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13 Epic Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park, a hidden gem in the heart of Utah’s red rock country, is home to some of the best epic hikes in the Southwest.

When I visited Capitol Reef in 2023 I discovered a wonderland of canyons, mesas, rugged scenic drives, indigenous and pioneer history – and tons of iconic hikes!

What’s great about Capitol Reef is that most of these hikes are relatively short and easy enough for the whole family to enjoy. Of course, if you’re looking for a challenging trail or rugged slot canyon, this Park absolutely has those too!

From iconic arches likes Hickman Natural Bridge and Cassidy Arch, exploring canyons like the Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge, and rugged off-road slot canyons like Headquarters Canyon, this guide includes all the must-do hikes in Capitol Reef.

Disclosure: This page may contain sponsored content or affiliate links, including Amazon links, where I earn a small commission from any purchase – at no extra cost to you. This commission helps keep Brooke In Boots up and running. As always, all opinions are 100% honest and my own!

Grand Wash Trail in Capitol Reef National Park

Quick Look at the Best Hikes In Capitol Reef National Park 

Looking for the best of the best? Every hike on this list brings something unique to the table, but these are my can’t miss hikes for a first time visit to Capitol Reef National Park:

Best Family-Friendly Hike in Capitol Reef: Hickman Bridge

Best Moderate Hike in Capitol Reef: Cassidy Arch

Best Slot Canyon Hike in Capitol Reef: Headquarter Canyon

Best Sunset Hike in Capitol Reef: Goosenecks Overlook / Sunset Point

Want to learn more about planning an epic National Parks trip? Grab my free Ultimate National Parks Planning Guide, including 70+ pages of National Park packing checklists, planning tips, and everything you need to know to start planning a trip to all 63 National Parks!

the paved road and distant cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold on Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Getting Around Capitol Reef National Park

There are two main paved roads through Capitol Reef: Highway 24 – which crosses the park east to west – and Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, an out-and-back scenic road which run North to South.

Highway 24, provides access to the visitor center, campground, and a number of trails. The Scenic Drive travels from Fruita to Capitol Gorge, with lots of viewpoints and access to trailheads along the way.  

Capitol Reef National Park is a long and narrow Park, with few paved, and many unpaved roads. Without careful planning, getting from one trailhead to another can take hours and lots of bumpy backroads driving. If you want the perfect pre-planned itinerary that takes you to the most popular hikes on this list, check out my epic one day Capitol Reef itinerary.

I’ve broken up this list of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park into three geographic districts: the Fruita District, Cathedral Valley District, and the Waterpocket Fold District.

historic barn and horse grazing in Capitol Reef National Park
Historic Barn in Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita District

Most of the trailheads on this list are located in the Fruita District, in the northern area of the park, accessible by Highway 24 from outside the Park.

2024 Update: Capitol Reef Scenic Drive will be closed April 29, 2024 to October 31, 2024 for repairs. To access Cassidy Arch during this time, park at the Grand Wash northwest trailhead on Highway 24, a moderate 6.5 mi round trip hike to Cassidy Arch through the Grand Wash. Get directions to this trailhead and trail information, here.

Both Highway 24 and the Scenic Drive are well-maintained and open year-round, except during flooding and winter storms.

To really experience Capitol Reef, and to access some trailheads on this itinerary, you’ll need to be prepared to do some driving on unpaved gravel and dirt roads.

In the Fruita District, Grand Wash Road, Capitol Gorge Road, and Goosenecks Point Road. These roads are unpaved, but generally well-maintained dirt and gravel roads. Most sedans driving carefully will have no problem driving these roads, although an SUV with a higher clearance will make everything easier.

During my visit, I drove my Mazda CX5 small AWD SUV without any problems.

You’ll have to venture off-road to find trails in Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef

Cathedral Valley District

Cathedral Valley is a wild, rugged, and remote area of Capitol Reef, located in the far northeast corner of the park. This district is accessible only via the Cathedral Valley Loop Road, a 58 mile dirt, gravel, and sand off-road trail.

A 4×4 and/or high clearance vehicle may be required to access this area of the park, although a clearance AWD vehicle may be able to make it under certain conditions.

