26 Best Utah Hikes for Kids

Following the cairns in Elephant Canyon (Canyonlands National Park – Needles District)

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Hiking as a family was one of the most looked forward to and rewarding activities as our kids were growing up. Utah is one the best places to find hikes to do with kids, especially when you are just beginning to have them hike on their own. Whether your kids are 2 or 12 (or older), It’s never too late to get out on the trails as a family. In this post, you’ll find 26 Family-Friendly Utah hikes and all you need to get out on the trails that will have your kids asking when is the next time you’ll go for a hike.

Zebra Canyon Grand-Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Tips for your Family-Friendly Adventure

Change Your Mindset

Remember that the first few times out on the trail will set the precedent for how enjoyable your little ones will think hiking is. You need to be ok with not hiking at your usual pace and let your child(ren) be excited about being in nature. The hike will become just as much about the journey as it will be about the destination. Let them take the time to investigate that hidey-hole on the side of the trail, check out the stream, or examine the bugs or other wildlife. Take breaks as needed. Bringing along friends is always a good idea. It helps the miles sail by.

Sheets Gulch-Capitol Reef National Park

Plan

You want your first experiences to be a success, so plan on a trail well inside your child’s capabilities. They will leave feeling proud of themselves for reaching the goal and see the joy of reaching a cool destination. When selecting a hike for novice hikers, what they experience on the journey should excite them to see more. I always look for trails with water features (streams, ponds, waterfalls, and best of all, swimming holes), cool places to explore like arches, caves, old car wrecks or ruins, or anything that provides that sense of discovery for your kids.

Pleasant Creek – Capitol Reef National Park

Prepare

Really this goes for any hike, but when you are hiking with kids, even a slight discomfort can turn into a big deal. Especially if they are already out of their comfort zone.

When hiking, always be sure to pack the Ten Essentials. Not only are these important for emergencies, but they make great tools or motivators on the trail.

  1. Navigation (map and compass) We have these features on our phones. Using an app like Alltrails can even enable us to follow our progress on the trail. Kids enjoy tracking their progress, and if you bring a paper map and compass, they might even enjoy playing the explorer and following the trail. Maybe even put them in charge of being the navigator.
  2. First Aid Kit Nothing will derail a family-friendly hike than a scrape or cut that doesn’t receive the proper care of a bandaid.
  3. Sun Protection Don’t forget the sunscreen, lip balm, hats, and sunglasses.
  4. Headlamp or Flashlight Not only is one of these good to have in case of emergency, but they can be great motivators to have your child flash the light on cool things they find out on the trail or to explore tiny nooks.
  5. Nutrition Not only will this keep their energy up, but fun snacks are always a great motivator!
  6. Hydration. Always bring more than you need. Find what worked best for you. Some people prefer water bottles, others hydration reservoirs with tubes so you can sip along the way. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to have your child help carry their own snacks and water so they can access them easily. the added benefit for littles is this makes them feel so grown up carrying their own backpack.
  7. Matches or firestarter
  8. Multitool or knife
  9. Extra Clothing Make sure you have a jacket in case the weather makes a sudden turn, and it starts to rain, or the wind picks up.
  10. Emergency Shelter A bivy is a space blanket shaped like a sleeping bag. You can get these for about $5 on amazon.
Jenny’s Slot Canyon in Snow Canyon State park is a perfect first time adventure at .3 miles.

Teach Responsible Stewardship

As we enjoy all these beautiful places we want to teach the next generation to recreate responsibly so we can care for the land and they remain pristine. Teach your children to stay on the trail, pack out all trash and waste, respect wildlife, don’t mark up trees or rocks or pick the wildflowers. You can learn more about the seven principles of Leave no Trace at lnt.org

26 Family-Friendly Utah Hikes

Looking for salamanders in Cecret Lake.

Northern Utah

Lower Bell Canyon Reservoir

Fall Evening at Lower Bell Canyon Reservoir

Lower Bell Canyon Reservoir via Larry’s Trail

 A beautiful tree-lined reservoir comes into view after less than a mile of hiking with valley views. The loop around the reservoir will take you through aspen forest, with a bridge crossing over.

Trailhead: Granite Trailhead

Distance: 2.4-mile loop with 495 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms at the trailhead. No dogs because of the watershed.

Best Seasons: Year-round, Spikes suggested for winter hiking.

Bear Canyon Suspension Bridge

Bear Canyon Suspension Bridge in Draper, Utah

Bear Canyon Suspension Bridge via the Bonneville Shoreline Trail

The joy of this hike is it starts at a park. Nothing like some playground time at the end of a hike to motivate the littles on the return. Other highlights along the way include a wooden bridge over Little Willow Creek, a Rock Tunnel, and sweeping views of the Salt Lake Valley, Antelope Island, and the Oqquirh Mountains. Alternatively, a shorter route starts the Orsen Smith Trailhead but is steeper and doesn’t have the fun features of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail route.

Trailhead: Hidden Valley Park in Draper, Utah

Distance: 3.3 miles RT with 508 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms at the trailhead. No dogs because of the watershed.

Best Seasons: Fall and Spring. It can be really hot in summer unless you go early when the mountain shades the trail.

