Road Trip 3, Part 7: Capital Reef

My Route Thus Far:

Looking in the rear view mirror I see the wonders of Moab fading from my sight. Arches, Canyonlands and all the other wonders that come with the area checked off my to do list for this trip. Heading up 191 and then on to Interstate 70 I began to feel a bit sad looking at the relatively drab landscape before me. I had left Moab at around 5 so it was around sunset I hit highway 24 and the scenery started to liven up a bit.

Sunset on Utah 24

I reached Capital Reef in the middle of the night and unfortunately that means I missed a lot of the scenery coming in. Unfortunately for me as well that their campground, Fruita was full. Dismayed I headed down the road past Capital Reef and found a free campground in Dixie National Forest not far away. I planned to stay in Capital Reef only a day because I wasn’t sure what it was about. When I awoke the next morning and I actually arrived my plans quickly changed.

View from Grand Wash

Capital Reef is as underrated a National Park as they come. There in lies part of its charm. This park, being relatively unknown unless you’re a National Park geek, does not carry the same tourist bus full of selfie sticks and iPad photographers. Trails aren’t packed and there’s more feel of nature and solitude than you’re able to get at the Grand Canyon, Zions and Yosemites of the world. Interestingly I chose a weekend they were having a heritage event so I had the pleasure of hearing a blue grass jam session.

I got some ice cream too

At any rate it’s about more than the random concerts and solitude that make this under key park a visit. Capital Reef has a similar sandstone structure that forms other Parks in this area, their distinct slick stone being a key distinguishing feature. It’s true you will feel at home hiking at Capital Reef coming from Arches or Canyonlands, the geographic features are a wonder on to their own.

Capital Reef's distinct red sandstone cliffs/fins

A relatively new geologic feature to this region the Reef formed when the Colorado plateau started to push this mass of ancient petrified sand high into the sky exposing the beautiful red sandstone which is so iconic of this region. Born as a waterpocket fold this incredible landscape is well worth taking in with ones own two eyes.the

I decided to do a couple days worth of hiking through the park as their are several good, long and varied hikes through the park which show off its unique and gorgeous scenery. The first hike I took the challenge was a mostly strenuous 7.4 one way hike from Grand Wash to Cassidy Arch through to the Cohab Canyon via the Frying Pan Trail. It can be shortened to 5.6 miles if you can manage to hitch a ride back to the trail head or else it is a 2 mile walk down the road back to your car. I decided I could manage the distance even if I couldn’t coerce someone to drive me.

Part of the Canyon you walk through in the Grand Wash

The hike starts through the Grand Wash which is not quite a slot Canyon, but it’s a massive Canyon wash way (don’t hike here when it’s raining) that winds around a Canyon. Soaring white sandstone walls surround you. The walls of the Canyon look incredible as you navigate through the. Reaching the end of the wash you come to your first ascent, what would turn out to be a recurring theme on this hike.

Trail winding up

The hike up to Cassidy Arch is mostly uphill, giving you a view point of a large arch, get your view from there though because the hike takes you directly on top of it. While on top you get an amazing view of the Canyon you just hiked in and the other side of the end of the wash.

Cassidy Arch
View of the other side of Grand Wash and the scenic drive from Cassidy Arch

The hike through the Frying Pan 3.5 miles of the hike was a challenge. You hike down and around a large Canyon between the Grand Wash and Utah 24. It’s marked only by cairns and footprints in the sand.

Inside the Frying Pan

Hiking up and out of the Canyon was a bit of a slog, but the beautiful scenic beauty with very few other hikers out here make it worth it. Once out of the pan you’ve made it to Cohab Canyon. Then out to Utah 24. I half heatedly attempted to hitch a ride back to my car when I was picked up by a nice couple from Minnesota who I had met on the hike.

Even hiking in the road the views are great

Deposited at my car again and short on daylight I decided to take a short hike to Hickman’s Bridge, a natural bridge which only required a quick 2 mile round trip to see. The Bridge was decent and the hike similar in feature to the one I had done before, the best part was I talked to a nice couple, Carl and Paula who I had met on the previous hike. We chatted pleasantly for a while and then they were so nice they gave me a few good items they didn’t need anymore because they were headed home the next day. It’s always so awesome to meet really nice people on the road.

Hickman's Bridge

The last thing I wanted to do for the day was see the sunset… Mostly because I love sunsets and they make nice photos.  The red sand stone looks magical in the waining light of the day.

Sun setting over the park

The next day I resolved to hike Navajo Nobs, a 9 mile in and out hike up several parts of the Reef to the very top of an incredible panoramic view. The hike started from the same location as the Hickman Bridge trail but is a far more serious endeavor. The hike basically consists of four miles of climbing up the Reef and four and a half going down, with a marked Rim Overlook trail ending marking your half way point. The views from the trail are utterly spectacular.

View from Rim Overlook

Passing the end of the Rim Overlook trail there are another 2.4 miles up to the very top, my legs were burning as they carried me up and down the red slickstone rock to the very top which is a spectacular 360 degree view from the top of a large rock at the top of the Reef.

My ailing feet and the view from the top of Navajo Nobs
More panoramic view

Photosphere of the view (hope these things work):

I must say it was one of my favorite views ever and totally worth the 9 miles of hiking. Needing a bit of a rest I decided to go pick some apples. If you’re reading this and came in with no knowledge of Capital Reef you’re probably thinking to yourself “why have I been reading this so long” and, more pertinently “Jesse, you’re in the middle of Utah where in the world are you going to pick apples?”. Capital Reef happens to be the location that some hearty Mormons decided to call home in the late 19th and early 20th century. The orchards are a relic of their establishment of their home in this land.

Mmm apples

They National Park Service now maintains these trees and they encourage you to pick fruit for a nominal price and I was lucky to be there during the fruiting season for the apples.

The apples from this tree were delicious

After my fruitful expedition to the orchard was complete I knew my time in Capital Reef was growing short so I headed somewhere to watch one final sunset at the park and I was not disappointed.

Capital Reef
Sun setting over the Ridge

Capital Reef, an awesome park, great hiking, free blue grass, wonderful scenery and hell, even a place to pick apples.


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