10 Best Hikes in Capitol Reef – Experience Beautiful Desert

A lot of Utah’s beautiful desert landscapes are full of tourists. It’s difficult to enjoy the beauty of a place when you’re sharing the overlook with hundreds of other people. This is the reason so many outdoor enthusiasts steer clear of National Parks. The Best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park remain largely untouched as this is Utah’s least visited National Park. In this post, I’ll share 10 of the best hikes day hikes in Capitol Reef.

Best Day Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park

Many of the best hikes in Capitol Reef are free! There’s only one section of the park that has an entry fee, the scenic drive. Let’s take a look at the 10 best hikes.

The deep canyon of Sulphur Creek

Goosenecks Overlook

DISTANCE: .5 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 95 feet

DIFFICULTY: Very Easy  

DESCRIPTION: A short walk off of Highway 24 will provide dramatic canyon views with Sulphur Creek winding below.

Panorama Point

DISTANCE: .3 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 29 feet

DIFFICULTY: Easy  

DESCRIPTION: Panorama Point if one of the best short hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. It’s located just off of route 24 on the same side road that takes you to Goosenecks Overlook and Sunset Point Overlook.

This is a great short hike for sunrise or sunset hues and is appropriate for the whole family.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Hickman Bridge Trail

DISTANCE: 1.7 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 415 feet

DIFFICULTY: Moderate  

DESCRIPTION: At just under a two-miles round trip with minimal elevation gain, this is a popular hike in the park,

The trail will bring you to a 133-foot natural bridge with stunning canyon views. This photo is from up above the bridge along the Canyon Overlook Trail.

Grand Wash Trail

DISTANCE: 4.5 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 557 feet

DIFFICULTY: Moderate  

DESCRIPTION: The Grand Wash Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. Luckily, because Capitol Reef is the least visited of Utah’s National Parks, you’ll likely still experience solitude on this trail.

We suggest parking at the trailhead on route 24 and hiking until the turn off for Cassidy Arch before turning around. Many people compare the Grand Wash to the Narrows in Zion National Park. The only difference is there is no water and no crowds!

The narrow canyons that form the grand wash at only 15 feet apart at their narrowest and 800 feet high. This relatively easy, family-friendly hike offers many opportunities for curious children and adults to climb, scramble and explore.

Photo Credit: My Utah Parks

Cohab Canyon Trail

DISTANCE: 3 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 793 feet

DIFFICULTY: Moderate  

DESCRIPTION: There are two parking lots for the Cohab Canyon Trail. The trail connects Fruita Campground with the Hickman Bridge Trail. It is hiked as an out and back.

If you start at the campground, your hike will begin with a number of switchbacks. IF you start at the parking lot near Hickman Bridge Trailhead, you’ll experience friendlier terrain. The Fruita end may be steep, but it brings you to dramatic views of Capitol Reef much sooner than the other option.

After your initial ascent, from the Fruit Campground, the trail begins to descend into the very colorful and featured Cohab Canyon. Wandering up any of the technical side canyons as far as possible can make a nice diversion.

There are two spur trails on the Cohab Canyon Trail; the South Fruita Overlook and the North Fruita Overlook are great options for anyone who doesn’t mind adding mileage to their hike. At this same trail junction you’ll see the sign for the frying pan trail. This trail would bring you to Cassidy Arch.

If completing this trail as an out and back from Fruita Campground, the trail junction is a great place to turn around. If completing the hike from Hickman Bridge, be sure to travel all the way to the Fruita switchbacks for epic views.

Photo Credit: Hiking Project

Golden Throne Trail

DISTANCE: 3.5 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 777 feet

DIFFICULTY: Moderate  

DESCRIPTION: The Golden Throne Trail might be one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park and also, the least traveled. To reach the trailhead you must travel 2.5 miles down an unpaved, dirt road at the end of the scenic road. This is a remote section of the park.

