Hiking Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef NP

Torrey, UT

The weather forecast the lasts few days has had a chance of rain in the afternoon, so we have limited our hiking to short trails in the morning.  One of those hikes was through Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef NP.  The trailhead is at the end of Scenic Drive, an eight mile pave road that begins at the visitors center.  The paved portion ends in a parking area but the road continues on fairly smooth dirt as it winds through canyons.

A view of the Golden Dome from the dirt portion of the Scenic Drive

At the end of the dirt portion of the road there are two trailheads.  One is for a two mile hike up to a viewpoint for the Golden Dome.  We did this hike on our previous visit to the park in May of 2013, so this time we opted to hike out Capitol Gorge to the Tanks.

The Capitol Gorge Trail is a flat hike in a narrow wash bottom with sheer canyon walls on both sides.  Up until the mid 1960s this was the main road through Capitol Reef.  Today it is difficult to imagine cars driving through the narrow canyon.

Capitol Gorge 1939

Two cars in the canyon in 1939

About a mile from the trailhead is a large, flat section of canyon called Pioneer Register.  Mormon pioneers took eight days in 1883 to clear the first road through the Gorge, and settlers had to remove heavy debris after every flash flood.  Early travelers recorded their passage on the canyon walls at the Pioneer Register.

About a half mile further down the trail is a side trail leading to “The Tanks.”

The trail to the tanks goes steeply up the side of the canyon for about a tenth of a mile before flattening out a bit as it goes into a wash.

Climbing up The Tanks trail

In this area a tank is a hole along a wash where water collects.  Despite recent rains we found the tanks here to be completely dry.

We climbed up a bit past the tanks to enjoy lunch surrounded by the beautiful rock formations.

On the hike back down we noticed a spot where the water in the wash had create some neat swirls in the rocks.  We hiked down to check them out and came to another tank and a natural bridge across the wash that was hidden from view from the trail.

Hidden natural bridge below the tanks

View of the Capitol Gorge Trail from the Tanks Trail looking east

On the drive back through the park the sharp eyes of the nimble hiker spotted a group of Big Horn Sheep enjoying the day up on a hillside.

The view returning along the Scenic Drive 

The Capitol Gorge Trail is a nice, easy hike, and the drive to the trailhead is very scenic and not to be missed.  But don’t worry, we have some challenging hikes planned for the next few days if the weather cooperates.

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39 Responses to Hiking Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef NP

  1. raviolikid says:

    Wow! You saw big horn sheep! How cool! By the way, I published some of your photos on my blog. I credited you. Did you get a notice? I hope I did it correctly. Utah looks wonderful! I can’t wait until I can get there.

  2. Laurel says:

    I’m happy when you have some short, relatively easy hikes interspersed with the intense ones. Gives me a chance to recover! That looks like a sweet hike — and you saw bighorn sheep! Hope your weather clears so you can do the other hikes you have planned. (We just finished a 20-mile bike ride through the hills of Sausalito, across the Golden Gate bridge and along the San Francisco waterfront. It was a killer — I’m sure you would have loved it!) 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Well, Laurel, all we’ve been able to do since our arrival are short hikes so we can keep track of the weather:) But don’t worry, yesterday’s hike was thigh burner and our first rain free day!

      That was some bike ride you two did yesterday. John was saying that Sausalito is way down hill from the bridge, then the waterfront would be down, also. Yes, I am sure it was a real killer on the old legs and lungs. But I bet the views helped overcome some of the pain:) Great job:)

  3. Looks like a great hike. Love the bighorn sheep photos!

  4. pmbweaver says:

    Love the header photo.
    Oh my gosh…that was a real road? Those drivers would have to be very, very careful driving that one.
    Another gorgeous hike. I love the last photo. I am not sure I have ever seen the blue color in the rocks before.
    Good eye, nimble hiker. The Big Horn Sheep are awesome.

