Hitting the Trails at Capitol Reef NP – Part 2

This is the second part of our hiking adventures at Capitol Reef National Park, if you missed it click here  for the first installment.

Another Dirt Road Tour with John and Pam

John and Pam invited us to take another ride in their Jeep to check out some sights along the wild Cathedral Valley district in the northern section of the park.  They keep telling us we should buy a Jeep so we can handle more of these roads, but why should we when we have them to haul us around? 😉

Cathedral Valley District
A jeep in the wild with storm clouds approaching – it’s gonna be an exciting day!

They wrote a great account of our fun day at Cathedral Valley, click here to check it out. Although there wasn’t much hiking involved on this day (because of the weather), it was a fun trip with several stops that we found interesting.  Below are my captures from that day:

Glass Mountain
Steve on top of Glass Mountain (really only a mound, but maybe there’s a mountain beneath it?).  Behind him to the left is the Temple of the Sun – the big one – and Temple of the Moon – the little one next to it

This stop reminded us of the Glass Mountain we visited in California in 2012.  It was a huge mountain, click here for that story.

Selenite Mound
A chunk of shiny selenite protruding from the sedimentary rock at Glass Mountain
Cathedrals – a line of beautifully striated buttes and pillars
Gypsum Sinkhol
An unusual geologic feature called the Gypsum Sinkhole – a deep chasm formed when the bottom gave out below a mass of selenite
Gypsum sinkHole
With John and Pam after our walk into the Gypsum Sinkhole, just before the wind kicked up
Cathedral Valley
Here’s what we saw as we were leaving the valley

There was a hike planned for this trip, but the wind and imminent rain made us re-think and eventually backtrack to the main road.  Just as we were approaching it the rain began, and we were certain we’d made the right decision.  But we had a great day in the desert and thank our friends for inviting us once again.

Dust blowing down the road, followed by serious rain soon after

Capitol Gorge/Tanks/Fremont River Trail

Rainy weather plagued us during our stay, and with several days ending up unhikable (is that a word?) in the afternoons, we started off early one morning.  First we hiked the Capitol Gorge Trail, which began at the end of the Capitol Gorge spur road.  It was an easy walk down the wash between towering cliffs of buff-colored sandstone, weaving its way into the very heart of Waterpocket Fold.  The walk had an option to hike up to several “waterpockets” or “tanks,” which we did.

Erosion created these tanks, or water pockets, in the rocks that hold critical rainwater for animals living in the fold

Mother Nature’s fascinating works of art made us stop and stare:

We spotted historic inscriptions about the pioneers who had passed over the original road through here.  This antique graffiti is called the “Pioneer Register”, and we saw names and dates from the late 1800’s all the way up to 1942:

Pioneer Registry
Zooming in on the Pioneer Register, a jumble of names and dates appear on the rock wall
Pioneer Registry
Names of six surveyors in 1911 near the top of the vertical face
Pioneer Registry
The surveyors must have used ladders or ropes to etch their names way up there

Since the weather remained decent for a while that day we added the 2.6-mile roundtrip Fremont River Trail to our trek.  We accessed it from behind the Gifford House, where I bought my 3rd pie on this stop- they were soooooo good!  Our paper map showed it as a moderate hike, but in reality it was an easy stroll the first half and then became quite strenuous the second half.

Fremont River

Chestnut Orchard
We passed thru Mulfor Orchard, which held lush peach trees and irrigation ditches

We were rewarded with great views here – the Fremont River Gorge as it cut through pine- and juniper-studded Miners Mountain, the Fruita Historic District and the western escarpment of the Waterpocket Fold.

Steve pointing at the Fremont Gorge Overlook that we hiked the day before
Steve points at the Fremont Gorge Overlook that we had hiked the day before
Ferns Nipple
View from end of the trail – Fruita Historic District below and Ferns Nipple sits atop a wall of Wingate formations
Western Escarpment of Waterfold
On the way back, the western escarpment of the Waterfold came into view

The weather had cooperated after all, and we were happy to get in five miles of hiking on a day when we didn’t think we’d make it out at all!

The topper – Steve spotted this gorgeous red/orange/yellow bird as we completed our hike:

The red orange plumage of Bullocks Oriole caught Steve's attention.
The plumage of a Bullocks Oriole caught our attention

Chimney Rock Trail

Steve took a day off and I went for a solo hike on the moderate 3.5-mile Chimney Rock Trail Loop, and added a 2-mile side trip to Chimney Rock Canyon.  The previous day’s rain had not muddied the path as Steve had guessed it would, and this hike provided some excellent “alone time” for both of us on a sunny day.

Spring Canyon
Easy obstacles to conquer along the way

There was lots to see in Chimney Rock Canyon.  I climbed over huge boulders that obstructed the washes, craned my neck to view towering examples of honeycomb weathering and gushed over sweeping Wingate Cliffs.

 honeycomb weathering
Examples of honeycomb weathering also known as swiss cheese rocks

Then I retraced my steps and picked up the Chimney Rock Loop Trail, where views at the highest point of the Mummy Cliffs were no less spectacular:

Capitol Reef
Nature’s tiedown for a dead tree
Windgate Cliffs
A selfie without the stick
Waterpocket Fold
Waterpocket Fold bends southward, revealing four sedimentary rock layers: top to bottom; Navajo, Wingate, Chinle and Moenkopi
Chimney Rock
Looking down at Chimney Rock and Highway 24

Scenic Byway 12

We tried to drive Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 during our stay in Torrey, but were unable to complete it due to snow at the higher elevations.  At least I was able to get out of the car and take advantage of a “photo op” before we turned around:

Snow showers in May
Snow showers in May!

This day also ended well, for when we arrived back at the campground we had two guests waiting for us:

What a week it was!  Sensory overload with all the vibrant colors of the exposed rock layers, and the remoteness of so many hikes bringing us welcome solitude.  This national park should not be missed!

Yellow bellied Marmot
Mr. Marmot says, “thanks for coming, visit us again!”




  1. Too bad our weather wasn’t better for our Capitol Reef visit. We had the same trouble last year. But we both did get in some awesome hiking. Thanks for the revisit:) I just love this park. I wish there was more to the town. I’d love to live in the area.

  2. We loved the Waterpocket hike although at the time we were there, there wasn’t much or any water in the tanks BUT there was fruit on the trees in and around the campground. We had a hard time not having pie every single day with it only steps from our front door. Your pictures are fantastic from the dark clouds, the cathedrals and dust that came up as you were leaving your hike with John and Pam to the wonderful bird pictures and views from the Fremont River Trail where I totally agree that the reason they called it moderate was because that’s a combination evaluation. It really was very easy and then very strenuous. Lots of people told us they only did the easy part and turned around. I really loved it up top. Your pictures of the view from the end and on the way back are outstanding as is Chimney Rock. Fabulous color. Thanks for the memories.

  3. You certainly didn’t let bad weather stop you! Loved your hiking adventures, the gorgeous colors and variety of the rock formations, the cute marmot, and your bird sightings. You even saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak! We really want to return to Capitol Reef to do more exploring — thanks to you, I have lots of great ideas. 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed your entries on Capitol Reef NP. We spent 8 great days there last year. Reading your blog has brought back some wonderful memories.

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