Waterpocket Fold District

Get up close and personal to the beating heart of Capitol Reef, the Waterpocket Fold, in this remote southern section of the park. The Waterpocket fold can be accessed by multiple unpaved roads that criss-cross throughout the Park, and adjacent BLM lands and neighboring towns.

The most common route through this district is the “Loop the Fold” route. The entire loop is 125 miles and takes about 4-5 hours to drive, but I recommend devoting an entire day to exploring the many slot canyons and side trails along the way.

I completed this epic drive in my mid-size SUV with AWD during my visit. It was remote, rugged, and absolutely epic!

Talk to a ranger before embarking on either of these drives to learn about current road conditions. You can also pick up a map and in-depth guide to each of these drive in the Visitor Center.

The views of the Waterpocket Fold and Burr Spurr Trail in Capitol Reef

Best Times to Hike in Capitol Reef National Park

Spring and fall are the best times to hike in Capitol Reef National Park. The weather is pleasant and perfect for hiking, and you avoid the summer heat and possible monsoon floods.

If you want to pick your own snack at Capitol Reef’s famous orchards, apples, apricots, peaches, and pears are ripe for picking from June until mid-October.

I visited in July (during a heat wave) and it was hot. Like, “oops I got heat exhaustion” while hiking hot. If you visit during summer, make sure to drink plenty of water and electrolytes, and avoid hiking during the hottest times of the day.

Take care visiting during the summer monsoon season, July and August, when dangerous flash floods can turn trails, gorges, and roads into rivers of water and mud.

During winter, temperatures regularly fall below freezing and snow and ice are common. Roads may temporarily close due to winter conditions, and snow traction devices, like MICROspikes, may be needed while hiking.

Hiking near Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef 2023

Important Tips for Hiking in Capitol Reef National Park 

Before we dive into the list of the best hikes in Capitol Reef, here are some essential tips to keep in mind when hiking in Capitol Reef National Park:

  • Hike Early: Even in winter, the desert sun is relentless, and there is little or no shade on most hikes in Capitol Reef. Try and start any long hikes before 9AM or earlier and plan to finish before the midday heat.
  • Bring Plenty of Water: Carry at least 1 liter of water for every hour you plan on hiking. Stay hydrated and don’t forget to drink electrolytes and salty snacks. Always bring more water than you anticipate needing.
  • Bring a Map and GPS: Always carry a map or GPS device, and download your trail info before you head into the Park. DO NOT rely on cell phone service in Capitol Reef trust me, you won’t have any out there.
  • Be flash flood aware: Take care visiting during the summer monsoon season, July and August, when dangerous flash floods can turn trails, gorges, and roads into rivers of water and mud. Never enter a canyon or wash when it is raining or when storms are approaching. Check flash flood warnings and ratings every day before entering the Park.

Map of the Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park

How to Use This Map: Click the Icons on the map to see more information about each location. Click the star at the top of the map to add the map to your Google Maps account.

Check out 360 Views from Goosenecks and Sunset Point Trails

Fruita District Hikes in Capitol Reef

Goosenecks Overlook / Sunset Point

  • Location: Fruita District / Highway 24
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 300′

Goosenecks Overlook and Sunset Point offer incredible vistas of Capitol Reef National Park and the Waterpocket fold. These spots are particularly popular spot for sunset, when the red and orange sandstone cliffs are bathed in golden light.

Both overlooks are located along Panorama Point Road / Goosenecks Road Scenic Drive. Paved Panorama Point Road leads to Panorama Point. A short walk from the parking area leads to a beautiful 360 degree views of the park and surrounding area.

Continue past Panorama Point on the dirt and gravel Goosenecks Point Road. This road is well maintained and accessible for most passenger vehicles and RVs.

From the parking area, hike first along a short trail leads to Goosenecks Point, with spectacular views of the long cliffs and deep canyons that surround you.

From here, follow the 0.4 dirt trail to Sunset Point. From this vantage point, you’ve got 360 views of orange and red canyons and cliffs of Capitol Reef.