Donut Falls

Donut Falls from within the cave

This is arguably one of the most popular trails in the area for a good reason. This family-friendly gem pays off with a scenic river and beautiful cascades after a relatively easy hike. Caution and experience are advised if you choose to navigate up the slippery rocks to enter and view the falls coming through the “donut hole” hole in the small cave-like dome.

Trailhead: Mill D North off Hwy 190 in Big Cottonwood Canyon

Distance: 3 miles roundtrip with 498 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms at the trailhead. Dogs are not permitted.

Upper Farmington Canyon

Caution is advised if you use the rope to go to the Upper Farmington Canyon Falls base.
The 2nd Car Wreck is my favorite.

Hiking Upper Farmington Canyon is a whole adventure! It is also locally known as the Car Graveyard hike because of the 6+ car wrecks that can be found hidden in the trees along the trail. They toppled from the road high above. Some of the wrecks are probably from the early 1900s. Also on this trail is a small cave and two creek crossings with smaller cascades! Make sure you follow the social paths after the creek crossing so you don’t miss any wrecks. All that in the 1 1/2 miles before you even reach the falls! You’ll hear the falls near the trail’s end before you see them. Going to the base of the falls requires negotiating a steep hillside with the aid of a rope. Proceed at your own risk.

Trailhead: First hairpin turn on Farmington Canyon Road, Farmington, Utah

Distance: 3 miles roundtrip with 948 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No bathrooms. Dogs Permitted.

Best Season: Year-round. Add 2 miles in winter because the gate is closed.

Lisa falls

Lisa Falls in June

Lisa falls is accessible to just about anyone. At a mere .3 miles for the road, you can bring a picnic and make an afternoon out of it. What makes these falls so fascinating is the sharp turn the water takes part way down and then how the water divides and cascades down the rock. One side of the fall gushes, while the other side just slides down the rock. It’s just mesmerizing to watch.

Trailhead: Opposite the Little Cottonwood Creek Trailhead up between mileposts 6 and 7 in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Park on the left side of the road.

Distance: .3 miles round trip with 121 ft elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No swimming or wading or dogs (watershed). No bathrooms at the trailhead.

Best Season: Best viewed in spring while runoff is flowing but open until Mid November. Never hike this in winter because of avalanche danger.

Paper Airplane Trail

Paper Airplane Trail

What could be cooler than Top of the world views and a larger-than-life paper airplane sculpture?

Trailhead: Just off Horizon Run Road at the Powder Mountain Ski Resort in Eden, Utah

Distance: 1-mile loop with 246 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No bathrooms at the trailhead.

Best Season: Late June to End of September

Gloria Falls

Multi-tiered Gloria Falls

Gloria Falls is also located in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Another local favorite, you won’t have the trail to yourself, but it’s a favorite for a good reason, and you don’t want to miss it. You’ll first descend a short walk down to the river and cross a bridge over the roaring Little Cottonwood Creek. Then you’ll climb for about a mile, where you’ll see signs right before the trail appears to dead end at the creek. Just past the sign for White Pine Lake, you’ll see a sign for Red Pine Lake. Follow that trail over the bridge and immediately take a left following the social trail to the falls.

Trailhead: Park in the White Pine Trailhead 5.3 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon

Distance: 2.8 miles round trip with 584 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No swimming or wading or dogs (watershed). Bathrooms at the trailhead.

Best Season: Spring through Fall. The Falls become buried by snow in the winter.

Ruth Lake

Reflections on Ruth Lake

Ruth Lake is the perfect hike for families. At only two miles roundtrip, everyone can enjoy the satisfaction of reaching a destination after only one mile of hiking. Once you reach the lake, you can enjoy the day on the water, fishing, floating, hanging in your hammock, and even a picnic before heading back to your car blissed out by your afternoon spent by this alpine lake.

Trailhead: Ruth Lake Trailhead off Highway 150 35 miles east of Kamas.

Distance: 2 miles RT with 285 ft. elevation gain.

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms, Dogs are permitted on leash. $6 Fee or free with your National Parks Pass.

Best Season: Highway 150 typically opens in mid-June until the snow falls (Check with UDOT for up top date conditions)

Tony Grove Lake Nature Trail

Tony Grove Lake

Tony Grove Lake Nature Trail is just bursting with wildflowers at peak season. The trail is a little rocky and trickier to negotiate for a short section on the far side of the lake. Come for the day and bring a picnic. There are six picnic sites in the area. You can also float or fish on the water after your hike!

Trailhead: Tony Grove Lake Day Use Area in Logan Canyon

Distance: 1.3 miles loop with 59 ft elevation gain.

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms, Dogs are permitted on leash. $10 Fee or free with your National Parks Pass.

Best Season: Opens in July until the snow falls.

Moonshine Arch

Moonshine Arch

Moonshine Arch really has it all for kids some small caves, a grotto, a fun echo, and they can walk on top of the arch! (Watch your littles on this one it’s narrow up there) make sure to plan plenty of time for this one because once the kids get there, they’ll want lots of time to explore.

Trailhead: 6.5 miles outside Vernal pullout off Highway 191. Use directions from Alltrails or this brochure.

Distance: 2 miles roundtrip with 252 ft. gain

Other Trail Information: No bathrooms at the trailhead. Dogs are permitted. I suggest bringing a downloaded map or the brochure because the trail is not marked.