Road conditions are best suited for a 4-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. It’s also important to note that when Capitol Gorge road is closed, you’ll be adding 4.4 miles to your hiking distance.

The climb to Golden Throne is steady and beautiful. There are a few rocky scrambles and steep drop offs to be prepared for. Otherwise, the trail is considered moderate and well worth your time and efforts!

Photo Credit: HikingWalking.com

Cassidy Arch Trail

DISTANCE: 3.1 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 666 feet

DIFFICULTY: Moderate/Difficult  

DESCRIPTION: You’ll find this trailhead past the scenic drive and at the end of Grand Wash road. Capitol Reef scenic road requires a fee.

You can also access the Cassidy Arch Trail from route 24 via the Grand Wash Trail and the Narrows. This option would add 4.5 miles to your total hike, bringing your total to a little lover 7 miles.

The trail to Cassidy Arch will have you climb about 500 feet up and out of the the wash to a massive arch. The arch sits on a slickrock plateau and is named for infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy who used to hide out in the canyon’s nooks and crannies.

The hike along the cliffs is fun but strenuous with rapid elevation gain. It includes steep inclines, switchbacks, and some rocky terrain.

Photo Credit: AllTrails

Sulphur Creek Trail

DISTANCE: 5.8 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 777 feet

DIFFICULTY: Moderate/Difficult  

DESCRIPTION: Follow this meandering stream 5.8 miles through scenic narrows, known as the Goosenecks. The trail will require you to descend three waterfalls before emerging at the Visitor Center.

Bypassing the falls does require the ability and confidence to scramble down 12-foot ledges; the route nearly always requires walking in shallow water. It is not uncommon for there to be much deeper water that might even require swimming.

Because this is not a round trip or out and back style hike, you will need to leave a shuttle vehicle at your endpoint. If you don’t have this option, you will have to hike the 3 miles back along the road. Please keep an eye on the weather, flash floods can kill.

Photo Credit: Backcountrypost.com

Rim Overlook  Trail

DISTANCE: 4.1 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 1,053 feet

DIFFICULTY: Strenuous  

DESCRIPTION: At just about five-miles round trip, you should start this mostly uphill trail in the morning hours.

Just past the turn off for Hickman Bridge Trail, you’ll find a gorgeous panorama view of the Fremont River and the Visitor Center below.

Tie in the hike to Hickman Bridge Trail into your day for an extra special route!

Navajo Knobs Trail

DISTANCE: 9.1 Miles

ELEVATION GAIN: 2,139 feet

DIFFICULTY: Difficult  

DESCRIPTION: The Navajo Knobs Trail begins at the same trailhead for Hickman Bridge. It’s a strenuous hike with beautiful views throughout, however, it’s completely exposed. It would be best for you to begin this hike before sunrise or at the very least, early morning.

A long, strenuous hike will bring you to expansive views of Capitol Reef. With steep cliff edges and unique rock formations at every turn, you won’t be disappointed.

Photo Credit: freeroaminghiker.com

The History and Culture of Capitol Reef National Park

The lush landscape of the Capitol Reef Area has been home to numerous archaic hunter-gatherers and settlers throughout the years who have migrated through the canyons.

Fremont Culture solidified around 500 CE when food foraging groups began to incorporate farming into their lives. Petroglyphs etched into rock walls alongside painted pictographs remain as sacred remnants of an ancient saga.

Explorers, Mormon pioneers, and other groups arrived in the 1800s, settling in what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, and peaches which you can still pick today. Stop by and pick the juiciest fruit from the shores of the Fremont River. Bring your bud spray to the fruit orchards or you’re going to have a bad time.

The National Park Service preserves the culture of those who came before them through ranger programs, audio clips, and the protection of historic buildings and other structures. Don’t forget to stop by the 1908 Gifford Homestead to experience a museum-like still-life of early Mormon pioneer days; the best time for pie is 8:00 A.M. but you can also chow on homemade scones, fresh ice cream, jellies, and dried fruit.

