The hike to Navajo Knobs is our favorite hike in Capitol Reef National Park. It’s a long, tough hike but what an incredible journey!
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.
Coming in at 9.5 miles with almost 3,000 feet of elevation gain, this is a tough hike. But it’s one you won’t ever forget.
About Our Experience
We did this hike in early November. A cold front was moving through, bringing with it rain, wind, and even hail. For most of the hike out to the Navajo Knobs, we hiked through rain showers and stinging hail. At a few points, when the rain really picked up, we considered ending the hike early, but we did not want to miss out on those amazing views from the Navajo Knobs.
With spectacular timing, the sun peeked out from behind the rain clouds as we stepped onto the Navajo Knobs. It was awesome. The rain showers stopped and we had partly sunny skies for the remainder of the hike.
This was our favorite experience in Capitol Reef National Park, which is saying a lot, because we had many remarkable moments here. This is a highly underrated park, as you will see from the photos in this post.
By the way, you should never attempt this hike if thunderstorms are in the forecast (they were not on the day we did this hike). With very little shelter on the trail, this is a dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm.
Round Trip to Navajo Knobs
Distance: 9.5 miles
Total Ascent: 2,725 feet
Starting Elevation: 5,325 feet
Highest Elevation (Navajo Knobs): 7,000 feet
Length of Time: 4 to 7 hours
Round Trip to Rim Overlook
Distance: 4.6 miles
Total Ascent: 430 feet
Highest Elevation (Rim Overlook): 5,675 feet
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
When to go: This hike is best in the spring and fall months, when temperatures are mild. In the summer, daytime temperatures can skyrocket, so plan on starting at sunrise. In the winter, snow on the trail can make hiking conditions difficult and dangerous.
Navajo Knobs Elevation Profile
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Hiking the Navajo Knobs Trail
Step-By-Step Trail Guide
Getting to the Trailhead
The trail to Navajo Knobs shares the trailhead with several other popular hikes in Capitol Reef National Park: Hickman Bridge and the Rim Overlook Trail.
Park in the parking lot for Hickman Bridge, located on Highway 24. This parking lot hold about 25 cars and a few RV’s. There are toilets here.
The hike to Hickman Bridge is an extremely popular hike, so this parking lot tends to fill up early and then stay filled for the remainder of the day. Ideally, get here early to get a space.
From the parking lot, look for the sign marking the Hickman Bridge Trailhead. This is where the hike to Navajo Knobs begins.
Hiking to the Rim Overlook
For a quarter of a mile, you will hike the Hickman Bridge Trail. It’s a pretty walk along the Fremont River, followed by a few short switchbacks. Keep an eye out for the trail split. There will be a sign directing you to the Rim Overlook Navajo Knobs.
Optional: You can add on Hickman Bridge to this hike. It adds 1.5 miles and about 30 to 45 minutes, for a total distance of 11 miles.
From the split, the trail steadily climbs up to the Rim Overlook. There are a few flat sections to give you a break, but they don’t last long.
Less than a mile into the hike, you get to the Hickman Bridge Overlook. It’s a decent view, but nothing like you get from the actual Hickman Bridge Trail.
Hickman Bridge Overlook. You have to look hard to see the arch…it can really blend in with the landscape.
Continue up to the Rim Overlook. The views along the trail are amazing the entire way. And the higher you go, the better they get.
2.3 miles from the trailhead you reach the Rim Overlook. The view from this point is spectacular. From here, you look out over the Fruita district and down Scenic Drive. You can also see the waterpocket fold, the uplifting of the Earth’s crust, that runs for 90 miles through Capitol Reef National Park.
For the remainder of the hike, you will have views like this one. You will now walk along the edge of the rim and have some of the best views in the park.
Hiking to Navajo Knobs
The trail levels out, somewhat, beyond Rim Overlook. Now you follow along the edge of the rim. There will be several short uphill sections, nothing too strenuous, and even some downhill sections. This is the easiest part of the hike and it lasts about a mile and a half.
During this part of the hike, you will circle around the “Castle,” one of the iconic rock formations in Capitol Reef National Park. Most people only get to see it from ground level, but on this hike, you get to look down onto it, definitely a very unique view.
As you walk past the Castle, the trail makes its final ascent to the Navajo Knobs. This last part of the hike can be tough. The trail steadily climbs and it is relentless. There are no flat sections, not until you reach the top of the knobs. The trail weaves around rocky outcroppings and keeps turning around corners, so just when you think you get to the knobs, you realize that there is still more distance to go.
To get up onto the knobs, it is one final, steep climb. You will do a little rock scrambling here, but it’s nothing too difficult.
Once on top of the Navajo Knobs, enjoy the view. It is incredible. From here, you have 360° views over Capitol Reef National Park. You can follow Highway 24 out to Torrey, look north the Cathedrals district, and look south over historic Fruita.
Looking along Highway 24 to Torrey
The Return Hike
Retrace your steps to get back to your car.
Normally, out-and-back hikes can be a bit boring on the way back, as you repeat the same views, but not this one. Now you are walking towards the waterpocket fold and the white, Navajo sandstone rock formations that make this park so beautiful, so it’s a very nice walk. In fact, we liked the return hike more…the views are better and now that it’s a mostly downhill walk.
There will be a few uphill sections and these come before reaching the Rim Overlook. So late in the hike, these uphill walks will feel tiring, so just be mentally prepared for them.
Another view of the Castle
From the Rim Overlook, it’s mostly a downhill walk back to the parking lot.
Tips to Have the Best Experience
The entire trail is marked with rock cairns. There are literally hundreds of these stacked up along the trail, making it very easy to follow.
Start the hike early, ideally by 7 am. This ensures that you get a parking space and gives you plenty of time to complete the hike.
We had cellular service on top of the Navajo Knobs and it was strong enough that we could text a photo or two to friends and family.
Trail Updates: As you plan your trip and just before your trip, visit the National Park Service website for updates on park conditions and trail closures.
What to Bring on the Hike
Hiking shoes. Don’t do this hike in anything other than hiking shoes or hiking boots.
Hiking poles. Hiking poles take the stress off of your legs and help to ease leg pain and fatigue.
Water and snacks. At least 3 liters of water in the summer.
Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. For most of this hike you will be exposed to the sun, with very little shade.
Camera. Even a smartphone will do.
If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.
If you have any questions about hiking the Navajo Knobs Trail, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Capitol Reef & Utah
BEST OF CAPITOL REEF: Top experiences in Capitol Reef include hiking Cassidy Arch, driving through Cathedral Valley, and hiking one of the many trails in the park. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do in Capitol Reef.
SCENIC DRIVES IN CAPITOL REEF: Driving through Cathedral Valley is a an amazing one day road trip through the northern section of the national park. Lesser known but no less spectacular is the a drive where you Loop the Fold and visit slot canyons and remote corners of the park.
CAPITOL REEF: Check out our Capitol Reef National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
CAPITOL REEF ITINERARY: If you only have one day, learn how to make the most of it in our One Day in Capitol Reef guide. In our Capitol Reef Itinerary, we cover how to plan your time whether you have a few days or longer.
ARCHES, CANYONLANDS, & CAPITOL REEF: On this 10 day itinerary, take your time and explore three national parks in Utah plus a few off the beaten path destinations.
MORE GREAT HIKES IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: From hikes to the tallest peaks to beautiful coast trails, read our Guide to the Best Day Hikes in the US National Parks.
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