The trail to the overlooks is a relatively easy hike and can be done in less an hour, making it a great option for families or anyone looking for the perfect way to end the day in Capitol Reef National Park.

Hickman Bridge Trail is easily one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef!

Hickman Bridge Trail

  • Location: Fruita District / Highway 24
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Distance: 1.7 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 400′

The short hike to Hickman Bridge is one of the most famous and favorite hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. If it’s your first visit to Capitol Reef, this is one of those “must-do” hikes you can’t leave the park without seeing!

Hickman Bridge trail is a 1.7-mile round trip hike with a moderate uphill climb. From the parking area, the trail follows the river for a bit, before steadily climbing up into the Waterpocket Fold.

At the end, you’re rewarded with an up close view of Hickman Bridge, a natural stone bridge spanning 133 feet – one of the largest in the park.

Follow the trail under the Bridge and around to an overlook of the river below before returning via the same trail.

Cassidy Arch Trail – one of the most iconic hikes in Capitol Reef National Park

Cassidy Arch

  • Location: Fruita District / Grand Wash Road
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 685′

Massive Cassidy Arch is probably one of the most iconic spots in Capitol Reef. This moderate hike was one of my absolute favorites when I visited, and a must-do when visiting Capitol Reef.

Along the hike you’ll have constant incredible views of the Grand Wash, Waterpocket Fold, and sandstone formations of Capitol Reef.

The trail involves some moderate climbing and some light exposure to cliff edges, so watch your step and mind your kids while hiking here.

Cassidy Arch is named after the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy, who frequented the area and may have used the wash as a hideout between robbing banks, trains, and running from the law.

To reach the Cassidy Arch trailhead, travel 3.4 miles south on Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. Take a left onto Grand Wash Road, an unpaved road, following signs for the Grand Wash.

Park at the trailhead and head into the sandy canyon ahead of you. The Grand Wash is one of several washes, or canyons, that cut through the Waterpocket Fold.

Do not enter the Grand Wash during rain or when storms are present in the area. Stay flash flood aware while traveling in this area.

Turn off for Cassidy Arch Trail in the Grand Wash

After a short 0.2 miles, keep an eye out on the left for signs pointing to Cassidy Arch.

To get to Cassidy Arch, follow the trail up a short series of switchbacks to the rim of the Grand Wash. From there , the trail follows a semi-narrow ledge along the edge of the canyon before reaching Cassidy Arch.

The arch itself is massive, rising 400 feet above the wash below.

If you’re lucky, like I was, you might see climbers and canyoneers preparing to repel into the canyon below.

Entering the Narrows of the Grand Wash via the Northeast Trailhead

Grand Wash & Cassidy Arch via Northeast Trailhead

  • Location: Fruita District / Highway 24
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 4.7 miles or less
  • Elevation Gain: 300′

The Grand Wash trail in Capitol Reef National Park is a great hike for both beginners or hikers looking for a longer challenge. The Grand Wash is a little less than 2.5 miles long, and is accessible from both Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and Highway 24.

Most visitors enter the Grand Wash from the Scenic Drive and head straight towards the turnoff for Cassidy Arch.

But I much preferred the quieter Northeast Trailhead on Highway 24. From here you can explore the canyon with far fewer crowds.

Hike about 1 mile to the Grand Wash “Narrows” – a narrow section of the canyon that while not technically a slot canyon, feels a lot like a dry version of hiking Zion’s famous Narrows trek.

You can also easily combine this trail with Cassidy Arch, arguably the most famous spot in Capitol Reef. To reach Cassidy Arch, hike about 2.3 miles through the Wash. A large sign indicates the turn-off for Cassidy Arch.

Round trip a hike through the Wash to Cassidy Arch and back is about 5.7 miles, taking 2 – 3 hours to complete.

Cassidy Arch in the distance from the Cassidy Arch Trail

Cohab Canyon

  • Location: Fruita District / Scenic Drive
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 800′

Hike this short but steep out-and-back trail to hidden Cohab Canyon. You can access this trail from two ends: from Capitol Reef Scenic Drive in front of the Gifford Homestead and Fruita Campground, or Highway 24, across from the Hickman Bridge trailhead.

