Wicked Awesome Capitol Reef Hikes that Will Blow Your Mind

Last Updated on February 27, 2024 by foxintheforest

Capitol Reef National Park is often overshadowed by nearby Arches and Canyonlands, but it is an incredible landscape worth exploring.

Capitol Reef surrounds what is known as the Waterpocket Fold, which creates sandstone canyons and other stunning rock formations.

If you’re looking for Capitol Reef hiking recommendations from someone who really knows the desert, you’re in the right place.

I explore and adventure in Utah several times a year, so I know that Capitol Reef is home to some of the top hikes in Utah and truly, some of the best hiking in the US.

Trust me, I’ve got the inside scoop on the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park!

About this Guide to Capitol Reef Hikes

Inside this local guide to Capitol Reef hikes, you’ll find expert advice about:

  • How to get to Capitol Reef
  • Tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park
  • The best Capitol Reef hikes, broken down by difficulty
  • Cool Capitol Reef slot canyons to explore
  • Amazing Capitol Reef backpacking trips
  • Additional Utah travel planning resources

Where is Capitol Reef?

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah, so it’s a great stop on a Denver to Grand Canyon road trip.

Moab is the closest major city and is about a 2-hour drive from Capitol Reef along I-70 and UT-24. If you’re doing a Moab to Bryce road trip, be sure to stop in Capitol Reef along the way.

Map of the Best Capitol Reef Hikes

Tips for Visiting Capitol Reef National Park

The entrance fee for Capitol Reef National Park is $20/vehicle or $10/individual (for bikers and pedestrians).

Passes are valid for 7 consecutive days. An annual National Parks Pass ($80) will also get you entry into the park and other top national parks in the USA.

Dogs are allowed in Capitol Reef, but only in specific areas and not on most hiking trails (none of the ones listed in this post are dog-friendly). Dogs must be on a leash that is 6 feet or shorter at all times.

When to Visit Capitol Reef

For the best weather, visit Capitol Reef in the spring (March-June) or fall (September and October). Summer in Capitol Reef can be extremely hot, plus, it’s monsoon season which can create dangerous flash floods.

If you like the cold, you can avoid the spring and fall crowds by visiting Capitol Reef in the winter. However, snow can close roads in the park, limiting access.

The Best Easy Hikes in Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is one of the top national parks for hiking, and even if you don’t have a lot of time to explore, some of the best hikes in Capitol Reef are these short and easy trails.

1. Capitol Reef Petroglyph Trail

The easiest hike in Capitol Reef is this accessible roadside trail that takes you across a short boardwalk to a panel of petroglyphs created by the Fremont people who inhabited the area 700-1400 years ago.

Note: Do not touch the petroglyphs as this can cause irreversible damage to this incredible art.

Distance: 0.3 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 50 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 10 mins

2. Goosenecks & Sunset Point

See two stunning viewpoints by combining two Capitol Reef hikes – the Goosenecks Trail and Sunset Point Trail – into this excellent easy hike.

Goosenecks offers a view deep into the canyons, while Sunset Point provides a panoramic view that truly is perfect for sunset.

Distance: 2.5 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 544 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 1-1.5 hours

3. Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook

Follow this short and mostly flat trail to an overlook with a sweeping panoramic view of the rock formations of Cathedral Valley, including the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.

Distance: 1.7 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 30 min – 1 hour

4. Hickman Bridge

The Hickman Bridge trail packs a lot of cool sights into a hike that’s just under two miles.

Hickman Bridge is a neat natural bridge formation sitting above the Fremont River, and you’ll also encounter a miniature arch and a Fremont pit house ruin along the way.

Distance: 1.8 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 1 hour

5. Cathedrals Trail

The Cathedrals Trail follows a ridgeline across from the Cathedrals rock formations. This means you have great views of the Cathedrals for pretty much the entire hike.

Distance: 2.5 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 324 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 1 hour

6. Grand Wash

The Grand Wash is a deep gorge that gives you a taste of being in a canyon, including a brief half-mile section of narrows, without the need for technical canyoneering skills.

Distance: 4.4-6.25 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 341 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 1.5-2 hours

The Best Moderate Hikes in Capitol Reef

These Capitol Reef hikes are a little longer with more elevation gain, but the views are worth the extra effort.

7. Fremont River Trail

This is a nice trail that heads to the Fremont River then up a steep and fairly exposed ridge for excellent views back down to the river.

Be aware that there is significant wildlife in this area, including mountain lions, due to the proximity to water.

Distance: 2.1 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 410 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 1 hour

8. Chimney Rock Loop

This lovely loop heads to the top of a short mesa and then along the loop trail at the top of the mesa, which you can do either clockwise or counterclockwise.

You’ll see the Chimney Rock spire and Mummy Cliffs on this trail.

Distance: 3.3-mile loop
Elevation Gain: 650 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 1.5-2 hours

9. Cassidy Arch Trail

The Cassidy Arch Trail might be the best hike in Capitol Reef National Park.

This awesome trail heads up from the Grand Wash and ends above the arch itself for an amazing vantage point of the incredible formation.

Distance: 3.1 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 670 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 1.5-2 hours

10. Cohab Canyon Trail

Start this hike in the town of Fruita near the Gifford Homestead, and head up some steep switchbacks to start.