Best Season: Spring or Fall Can hike in summer or winter just be prepared for the weather and trail conditions.

Battle Creek Falls

Be sure to stand under the spray at Battle Creek Falls.

This hike is moderate difficulty but short. You’ll know you’re almost there after the wide path crosses the footbridge. After you enjoy the falls from the base, make sure you take the trail to the top of the falls for the incredible view of the valley and Utah lake below.

Trailhead: Dead End of Battle Creek Drive in Alpine, Utah.

Distance: 1.6 miles roundtrip with 606 ft. gain (for both top and bottom of falls)

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms are available in the nearby park; dogs are permitted.

Best Season: Year-round. Early spring is best for wildflowers and big flows. Bring spikes in winter.

Stewart Falls

Do you see me standing at the base of the first tier of Stewart Falls?

Another crowd-pleaser of a hike, this trail rolls through aspen groves and pines with views of majestic Mount Timpanogos and the Sundance Ski Resort before you round the bend to view the 200-foot, two-tiered cascade. After you enjoy the overlook, proceed down the switchbacks for an up-close view of these spectacular falls. The kids love to play in the spray of the falls.

Trailhead: Aspen Grove Trailhead or Ride the lift at Sundance Ski resort and take their trail.

Distance: 3.4 miles roundtrip with 930 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: $6 forest service fee (or free with your national parks pass),

Bathrooms at the trailhead. Dogs permitted.

Best Season: Spring is best for wildflowers and big flows. Hiking in winter is not advised due to avalanche danger.

Wall Lake

Wall Lake is popular with families for paddling and cliff jumping.

Wall lake is named after the tall Granite Wall lining one side of the lake. There is a shelf on this wall that is popular with cliff jumpers (at your own risk). It is also a popular spot for fishing, kayaking and stand up paddle boards because of its large size and mountain views and clear water.

Trailhead: Park at the Crystal lake trailhead off Hwy 150. (Make sure to follow the sign to Wall lake since this parking area has multiple trailheads.)

Distance:  2.5 miles roundtrip with 147 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: $6 forest service fee (or free with your national parks pass),

Bathrooms at the trailhead. Dogs permitted.

Best Season: Whenever Hwy 150 opens (typically mid to late June) until the snow flies. Usually October.

Silver Lake Loop

Autumn at Silver Lake

Probably the best thing about hiking the Silver Lake Loop (Besides the gorgeous views, water, and wildlife sightings) is the accessibility. Besides the boardwalk, wide packed gravel makes this trail appropriate for those with mobility issues. Enjoy your walk around the water and stay to fish, extend your hike to other nearby lakes, enjoy the naturalist displays in the visitors center, anus use one of the picnic sites for lunch. The tiny Brighton store just across the street sells food and ice cream if you are looking for a post-hike treat!

Fishing at Silver Lake

Trailhead: Silver Lake Visitors Center at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Distance: .9 miles roundtrip with 55 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms at the trailhead. Picnic tables. No dogs because of the watershed.

Best Season: June-October. Winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Cecret lake

Fireweed blooms and mountain reflections at Cecret Lake

Cecret lake (Yes, it’s spelled that way) is not a secret, but this popular hike is worth the effort for the beautiful lake that sits hidden in a bowl surrounded by breathtaking mountain peaks. Keep your eye out for moose on the trail and salamanders in the water.

Trailhead: Cecret Lake Campground Trailhead at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Distance: 1.8 miles roundtrip with 465 ft. elevation gain

Other Trail Information: $10 amenity fee (goes towards road and trailhead maintenance)

Bathrooms at the trailhead. No dogs because of the watershed.

Best Season: July through September (when the road to the trailhead is open.)

Southern Utah Hikes

Corona Arch

Corona Arch is every bit as impressive as Delicate Arch but 1/3 of the miles.

Not only is Corona arch a kid-friendly hike but you don’t need to obtain a timed-entry permit to see is because it is outside Arches National Park. You’ll climb ladders and moki steps (steps carves into rock) and across a wide sandstone shelf and two “smaller” arches to reach this impressive arch.

Trailhead: Corona Arch Trailhead 10 miles down Hwy 279.

Distance: 2.5 miles RT with 482 ft elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No fees, Toilets across the street at the gold bar campground. Dogs on leash permitted.

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer.

Kanab Sand Caves

Kanab Sand Caves is a Child’s playground.

These manmade caves have 6 arch openings to views of the surrounding area. Kids love the scramble up the sandstone to access the caves.

Trailhead: Pullout off of Hwy 89 five miles north of Kanab.

Distance: .5 miles RT with 124 ft elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No fees, Dogs on leash permitted.

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer. Can be icy in winter.

Red Reef Trail

Negotiating the Moki Steps with the aid of a rope on the Red Reef Trail.

This short hike has slot sections, moki steps, alcoves to explore, and feels like a playground amid the red rock of Southern Utah. After storms there may be waterfalls and water in the waterpockets like the one pictured above. It’s hot here in the summer, so if you choose to visit then go early.

Trailhead: Day Use Parking area in the Red Cliffs Campground. The campground is found in the Red Cliffs Conservation area 15 minutes north of St. George, Utah

Distance: 2.2 miles RT with 223 ft elevation gain

Other Trail Information: $5 fee payable by cash or check or free with a national parks pass, Toilets across at the campground. Dogs on leash permitted.

