Originally developed as a cattle trail by stockman John Atlantic Burr, the Burr Trail Scenic Backway passes through three iconic parks starting at Boulder Utah to the north located on Highway 12 to Bullfrog Basin and Ticaboo Utah to the south on Highway 276. The route offers back country access to numerous trails and canyons through the painted rock desert of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Waterpocket Fold and Badlands of Capitol Reef National Park, and slickrock canyons of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The distance is approximately 75 miles from Boulder to Bullfrog. The first 30 miles are paved leading to the Capitol Reef border. From there the road turns to graded dirt and can be rather washboarded in sections. The last 20 mile stretch from the Springs/Bullfrog Basin junction to Hwy 276 is also paved.
A note from the BLM: Although in dry weather the Burr Trail is easily accessible to passenger cars, wet weather may make the road impassable even for 4WD vehicles. Check with rangers or local officials for weather and road conditions. Recreational vehicles are not recommended.
The upper section (paved section) includes Long Canyon, its tributary slot canyon, “Singing Canyon,” Deer Creek campground, and other interesting roadside views. Once you exit Long Canyon there is an amazing panoramic view of the Waterpocket Fold and Circle Cliffs with the Henry Mountains looming in the background. Once you reach the Capitol Reef border the pavement ends and graded dirt begins. A short distance down the road from the border the Peek-A-Boo Arch at Upper Muley Twisted Canyon comes in to view. The first half mile of the side road to this area is passable for passenger cars, then the road enters Upper Muley Twist Canyon and is recommended only for 4WD vehicles.
One of the highlights of the trip is the Burr Trail Switchbacks. A shorter but tighter version of the Moki Dugway in San Juan County (SR 261) with steeper slopes and grade. The view from the top is amazing, definitely worth stopping the car to take it all in. A short distance from the bottom of the Switchbacks is a junction. This is where the road from Hwy 24 east of Capitol Reef runs parallel to the Waterpocket Fold, passes through the small town of Notom and connects with the Burr Trail. From here Bullfrog is 33 miles to the south and Capitol Reef is 34 miles to the north. This is the beginning of the Badlands section.
The Badlands are made up primarily of Mancos Shale and Morrison formations. You see these formations on Hwy 24 from Hanksville to Capitol Reef. Factory Butte and the Cainville Mesas are good examples of Mancos Shale. The road in this section, on the day I drove through, was “badly washboarded.” This will be a test of your suspension! I have been told that the road is periodically “bladed,” to smooth out the washboard.
While negotiating my way through the washboard I came upon the Starr Spring/Bullfrog Basin junction. The Star Spring road continues northeast on graded dirt to Star Spring Ranch and campground near Hwy 276 at the foot of Mt. Hillers in the Henry Mountains. Right goes to Bullfrog Basin and relief from the washboard. This stretch of the Burr Trail is paved and feels as smooth as silk, although it’s not much more than patches of pavement in some sections. From here the road connects with Utah State Hwy. 276 in less than 20 miles.
Along this stretch, stop and enjoy the views. To the south, Upper Bullfrog Bay and Upper Halls Creek Bay can be seen. Shortly down the road is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area boundary.
At approximately 5 miles from Bullfrog, there is a wash called Bullfrog Creek crossing. When Lake Powell is at full pool, water can extend up the wash as far as the road! After a rain, the wash can become impassable, which could be the end of the trail if muddy or deep with water.
Named after John Atlantic Burr, who was born in 1846 aboard the SS Brooklyn somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. He and his family lived in Salt Lake City, then later moved south and established the town of Burrville, Utah, in 1876. John Burr soon developed a trail to move cattle back and forth between winter and summer ranges and to market. This cattle trail through the rough, nearly impassable country around the Waterpocket Fold, Burr Canyon, and Muley Twist Canyon came to be known as the Burr Trail.