Capitol Reef National Park Hiking and Backpacking Overview

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Hiking in Capitol Reef National Park
Hiking in Capitol Reef National Park (Nathan Borchelt)

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

  • Fifteen day-hiking trails begin within a short drive of the visitor center. Four of these are easy—Grand Wash, Capitol Gorge, Sunset Point, and Goosenecks. The other trails have strenuous climbs or sections of irregular slickrock.
  • Muley Twist Canyon and Halls Creek in the park’s south offer many places to explore on both day-hike and backpack trips. These are cairned routes, requiring a map and compass for navigation.
  • You can ascend 1,600 feet for a spectacular panorama of Capitol Reef and southeastern Utah by combining the Hickman Natural Bridge, Rim Overlook, and Navajo Knob Trails in about nine miles roundtrip.
  • Five canyons cut completely through Capitol Reef. One of these, Grand Wash, offers an easy 2.25-mile, one-way hike beneath sandstone walls soaring up to 800 feet and narrowing to as little as 20 feet.
  • Golden Throne Trail begins at the end of the scenic drive and ascends 1,100 feet in four miles to a dramatic viewpoint of Capitol Reef. Golden Throne is a great monolith of Navajo Sandstone capped by Carmel Formation siltstone.
  • Experienced canyon-country hikers can explore the narrow slot canyons of Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash, and Sheets Gulch off the Notom-Bullfrog Road. Dry falls, chock stones, and pools of water will challenge you!

Day Hiking

In the Fremont District around Fruita, there are 15 day hiking trails with trailheads located along Utah Hwy 24 and the Scenic Drive. These trails offer the hiker a wide variety of options, from easy strolls along smooth paths over level ground to strenuous hikes involving steep climbs over uneven terrain near cliff edges. Hikes may take you deep into a narrow gorge, to the top of high cliffs for a bird's eye view of the surrounding area, under a natural stone arch, to historic inscriptions... and much, much more! Round-trip distances vary in length from less than 1/4 mile to ten miles. All trails are well-marked with signs at the trailhead, at trail junctions, and by cairns (stacks of rocks) along the way. A free guide to the trails is available at the Visitor Center, or you may "click" to links associated with a park district on these pages.

If you are planning a trip north to the Cathedral District or south along the Notom-Bullfrog Road to the Central or Southern Waterpocket District, several day hiking routes have been established in these areas as well. Stop at the Visitor Center for road conditions and hiking information before venturing into these areas.

Backcountry Hiking

Capitol Reef offers many hiking options for serious backpackers and those who enjoy exploring remote areas. Marked hiking routes lead into narrow, twisting gorges and slot canyons and to spectacular viewpoints high atop the Waterpocket Fold. Popular backcountry hikes in the Waterpocket District of the park include Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons and Halls Creek. Backcountry hiking opportunities also exist in the Cathedral District and near Fruita... the possiblities are endless! Stop at the Visitor Center and talk to a ranger if you are interested in a backcountry hike. They can help you select a hike that will fit your time and abilities.

If you plan to hike, you need to obtain a free backcountry permit at the Visitor Center prior to your trip. Backcountry group size cannot exceed 12 people.

Trails

Trails are divided among the following four districts. The Cathedral and Headquarters Districts extend from Fruita to the northernmost end of the park. This area has the highest concentration of hikes. The Waterpocket Fold District extends from the area around Strike Valley to the southernmost border of the park.

Cathedral and Headquarters Districts
Brimhall Bridge Halls Creek Narrows Hamburger Rocks Headquarters Canyon
Lower Muley Twist Strike Valley Overlook Surprise Canyon Trail Upper Muley Twist


Waterpocket Fold District
Burro Wash Capitol Gorge Cassidy Arch Chimney Rock
Cohab Canyon Cottonwood Wash Five Mile Wash Fremont River Trail
Freemont River Overlook Frying Pan Trail Golden Throne Goosenecks Overlook
Grand Wash Trail Hickman Bridge Navajo Knobs Old Wagon Trail
Sheets Gulch Spring Canyon Sulphur Creek Temples Overlook
Pleasant Creek Rim Overlook

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 5 Jan 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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