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer.

Maple Box Canyon and Arch

Towering walls and rock climbers await in Mable Box Canyon.

This is really two different hikes but their both short and close together so it worth tackling them both on the same day. Fall is a gorgeous time to visit with red and orange leaves against the rock walls. These hikes are fascinating because unlike the usual sand stone walls in a slot or an arch these features or made of multicolor conglomerate rock!

Trailhead: Day use parking area up Maple Canyon near Fountain Green, Utah for the Arch. Make sure to take the Middle Fork trail. For the Maple Box Canyon there is an unmarked pullout about 1 mile up Maple Canyon.

Distance: Maple Canyon Arch: 1.6 miles RT with 580 ft elevation gain, Maple Box Canyon 1 miles RT with minimal gain.

Other Trail Information: $5 fee payable by cash or check or free with a national parks pass, Toilets at the Middle Fork Trailhead. Dogs on leash permitted.

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer.

Kanarra Falls

Upper Falls in the Kanarra Slot Canyon.

The first time I hiked this canyon was during a family reunion before the hike was permitted. There were 20 of us and the youngest was 4. Once we got past the initial section of the trail and to the water, the kids practically ran up the trail. They loved walking through the water and “discovering” what was around the the next bend between the towering red rock walls. Make sure you have sturdy hiking or water shoes. And never enter a slot if there is a chance of flood. Check local weather here.

Trailhead: End of 100 North in Kannaraville, Utah

Distance: 3.7 miles RT with 753 ft elevation gain

Other Trail Information: $12 permit per person (part of the fees benefit Utah schools!) You can obtain the permits here. Plan ahead. They go fast. Please make sure to read all the notices on the website carefully. No dogs

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer. Not advisable in winter.

Sheets Gulch/Slot

This hike is an adventure for kids. They love finding the petrified would strewn throughout the canyon and there are fun obstacles to climb as you proceed up the canyon. Located off the Notom Road in Capitol Reef National, Sheets Gulch is a long one, but you can just hike as long as you think your group would enjoy and then return the way you came.

Trailhead: Signed pull out 21.5 miles down Notom Road

Distance: 13.8 miles RT with 757 feet elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No fees, no toilets, no dogs (but loads of adventure!)

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer. Best times are Spring and Fall.

Strike Valley Overlook

On a clear day you can see all the way to Lake Powell from the Strike Valley Overlook

Even the drive to get to this trailhead is a beautiful adventure. There are three arches along the spur road so have the kids see who can spot them first. Once you arrive at the trailhead follow the signs to the Strike Valley Overlook. Look for the cairns (stacked rocks) that mark the trail. Please, please, please stay on the trail so not to destroy the cryptobiotic soil its an important organism for the desert ecosystem. Also don’t build cairns. It can cause other hikers to lose the trail and get lost.

Trailhead: End of Upper Muley Twist Spur Road (4WD with high clearance advised) off the Burr Trail Road.

Distance: .6 miles RT with 100 ft elevation gain. If you need to walk the spur road its 6.2 miles.

Other Trail Information: No fees, No toilets or water. No dogs.

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer.

Cohab Canyon

Cohab Canyon is nature’s playground for kids.

Cohab Canyon has some stellar overlooks over Capitol Reef National Park, hoodoos, and short-side slot canyons. It’s a playground for kids to climb and explore. Don’t forget to stop at the historic Gifford Farmhouse afterward for homemade pies and ice cream.

Trailhead: Cohab Canyon has two trailheads. If you have two vehicles, I would park one at each end, then start at the trailhead across from the Park Campground, do the short climb, then all downhill to the Highway 24 trailhead (1.5 miles). If you only have one car park in the Hickman Bridge parking lot off Highway 24, hike uphill while the kids’ legs are fresh. When you reach the top of the trail, take in the views but don’t go down to the campground trailhead. Return the way you came.

Distance: As a through hike (with 2 cars), 1.5 miles with 574 ft gain or 3 miles RT with 794 ft elevation gain.

Other Trail Information: Bathrooms at the Hickman Bridge trailhead. No dogs.

Best Season: Year round

Mill Creek Waterfall and Swimming hole

Swimming in Millcreek Canyon (Moab)

Head up the canyon. Cross the stream a few times and be prepared to get wet swo=imming at this oasis in the desert below the falls. (Keep an eye out for poison ivy.)

Trailhead: Dirt pull out at the end of Powerhouse Lane in Moab, Utah Directions here.

Distance: 1.8 miles RT with 65 ft elevation gain

Other Trail Information: No fees, No vehicles longer than 22 ft down the road to the trailhead. Dogs on leash permitted.

Best Season: Year-round but hot in summer.

Lower Calf Creek Falls

Make sure to wear your swimsuits so you can take a dip in the swimming hole at the base of Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Six miles round trip is long but doable for most kids. Just make sure it is not their first hike! To reach this swimming hole oasis under the 126 ft falls, you hike 3 miles (one way) following the creek under the towering sandstone walls. Interpretive signs along the route draw your attention to the area’s flora, fauna, and history. It’s always fun for the kids to hunt for the signs to see who can find the next one first. Keep an eye out for the Pictographs! You know you’re getting close when the trail begins to surround you with greenery. The trail is sandy much of the way, so don’t forget to bring your swimsuit. You’ll want to enjoy a cool dip after this warm hike.

