Our friend Annette, who lives near Torrey, told us about a hike just east of town that goes up to the top of Meeks Mesa. We did a bit of research and found that the trail is just west of Capitol Reef NP on land that is part of Fishlake National Forest. The hike has two distinct parts. The first part of the hike goes up to a narrow flat area known as Cooks Mesa. The trail goes along Cooks Mesa for a bit over a mile before entering a steep canyon that leads up to Meeks Mesa. The photo below was taken from Rte. 24 with the blue arrow pointed at Cooks Mesa and the red arrow at Meeks Mesa.
The trail begins in a popular drycamping area on the north side of Rte. 24 just west of the national park entrance sign. The locals refer to this area as Campsite 73 (it is locasted at mile marker 73) where people boondock while waiting for a spot in the national park. The trailhead is not marked, but as you enter the drycamping area and drive to your left you can see it going up a hillside.
The first part of the trail leading to Cooks Mesa ascends steeply through the multicolor Chinle formation. One particularly grueling section involves climbing the spine of a gray-green hillside straight up with no switchbacks.
The last part of the three hundred foot climb to the first mesa is through an area of large, colorful boulders.
Once on Cooks Mesa the trail flattens out and lets you catch your breath while enjoying great views to the southwest and some unique rock formations.
At 1.1 miles the trail on Cooks Mesa goes by an area with a number of petrified wood stumps.
Just under two miles from the trailhead the trail moves toward a steep ravine on the right. Our goal is the end of the trail on the top of Meeks Mesa shown by the red arrow in the photo below. This is where things get interesting!
The trail winds up along the wall of the mesa, then heads straight up the ravine.
This trail is described by many as an old cattle trail. As we hiked we commented that it was hard to imagine cows going up or down the trail. But about half way up we came across bones of a rather large animal.
Further up the climb we found the remains of a wire fence that once protected the trail on a switchback. OK, maybe they did drive cattle up and down this trail!
But the steep trail above us still left us with our doubts!
Finally, after climbing over three hundred feet in less than a half mile, we came to the top of the mesa. Total gain in elevation from the trailhead was over a thousand feet.
The top of the mesa doesn’t have any defined trails, so we just set out to explore following some faint trails used by animals. There is a large cairn at the top of the trail but we added another one nearby to help us find the trail for the hike back down.
With no defined trails we knew it would be a bit tricky to find the trail back down off the mesa. There are at least four ravines along the side of the mesa, but only one has the trail back down. But we felt that if we just hiked along the rim of the mesa we would be able to spot the trailhead. Wrong! We missed the trailhead and ended up hiking way further up the edge of the mesa than necessary. After two hours and 4.2 miles of searching the edge of the mesa, we finally spotted the cairns that marked the trail and, much to our relief, began the descent.
The hike up to Meeks Mesa is only four and a half miles roundtrip. But with our exploration on the mesa and a long hike searching for the trailhead to go back down, we ended up with a hike of over eight miles. We returned to the Jeep tired but pleased we were able to complete this difficult hike!