Let me start out by saying that Capitol Reef is a totally underrated National Park! This park is basically free to get into, and it spectacular! It encompasses everything I love about southern Utah: orange mesas, massive rock formations and pretty desert sunsets.
Unfortunately I only had time for one day at this park, but I definitely could have spent two or three days here. I also got rained out on my second hike – I could see the dark clouds rolling in and heard the thunder while I was on the side of a mountain! That’s never a position I want to be in. Despite the day being cut short, it was an incredible afternoon and I’m so thrilled I could hike and camp here.
There are actually 15 day hiking trails in this park! But, you won’t have time for them all. These are the three hikes you need to complete while you’re here.
History of the Park
The area of Capitol Reef has been a homeland to people for thousands of years. Archaic hunters and gatherers migrated through the canyons. Fremont Culture solidified around 500 CE, from food foraging groups, to farmers of corn, beans and squash. Petroglyphs etched in rock walls and painted pictographs remain as sacred remnants of the ancient Indians’ saga. Explorers, Mormon pioneers and others arrived in the 1800s, settling in what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, and peaches. The National Park Service preserves the stories of those who came before.National Park Service
I didn’t even know going into this park, but you can buy special pies baked traditionally, and explore the old school house and other features of the historic pioneer village. It’s a unique part of this park you don’t see in other national parks!
Hickman Bridge Trail
Start off nice and easy in your day with the Hickman Bridge Trail. This is a 0.9 mi trail with 400ft in elevation gain, and is listed as moderate.
This is the most popular trail in the park because of its ease and its cool features. It starts off winding next to a beautiful river, then the trail rises high so you can get better views of the park. The beginning is the most difficult, but once you climb up the elevation levels out and the rest of the hike is on relatively flat ground.
You’ll wind past some awesome small bridges, three in a row!
Then, as you keep hiking, you see the sign for the Hickman Bridge Loop. This is a short loop that takes you underneath the epic stone bridge. Hang a right and you’ll see it in no time!
One of my favorite things about this park is that there are so few tourists, We passed a few hikers on our journey, but we mostly had the trail to ourselves. We sat under the bridge for about 15 minutes and didn’t see anyone!
Cassidy Arch Trail
Up next is the Cassidy Arch Trail. This is a 1.7mi trail with 670ft in elevation gain and is listed as strenuous. This trail also features a natural arch, as well as cool canyon views which was my favorite part.
This trail is not accessibly in bad weather because you actually drive for about a mile on an unpaved road to get here, and there are many warning signs for flash floods. This is also the train I got stormed out on, and I took the rangers’ advice seriously and didn’t hang around to see the lightning.
However, even though I didn’t complete the trail, I got most of the way and I loved the views from above! You switchback up the mountain and have to climb over some boulders, which I thought was awesome. Then you wind along the side of the towering mesas as you make your way to the arch.
I just couldn’t get enough of those views.
If you want to continue the hike, the Cassidy Arch Trail connects with the Capitol Gorge Trail, an easy 1.0 mi hike with 80 ft in elevation gain. I wanted to walk this trail, but the weather had other plans.
Chimney Rock Trail
Last stop of the day is Chimney Rock, a cool trail on the west side of the park. I didn’t get to hike this because of the thunderstorms, but I drove past the area a few times and it’s awesome. There are really epic mesas towering above everywhere you look!
This is a 3.6 mi with 590ft in elevation gain and is listed as strenuous. It’s another of the more popular trails in the park.
These, along with 12 others are great recommendations on where to start with this park. However, it’s just the tip of the iceberg! There are also backcountry camping trails, horseback riding, rock climbing and biking trails. And the best part? None of the crowds. I can’t recommend this park enough.