Hit the trails inside Capitol Reef National Park and walk in the footsteps of history’s most famous outlaws. The trails through the majestic Grand Wash and the spur trail to Cassidy Arch lead to some pretty unforgettable scenery as you explore the colorful canyon country. Combining the two trails makes for a 7.5-mile roundtrip hike and hits on some of Capitol Reef’s amazing highlights.
How to reach the Grand Wash trailhead:
The Grand Wash Trail cuts through the wash all the way from the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive to Scenic Highway 24, so you can actually start at either end. Follow the Scenic Drive for about 3.4 miles from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center to the Grand Wash turn-off, then follow the maintained gravel road for 1.2 miles to the parking area. Most passenger vehicles are able to handle the gravel road, at least during good weather. You can also enter the Grand Wash from a parking area off Scenic Highway 24, about 4.5 miles east of the visitor center.
The Grand Wash Trail:
The Grand Wash Trail is 2.25 miles one way with only a 200-foot elevation change. The easy, family-friendly hike offers lots of opportunities for kids (and grown-ups) to climb, scramble and explore—and it’s the trail you should hike if you only have time for one. The trail follows the dry wash bed deep into the sandstone canyon, with cliffs looming up to 800-feet high. At its narrowest, the walls are just 15 feet apart. This half-mile section is a great introduction to slot canyon hiking and a dry alternative to Zion’s Narrows—just be sure to check the forecast for flash flood warnings. For most of the hike along the canyon floor you’ll be following the gravel wash bed, which is pretty well-defined. The Grand Wash is one of the most popular trails in Capitol Reef but since this park is the least visited in Utah you’ll still be able to enjoy the solitude, and maybe even see some Desert Bighorn Sheep hanging out along the trail. You can also explore a few slot canyons, overhangs and spur trails along the way.
The Cassidy Arch Trail:
The trail to Cassidy Arch forks off the Grand Wash about 3/4-mile from the parking area and ascends the cliffs to the massive arch which sits on a slickrock plateau about 500 feet above the wash. The arch is named for infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy who used to hide out in the canyon’s nooks and crannies with the Sundance Kid. The hike along the cliffs is fun but strenuous, with a rapid elevation gain (about 550 feet in a half mile), steep inclines, switchbacks, some rocky terrain and areas of the trail that aren’t clearly marked. Be sure to give kids a safety lecture before heading out, watch for drop-offs, and stop to take lots of pictures (and catch your breath) on the way up. Cairns and stairs carved in the red rock help with navigation, and the effort is well worth the payoff at trail’s end: a bird’s-eye vantage point just above the arch. If you’ve got the guts you can even hike over the arch, something you can’t do at other national parks. Give yourself at least two hours for the 3.1-mile roundtrip hike.
You can hike back whichever way you came in—back to the Grand Wash fork and either to the Scenic Road or to Scenic Highway 24—or you can hit the Frying Pan Trail, which takes you over the Waterpocket Fold and heads down into Cohab Canyon. If you choose to go straight through the gorge to the other side you’ll face a long hike back to where you started or need a shuttle waiting, so plan ahead. Weather-wise, the best time to hit these trails is during fall and spring but they’re accessible year-round. Read more here…
For additional information about these and other trails inside Capitol Reef National Park, visit www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/trailguide.htm.