You’ll reach a ridge with nice views before dropping into the beautiful canyon.

Local Tip: When the Gifford Homestead is open (seasonally from March 14-late November), they sell local homemade fruit pies which make a tasty post-hike treat!

Distance: 3.0 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 793 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 1.5-2 hours

11. Golden Throne Trail

The Golden Throne Trail is somewhat less-trafficked than other Capitol Reef hikes, so it’s nice to escape the crowds a bit.

The trail heads up the Waterpocket Fold and ends with an up-close view of the epic Golden Throne formation.

Distance: 3.5 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 777 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 2 hours

12. Capitol Gorge Trail

The Capitol Gorge trail starts at the end of the park’s paved Scenic Drive with a drive 2.5 miles down the Capitol Gorge dirt road to the trailhead.

The trail then follows the gorge, where you’ll find petroglyphs and the historic Pioneer Register.

Distance: 4.5 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 374 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 1.5-2 hours

13. Sulphur Creek Route

One of the classic Capitol Reef National Park hikes, the Sulphur Creek Route is a gorgeous and adventurous hike featuring several waterfalls.

Expect to wade through water on a lot of this route, and avoid Sulphur Creek if there is rain in the forecast, which can cause dangerous flash floods.

Note: Leave a car at the other end of the route to shuttle back to your start trailhead or add on an additional 3 miles of hiking along the road to get back.

Distance: 5.9 miles point-to-point
Elevation Gain: 416 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 3-5 hours

14. Rim Overlook

One of the best Capitol Reef hikes is the Rim Overlook. The trail leads you to a point 1,000 feet above the town of Fruita with simply stunning views of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek below.

Distance: 4.3 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 1,110 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 2-3 hours

The Best Challenging Hikes in Capitol Reef

These more strenuous hikes are extensions or connections of other Capitol Reef hikes.

15. Navajo Knobs

An extension of the Rim Overlook, Navajo Knobs is worth the extra mileage and elevation gain to get one of the most epic panoramic views in the entire park.

Distance: 9.1 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 2,139 feet
Difficulty: Challenging
Estimated Time: 4-5 hours

16. Frying Pan

The Frying Pan Trail connects Cohab Canyon and the Cassidy Arch trails along a ridge that heads across the top of the Waterpocket Fold.

This is an excellent trail to explore some of the most popular areas of Capitol Reef.

Distance: 8.5 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 2,618 feet
Difficulty: Challenging
Estimated Time: 4.5-5.5 hours

The Best Slot Canyons in Capitol Reef

One of the unique things to do in the Mighty 5 national parks is go canyoneering, and Capitol Reef features some of the best Utah slot canyons to explore.

Note: Free permits are required for all canyoneering in Capitol Reef.

1. Sheets Gulch

Sheets Gulch is one of the best Capitol Reef slot canyons for beginners since it doesn’t require technical canyoneering skills like rappelling.

You will encounter a little bit of upclimbing, but experienced hikers should not have a problem, so Sheets Gulch is a great intro to exploring a cool canyon.

Distance: 10-12 miles
Estimated Time: 5-7 hours
Rating: Moderate hike
Rappels: None

2. Cottonwood Wash

If you’re a more experienced canyoneer, Cottonwood Wash is one of the must-do Capitol Reef slot canyons.

The narrows of Cottonwood Wash are wonderful, and you will also encounter some pools, downclimbs, and fairly straightforward rappels.

Distance: 6.5 miles
Estimated Time: 5-7 hours
Rating: 3B
Rappels: 3+, up to 20m

3. Burro Wash

The approach to Burro Wash is a bit of a slog, but it’s a fun long canyon with several rappels.

It isn’t extremely technical, but you will need a wetsuit just about any season except during the extreme heat of summer.

Local Tip: You can set up a shuttle to shorten this canyon, but it can also be done as a longer loop with more hiking.

Distance: 8 miles
Estimated Time: 7-9 hours
Rating: 3B
Rappels: 4, up to 33m

The Best Backpacking Trails in Capitol Reef

If you want to spend more time immersed in the desert landscape, these Capitol Reef backpacking trails are an awesome way to spend a few days in the backcountry.

Local Tip: A free backcountry permit is required for camping outside of established campgrounds in the park. You can pick up your permit at the visitor center.

1. Upper Muley Twist Canyon

This gorgeous canyon goes along the spine of the Waterpocket Fold and features slickrock sections, narrows, sandstone arches, and incredible views. It’s a perfect Capitol Reef backpacking weekend trip!

Distance: 14.8-mile loop
Elevation Gain: 1,354 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 2 days

2. Lower Muley Twist Canyon

Lower Muley Twist Canyon is a slightly longer loop for backpacking if you start at the Burr Trail Road trailhead.

Explore the deep, narrow canyons with lots of side trip options, including the cool-looking Hamburger Rocks.

Distance: 15.4 – 22.8 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 2-3 days

3. Halls Creek Narrows

Halls Creek Narrows is a beautiful backcountry adventure (which is not well-marked, so be sure to bring your GPS and know how to navigate). The canyon is cut into the sandstone along a lovely stream.

Distance: 22.4-mile loop
Elevation Gain: 2,828 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 3-4 days

Additional Utah Hiking Resources

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Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

Hi There!

Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.