic Burr Trail travels through Long Canyon in Southern Utah.

We’re surrounded by red cliffs in Long Canyon.

At breakfast, our server told us about a small slot canyon to explore that the locals call Singing Canyon. He told us to look for an unmarked pullout in Long Canyon about 11 miles on the Burr Trail from Boulder.

Alan easily spots the pullout and parks the car. We walk slightly downhill, across a sandy path toward a narrow slit in the canyon wall. Where the slit widens, trees with the verdant green of new spring growth decorate the small entrance to Singing Canyon.

Singing Canyon is a slot canyon on the Burr Trail. Stop to explore as you drive through Long Canyon.

Alan is dwarfed by a slot canyon.

The narrow slot canyon isn’t very long. But it does require scrambling over a few boulders to reach the end. Why is it called Singing Canyon? Belt out your favorite tune or yell out a few words and the name will become self-evident.

The ever-changing scenery on the Burr Trail in southern Utah. Read the article to plan your visit.

The scenery changes as we drive out of Long Canyon.

Back in the car, we continue the drive through Long Canyon. Geological colors change from red to yellow and beige as the road climbs out of the canyon.

A red cactus blooms near the Burr Trail in southern Utah.

When clouds hamper landscape photography, look closer.

At a crossroads of trails, Alan and I stop again to stretch our legs and explore. Desert cactus and wildflowers are blooming. And we see a few RV’s and tents scattered about in anticipation of Memorial Day weekend.

The pavement turns to dirt at the western boundary of Capitol Reef National Park—31.2 miles from Boulder. It’s the turn-around point for today’s drive on the Burr Trail.

Looking out into Capitol Reef National Park from the Burr Trail.

Looking out into Capitol Reef National Park.

Parking at a scenic viewpoint, we get out of the car again. To say that the landscape is dramatic is an understatement. Unfortunately for us, the cloudy weather limits the colorful scene folks usually see. But despite the photographic conditions, amazing geological formations spread out before us: the west side of Waterpocket Fold—a 100-mile bend in the earth’s crust—the Henry Mountains and beyond to the mesas and buttes of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Do not drive the dirt portions of the Burr Trail on a rainy day. Even four-wheel-drive vehicles can’t negotiate the slick mud.

Although we’re turning around, the road continues across the Waterpocket Fold, down a set of hairpin turns, part of the original cattle trail known as the Burr Trail, until a junction. The left turn, Notom Road, takes visitors on a scenic jaunt to Highway 24 near Torrey, Utah.

But it’s the right turn that Alan and I would like to take one day. The road continues to Bull Frog at Lake Powell. Driving the Burr Trail from Boulder to Bull Frog is a 67.4-mile journey that includes a ferry ride across Lake Powell. Leave it to us to seek out the more off-the-beaten-path travel option in a remote part of Utah.

The National Park Services has published a mile by mile description of the Burr Trail.

We used the Benchmark Utah Road & Recreation Atlas to plan our trip.

Have you explored this area of southern Utah? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your experience.

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