How was Capital Reef National Park Formed?

The geologic story of Capitol Reef can be broken down into three steps. Each of these steps occurred over the course of millions of years: deposition, uplift, and erosion.

The Waterpocket Fold is unique in that the ongoing erosion of sandstone layers is caused by water. The erosion of tilted rock forms creates the colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches that are found throughout Capitol Reef National Park.

Just look at all of this geology!

Capitol Reef National Park RV Parks and Camping

There are several RV parks, free camping areas, and developed campgrounds within 15 minutes of Capitol Reef National Park.

  • Fruita Campground, a developed campground inside the park!
    Fruita Campground is an oasis within the desert along the Fremont River. They offer 64 RV/Tent sites each including fire pits and picnic tables. Seven additional walk-in sites with a grill and a picnic table provide extra room for visitors. There is an RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets, but no showers. Accessible sites are located adjacent to restrooms. The nightly fee is $20 and check-out is at 11:00 AM.
  • Sunglow Campground, a more primitive developed campground outside the park!
    Sunglow Campground is significantly less busy, inexpensive, and absolutely stunning. We had beautiful scenery, a more than acceptable restroom, and freshwater; the stargazing was a phenomenal addition to an amazing campsite just about 10 minutes from the park’s entrance and 5 minutes from restaurants, a general store, and a post office.
  • BLM land, a free dispersed camping option right outside the park!
    Just outside of the National Park’s East entrance there’s a lot of BLM land that is perfect for free camping. If you drive down Notom-Bullfrog Road you’ll find ample opportunities to park the RV or set up camp.
  • Wonderland RV Park, an RV Resort located 15 minutes from the Visitor Center.
    Wonderland RV Parks is located three miles from Capitol Reef at the junction of Scenic Byway 24 and All American Highway 12. They offer full-service spacious RV sites and outstanding amenities.

Read the full article for a list of over 10 amazing accommodations within twenty minutes of Captiol Reef National Park.


Don’t Let This Lesser-Known Park Go Unseen

This park is such a hidden gem amidst so much desert. Lush river beds with orchards full of sweet, juicy fruit meet steep, red and white layered canyon walls full of history; it’s unlike no other place I’ve seen.

Be sure to take the scenic drive! Although a majority of the park is free to visit, the 8.3-mile scenic drive costs $5 per vehicle and not only provides stunning roadside views but also access to two of the park’s most popular hiking trails.

This is a very interesting and unique park rich in history, geology, and adventure. A true hidden treasure in the heart of red rock country; the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline extending 100 miles wide, is filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges for you to explore.

23 thoughts on “10 Best Hikes in Capitol Reef – Experience Beautiful Desert

  1. I want to explore this place so much! You gave me the right motivation, also because I’ve never hear about it before. Thanks for sharing your experience!! – Paolo

  2. oh man we have nothing like this around us. I love seeing photos of places like this!

  3. This national park looks so much fun! I am absolutely charmed by its beauty! I do hope to visit one day and see it with my own eyes

  4. I love outdoors! The place looks fantastic! I hope I will visit this national park myself one day

  5. This is a beautiful place! I am always amazed at all of the different places and places that I hadn’t heard of before. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Going to Utah is high on my travel Bucket List. It has so many amazing parks to offer! I love the picture of the waterfall for the Sulphur Creek trail. My husband and I love going to National Parks for vacations (Yellowstone, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Denali are the four we’ve crossed off so far). I’m craving another trip, so maybe I’ll have to pitch Utah to him 😉

  7. It looks like there are some amazing hikes out there. I didn’t realize about this one and had never heard of this place before now. I will definitely have to take a visit in the near future.

  8. This is so beautiful! Maybe when the kids are a bit older, we will include trekking and hiking in our family travel itineraries. 😀

  9. The place looks so great. Such great captures I must say that and your description is lovely.

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