Contrary to how we prefer to travel, we didn’t have a solid plan for our time spent in Capitol Reef National Park. Same for the hikes. There are so many hiking trails in Capitol Reef National Park located in different areas of the park – unless you’ve been here before and know what you’re after, it can be overwhelming trying to pick the “best” hike(s) for your circumstances. Especially if you want to avoid driving back and forth. So we ended up with a random pick of what to do for each day and a hike or two based on where we were going to be in the park or the direction we were headed.
Needless to say, hiking in Capitol Reef far exceeded our expectations.
Here is an overview of the trails we’ve tried, including our favorite hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. We have yet to try many of the park’s hikes, so don’t look at this as a guide for the “best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park” but rather see it as our opinion of the hikes we’ve tried and which ones out of those we liked the best and would highly recommend to others. (See a map at the end of the post for trailhead locations and trail routes.)
Best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
— CAPITOL GORGE TRAIL
Distance: 2 miles (round trip)
Trailhead: Capitol Gorge
Capitol Gorge is an interesting easy hike with a trailhead located at the end of the park’s scenic drive (past the paved portion where the dirt road ends). The trail starts off as a high-trafficked hike, but the further you’ll go, the fewer hikers you’ll run into. That being said, you don’t need to go far into the hike at all to see the BEST of it.
The trail gives stunning views and a unique look back into history. At the end there is an optional spur to natural water basins.
This hike is a great option for even beginner hikers, including families with small kids. The elevation change is minimal, and navigation couldn’t be easier.
The Capitol Gorge Trail was easily one of our favorite hikes in Capitol Reef National Park – even though we missed what’s considered the biggest highlight of this hike. Just the ride to the trailhead was stunning and totally worth it on its own. Here’s a more detailed description of the Capitol Gorge Trail that includes all the spots you don’t want to miss on this hike.
— OLD WAGON TRAIL
Distance: 3.8 miles
Trailhead: Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
The Old Wagon Trail is conveniently located right along the park’s scenic drive, at about 3/4 of the distance of the paved portion of the road.
We attempted to hike the Old Wagon Trail on the way back from Capitol Gorge. Needless to say, WE FAILED.
At first glance, I thought this hike looked interesting. The trail drops sharply at the road access before rising back up continuously where it takes you through a picturesque pinyon-juniper forest. In fact, the Old Wagon Trail has a distinctly different feel from the rest of Capitol Reef National Park. Also, it’s a loop – who doesn’t love a great loop hike?
Unfortunately, we had a really tough time locating the cairns on the Old Wagon Trail. The landscape is the same as far as your eyes can see in this part of Capitol Reef, so once you lose the trail, it’s difficult to regain it. About 20 minutes in, half the time trying to figure out which way to go next, we decided to head back to the road.
That being said, I’m not implying this trail isn’t worth your time. If you like having a large chunk of nature all to yourself, you’ll most likely enjoy this hike. I’m willing to bet that the Old Wagon Trail is one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for peace and solitude as it is very lightly trafficked.
— COHAB CANYON TRAIL
Distance: 3.4 miles (round trip)
Trailhead: Historic Fruita (OR Utah State Route 24)
Another contender for the BEST hike in Capitol Reef National Park! 100%!!!
The trailhead for the Cohab Canyon Trail is located right across the road from the Fruita Campground, but this trail can also be hiked from the other end.
I’ll just say, if you’re starting from the Fruita trailhead (like we did), don’t let the initial rather uneventful scene turn you around because this trail has it all – breathtaking rock formations, gorgeous canyon views, wildlife, abundant vegetation, and a decent balance of sun and shade.
Honestly, the Cohab Canyon Trail was a total surprise. We didn’t expect to be this amazed. Also, the trail wasn’t busy at all despite widespread claims of heavy traffic. I don’t know – it was high season, did we just get lucky?
— FREMONT RIVER TRAIL
Distance: 2 miles (round trip)
Trailhead: Historic Fruita
The Fremont River Trail starts near the main Fruita parking lot/picnic area from where it passes by the historic Gifford House and the Fruita Campground. Along this segment there are several access points for this trail.
The trail consists of a flat path that eventually climbs up for panoramic views. The reason this hike is rated moderate is for the final steep climb.
The Fremont River Trail starts out as a narrow path with overgrowth on both sides. It winds right along the river, but the river is hidden behind the thick growth for the most part. Past the campground, the trail passes right by the park’s orchards and a horse pasture. It eventually veers away from the river and narrows up even more, closing on you with dense shrubbery on both sides. This is where the trail starts to climb.
This is also as far as we’ve made it. After a startled deer leaped at us from the shrubs and practically gave me a heart attack, I realized I had no business bringing my kids on this kind of trail in the dimming light of predusk. This is mountain lion country, after all.
I wouldn’t drive here for the Fremont River Trail, but for those staying at the campground, this is a great opportunity to explore the area further.
Our favorite hikes in Capitol Reef National Park so far:
More tips for hiking in Capitol Reef National Park
- Find a list of all Capitol Reef National Park hikes on the park’s website.
- If possible, check with the visitor center for current trail conditions and closures.
- Best time for hiking in Capitol Reef National Park? Spring (mid-April through mid-June) and fall (September through October).
- Don’t miss out on all the fun – find more fun things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.