Julie United States 3 Comments

If you are looking for a great hike to do in Capitol Reef, the list is surprisingly long. In Capitol Reef, you can hike to arches that are tucked away in the colorful sandstone mountains, through easy slot canyons, and up to overlooks with jaw-dropping views. In this post, we share 16 amazing day hikes in Capitol Reef National Park.

About this Hiking List

The hikes on this list are organized by geographical area. The sights and hiking trails along Highway 24 and Scenic Drive form the core of Capitol Reef National Park. But you can also leave the crowds behind and venture into the backcountry. Exploring Cathedral Valley and Looping the Fold are amazing adventures to put on your Capitol Reef to-do list, and it is here that you will find some of the most beautiful and least crowded hiking trails in Utah.

At the end of this post, I will also share with you several longer trails that are typically done as very long day hikes or as overnight backpacking trips.

All of the distances in this post are round trip unless noted otherwise.

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

 

 

Hikes Along Highway 24 and Scenic Drive

Along Highway 24 and Capitol Reef Scenic Drive you will find the largest concentration of hiking trails. These are all easy to get to (no high-clearance vehicle or 4×4 necessary) and are centrally located within the park.

These trails also tend to be the most crowded. Midday during peak travel times, you may have trouble getting a parking space, as the parking lots are notoriously small in Capitol Reef. I recommend getting an early start if possible, just so you don’t struggle to get a parking space.

Goosenecks & Sunset Point

Two very short hikes start from one parking lot. From Highway 24, turn onto the gravel road for Panorama Point and Sunset Point. Panorama Point will be the first overlook you will come to. Simply step out of your car and enjoy the view. Then, continue down the gravel road to the end and park in the parking lot. This road is suitable for standard cars.

Sunset Point

Distance: 0.8 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 20 to 30 minutes

This is a short, easy hike out to a gorgeous overlook. It gets its name because it is one of the best spots in Capitol Reef to watch the sunset, but the views are beautiful all day long.

Sunset Point

Sunset Point

Goosenecks Overlook

Distance: 0.2 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 10 minutes

This short walk takes you to an overlook where the Sulphur Creek carved out a canyon, its curving path resembling that of a gooseneck.

Goosenecks Capitol Reef

Goosenecks Overlook

Chimney Rock

Distance: 3.6 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 600 feet | Time: 2 to 4 hours

If you are looking for a relatively short hike that isn’t too challenging and offers great views over the park, hike the Chimney Rock loop. After a short and strenuous climb, this trail stays relatively flat, as it makes a loop along the sandstone mountains. The views of Fruita and the waterpocket fold are spectacular.

Hickman Bridge

Distance: 1.8 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 400 feet | Time: 2 to 3 hours

This is one of the best short hikes to do in Capitol Reef. Walk along the Fremont River and then hike up to a spectacular viewpoint where you can look out over Highway 24. The trail ends at Hickman Bridge, a large, natural arch that is tucked away near the back of the canyon.

Highway 24 Capitol Reef

The view of Highway 24 from the hiking trail

 

Hickman Bridge

Hickman Bridge

Capitol Gorge Trail

Distance: 1.5 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Total Ascent: Minimal | Time: 45 minutes

The Capitol Gorge Trail is a flat trail that heads through a wide canyon. It was the only road through the waterpocket fold until Highway 24 was constructed.

Capitol Gorge Trail

Pioneer Register

It is a 1.5 mile round trip walk to get to the Pioneer Register. When Mormon settlers passed through this area in the late 18th century and early 19th century, they scrawled their names on the canyon walls. This collection of names is called the Pioneer Register. Basically, it is historic graffiti. In this same canyon, you can also see American Indian petroglyphs.

Note: Do not write your name or leave any marks on the canyon walls. This area is under surveillance by the national park service and the fine is huge if you get caught writing on the walls.

To get to this trailhead, it is a beautiful drive through Capitol Gorge. Capitol Gorge Road is a 2.3 mile gravel road that is suitable for standard vehicles under 27 feet length.

Capitol Gorge Road best hikes in Capitol Reef

Capitol Gorge Road

Cassidy Arch

Distance: 3.4 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 845 feet | Time: 2 to 3 hours

If you only have time in Capitol Reef National Park for one hike, this is one of the trails that I recommend.

Cassidy Arch best hikes in Capitol Reef

The hike to Cassidy Arch is one of the most thrilling trails in Capitol Reef National Park. Easily accessible from Scenic Drive, this short hike features stunning scenery, views over the Grand Wash, and the chance to stand on Cassidy Arch. On this hike, you can view the arch from afar or walk across it for one of the most unique photo ops in Capitol Reef National Park.

Grand Wash

Distance: 4.8 miles* | Difficulty: Easy | Total Ascent: Minimal | Time: 2 hours

The Grand Wash is a very wide canyon, similar to the Narrows in Zion, only without the Virgin River. If you like the idea of hiking something similar to the Narrows, and keeping your feet dry, this is a very nice hike to do.

