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When planning a national park tour in Utah, most people will gravitate towards visiting Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon National Parks. These are definitely must see parks, but in my opinion, Capitol Reef National Park shouldn’t be missed! Read on for what I think are some of the best hikes in Capitol Reef that will leave you in awe of the natural splendor of the park.
Capitol Reef is one of the most underrated parks in Utah, despite its beautiful scenery and numerous epic hikes. What makes the park unique is that it’s situated on a unique geological formation called the Waterpocket Fold, a literal wrinkle in the earth’s crust.
One of the best ways to explore all that Capitol Reef has to offer is to go on a few hikes. The following hikes are organized by roundtrip length, from shortest to longest, so you can plan your visit accordingly. Capitol Reef is a hidden treasure of Utah, so if you have the time, I highly suggest making a visit!
0.3 miles out and back, easy
Starting with one of the shortest and easiest hikes in Capitol Reef, Petroglyph Trail is actually a pair of short boardwalks that lead to the base of the Wingate cliffs, where you’ll find preserved etchings created by the predecessors of the Hopi, Paiute, and Pueblo Indians.
This walk is wheelchair accessible, and is a great stop for people who want to learn more about the original inhabitants of the area.
Goosenecks & Sunset Point Trail
0.2 miles out and back, 0.7 miles out and back, easy
Goosenecks and Sunset Point Trails are both short and sweet hikes in Capitol Reef National Park that start from the same parking area. Despite being less than 1 mile out and back each, these trails give a lot of bang for your buck, with gorgeous views at the end of both.
Goosenecks Trail takes you to a viewpoint where you can see a deep canyon that was carved out by Sulfur Creek, part of which makes a tight gooseneck turn. Sunset Point Trail is one of the best places in the park to see the sunset, so make sure to time your visit correctly if you want to catch those beautiful sunset views!
Cassidy Arch Trail
3 miles out and back, moderate
Cassidy Arch Trail is a staple hike in Capitol Reef. It’s a moderately challenging trail with a steep incline at the beginning. In total, the hike is a little over 3 miles out and back. Along the way, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the gorgeous rock layers of Grand Wash Canyon, and at the end of the trail is Cassidy Arch itself!
This trail is quite exposed towards the end, so depending on the time of year that you go, make sure to wear sun protection and stay hydrated. I think that the varying landscapes that you’ll see as part of the ascent through the Canyon, as well as the great view of Cassidy Arch (which you can even walk across!) make this one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef!
Cohab Canyon Trail
3 miles out and back, moderate
If you’re on the hunt for some stunning aerial views, look no further than Cohab Canyon Trail.
This 3 mile roundtrip trail will take you to breathtaking views of the Fruita Cliffs, at the North and South Overlooks. It’s a moderately difficult hike that involves ascents and descents, so definitely be prepared for that.
What makes Cohab Canyon Trail one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef is the multiple interesting geological formations that you’ll get to see. The walls of the Cohab Canyon itself are marked with thousands of cavities that are formed by the dissolution of sand grains that react with acidic water. You’ll also pass by a large hoodoo shaped like a mushroom, and a small natural arch! There’s no shortage of absorbing sights to take in on this trail.
Chimney Rock Loop Trail
3.5 mile loop, moderate
Chimney Rock Loop Trail is a great option for people who want a relatively short hike that isn’t too easy, but also isn’t very challenging. This 3.5 mile loop trail features great views of nearby mountains and the multicolored rock layers of the Waterpocket Fold.
There are several overlooks that provide different views of the park. Chimney Rock itself is a tall, narrow rock formation that is best viewed in the late afternoon, when the rock emerges from the long shadows of the canyon. The views of the Henry Mountains behind the Fold are especially beautiful! This hike is easily one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef.
Golden Throne Trail
3.5 miles out and back, moderate
The namesake of the Golden Throne Trail is a massive golden sandstone dome that looms above the end of this trail. In total, the Golden Throne Trail is 3.5 miles out and back, with a gradual incline on the way to the Golden Throne. Like many of the best hikes in Capitol Reef, this one trail has a good balance of scenery and moderately challenging hiking!