Trailhead: Park in the lot near the Calf Creek Campground off UT-12, 11 miles south of Boulder and 15 miles east of Escalante ($5 fee). Go early. The lot fills up quickly.

Distance: 6.7 miles with 866 ft elevation gain.

Other Trail Information: Dogs on leash permitted. Bathrooms at the trailhead.

Best Season: Year-round. But it can be cold in winter.

So which hike would you like to try first. I’d love to hear why in the comments.

Looking for more Utah Gems check out my Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Capitol Reef National Park. It’s our favorite Utah National Park and has so many kid friendly hikes!

Want more Uintas hikes? Check out Day Hiking the Uinta Mountains.

Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Capitol Reef National Park

Views from the Frying Pan trail

This is your go-to guide for visiting Capitol Reef National Park. As a Utah local, I have been visiting Capitol Reef multiple times a year for over 15 years. It is my favorite Utah park. You can find slot canyons, arches, petroglyphs, towering sandstone spires and monoliths, epic views, and so much more. To this day, I am still discovering new places in the park and revisiting favorites without the insane crowds of the more renowned parks like Zion and Arches.

This park deserves so much more than the quick drive-through some tourists give it. In this post, you will find all you need to know to have an incredible first-time visit or discover new places if you are returning because you fell in love just like I did.

Post Highlights

  1. Park overview
  2. Sample 3-day itinerary for a first-time visit
  3. Where to eat and stay
  4. Useful links and Practical Information
The Golden Throne viewed from Capitol Gorge Trail

Overview

Located in south-central Utah just outside the town of Torrey, Capitol Reef National Park enjoys relative peace and quiet in comparison to the other Utah National Parks. Capitol Reef has something to do for every type of visitor.  Whether you enjoy scenic drives, photography, canyoneering, and everything from short walks to multi-day backpacking trips, you will conclude your visit with happy, tired smiles and pondering when you can return. 

Tip: There is no fee to visit Capitol Reef except for the Scenic Drive. The fee is $20 or your America the Beautiful Pass. Use the self-pay tube at the entrance of the scenic drive.

The park is divided into three regions:

The Historic Fruita district is the main area of the park. It has heirloom fruit and nut tree orchards, which have u-pick fruit and nuts summer through fall and beautiful blossoms in spring. The Gifford House, located near the Fruita Campground (reservations required), sells homemade ice cream and pies in addition to local artisan goods with pioneer roots. Enjoy hiking among the white and red sandstone canyon walls, domes, and arches along the many trails. After enjoying the orchards and hiking trails, drive down the scenic drive for more hiking and adventures through the narrows of Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.

A visit to Cathedral Valley will treat you to towering spires and castle-like monoliths rising starkly out of the desert. This sixty-mile loop is a photographer’s paradise. Enjoy the scenic backway route through the rock formations such as the Temples of the Sun and Moon, Factory Butte, and the Bentonite Hills with their rainbow colors. High clearance is required to visit this remote region of the park, and 4 x 4 is highly advised (No ATVs permitted). Visiting this area of the park requires a river-ford and, in some places driving through deep sand. It is very remote, and there is little to no cell service, so always check with a ranger for current conditions.

Directions: Ford the Fremont river at Highway 24 and Hartnet Road, then follow it until the Caineville Wash Road, where you will circle back to Highway 24. Plan on 4 hours of drive time (more if you want to hike, take in the overlooks, and time for photography). There is backcountry camping at the Cathedral Valley Campground with 6 first-come, first-served sites.

The Waterpocket district is home to slot canyons, arches, and the stunning Strike Valley Overlook. In addition to hiking, one can drive the breathtaking “Loop the Fold” tour to take in the geology, scenic vistas, and history of the area. To Loop the Fold, pick up the information brochure at the Visitor’s Center listing mile markers so you don’t miss any of the sights. The tour is 124 miles and takes 4-6 hours, but I suggest taking a day so you can hike and enjoy the area. Part of the route is gravel or dirt roads; any passenger car can drive it if dry. Begin the loop clockwise so you can enjoy cooler hiking temperatures in the morning and enjoy the sunset from the overlooks on Boulder Mountain. Always check with the ranger for current conditions before venturing out. There are five slot canyons along this route, including the short and kid-friendly Surprise and Headquarters canyons.

There is primitive camping available at the Cedar Mesa Campground with 5 first come-first served spots that include a fire grate and picnic tables but no water, so make sure to bring your own.

Sample 3-Day Itinerary

Day 1 – Fruita District

9:00 Arrive at Capitol Reef Visitors Center

9:30 Hike Hickman Bridge or Cohab Canyon

11:00 Petroglyphs, Picnic, and Pie (oh my!)

12:30 Scenic Drive and Hike Cassidy Arch or Grand Wash

3:00 Complete the Scenic Drive and stroll Capitol Gorge

5:00 Sunset Point and Goosenecks Overlook

7:00 Dinner in Torrey

Details:

9:00 Arrive at Visitor’s center. Enjoy the exhibits and get more information and brochures at the Visitor’s center. Make sure to pick up a Cathedral Wash and a Loop the Fold Brochure for Days 2 and 3.

Hickman Bridge

9:30 Hike Hickman Bridge (1.7 miles RT- roundtrip, with 416 ft gain). More avid hikers can continue on the Rim Overlook for 4.7 miles or Cohab Canyon (3.2 miles RT with 794 ft. gain). If you are visiting Capitol Reef as part of a Utah National Parks tour, I recommend Cohab Canyon over Hickman Bridge because you’ll be seeing lots of Arches at Arches National Park and Cohab Canyon has some stellar overlooks over the park, hoodoos, and short side slot canyons.

Cohab Canyon

11:00 Head back towards the visitor’s center and stop to check out the Petroglyphs. They are excellent examples of Fremont culture rock art. You can easily see them but bring binoculars if you have them for a closer encounter.

Fremont Petroglyphs

11:30 Picnic Lunch at the Gifford Homestead. You can enjoy your lunch surrounded by picturesque orchards, barn, and other historic buildings. Keep your eye out for the deer and wild turkeys that frequent the orchards. After lunch, pop into the Gifford house for some handmade ice cream or pies. If time allows and in season, the park allows a u-pick harvest of the fruits and nuts (Bring your own food as there are no eateries in the park, and no one wants to waste time heading back into town for lunch).

View of Orchards from Cohab Canyon

12:30 Head down the scenic drive (self-pay $20 or America the Beautiful Pass) to Grand Wash. This drive is stunning as you go through the narrow canyon with the sheer sandstone cliffs rising high above you on both sides (Never drive the road in a storm because of the risk of flash flooding). Hike to Cassidy Arch (3.3 miles RT with 666 ft gain). This hike is worth it, even with the steep climb up the switchbacks. The view from the top of the canyon walls is stunning, and nothing beats standing on top of the arch for a photo. If you have reluctant hikers in your group, hike the mellow Grand wash to the narrows. I also recommend hiking into the narrows after Cassidy Arch if you have the time and inclination.

Cassidy Arch

3:00 If you have time, you can continue down the scenic drive to Capitol Gorge. If you opted to skip the afternoon hike, make time to finish the drive. Once at the Gorge, you have the option for more hiking to some pioneer names carved in the sandstone and minor petroglyphs. This is a flat trail between tall canyon walls (1.5 miles RT minimal elevation change).

Views of the Golden Throne from Capitol Gorge Road

5:00 Sunset Point and Goosenecks Overlook. As the names indicate, you want to catch this area with the golden hour glow and sunset. Make sure to arrive about an hour before sunset, as much of the area falls into shadow right before the sun actually sets, and you’ll miss the glowing red rock. So, if you’re visiting in the summer, have dinner in Torrey first, then head back to enjoy the sunset.

Sunset Point
Goosenecks Overlook

7:00 Dinner in Torrey. My personal favorite in town is Hunt and Gather, with a seasonal menu with locally sourced ingredients. Capitol Burger has amazing and inventive burgers. Rim Rock has stunning views of the park, with lots of large picture windows.

Day 2 – Cathedral Valley

8:00 Breakfast at Wild Rabbit Cafe. Serving amazing breakfast with incredible options toasts, scrambles, and breakfast burritos. They have a fully stocked pastry case if you have a sweet tooth. Make sure to grab a sandwich for your day on the road.

9:00 Leave Torrey for a day touring Cathedral Valley

Touring Cathedral Valley CAN be done in 4+ hours, but I recommend planning for a whole day in the area to ensure you have plenty of time to hike, take pictures and explore the area. The cell service is almost non-existent in this area, so make sure you have plenty of gas, food, water, and emergency supplies. Also noteworthy, part of this route goes through BLM land, where ATVs are permitted. HOWEVER, no ATVs are permitted in any part of the National Park itself.

9:30 Begin your tour of Cathedral Valley

I won’t provide time stamps beyond this point, so you can spend time at the different points of interest at your own pace.

Ford the Fremont River at Hartnet Road, located at mile marker 91 off Highway 24. Always check with the park ranger for current water levels and road conditions. You can do this in person at the visitors center or by calling 435-425-3791. This is for your safety and to protect your pocketbook. No one wants to pay hundreds of dollars for a tow if you get stuck, or worse, be forced to spend a night or two in the wilderness if you weren’t planning on it.

Bentonite Hills

Bentonite Hills– These colorful banded hills are something out of an alien landscape. If wet, they are impassable in any vehicle.

Lower South Desert Overlook – Enjoy views of Thousand Lake Mountain, Jailhouse, and Temple Rocks after a 1/4-mile walk.

Upper South Desert Overlook – Another short hike/walk to the cliff edge for unobstructed valley views.

Cathedral Valley Campground. this is the halfway point of your tour. This is the only toilet (pit) available on the tour. The is no water at the campground.

Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook

Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook – Enjoy the monoliths and sandstone cliffs contrasting with the verdant P and J (piñon and juniper).

Gypsum Sinkhole – This massive wonder is 50 feet wide and 200 feet deep! Stay away from the edges.

Temple of the Sun

Temples of the Sun and Moon – These monoliths are the quintessential monoliths of the tour. Many chose to camp in this area (this part is BLM land), so they can catch the sunset and sunrise on these beauties.

