• Red rock country - The Castle in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Navajo Dome, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Strike Valley, Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Pool of water in the Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park
  • On the trail to Navajo Knobs in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Near Sunset Point above the gorge of Sulfur Creek, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Hiking in Capitol Reef

Hidden Gem of Utah’s Red Rock Country

Capitol Reef Slide Show

Capitol Reef Slide Show for iPad & iPhone

Southern Utah’s red-rock country is truly one of the world’s iconic landscapes. Many hikers flock to Utah’s better-known national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon. By contrast, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden gem and a great place to experience the singular wonders of hiking amidst the colorful, sculpted sandstone formations characteristic of the red-rock country. Capitol Reef is perhaps the least known of Utah’s five national parks, but it’s scenic qualities and hiking opportunities rank among the best in the state. It is the “secret” place that some Utah residents take their visitors when they want to show off the state’s a spectacle of cliffs, twisting canyons, domes and graceful rock arches and bridges.

The Waterpocket Fold is the geologic centerpiece of Capitol Reef National Park. It’s a one hundred mile long warp or wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that geologists refer to as a “monocline.” Hidden within the colorful uplifted rock layers of the fold are numerous basins or tanks that fill with water in the wet season, hence the name “waterpocket.” Capitol Reef is the name given to the portion of the Waterpocket Fold where the Fremont River slices through it. “Capitol” is a reference to the white, dome-shaped monoliths of Navajo sandstone which recall the dome of the Capitol building while “reef” is a reference to the ramparts of rock that form a barrier to easy travel across the Waterpocket Fold. Join us and explore the trails of Capitol Reef in the spring when desert wildflowers brighten the landscape with their brief but spectacular show!

Claret cup cactus in bloom.

Day 1
Overnight in Torrey, Utah
Dinner included
Arrive in Salt Lake City and travel by vehicle to Torrey, Utah on the western edge of Capitol Reef National Park, and settle in for a three-night stay. Start your exploration of the national park with a warm-up hike to the Hickman Natural Bridge. Shortly after starting off on the trail, enjoy views of the Navajo sandstone formation known as Capitol Dome glowing in the afternoon light. If our timing is right, blossoming spring wildflowers—including the brilliant red claret cup cactus—line the trail. The climax of this hike is the massive 133-foot span of the Hickman Natural Bridge carved by stream action into the Kayenta sandstone formation. After the hike, head back to Torrey by vehicle stopping en route to enjoy the late afternoon view from aptly-named Sunset Point.

Hickman Natural Bridge.

Fremont Overlook Trail.

Entering the narrows of Grand Wash.

Day 2
Overnight in Torrey, Utah
Breakfast and lunch included
Today’s hikes take you through one of the most beautiful sections of Capitol Reef National Park. Travel by vehicle from Torrey to the Grand Wash trailhead on the Fremont River. Hike up the Grand Wash, a canyon that cuts through the Waterpocket Fold. As your proceed up the canyon it gradually narrows to a width of about sixteen feet hemmed in on either side by vertical walls of Navajo sandstone. Emerging from the narrows, the trail soon begins an ascent out of Grand Wash climbing toward Cassidy Arch via a series of steps and ledges cut into the reddish-brown layers of Kayenta sandstone. From Cassidy Arch, continue the hike along the Frying Pan Trail as it climbs into a forest of piñon pine and juniper on its way toward the “hidden” defile of Cohab Canyon. Descend into Cohab Canyon, so named because it served as a refuge for early Mormon settlers in the area who practiced plural marriage, or “co-habitation”. This is a delightful little canyon with walls of red Wingate sandstone pockmarked with small caves and alcoves (known as “solution cavities”). Narrow side canyons perpendicularly intersect the main canyon and invite a bit of exploring! At the end of the hike, descend a series of switchbacks to the old fruit orchards at historic Fruita townsite. Shuttle by vehicle back to Torrey.

View of Capitol Reef from Navajo Knobs; snow-capped Henry Mountains in the distance.

Day 3
Overnight in Torrey, Utah
Breakfast and lunch included
Today’s hike takes you to via the Rim Overlook to the Navajo Knobs, a set of rocky perches that offer the hiker wide-open, far-ranging views over Capitol Reef. The route to the overlook and “knobs” takes you across expanses of sandstone “slickrock” (a term used generally to refer wide swaths of sandstone surface with a sandpaper-like rather than “slick” texture). Black lava boulders and “moqui marbles” (iron oxide concretions) lie scattered across the white-colored Navajo sandstone surface. From the Rim Overlook, expansive views open to the east, west and south. Revel in views of spectacularly colorful rock formations of red, yellow, white and black punctuated by green vegetation. Vistas extend to the distant Henry Mountains and the nearer cone-shaped formations of Pectol’s Pyramid and Ferns Nipple. About a thousand feet below lies the old settlement of Fruita on the Fremont River. The trail continues across Longleaf Flat past specimens of mountain mahogany and eventually makes its way to the top of the Navajo Knobs. Enjoy the 360 degree views from this high vantage point. To the northwest, the rounded bulk of forested Thousand Lakes Mountain rises to over eleven thousand feet above sea level. To the northeast, the tortured and convoluted terrain surrounding Spring Canyon can be seen. Return to Torrey for the evening.

