Capitol Reef National Park

Days 16-19 (August 14-17)
Capitol Reef National Park, UT

On a brief 24-hour visit in 2016, Capitol Reef National Park stole our hearts, and we are pumped to come back. This stay is an unexpected stop early in our trip and a re-route due to the wildfires, smoke, and haze in Colorado.

View of Fruita from overlook trail via Cohab Canyon at Capitol Reef
Overlooking Fruita orchards

I find the drive in from the east or the west side of the park equally beautiful, although in very different ways. If you’re coming from I-70, be sure to stop at Hollow Mountain convenience store in Hanksville. As the name tells you, it’s built right into the rock, has a great book selection, clean restrooms, and friendly owners. The east side of Highway 24 (our route this time coming in) is extremely arid with sparse greenery, but for the massive gray buttes and the San Rafael Swell rising from the earth. I love this scenery but there are not enough pull-offs for photography and it is already nearing 5pm by this time, so we do not stop off for photos. Next time!

Capitol Reef Vista from Scenic Drive
Capitol Reef Vista from Scenic Drive near Sunset

Arriving at our campsite, we are still whipped from our killer hike and marathon swim session in Ouray, so we set up camp and just enjoy eating and sitting and watching the light change in this beautiful place.

Mule deer in campground at Capitol Reef National Park
Sweet mule deer

Mule deer live in the campground and aren’t very shy.

Grand Wash Trail at Capitol Reef National Park
Grand Wash Trail

The following day we hike The Grand Wash trail from Hwy 24 and up to Cassidy Arch, about 8 miles total. The Grand Wash doesn’t have much elevation gain, but one is walking through dry river bed, so it’s considered a “moderate” 2.4 mile (each way) hike. It’s an awesome trail with towering cliff walls, one I will definitely hike again.

Along the Cassidy Arch Trail, overlooking the Grand Wash at Capitol Reef
Along the Cassidy Arch Trail, overlooking the Grand Wash trail

We connect to the Cassidy Arch trail , which gets it’s name from the legend that Butch Cassidy and his gang hid out from the law here. A strenuous trail due to elevation gain, high steps, and precarious slick rock crossings near the top, the hiker is rewarded with a magnificent arch that is seen both from a side viewpoint and the top.

Rappelling the Cassidy Arch trail at Capitol Reef National Park
Rappelling at Cassidy Arch – first of seven drops!

There is a large expanse of slickrock at the top perfect for eating lunch or a snack and just enjoying the views. A few older gents were starting to rappel down just as we arrived. A fellow hiker mentioned that she heard them say there were 7 drops to get to the bottom. Whoa, I hope I’m doing stuff like this when I’m nearing 60!

Cassidy Arch trail at Capitol Reef National Park
Cassidy Arch trail

Whipped but feeling great after our hike, we devour the best peach pie ever from Gifford House, drive the scenic road to the end of the pavement, pop the Subie into X-mode for the final a couple of unpaved miles to Capitol Gorge. We hike in about a mile (one way) to view petroglyphs and early “Joe was here” type scratching as into the rock from the early Mormon settlers of the area and more modern graffiti artists. It’s too dark in the gorge for good photos.

We cook dinner & watch the seasonal ranger’s interpretive program on astronomy. Capitol Reef is a dark-skies park. We haven’t been lucky enough to experience a cloudless sky (with milky-way visible) yet, however we are still treated to a great star-filled sky, with no light pollution as we’d experience back home or any just about any city. We are too tired to stay up and see if the clouds clear and say we will the next night, although we won’t.

Hickman Bridge at Capitol Reef National Park
Hickman Bridge at Capitol Reef National Park

Our second morning at Capitol Reef is spent hiking the 1.8 mi (round-trip, moderate) trail to Hickman Bridge – a great hike to take if you have limited time in the park. After this hike we drive into the sweet town of Torrey for ice, lunch, and fresh-baked bread from Chuckwagon General store and Deli. We run into the Gifford House for another pie – apple this time – to have after dinner.

Along the Pleasant Creek Trail in Capitol Reef National Park
One of the many creek crossings required on the Pleasant Creek Trail

Although this park is very quiet compared to most national parks, craving real solitude and a more backcountry trail, we decide to hike the Pleasant Creek trail in a quiet portion of the park. Reaching the trailhead requires taking the 9-mile scenic drive to the end followed by a few miles of what should be considered (although is not marked) a 4WD road.

Pleasant Creek Trail in Capitol Reef National Park
Late afternoon light in the canyon

The first half mile of the Pleasant Creek trail is hard to follow in areas, as it requires a number of creek crossings. I manage to rock hop and keep my feet dry the entire trail, but this requires carefully choosing one’s crossing areas.

Boulder-strewn Pleasant Creek Trail in Capitol Reef National Park
Fascinating geology in Capitol Reef

In one area we lose the trail and spy fresh mountain lion tracks(!)

Fresh Mountain Lion tracks near the Pleasant Creek Trail in Capitol Reef National Park
Fresh Mountain Lion tracks near where we briefly lost the trail

A scramble up a small hill takes one to a Fremont petroglyph panel.

Scrambling up the sandy slop toward the Pleasant Creek trail petroglyphs
Scrambling up the sandy slop toward the Pleasant Creek trail petroglyphs
Fremont Petroglyphs just off the Pleasant Creek Trail in Capitol Reef National Park
Fremont Petroglyphs just off the Pleasant Creek Trail

Although this trail doesn’t have much elevation gain or loss, I would consider it moderate due to deep sand and creek crossings. We hike quite a bit beyond the creek’s cascades through sandstone chutes, so I estimate we hike about nine miles.

Pleasant Creek in Capitol Reef National Park
Pleasant Creek

There are some areas great for a lunch stop and cooling off one’s feet in the creek. This is  an awesome trail for those who don’t mind doing a little route-finding and the possibility of getting wet. That being said, watch the forecast and don’t hike in rainy weather!

Pleasant Creek hike in Capitol Reef National Park
The canyon narrows as we approach the Pleasant Creek trail terminus

A morning hike up to the Fruita overlook via the Cohab Canyon trail is a must-do before we leave.

Cohab Canyon trail at Capitol Reef National Park
Cohab Canyon trail at Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park - hiking the Cohab Canyon
Balanced boulder and mushroom formation in Cohab Canyon

Before we leave Capitol Reef we pick some apples in a Fruita Orchard.

Picking Ginger Gold apples in the Fruita Orchards at Capitol Reef National Park
Picking Ginger Gold apples in the Fruita Orchards at Capitol Reef National Park

On our way out, we spy an awesome vintage RV, and predict that in a couple of months when the weather cools, we will be wishing we had one for those freezing nights.

Sweet Retro RV
Sweet Retro RV

En route west (in Bicknell I believe), I spy this sign. Utah humor!

Our beer is as cold as your exs heart

3 Comments

    1. Thank you! Capitol Reef is a very photogenic park, with a great variety of hikes. We love it so much that we returned in October on our way back east and were lucky enough to catch peak fall color. I highly recommend spending a few days there!

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