Capitol Reef National Park Overview
Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks are not to be missed; each more magnificent than the last. And if you would like to get away from the crowds that you see at Arches or Zion or Canyonlands, then Capitol Reef National Park is the perfect place to check out. The park is in the heart of red rock country and there are plenty of cliffs, canyons, arches, and awe-inspiring overlooks to behold. The 10 best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park described below will make any trip one to remember.
|Nearest Metro Area||Salt Lake City, UT|
|Area Size||241,904 acres|
|Established||December 18, 1971|
|Hiking Trails||150 miles|
HEY YOU, reading this page! Help me, help you – we make a small commission every time an item or piece of gear is purchased after clicking on the links on our GEAR RECOMMENDATIONS page. If you are in need of some new BOOTS, a new TENT or SLEEPING BAG, TREK POLES, etc. please consider buying after clicking on one of the links on our site! At no additional cost to you, it helps us keep posting more great hiking recommendations for our readers! Happy Hiking!
Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
After a steep initial climb into the canyon, the trail tapers off before descending gradually to UT-24 near the Hickman Bridge parking area. There are short spur trails that can be found along the way leading to beautiful panoramic viewpoints. If you’re able to start from UT-24, maybe just before hiking to Hickman Bridge, the climb through the canyon is much more gradual and you can turn around just before it drops to the campground. The trailhead can be found on Scenic Drive next to the Fruita Campground.
- 3.4 miles out and back
- 750′ elevation gain
You will have the option of turning around at Rim Overlook (2.3 miles from trailhead) but I say get your money’s worth and hike all the way to the end. Navajo Knobs continues another 2.4 miles and is a very doable strenuous hike for some of the best views in the entire park. Rock cairns mark the trail, pay attention to where you’re going. The trailhead is in the same area as Hickman Bridge off of UT-24.
- 9.4 miles out and back
- 1800′ elevation gain
One of the more difficult hikes in Capitol Reef but I would still consider this loop as a moderate trail. The hike offers panoramic views of the surrounding Waterpocket Fold cliffs and is best completed counter-clockwise. This is one of the peerless hikes in Capitol Reef National Park and can get crowded, especially at sunset. The trailhead can be found 3 miles west of the visitor center on UT-24.
- 3.6 mile loop
- 750′ elevation gain
The steep sections of this trail might intimidate some but it is still one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. Named after the famous Butch Cassidy, the natural arch is amazing to look at from any angle. The trailhead is at the end of the 3.5 mile Grand Wash Road that branches off of Scenic Drive.
- 3.2 miles out and back
- 700′ elevation gain
Family friendly trail and one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. The trail gradually gains elevation to a loop at the top of the cliff that will get you to Hickman Natural Bridge. The hardest part of the trail is at the beginning but the kids shouldn’t have any trouble after the first 1/4 mile. The trailhead is 1.5 miles east of the visitor center on UT-24.
- 1.8 miles out and back
- 400′ elevation gain
This is a super fun hike that travels downhill through Sulphur Creek wash to the visitor center. The best way to complete this hike would be to leave a car at the visitor center and get a ride west to the trailhead. Be prepared to get wet – the volume of the water depends on recent weather. The trailhead is on UT-24 4.5 miles west of the visitor center.
- 5.4 miles one way
- 500′ elevation gain
Often overlooked compared to some of the other hikes in Capitol Reef National Park, this is a great challenging hike to better views. From the overlook, you will be able to see the Navajo Knobs to the north, Waterpocket Fold, the Fruita historic district, and the Fremont River Gorge. The trailhead starts from the Ripple Rock Nature Center parking area.
- 4.4 miles out and back
- 1000′ elevation gain
There is a lot of history on this popular trail that reaches the edge of the park’s boundary. Hikers will pass both ancient petroglyphs and the Pioneer Register – names carved into the rocks in the late 1800s. At 3/4 of a mile in, there is a steep spur trail to the ‘tanks’, water filled pockets in the rock. After that the trail becomes much less crowded as most head back to the trailhead but continuing down the wash is worth the easy trip. The trailhead is located at the end of the dirt road that branches off the end of Scenic Drive.
- 4.6 miles out and back
- 250′ elevation gain
Here is another one of the popular hikes in Capitol Reef near Fruita. The trail passes through deep canyons and The Narrows with gorgeous walls on either side. This can be combined with Cassidy Arch Trail (above) to make for a longer, more complete exploration of the area. The trailheads can be found at the same parking area as Cassidy Arch or from UT-24, 4.5 miles east of the visitor center.
- 4.4 miles out and back
- 200′ elevation gain
Neither of these trails are very memorable, sunset point is a little longer, but the quick strolls are not to be missed! Goosenecks has some of the most expansive views of the entire park with Sulphur Creek below. While Sunset Point, obviously most crowded during sunset, delivers a beautiful vista of the surrounding red rock. The trailheads can be found at the end of the turnout for Panorama Point (dirt road).
- 1.0 miles out and backs
- No elevation gain
Featured Image: Capitol Reef National Park, Photo by Wolfgang Staudt
Don’t forget to stock up on the essentials before you plan your next hiking or camping trip! We have recommendations on: