Great Hikes of Capitol Reef Country
There are many excellent day hikes, strenuous adventure hikes, and overnight backpacking trips in and around Capitol Reef National park. Most of these can be accessed from trailheads found along Scenic Byway 24, Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, and Utah's All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12 west of the park.
The beauty of hiking in Capitol Reef National Park, aside from the broad, sweeping vistas, seemingly endless landscape, and limitless sky and desert rock, is that because it’s a little more out of the way than other famous parks like Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands and Arches, it’s less crowded. But make no mistake, the scenery is just as spectacular.
Some of the hikes described below are standard and not to be missed; some are out of the way and not as well known. Some are even partly outside the park itself (which means you are even more likely to have them to yourself!). These hikes range from short, easy day trips suitable for families with children to long day hikes with overnight possibilities. For more information on hiking in Capitol Reef National Park, including rules and regulations, make sure to check out the hiking page on the park’s website. One note: A free permit is required for backcountry camping. It can be obtained at the visitor center.
As always when hiking in the desert, it’s important to bring enough water — assume there won’t be any place to fill up along the way. And as always, it’s a good idea to stop in at a visitor center and discuss your hiking plans with a ranger. You are sure to get some good tips and assistance finding a hike that suits your abilities.
Great Hikes in and Around Capitol Reef National Park
1. Trails Accessed from Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and Scenic Byway 24: 0.1 to 4.7 miles. From Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and along S.R. 24 — the main road that traverses the park — there are more than a dozen hikes that can be easily accessed. These hikes range from easy day hikes suitable for families with children to strenuous adventure hikes with overnight backpacking possibilities. More information for some hikes is provided below.
• Sulphur Creek: 5 miles. With its breathtaking slot canyon features, the mellow, scenic Sulphur Creek hike is one of Capitol Reef’s best payoffs, especially during the high heat of summer
• Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs: The trailhead to Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs gives you three hiking options, depending on how much time and energy you have. The 1.8-mile round-trip hike to Hickman Bridge takes about 1.5 hours, the 4.6-mile round-trip hike to the Rim Overlook (on the Navajo Knobs trail) takes three to four hours, and the 9.4-mile round-trip hike to the Navajo Knobs takes six to eight hours.
• Cohab Canyon to Frying Pan, Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash: Individually, the Grand Wash is a family-friendly out and back up to 2.2 miles with only 200 ft elevation change through the deep canyon. Cohab Canyon is a moderate 1.7-mile hike up more than 400 feet with hidden canyons, spur trails to panoramas and views of Fruita. The Frying Pan is a more strenuous 2.9 mile hike adding 810 feet in elevation that connects Cohab Canyon and Cassidy Arch trails across ridgetop panoramas.
2. Slot Canyons of Capitol Reef: Varying lengths. Slot canyons are one of the most unique and remarkable natural features you can explore in Utah. Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash, and Sheets Gulch are Capitol Reef’s best slot canyon hikes, and are filled with challenges like scrambling over chockstones, navigating around water, and squeezing through tight spaces.
3. Lower Muley Twist Canyon: 6 miles with car shuttle. Located in the southern district of Capitol Reef National Park, this is a day hike with overnight options through a remarkable section of the Waterpocket Fold. This route takes hikers through a deep canyon in a remote wilderness with splendid vistas, gaining a historical perspective on the Mormon pioneers who passed through this area in the late 1800s.
4. Slickrock Trail: 25 miles total (short sections can be done using various access points). Accessed from Highway 12 west of the park, the Slickrock Trail presents a lesser known but spectacular option, following the original wagon road that once connected Grover to Boulder Town, taking hikers across areas of slickrock Navajo sandstone, old-growth ponderosa pine, and piñon-juniper forests.
5. Boulder Top Trails: 1-2 miles. The views from the rim of Boulder Top on Boulder Mountain are some of the most spectacular in Utah, and the location is far from the crowds on other major trails. Four major routes are easily accessed from Highway 12 west of the park, traveling short but steep distances to Boulder Top.
Hiking the Desert
Expert advice for following faint trails, staying safe, respecting archaeology and loving desert hiking.
Petroglyphs of Capitol Reef
Indigenous people lived among Capitol Reef's formations between 600-1300 A.D., and their markings tell the mysterious stories of their lives.