  5. Peter says:

    We could have spent so much more time in this area on our way to OR, and if we’d known the dealer screwed up our service appointment we would have. Glad you’re enjoying. Such unique country.

  6. Janna says:

    Great photos Pam! And good blog John–now that I know who writes the blog! :)) We are having a bit of red rock withdrawal!

  7. Erin says:

    And they didn’t even have 4WD back then to traverse the land. Nice hike; I love hidden finds like the natural bridge you found.

    • placestheygo says:

      It is amazing to see the roads those old cars traversed in video clips and photos. They were tough machines back then. I agree, finding unexpected features as we hike is very exciting.

  8. Great shots of the big horns! I just love how they blend in, but once you see them you can’t stop seeing them!

    Remember flash flood danger…

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, once you spot the sheep, you wonder how you ever missed them. I just happened to catch the horns of that one out of the corner of my eye as we passed. I knew we were in the area they are sometime spotted.

      Thanks for the reminder, Lisa:) We’ve been very careful and we watch the surrounding area for showers, as well.

  9. Becky says:

    Looks like a great day at Capitol Reef. It is so beautiful there with so many great hikes and 4WD drive roads. Thanks for include such great shots, especially of the sheep.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Becky! There certainly is a lot to keep you busy here. It is nice to see a park with a few dirt roads that most cars can drive. This is our second trip to Capital Reef and we haven’t repeated yet!

  10. Shannon says:

    Last time we were there, all the tanks had water in them – it was a curious thing seeing all the water in the middle of the red rocks and desert.

  11. harleyhawk43 says:

    Excellent. Love the sheep.


  12. Jim and Barb says:

    Love the picture of the cars on the “road” along with the current picture. Great pictures of the Bighorn Sheep as well, I never get tired of seeing them!

    • placestheygo says:

      It is quite amazing to think that cars drove that “road.” There were only a few places wide enough for two cars. It was certainly a long drive going through the park back in those days. We never tire of seeing the sheep either:) Thanks!

  13. Gay says:

    Love the last picture! Gorgeous country!

  14. Mary says:

    Those sheep are great. One time we hiked the gorge, and there were little toads in the shady spots. That is such a great area.

  15. Great sheep photos. It’s easy to miss them as they blend in so well. When we were there last October the tanks were full of water. Mark tried to get down to that hidden arch to get his picture taken on top but he couldn’t make it. Nearly gave us a heart attack watching him try to get there!
    Hope you get a chance to do Spring Canyon.

    • placestheygo says:

      John was trying to do the same thing!! They get this look in their eyes and you know exactly what they are thinking as they look at these features:) Crazy guys!

      I would like to rehike Spring Canyon; it is one of my favorites But we have several new hikes we want to do and the weather has been very uncooperative!

  16. LuAnn says:

    You did an easy hike. I guess there is some hope for us yet to be able to hike with you two! 😉 Such striking photos you have posted. That camera of yours does an amazing job, and of course the photographer behind the lens. 🙂

  17. Jodee Gravel says:

    Although not strenuous, it is certainly a beautiful hike. Love that you were looking at the sand patterns and were rewarded with a private bridge – it pays to take the time to check things out 🙂 Nice pic of Pam in the rocks. I guess we have blogs now to record our passage through these places, no longer needing to mark the rock walls for history. I love to find “evidence” of how and when others cleared the way. Glad you’re getting at least a little weather break!

  18. allisonmohr says:

    Your last photo is one of my favorite views in Capital Reef. Sorry your weather has been dismal. We’re doing time in Kanab with the engine rebuild – today was our first bad weather since we got here and it was bad! Hopefully the low will move out soon and high pressure will re-establish itself.

    • placestheygo says:

      Good to hear someone had good weather, Allison:) We had one day this week with no rain and that was yesterday. Today we had rain, snow, sleet, and hail!! Looks like we should see better days starting Sunday. Hope all goes well with your engine rebuild!

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