From the Scenic Drive trailhead, the trail climbs a number of steep switchbacks before entering Cohab Canyon.

Take the optional spur trails to the North and South Fruita Overlooks. From here you get a sene of just how much an “oasis” the lush greenery of Fruita is compared with the surrounding desert – thanks to the Fremont River.

Check out ancient graffiti at Pioneer Register in Capitol Gorge

Capitol Gorge: Pioneer Register & The Tanks

  • Location: Fruita District / Capitol Gorge Road
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 400′

Walk in the footsteps Capitol Reef’s early settlers and pioneers. Early visitors passed through the Capitol Gorge through the Waterpocket Fold, and many left their mark – literally – high on the gorge’s sandstone wall.

From the end of Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, follow the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road for 2.5 miles to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead.

Don’t miss walking 0.5 miles into the gorge to view the historic Pioneer Register. Here you can see dozens of names carved high up on the canyon wall from Capitol Reef’s long and colorful history.

The earliest names were carved by prospectors in 1871. If you look closely you can see notes left by cowboys, miners, settlers, and many of Fruita’s founding families.

Keep going another 0.3 miles to reach the turn off trail to the Capitol Gorge Water Tanks. The ‘Tanks’ are naturally occurring basins in the sandstone, which collect and hold rainwater that seeps down from above.

Return to the trailhead via the same trail.

the entrance to Capitol Gorge at the end of the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
Entrance to the unpaved Capitol Gorge road from Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Golden Throne Trail

  • Location: Fruita District / Capitol Gorge Road
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 780′

For a moderate hike without the crowds, check out the Golden Throne Trail. This hike offers stunning views of the park’s famous golden-colored rock formation, known as The Golden Throne.

The trail starts at the Capitol Gorge trailhead, and climbs steadily up the Waterpocket Fold and above the Capitol Gorge.

The trail climbs up to panoramic viewpoints overlooking Capitol Reef’s sandstone formations and surrounding mountains. There’s basically no shade on this trail, so make sure to bring plenty of sun protection and plan your hike for early in the day.

The trail is well-maintained but can be hard to find at times, so keep an eye out for rock cairns and download a GPS map before heading out.

To reach the trailhead, drive to the end of Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. From there, follow the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road for 2.5 miles to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead.

Even Capitol Reef’s easy hikes have the best views!

Chimney Rock

  • Location: Fruita District / Highway 24
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 800′

For nonstop 360-degree views of Capitol Reef’s rock formations and the surrounding high-desert, check out the moderate trail to Chimney Rock.

The trailhead is located just off Highway 24 east of the visitor center. The first 0.5 miles of this lollipop-loop are a steep incline up a series of switchbacks, but from here the trail mostly flattens out into an easy to moderate loop trail to a number of overlooks and viewpoints.

You can hike the loop in either direction, but I suggest heading clockwise (right at the junction) climbing up towards Chimney Rock for another 0.5 mile, with a gentle descent for the rest of the hike.

Remember to bring plenty of water and sun protection, as there is basically no shade on this trail.

Sandstone formations on the trail to Hickman Bridge near Navajo Knobs

Navajo Knobs Trail

  • Location: Fruita District / Highway 24
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Distance: 9.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,140′

Tackle one of the hardest day-hikes in Capitol Reef National Park on this long, steep, but rewarding Navajo Knobs Trail.

Starting at the same trailhead as Hickman Bridge, this out-and-back hike starts off on relatively flat terrain through a valley before beginning to climb up switchbacks towards the knobby ridgeline.

At about the 1 mile mark, take the short spur trail to the Hickman Bridge overlook for a view of this massive sandstone arch from above.

Continue hiking another mile to reach the Rim Overlook with incredible views of Fruita, Highway 24 and the rest of Capitol Reef National Park, below.

The final push to the summit is steep and exposed, with a little bit of rock scrambling throw in for good measure. Once you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Capitol Reef’s landscape.

This hike is definitely on the more strenuous side, so make sure you pack plenty of water, snacks and electrolytes, download a GPS copy of the map (I use AllTrails+ ), and the rest of your day hiking essentials.

the Waterpocket Fold rises out of the desert like a wall – the perfect spot for exploring!

