When looking at a map, Capitol Reef National Park looks like a narrow strip of land that runs north and south with Highway 24 running the opposite direction through the center of the park. Highway 24 is paved and many famous Capitol Reef attractions can be found along this road. The highest percentage of tourists only choose to experience the central section of this National Park because of the ease of access. The northern and southern ends of this park are not exactly the easiest places to get to, because the dirt roads can be too rough for an ordinary passenger car. The dirt roads are also very lengthy, which further limits visitation in the extreme end points of Capitol Reef. For those who drive a capable vehicle and wish to escape from the big crowds, all this sounds like a dream come true!
Notom Road is the path to follow when exploring the southern section of Capitol Reef. Notom Road intersects with Highway 24 at the Capitol Reef National Park east entrance, so this road is easy to find. Notom Road runs south along the eastern edge of this National Park all the way south to the Cedar Mesa Campground and beyond. The name changes to Notom Bullfrog Road at this point and this dirt road continues south to the the Burr Trail Switchbacks at the southern tip of Capitol Reef. Near the switchbacks, the road splits and one road goes to the Bullfrog Crossing Ferry at Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National recreation Area, while the Burr Trail heads west into the Canyons section of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. As can be imagined, Notom Road definitely is the pathway to a world of back country adventures.
Because Notom Bullfrog Road is so lengthy it is best to draw up a touring plan, which includes getting an early morning start on the day. The easiest way to get a jump start on this trek is to camp at the Pleasant Creek BLM Dispersed Camping Area near Highway 24. Details about the Notom Road dispersed camping can be found in previously published article. The views of the Capitol Reef white domes are astounding at this boondocking area, so there is no better place to rest up for a very long dirt road drive.
From Highway 24 it is 21 miles to the Capitol Reef National Park Cedar Mesa Campground. Notom Road is paved all the way to the border of the National Park near the campground, then it turns into a dirt road for the rest of the trip. The distance from the Cedar Mesa Camp to the Burr Trail or Bullfrog Road is about another 13 miles. The total distance is easy to conquer, but there are so many majestic views and side trails along the way that an entire day should be set aside for touring this section of Notom Road. This is why the Cedar Mesa Campground is a good choice for an overnighter, before continuing on to the southern tip of Capitol Reef and beyond.
Capitol Reef is a long fault line upheaval area that runs north and south. Notom Road parallels the east side of this geological reef, so the views are as majestic as can be. There is no such thing as being in a hurry when driving on Notom Road, because the urge to stop and take in the panoramic views will certainly occur quite often. There is very little traffic on this road, so pulling off on the side to snap a few photos is no problem. This absolutely is a great touring route that offers superb views of some of the most interesting features of Capitol Reef.
To the east of Notom Road is a vast tract of BLM public lands that borders upon the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This region is every bit as picturesque as Capitol Reef and there is plenty to explore in this BLM territory as well. One of the most popular Notom BLM destinations is The Horn, which is a very picturesque mountain that is a climber's paradise. There are dispersed camping options along the dirt road that goes to The Horn, which present even more options. There are also a few dirt side roads that run west from Notom Road that go to hiking trailheads in Capitol Reef National Park. With all this going on, it is easy to see why allotting an entire day for driving the 21 mile stretch of Notom Road to the Cedar Mesa Campground is best to do.
The Cedar Mesa Campground is perched on top of a mile high mesa that is within walking distance of the geological reef. Gold and gray color mesa bluffs hem in the grassy valley to the east, so the views from this campground are as majestic as can be. Cedar Mesa is a primitive campground that only has five campsites and it is not in the NPS reservation system, so those who arrive early stand a better chance of landing a spot to call home for the night. There is a pit toilet on site, but there is no water, so be sure to load up a few extra gallons for the ride. The best part is this small campground is free of charge, which is like the icing on the cake!
The dirt road section of Notom Road begins near the National Park border by the campground and this is where the fun ends for those who drive an RV camper or haul a travel trailer. There are oversize vehicle restrictions from this point on, so drivers of smaller vehicles will have much more room to roam. The dirt road is maintained, but it can be very rough after a rain storm passes through. There are also several deep silty sections along this road where a 4x4 vehicle will have an advantage. This road is impassible when wet because the silty red clay dirt will turn into deep sticky glue mud, so if rain is in the forecast the trip should be called off.
As can be seen in the photos, Notom Road to the Cedar Mesa Campground is easily one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the entire west. the southern end of Capitol Reef beckons to be explored and even more adventures can be found in the neighboring BLM territory. Cedar Mesa Campground is a great spot to ready up for continuing onto to the Bullfrog Ferry or the Burr Trail, which both can take another couple of days to experience. The south end of Capitol Reef offers overland back country adventures like no other and this is plenty of motivation to make the trek happen!
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