Just like the name suggests, switchbacks are a series of hairpin u-turns on a road that zig-zags up a very steep slope. In the remote areas of the west a switchback section most often was originally built to accommodate local mining or forestry industries, so creature comforts like enough room for two lane traffic were not always figured into the design. Back country mountain switchbacks do tend to be narrow and dangerous dirt roads, yet they are a thrill to ride in a capable vehicle. The Burr Trail Switchbacks is one of the most famous and the best part is having a long list of great back country destinations to choose from in any direction one goes from here!
There are a few ways to get to the Burr Trail Switchbacks and all are equally visually appealing. To say that the Burr Trail Switchbacks are located in the southern end of the Capitol Reef National Park back country would be a misnomer, because this spot can also be considered to be in both the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument back country as well. In fact, the borders of all three of these parks are only a very short distance away, so as can be imagined, the adventures are guaranteed to be endless after conquering the challenging Burr Trail Switchbacks. Long Canyon awaits going west, while both the Bullfrog Ferry Crossing at Lake Powell and the colorful landscape of the geological reef can be explored going the other way. An overnighter will be required for experiencing all of these options and a few back country campgrounds are located nearby.
The way I chose to go was the long dusty ride south on Notom Road to the the intersection of the Burr Trail and the pathway to Bullfrog Ferry Crossing. This touring route runs alongside the majestic Capitol Reef and articles about this tour were previously published. From the intersection, the narrow pass going west through the solid bedrock upheaval bluffs can be seen, while the switchbacks remain hidden from view. It is then that the surroundings are fully fathomed and a state of shock will likely occur while taking in the amazing scenery. This rare landscape boasts having towering gray volcanic bluffs that stretch out to the horizon, golden valleys, cloud draped mountain peaks, geological wonders that are difficult to explain and some of the most brilliant sandstone outcrop colors in the entire west!
Shortly after the dirt road passes through the narrows, the Burr Trail Switchbacks can be seen, but the view is not what might be expected. The setting is a steep narrow shadowy canyon that is sealed off by a very steep upheaval bluff, which is where the switchbacks zig-zag up. The views from the base of the switchbacks are nothing much to write home about, but all it takes is doing a a complete sweep of the towering peaks to see that better views await much higher above.
There are downsides, which include no RV Campers or trailers being allowed in this entire area, because the vehicle length will be a critical issue. Four wheel drive is best for the steep dirt road grades, because the silty gravel can give way. On the plus side, there is usually no traffic to contend with at this remote spot on any given day, which is perfect for going slow enough to take in the views during the long way up. As can be seen in the photo album, the views from up top are well worth mentioning back home!
The remote Canyons Region of Grand Staircase-Escalante is what will be found at the top of the Burr Trail Switchbacks when traveling west from Notom-Bullfrog Road. This section of the National Monument offers one majestic view after another all the way to the town of Boulder on Highway 12 and this road is actually paved. There is a natural white sandstone arch that can be seen on the reef by the pass and some of the oddest looking red rock outcrops that can be imagined are in this area. This views of this beautiful landscape certainly are a just reward for conquering the Burr Trail Switchbacks!
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