Hitting the Trails at Capitol Reef NP – Part 1

Like most attractions in a national park, the best way to experience diverse landscapes is to hike among them.  The weather wasn’t forecast to be good during the second half of our stay here, so we wanted to cover as much ground as possible right away.  A variety of trails gave us plenty of options to choose from, and this post will be a bit lengthy and loaded with pictures from our adventures.

A long loop trail

Our first day of hiking was full indeed.  Starting with the Cohab Canyon Trail, we began our trek at the park’s campground and added the Frying Pan, Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash trails.  We finally completed the 12.2-mile loop by returning to our car from the far end of the Cohab Canyon Trail.

Cohan Canyon Trail
Entering Cohab Canyon.  This is a “must-do” trail if you come here, the first mile from the campground end is especially spectacular
“Beehives ” on Cohab Canyon’s walls
cavernous weathering
Wind and water did the sculpting here

We transitioned first onto the Frying Pan Trail, which increased in elevation and offered stunning views in every direction.  We were feeling the burn by the time we moved onto the Cassidy Arch Trail, where we rested after hiking to the amazing arch where a bunch of noisy tourists were hanging out.

Frying Pan Trail
We took our lunch break along the Frying Pan Trail
Folklore holds that Butch Cassidy and his gang frequented this area in the 1890’s, so the arch is named after him.  See little ol’ me on top of the arch?

Next we connected to the Grand Wash Trail and walked through a wonderful sculpted canyon with a narrows section and unique melded rock formations.  Since the park doesn’t offer a shuttle service, we had to walk 2.6 miles along Hwy 24 to the far end of the Cohab Trail to hike back to our car.  We were worn out!

Frying Pan Trail
Sea of cream-colored Navajo Sandstone
Grand Wash Trail
The narrows section of Grand Wash Trail
Highway 24
Trudging along Hwy 24 for 2.6 miles (not so fun, but traffic was light)
Young Mule Deer
The consolation prize for our walk along the highway
Mule Deer
These guys were too busy munching to notice us straggling along
Side-blotched lizard
“Didn’t you pass by here this morning?”, asked the Side-blotched lizard on the Cohab Canyon Trail

Hickman Bridge Trail

The next day we took it easy and hiked a popular short trail near the visitor center.  It was the Hickman Bridge Trail, only 2 miles roundtrip but strenuous enough that we saw several people turning around halfway through.  Continuing along we came across a small “double bridge” formation.  This minor cavity was once a pothole known to arch hunters as Nels Johnson Bridge, named for the first permanent Euro-American settler in the area back in 1880.

The Nels Johnson Bridge, a double bridge along the trail
Hickman Natural Bridge
The main attraction on this hike, the Hickman Natural Bridge with an impressive 133′ span

It was what I saw looking down, rather than up, that grabbed my attention to take a snapshot of these wild beauties.  I can never say no when they’re so pretty.

Before heading home we stopped at a sign pointing to some petroglyphs.  From 600 to 1,300 years ago, native people of the Fremont Culture made their home at Capitol Reef. Petroglyphs were carved here to detail their daily lives – or so we think.  Only the artists knew the true meaning of these drawings.

Fremont Culture Petroglyps
These are called classic Fremont trapezoidal anthropomorphic petroglyphs (that’s a mouthful!)

Petroglyphs and pictographs at Capitol Reef are more recent examples of works of the Hopi and Pueblo of Zuni tribes from this area.

Fremont Indian
An illustration of how native Fremont Indians created petroglyphs on canyon walls

Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail

We had read that one of the least traveled but best hikes in the area was the Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail.   On another beautiful morning we headed out early to investigate and were impressed by this one.  It included an 1,100’ elevation gain over a 2.3-mile hike to the top of an overlook that revealed amazing views of the Fremont Gorge.


After an initial 400’ climb at the beginning, we walked just over a mile across a volcanic boulder-strewn field to the next section, a killer 700’ hike to the overlook.

Capitol Reef National Park
Wingate sandstone walls as seen from the ascent to Johnson Mesa.  That’s our car down in the parking lot
Johnson Mesa
Johnson Mesa, a 1-mile flat section after the initial ascent
Fremont Gorge Overlook
A final long climb to the cliff edge

The views all around were awesome!

Fremont River
Looking down at Fremont River on its route to Fruita and beyond
Fremont Gorge Overlook
Having a laugh at the edge of stunning Fremont Gorge
Cohan Canyon
A nice display of the Waterpocket Fold’s many sedimentary layers

We took a couple of short hikes to finish this day, a 1-mile roundtrip on the Sunset Point Trail and a short .2-mile jaunt on the Goosenecks Trail.  They were both accessible from a parking lot at the end of a gravel road that started at Panoramic Point.  We felt the strong winds as we walked here and saw its handiwork on the unusual rocks.

Sunset Trail

The goosenecks of Sulphur Creek were a challenge to photograph on an overcast day.  See the streaming water 800′ below?  That’s Sulphur Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River.

Goosenecks of Sulphur Creek
Goosenecks of Sulphur Creek

From the aptly named Panorama Point, to the Sunset Point to the Goosenecks, the views were fabulous.  Actually, everywhere we hiked within this park was stunning.

Waterpocket Fold
Steve soaking it in

We did so much hiking on this stop that I broke up our treks into two parts.  So there’s more to come!




  1. Thanks for the tips on hiking in Capitol Reef, think we need to go back and do a few more. Looks like we got some of the same pictures.

  2. This is the most beautiful park. I never tire of all the magnificent colors and formations. So good to back and revisit:) Gorgeous photos, MonaLiza and Steve:)

  3. Great round up of hikes in Capitol Reef! We’ve done a few of them, but not all — we definitely need to go back. The views are spectacular, and you did a wonderful job of capturing the magnificence of the landscape.

  4. Wow 12.2 miles. I am such a slow hiker looking at everything it might take me two days to do that plan. But what wonderful pictures of this magnificent landscape. And I know it was even more beautiful in person. I just love Capitol Reef and think we have done most of these trails but in different pieces. I like the way you put them together. Looks like you must be having great weather and nice temps.

  5. There are so many people we follow exploring Utah this Spring. Every photo is better than the previous one.
    We have never explored Capitol Reef. Just an amazing place. I love art that wind and rain designs on the rocks.
    What a cute photo of you two on the edge. Print and frame that one! Thanks for the gorgeous tour. So glad you are having perfect weather to enjoy your adventure.

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