The Grand Wash and Cassidy Arch share the same parking lot. You will actually hike a small portion of the Grand Wash to get on the Cassidy Arch Trail.

This is a long hike if you walk the entire length of the canyon, but you can turn around when you are ready. The best part of the hike, where the canyon is the narrowest (called The Narrows), is about one mile from the start, so you can see the best of the Grand Wash if you only hike 2 to 3 miles round trip.

Grand Wash

I really see no need to hike the entire length of the Grand Wash. We did and it gets to be a bit boring, especially on the walk back, since you are repeating the same views. If you are short on time, or want to save your energy for another hike, go as far as the Narrows and turn around (2.5 miles, about 1 hour).

Note: There are two trailheads for the Grand Wash: one on Highway 24 and one at the end of Grand Wash Road, the same place where the hike to Cassidy Arch begins. If you have two cars and drivers, you can hike this point to point. The Narrows is the central section of the Grand Wash, and it is roughly 1 mile from both of these trailheads. So, you can hike to the Narrows from either starting point and it is the same distance. 

Cohab Canyon

Distance: 3.4 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Total Ascent: 800 feet | Time: 1.5 to 3 hours

The main reason to do this hike is for aerial views over Fruita. This trail starts in historic Fruita and then rapidly climbs up into the sandstone cliffs. It meanders through a canyon (Cohab Canyon) before climbing one final time. Once on top of the mesa, the trail splits to two different viewpoints, the north overlook and the south overlook.

Cohab Canyon

Cohab Canyon

 

Best Hikes Capitol Reef

North Overlook

 

North Overlook

North Overlook

 

Cohab Canyon Trail

Trail to the south overlook

 

Capitol Reef NP

South Overlook

 

Cohab Switchbacks

The hike starts and ends with these switchbacks

Note: You can combine the Cohab Canyon hike with Cassidy Arch. The Frying Pan Trail is a 2.9 mile trail (one-way) that connects Cassidy Arch and Cohab Canyon.

Rim Overlook

Distance: 4.6 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 430 feet | Time: 2 to 3 hours

Similar to Cohab Canyon, the main reason for doing this hike are for jaw-dropping views of Fruita and Capitol Reef National Park. It is a truly incredible view as you get to look right along Scenic Drive and the waterpocket fold.

Rim Overlook

At the start or end of this hike, you can add on Hickman Bridge, which shares the same trailhead.

Navajo Knobs

Distance: 9.5 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Total Ascent: 2,725 feet | Time: 4 to 7 hours

This is one of the longest, toughest hikes on this list but it is an awesome experience.

From the valley floor, you will steadily hike up to the Rim Overlook, for jaw-dropping views over Fruita, Highway 24, and Scenic Drive. The trail continues its climb for another 2.5 miles, with views over Castle Rock and waterpocket fold.

One final steep climb, with a bit of rock scrambling thrown in, and you’ll be standing on top of the Navajo Knobs. From here, the views are truly epic. From the Navajo Knobs you have 360° views, arguably one of the best viewpoints in Capitol Reef National Park.

Navajo Knobs best hikes in Capitol Reef

On top of the Navajo Knobs

 

Tim Navajo Knobs

Looking west along Highway 24

 

Navajo Knobs View

View down the waterpocket fold and over Fruita

 

Things to do in Capitol Reef

View from the trail

 

Capitol Reef Hikes

One more view from the trail

Sulphur Creek

Distance: 5.8 miles one-way | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 3 to 5 hours

This 5.8-mile one-way hike is typically done point-to-point, which requires a having a second vehicle as a shuttle. This is not a maintained trail, so route-finding skills and prior hiking experience are necessary. However, this is a great hike to consider, if you want to hike through a deep canyon and in a river, similar to the Narrows in Zion.

Hikes in Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley is the rugged, remote northern district of Capitol Reef National Park. On this 58-mile loop, you drive on gravel roads through unique landscapes that are unlike those you get to see in other parts of Utah. To get here, you need to have a high-clearance vehicle, although a 4×4 is ideal.

On the Cathedral Valley Loop, there are two hikes that we recommend.

Cathedrals Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Total Ascent: 400 feet | Time: 1 hour

This easy hike offers very nice views of the monoliths of Cathedral Valley. The best part of this hike, in my opinion, is the first half, as you walk alongside this chain of sandstone formations. The trail ends on top of hill where you have panoramic views of Cathedral Valley.

Cathedrals Trail

Cathedrals Trail

Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook

Distance: 1.8 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 to 1.5 hours

For aerial views over the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, this is a relatively quick and easy hike. Most of the hike is flat and fast. It ends with a short but strenuous hike up to the viewpoint. There is a sketchy trail that heads up the hillside for even higher views.