Glass Mountain – This landmark is made of selenite gypsum crystals

At this point, continue for 17 more miles to return to Highway 24.

Pro Tip: Make sure to stop and collect, or at least checkout, the Devil’s Toenails are your way back into town before dinner. What are the Devil’s Toenails? These are fossilized oysters from the Triassic and Jurassic period. To find these, turn left on the OLD Notom Road (Not to be confused with the Notom-Bullfrog Road) and go .2 miles. Pull over, and they are everywhere on the right side of the road. You may collect these as they are outside the park’s boundaries.

Day 3 – Loop the Fold

8:00 Before you start your tour hit the drive-thru at Dark Sky Coffee for your favorite morning beverage and eats. Enjoy in your car or at the picnic tables. Start your tour from the Visitor Center. The center opens at 8:00 am, so you can pick up a brochure if you haven’t already. The tour takes 4-6 hours but you want to plan extra time for hiking or side trips. Start the tour clockwise so you can enjoy hiking in the cooler hours of the day and enjoy the golden hour/sunset light from the overlooks on Boulder Mountain. As with Cathedral Valley, I will not include drive times so you can select to spend more time in the areas that most interest you. The brochure will include additional sites that I don’t include here. It is a great resource for the history, flora, and fauna and excludes the hikes which I will include. Make sure to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy out on the trail or at the overlook at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks about halfway.

From the visitors center on Hwy 24, at 9 miles, turn right (south) onto the Notom-Bullfrog road.

Navajo and Page Sandstone of the Golden Throne and other formations

As you come up over the rise you will see one of my favorite views of the park. These rounded formations just fascinate me. You’re actually looking at the back of part of the scenic drive from day one.

At approximately 16.5 miles, you’ll approach the first of three of the park’s more accessible but challenging slot canyons, Burrow Wash. If you are an avid hiker, definitely choose one of these to be on today’s itinerary! It will be a highlight of the trip. If you’re new to slot canyons or not interested in a longer hike, there are other slot canyons to explore further down the road that will be fun to explore without taking hours to visit.

Pro Tip: All three of these slot canyons have around a mile of hiking in a wash before reaching the canyons, but well worth the effort. As with all slot canyons, never enter if there is a chance of storms, even in the distance as there is a chance of flash floods. Always consult the weather report and the rangers for current conditions. I also advise checking on AllTrails in the comments for current trail conditions. Conditions in a slot canyon can change after each storm creating new obstacles to maneuver around and even deep pools that may require swimming in cold water.

At 16.7 miles is Burrow Wash (7.7 miles RT with 565 ft elevation gain).

Burro Wash

At 18.1 miles is Cottonwood Wash (6.5 miles RT with 529 ft gain).

Cottonwood Wash in February

At 21.5 miles you arrive at the Sheets Gulch trailhead. This is the longest of the three slots, but I feel the most family-friendly of the strenuous slots. Go as far as you desire (13.8 miles RT with 757 feet elevation gain).

Sheets Gulch

At 25 miles the road turns to dirt.

At 31 miles you arrive at the turn-off for the Cedar Mesa Campground and Red Canyon hike. This primitive campground has 5 first-come, first-served campsites. The Red Canyon trail is an easy trail that is 4.5 miles long with 440 feet of elevation gain that ends in a beautiful box canyon. Although this hike is beautiful, I would choose one of the 5 slot canyons in this region of the park if you only have time for one hike.

From here, enjoy the scenic drive with excellent vistas of Entrada Sandstone, another Oyster shell reef like yesterday (no collecting this time because you’re in the National Park), and the Striped Morrison Formation of pink and gray banded clay hillsides until your reach the Burr Trail road junction at 41.5 miles. If you have already hiked a slot for today, turn right to head up Burr Trail Road. If not, continue straight for some kid-friendly slots.

1 mile (from road junction) is the trailhead for Surprise Canyon (2.2 miles RT with 400 feet gain).

Headquarters Canyon is 2.4 miles from the junction (2.5 miles RT with 410 feet gain. This is the better of the two canyons, so if you have to choose, do this one).

You can continue further down this road all the way to Lake Powell, but it requires high clearance 4WD and is not included in today’s tour. Return to the road junction, turn left to head up the Burr Trail road switchbacks where you climb over 800 feet in 1/2 miles! It’s a fun ride. Make sure to stop at the top of the road. There is a picnic area to get that epic picture! Enjoy lunch if you haven’t already.

View of Peekaboo Arch from the Upper Muley Twist Spur Road

At 45 miles, you can turn right on the spur road towards Upper Muley Twist Canyon and the Strike Valley Overlook. If you have a 4WD drive vehicle, you can drive the three miles through the canyon to the Strike Valley Overlook and Upper Muley Twist Canyon Trailhead. I would also advise high clearance as we almost took the bumper off our Hyundai Sante Fe on our last excursion down this road.

Views of the Waterpocket Fold, Henry Mountains, Tarantula, and Swap Mesas from the Strike Valley Overlook

If you haven’t done a hike yet, do the Upper Muley Twist (10 miles with 1,355 feet gain) and Strike Valley Overlook (1 mile RT with 400 ft from the trailhead or 6.2 miles RT if you need to hike in from the Burr Trail road). The Strike Valley is just incredible, and you don’t want to miss it. As you come up the canyon, either by foot or car, watch out for the three arches. There are a few more arches along the Upper Muley Twist trail, and it eventually comes to a short slot section. Plan on about an hour plus RT for this side trip.