Along the way, you’ll encounter beautiful views of the steps of Capitol Gorge and its canyons. The trail ends with a vantage point of the Golden Throne, though it does not take you up to the actual base of the formation. Overall, a solid trail to hike!
Old Wagon Trail Loop
3.7 mile loop, difficult
Old Wagon Trail Loop is one of the more strenuous hikes on this list. This rugged 3.7 mile loop involves a persistent upward incline over several types of rocky terrain, past juniper trees and pinyon pines.
Make sure not to miss the overlook on this trail—this one offers much wider panoramic views of the Waterpocket Fold compared to other overlooks in the park. This is one of the less traversed trails in the park, so there’s a good chance you’ll have the entire trail to yourself!
Hickman Bridge Trail
1.7 miles out and bank, moderate
At less than 2 miles out and bank, the Hickman Bridge Trail is on the shorter end of the best trails in Capitol Reef. This trail is conveniently located less than 2 miles from the park visitor center, and is clearly marked and well maintained, making it a popular trail with all visitors.
The trail features great views of the Waterpocket Fold and passes by several unique landmarks like the Navajo Dome. It ends at Hickman Bridge, which is a stunning natural arch that is over 130-feet long and 125-feet high. If you’re looking to knock out several hikes during your visit to Capitol Reef, put this one at the top of your list!
Rim Overlook Trail
4 miles out and back, moderate
Another hike with jaw dropping views of the Capitol Reef National Park is the Rim Overlook Trail. At the end of this hike, you’ll get to see a literal wrinkle in the earth’s crust! This roughly 4 miles roundtrip hike to the overlook involves a steep climb up a set of stairs and several switchbacks, so it’s recommended for those of good physical health.
From Rim Overlook, you’ll get swapping views of the Fruita Historic District and its orchards, buildings, and the Scenic Drive. The surrounding mountains are also stunning. If you only have 2-3 hours, you can turn back from here. Otherwise, you can continue onto Navajo Knobs for a hike that’s twice as long.
Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail
4.5 miles out and back, difficult
Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail involves high effort, but provides high return, in the form of an incredible view of the deep gorge and its cliffs at the end. In total, this trail is around 4.5 miles long, and the route gains over 1,000 feet of elevation. I would recommend this trail only for hikers who are in good physical condition!
As with other trails that involve elevation gain, the Fremont Gorge Trail passes through several different types of terrain, from the flat Johnson Mesa covered in shrubs and igneous rocks, to the burnt red soil and juniper trees and pinyon pines near the Moenkopi rock, and finally to the incredible Fremont Gorge Overlook, where you can see the Fremont River snaking through the canyon almost a thousand feet down. Simply put, this is another one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef!
Capitol Gorge Trail
4.5 miles out and back, easy
Capitol Gorge Trail, which runs through a narrow canyon, is one of the easiest Capitol reef national park hikes. This 4.5 mile long trail used to be the only reliable road through the Waterpocket Fold until Interstate 24 was constructed in 1977, and was often traversed by Mormon pioneers. You can even see the names of Mormon settlers scrawled onto the canyon walls!
This wide trail is mostly level and shady, making for a straightforward hike that is doable for everyone. The drive from the park visitor center to get to the trailhead is also really stunning, as it hugs the canyon walls and feels like a slot canyon for your car!
Grand Wash Trail
5 miles out and back, easy
Grand Wash Trail is a really cool trail that follows a dry creek bed that cuts through Grand Wash Canyon. The flat creek bed makes for an easy hike, so this trail is suitable for everyone! It’s a 5 mile out and back hike, so as always, you can hike however long of a portion of the trail you’d like.
The coolest part of Grand Wash Trail is a narrow section of the canyon (appropriately named The Narrows), where at some points, the canyon walls are only about 16 feet apart! The sheer vertical walls of sandstone on both sides make for a really unique hiking experience.
These are some of what I think are the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park, and I hope I’ve convinced you to give the park a visit! You really can’t go wrong with any hike on this list, because the scenery of the park is just stunning everywhere you go, especially at sunrise and sunset.
As you can tell, most of the hikes are pretty manageable and can be done in less than 3 hours each. Just make sure to bring plenty of water, or head out early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the direct sunlight! You won’t regret making a trip to Capitol Reef.
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