Waterpocket Fold District Hikes in Capitol Reef

Headquarters Canyon

  • Location: Waterpocket Fold District / Burr Trail Road
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 650′

Explore one of Capitol Reef’s hidden slot canyons in Headquarters Canyon, one of my favorites hikes I did during my visit to Capitol Reef National Park.

Starting at the Burr Trail Road, follow the sign for the single track trail hike crosses the open desert for 0.6 miles before entering the colorful and narrow canyon.

At it’s narrowest, the canyon is only a few feet wide (although never so narrow you feel claustrophobic). You can follow the canyon until it dead ends and return the way you came.

Keep an eye out for poison oak, which I saw quite a bit of in the shady areas of the canyon beyond the slot.

When exploring a remote slot canyon like this one, take extra precautions including bringing a GPS or map, and telling a park ranger and trusted friend your plans.

Never enter this narrow canyon when it is raining or when storms are approaching. Check flash flood warnings and ratings before hiking.

The trailhead is located off the Burr Trail Road in the remote Waterpocket Fold district of Capitol Reef. You’ll likely need a 4×4 or AWD vehicle to access this trailhead.

Exploring the narrow slot in Headquarters Canyon in 2023

Surprise Canyon

  • Location: Waterpocket Fold District / Burr Trail Road
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 630′

Another one of Capitol Reef’s best hidden-gem hikes, explore Surprise Canyon, located a short distance from Headquarters Canyon in the remote Waterpocket Fold district of the Park.

This trail is slightly shorter and less dramatic than nearby Headquarters Canyon, but still worth exploring.

Follow the sign for Surprise Canyon along a single track dirt trail across the dry wash for 0.5 miles to the Canyon entrance. Once inside, the canyon is mostly sandy and flat before becoming impassable after about 0.5 miles.

Never enter this narrow canyon when it is raining or when storms are approaching. Check flash flood warnings and ratings before hiking.

The trailhead is located off the Burr Trail Road in the remote Waterpocket Fold district of Capitol Reef. You’ll likely need a 4×4 or AWD vehicle to access this trailhead.

Entrance to the Waterpocket Fold canyons

Cathedral Valley District Hikes in Capitol Reef

Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook

  • Location: Cathedral Valley
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 150′

Enjoy a beautiful view of Lower Cathedral Valley, including the Temples of the Sun and Moon, from this easy hike in Capitol Reef’s Cathedral Valley district.

This is an off-trail route, so some basic route finding is required. To access the trail, park along Hartnet Road, this AllTrails link has directions to the trailhead coordinates.

A small wooden sign marks the entrance to the route. Follow a path across the flat bushy trail for 0.7 miles before climbing a small ridgeline. From the top, take in views of the vast Cathedral Valley with views of the Temples of the Sun and Moon ahead of you.

Don’t forget to bring a GPS with a map downloaded for offline use to navigate in this area.

A 4×4 or AWD vehicle is required to navigate the route to Cathedral Valley. Depending on road conditions, a true 4×4 with off-road experience may be be required to access Cathedral Valley.

Cathedral Mountain is a massive and colorful sandstone monolith in Capitol Reef’s northern corner

Cathedrals Trail

  • Location: Cathedral Valley
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 324 miles

Most visitors to Capitol Reef’s remote Cathedral Valley come to explore the epic off-road driving, but don’t forget to get out and stretch your legs.

A small wooden sign marks the beginning of this easy and relatively short trail, which takes you through the heart of Cathedral Valley.

Follow the trail past towering monoliths and sandstone formations, including Needle Mountain and Cathedral Mountain.

A 4×4 or AWD vehicle is required to navigate the route to Cathedral Valley. Depending on road conditions, a true 4×4 with off-road experience may be be required to access Cathedral Valley.

No matter which of the best hikes in Capitol Reef you pick – you’ll love the views!

Conclusion: Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is full of epic and memorable hikes with tons of options for hikers of all levels and abilities.

Make sure to hike prepared, bring plenty of water, be aware of changing weather conditions, and always leave no trace when exploring this, and all our amazing National Parks.

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