Saddle Arch in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Back on the main, paved road, at 61 miles, you will come to a viewpoint of Long Canyon. At this point, you are actually in Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. Take in the views of the Circle Cliff and the Henry Mountains in the distance. Just when you think the tour couldn’t deliver any more wow factor, you enter the towering, red cliff walls of Long Canyon with huge arch alcoves and of course the iconic Singing Canyon at 66 miles. Make sure to pull over and do the short walk into this baby slot. Make sure to sing your favorite tune. You won’t be disappointed! As the road climbs out of the canyon, be sure to pull over once again to take in the views looking back into the canyon. Stunning!

Taking in the towering Walls of Singing Canyon

Shortly after the road turns back to pavement, you reach Boulder Town at mile 78. This remote hamlet was one of the last places to have its mail delivered by horse. Enjoy the views of the bird sanctuary by the Boulder Mountain Lodge and Boulder’s bucolic fields and barns.

At the intersection of Highway 12 and the Burr Trail road, you will turn right to head back to Torrey. This intersection has a lovely little coffee/gift shop, the Burr Trail Outpost. This is not your typical tourist trap. You’ll find treasures and artwork from local artisans and artists. The Burr Trail Grill has excellent burgers, trout, and pies. This is NOT your typical greasy spoon. If time allows, so you won’t miss golden hour on Boulder Mountain, stop for dinner at Hell’s Backbone Grill (named for the local dirt road Hell’s Backbone) for AMAZING food. This restaurant has won numerous awards, including the James Beard award for Excellence. Enjoy farm-to-table cuisine in its beautiful and laid-back setting. We have been known to drive 45 minutes multiple times on the same trip to eat there. It is that good!

At 75 miles, you’ll see the Anasazi State Park Museum. It has excellent indoor and outdoor exhibits and bathrooms ($10 day-use fee or Utah State Parks Pass).

Continue east on Highway 12 over Boulder Mountain. Take in the overlooks at Homestead Overlook at 91 miles and Larb Hollow at 100 miles. Larb Hollow is our favorite. The views stretch forever over Capitol Reef National Park, Brown’s Reservoir, the Henry Mountains, and the San Rafael Swell. Golden hour has the best light for photography as the desert topography of multicolor sandstone glows in the evening light.

Views from Larb Hollow Overlook

After you’ve had your fill, continue down the mountain, heading east towards Torrey. If you haven’t had dinner, enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants listed for day one, or try our Chak Balam for some excellent Mexican food in a dining room filled with handmade artisan masks from different regions of Mexico.

Where to Eat and Stay

I only recommend places that I have personally dined or stayed at more than once to ensure the quality of the establishment:

Pioneer Kitchen Country Southwestern cuisine in a laid-back environment located at the Capitol Reef Resort. Great vegetarian options. Open year-round.

Capitol Burger Fast food truck with outdoor seating. All the food is fresh and handmade with lots of gourmet burger options.

Rim Rock This restaurant serves western fare with incredible views of Capitol Reef. They also have the Rim Rock Patio for more casual fare, like pizza. Both open from March through October. Dinner only.

Hunt and Gather, Our personal favorite in town, it has a seasonal menu with locally sourced ingredients. Dinner only. Open March through mid-October.

Wild Rabbit Coffee and Cafe Breakfast and Sandwiches from 8-2 Thursday through Sunday. Don’t miss this gem for breakfast.

Chak Balam has excellent Mexican food in a dining room filled with handmade artisan masks from different regions of Mexico.

Many bed and breakfasts, Airbnb/Vrbos, lodges, and budget motels are found in the area. I listed my favorites below:

The Lodge at Red River Ranch has luxury accommodations with 15 unique rooms decorated with antiques and art. We’ve been staying here for over 15 years. It’s one of the best lodges in the West. If you’re fortunate to book a room, make sure to say hello to Dave and Charlene from me.

Capitol Reef Resort Many lodging options – rooms, suites, and cabins or choose the “glamp” in a teepee or Conestoga wagon.

Airbnb We’ve stayed in three different Airbnbs in the area and were happy with all of them. Many different budget options are available.

Useful Links and Practical Information

Capitol Reef is open 365 days a year/24 hours a day.

Visitor Center hours vary seasonally but is open daily except for some major holidays. Call 435-425-3791 for the most up-to-date information.

The Park is free to visitors, with the exception of the scenic drive, which is $20 (self-pay) or the America the Beautiful pass.

The Gifford House Store and Museum is open from March 14 (Pi Day) to October 31 daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended hours in the summer.

The best seasons to visit the park are spring and fall for ideal temperatures and dryer conditions. Winter is cold and sometimes snowy. A great time to visit for solitude, but some amenities in town are closed for the season. Summer is hot and is prone to flash flooding.

Are you inspired to travel to Capitol Reef National Park? You have everything you need to know for an incredible visit. What are you the most excited to see or do? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. As always, please reach out with any questions. I would love to help you plan your adventure.

Looking for water adventures? Try the Ultimate Orcas Island Adventure Itinerary.