Rim Overlook above Fruita.

Chimney Rock.

The Golden Throne.

Day 4
Overnight in Boulder, Utah
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Begin with a drive south along Capitol Reef National Park’s well-named Scenic Drive to Capitol Gorge. Capitol Gorge provided the most sensible passage through Capitol Reef until 1962 when the present Fremont River highway was completed. Today’s hike leads through Capitol Gorge whose sheer walls of Navajo sandstone soar up to one thousand feet above the floor of the gorge. A spur trail leads to some classic examples of the water-filled “tanks” or waterpockets found throughout the area. Those desiring more hiking can extend the hike to the base of the Golden Throne, an aptly-named monolith that recalls the great monoliths of Zion National Park. The trail to the Golden Throne climbs out of Capitol Gorge and is often lined with wildflowers like rimrock paintbrush in the spring. From trail’s end, the Golden Throne is picturesquely framed by gnarled piñon pines. After the hikes, travel by vehicle to the town of Boulder via the scenic Boulder Mountain Highway. The highway crosses the flanks of Boulder Mountain reaching an elevation of 9,600 feet and offers splendid views over Capitol Reef country from the Larb Hollow overlook. At Boulder (elevation 6,600 feet), settle in for a three-night stay.

Navajo sandstone landscape near Capitol Gorge.

Capitol Gorge landscape.

Day 5
Overnight in Boulder, Utah
Breakfast and lunch included
Travel by vehicle eastward from Boulder via the scenic Burr Trail bound for the Waterpocket Fold. The route of the Burr Trail was pioneered in the late 1800s by a man named John Atlantic Burr who used it to drive cattle from winter to summer ranges. From the trailhead, today’s hikes lead into the Upper Muley Twist canyon. It is said the name of the canyon derived from the fact that the canyon was so narrow that is could twist a mule. Set off on foot into the narrow, twisting canyon where you’ll marvel at several large stone arches including Trinity Arch and Saddle Arch soaring across the sky! On this hike you’ll traverse expanses of Utah’s famous “slickrock” and enjoy thrilling vistas down the length of the Waterpocket Fold. This may be Capitol Reef’s most scenically splendid hike. Return by vehicle to Boulder at the end of the day.

Saddle Arch in Upper Muley Twist Canyon.

Hiking in Lower Muley Twist Canyon.

Day 6
Overnight in Boulder, Utah
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Today, a hike through the Lower Muley Twist canyon provides a nice accompaniment to yesterday’s hike through the canyon’s upper reaches. Large water-carved alcoves (essentially caves formed by overhanging canyon walls) are a prominent feature of the Lower Muley Twist. The meanders of the canyon cut lengthwise into the spine of the Waterpocket Fold, and in the early 1880s, part of the canyon served as a pioneer wagon route heading south to Utah’s San Juan county. You can choose a shorter hike through the upper portion of Lower Muley Twist, or embark on a longer loop hike that will take you past the finest examples of the canyon’s alcoves and through a narrow passage slicing through the Waterpocket Fold. Return to Boulder at the end of the day’s hikes and enjoy a farewell dinner to cap off your Capitol Reef hiking adventure!

Day 7
Departure for Salt Lake City
Breakfast included
This morning bid farewell to the splendid red-rock country of Capitol Reef and transfer by vehicle back to Salt Lake City for your departing flight.

The ramparts of the Capitol Reef rise above the orchards of the Fruita Historic District.

Other Resources

Check out this Capitol Reef Wildflowers website for a primer on the floral splendor that graces the national park!

Slickrock hiking above Strike Valley, Upper Muley Twist.

Capitol Reef Slide Show

Capitol Reef Slide Show for iPad & iPhone


Photos on this page are by John Osaki (© All Rights Reserved) except as otherwise credited.

Over the years, Mountain Hiking Holidays has developed and operated trips to a variety of destinations including this one, but not all trips are offered every year. If you are interested in joining a scheduled departure of this trip in the future, please send us an email and let us know. Click to send us an email.

We can organize and operate this trip as a private group departure with a minimum group size of 5-6 persons. Start organizing your private Capitol Reef hiking adventure here.

Meeting point is normally in Salt Lake City although Moab, Utah is another possibility. Accommodations in hotels and inns; no camping. Late April to early May is our favorite season.

Mountain Hiking Holidays

Trips for the adventurous hiker since 1996

PO Box 86250, Portland, OR 97286-0250, USA

503-715-0844 / Toll-free 1-800-313-0345 or 1-888-743-0723


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