Cathedral Valley Overlook best hikes in Capitol Reef

Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook

Hikes along the Waterpocket Fold

Capitol Reef National Park preserves a portion of the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. It is basically a long chain of sedimentary rock layers that are being eroded, revealing arches, canyons, massive domes, and monoliths.

One of the best things to do in Capitol Reef is to “Loop the Fold,” or drive around the waterpocket fold. Often overlooked by most visitors to Capitol Reef, this road, and the hiking trails that lead away from it, get very few visitors. When we did this, we had the hiking trails to ourselves and saw very few people.

Surprise Canyon

Distance: 2.2 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 hour

This hike is mostly flat, except for a few very small ups and downs as you approach the canyon. The trail enters the waterpocket fold and it is here that you get to walk through a wide slot canyon. The trail dead ends at a rockfall.

Surprise Canyon Sign best hikes in Capitol Reef

Surprise Canyon

Surprise Canyon

Headquarters Canyon

Distance: 2.6 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 to 1.5 hours

Like Surprise Canyon, this trail heads directly into the Waterpocket Fold. Headquarters Canyon is also very easy to hike. But with its narrower sections this is the more thrilling of the two slot canyons here. If you only have the time and energy for one hike, I recommend Headquarters Canyon over Surprise Canyon.

Capitol Reef Hiking Trail

Slot Canyons in Utah

How to Hike Headquarters Canyon

Headquarters Canyon

Strike Valley Overlook

Distance: 1 mile* | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 30 minutes

The Strike Valley Overlook is a beautiful viewpoint. From here, you are standing on top of the waterpocket fold and have sweeping views over Strike Valley.

There are two ways to get to Strike Valley Overlook: drive the extremely rough Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road to the trailhead (a 4WD vehicle is necessary) or hike along the road.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road is 2.9 miles long, one-way. It ends at the trailhead for Strike Valley Overlook and for the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trail.

If you do not have a 4WD vehicle, there is a parking area that is located 400 meters from Burr Trail Road. To get to the trailhead for Strike Valley Overlook, you will have to walk just over 2.5 miles, one-way, to get to the trailhead. This makes your hike 6 miles round trip.

Strike Valley Overlook best hikes in Capitol Reef

Is it worth it? If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, then it is worth it. However, if you are driving a standard vehicle, it’s about a 6-mile round trip walk to get the view, and in my opinion, it’s probably worth skipping it. You can get a similar but slightly less dramatic view from the top of the Burr Trail Switchbacks.

Slot Canyons

On Notom-Bullfrog Road, there are several longer hikes through slot canyons that you can do. There can be pools of water in these canyons. But if you are looking for a challenging slot canyon, these are hikes to consider.

Burro Wash is 7.5 miles long, Cottonwood Wash is 6 miles long, and Sheets Gulch, at 14 miles, is the longest and most challenging of the bunch.

Backcountry Hikes in Capitol Reef

In addition to the day hikes listed above, there are several longer hikes in Capitol Reef. These are typically done as multi-day backpacking trips but several can be done as very long day hikes.

Halls Creek Narrows is over 20 miles round trip and typically done as a 3 to 4 day backpacking trip. You will hike through a wide slot canyon, similar to the Zion Narrows.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon is 9 miles round trip. You will hike through a slot canyon, past several arches, and have views over Strike Valley. This hike starts at the same trailhead for Strike Valley Overlook.

Lower Muley Twist Canyon is a 23 mile loop that is typically done as an overnight backpacking trip. On this hike you will see caves, canyons, and a cowboy camp.

Our Recommendations

Our favorite hikes are Cassidy Arch (fun, relatively easy hike with the chance to have your photo taken on an arch), Navajo Knobs (unbeatable views over Capitol Reef National Park), and Headquarters Canyon (easy slot canyon with little to no crowds…plus it is a beautiful drive to get here).

The classic hikes for first-timers are Hickman Bridge, Cassidy Arch, Sunset Point, and the Capitol Gorge Trail.

If you want a short, easy hike, we recommend Grand Wash, Sunset Point, and Hickman Bridge.

If you want to leave the crowds behind, hike the trails in Cathedral Valley or while Looping the Fold. These include the Cathedrals Trail, Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook, Surprise and Headquarters Canyons, and Strike Valley Overlook. Crowds will also be light on the slot canyons on Notom-Bullfrog Road.

For the ultimate day hiking experience, hike to Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs.

Before you go, get updated trail conditions on the National Park Service website.


If you have any questions about these hikes in Capitol Reef National Park, let us know in the comment section below.

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Comments 3

  1. I have noticed that your information can’t be printed to take along on our trip. Can it be found anywhere in a format that would allow me to take it along so I can reference it when there is no cell service available?

    1. Post
      Author

      You can print this post. Press CTRL+P on a PC or Command+P on a Mac to print the post. From the printer dialog box you can choose which pages you want to print so you don’t have to print the entire post. Cheers, Julie

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