Cathedral Valley |

Capitol Reef National Park

Hiking Cathedral Valley - Capitol Reef National ParkRoadside Attraction Cathedral Valley - Capitol Reef National Park Cathedral Valley

Capitol Reef National Park

Overview

RATING: Roadside attractions and short hikes.
MAPS: SOLOMONS TEMPLE, UT; CAINEVILLE, UT; CAINE SPRINGS, UT; FRUITA NW, UT; FRUITA, UT; CATHEDRAL MOUNTAIN, UT

Tue

Sunny, with a high near 84. South southwest wind 5 to 13 mph.

84 | 52

Wed

Sunny, with a high near 82. Southwest wind 7 to 17 mph.

82 | 51

Thu

A slight chance of rain showers after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 73. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

73 | 50

Fri

A slight chance of rain showers before noon, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 71.

71 | 48

Sat

A chance of rain showers before noon, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 65.

65 | 45

View Full Weather Details
SEASON: Fall, Spring. Summer, but hot if doing any hiking. Can be done in the winter if no snow and dry.
GEAR: Standard Hiking Gear, Extra fuel, water, food.
WATER: None.

Tue

Sunny, with a high near 84. South southwest wind 5 to 13 mph.

84 | 52

Wed

Sunny, with a high near 82. Southwest wind 7 to 17 mph.

82 | 51

Thu

A slight chance of rain showers after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 73. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

73 | 50

Fri

A slight chance of rain showers before noon, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 71.

71 | 48

Sat

A chance of rain showers before noon, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 65.

65 | 45

View Full Weather Details

Cathedral Valley, in the northern part of Capitol Reef National Park, is a mesmerizing geological wonder. The area gets its name from the towering rock formations that resemble Gothic cathedrals, with massive monoliths and intricate sedimentary layers creating a surreal landscape. Capitol Reef itself is known for its diverse and stunning red-rock scenery, but Cathedral Valley stands out as an extraordinary highlight within the park. It is an area I have visited many times over the years, and always enjoy. We did an overnight trip when our daughter was 5, and it was a trip she absolutely loved.

Geology Note: The imposing rock formations are primarily composed of Entrada and Navajo sandstone, which were deposited during the Jurassic and Triassic periods. Over time, erosion sculpted the landscape, creating the awe-inspiring monoliths and intricate canyons that define Cathedral Valley.

VISITING NOTES

SEASON: Spring and Fall are my preferred seasons for visiting. You can visit in the summer, though it can be hot if you intend to do any hiking. Winter can bring impassable roads if there is any snow, ice, or mud. I've done several October/early November trips that have been really lovely, especially with fall colors on Thousand Lake Mountain.

TIME: This CAN be driven in a half day if you are not interested in side hikes and are just hurrying through. My recommendation is at least a full day, and preferably as an overnight camping trip. Sunrise and sunsets are dramatic along the route, and camping helps you see these beautiful times of day.

ROAD CONSIDERATIONS: The common route, described here, is over 50 miles of dirt road. Though generally good, high clearance recommended.

Be sure to bring plenty of fuel, water, and food. Though in a national park, you can go days without seeing anyone else in this area. You need to be prepared to self-rescue if you have a mechanical or other issue.

Sections of the road are made up of bentonite clay. This clay is incredibly slippery when wet, so much so it is used as lubrication when drilling wells. Stay out of the area if precipitation has recently occurred or is in the forecast. Even the most off-road worthy vehicle will not make it far in bentonite if the road is wet.

The route requires crossing the Fremont River. This crossing is usually fairly straightforward, but can be impossible during spring runoff or after recent rains. Call the park's automated phone system at (435) 425-3791 and press 1 for visitor information; 4 for road conditions. This is updated regularly with information and depth of the ford.

You can drive the route in either direction. The common direction, described below, gets the river ford out of the way early in the drive and is generally how most people drive the route.

CAMPING: There is no camping inside of Capitol Reef National Park, except at the Cathedral Valley Campground. This small, primitive campground is first come/first serve and does not have water or trash pickup. It does have fire pits, tables, and pit toilets.

You can camp on the BLM and National Forest land that surrounds the National Park. Keep an eye on the map to be certain you are outside of National Park boundaries if camping on BLM or National Forest land. There are many EXCELLENT primitive camping opportunities on the non-National Park sections of the drive.

Getting There

From the Capitol Reef Visitor Center, head east on UT-24 towards Hanksville for 12 miles through the park to milepost 91. This is outside the national park. Turn left (north) here on a signed dirt road to the river ford. Reset your odometer as you turn off the pavement.

Route

From the Capitol Reef Visitor Center, head east on UT-24 towards Hanksville for 12 miles through the park to milepost 91. This is outside the national park.  Turn left (north) here on a signed dirt road to the river ford.  Reset your odometer as you turn off the pavement. 

Mile Marker 91 on UT-24 (12S 492148mE 4236282mN / N38° 16' 28" W111° 05' 23")

The first 0.5 miles to the river ford is lined with private property. Stay on the main BLM road. Just before 0.5 miles is a major junction. Go left, with the river ford a short distance ahead. 

River Ford Tip: I would recommend walking first to check the depth. Normally, you want to stay on the right side, then cut across to the left at where the road leaves on the other side for the easiest crossing. For reference, on all of my crossings, it has been about knee-deep. 
0.5 miles - River Ford (12S 492959mE 4236326mN / N38° 16' 30" W111° 04' 50")

Continue past the river ford. You are driving on the Hartnet Road. There are a few small spur roads that mostly lead to primitive camping. Stay on the most travelled road. At 2.9 miles, the road crosses Dry Wash. On the right here, a short distance from the road, is a convoluted dry fall where Dry Wash cuts into the next layer of rock. Worth the very short walk to check out, in my opinion.

2.9 miles (12S 492919mE 4238405mN / N38° 17' 37" W111° 04' 51")

At 7.2 miles there is an oasis in the desert! Maybe more of an attempted oasis in the desert. An old drilling truck on the right was used to drill a well for livestock water. I assume the truck broke down, which is why it was abandoned, but the well was successful and still supplies water to a stock tank. A fascinating look into the past!

7.2 miles (12S 489539mE 4243411mN / N38° 20' 20" W111° 07' 11")

The scenery changes as you enter the Bentonite Hills at about 8.7 miles. This dramatic and colorful landscape has become very photographed and shows up all over the place.  At 8.95 miles there is a small pullout on the right and a social trail that descends steeply to the wash for an up close look at the colors. 

8.7 miles (12S 488693mE 4245563mN / N38° 21' 29" W111° 07' 46")

At about 9.95 miles there is a small side road on the right that goes to a small livestock reservoir about 2.5 miles off the main road.  The side road is rough two-track. There are a couple of good primitive campsites along this side road.

Just after the reservoir side road, at 10.3 miles, is a somewhat major junction. Stay left here on the main road to continue into Cathedral Valley. 

NOTE: Right is a rough two-track that goes northeast and re-joins this loop at about mile 48.8 in this description. The "shortcut" is substantially rougher than anything on the normal Cathedral Valley Loop described here. Some recommend this as a way to shorten the loop, or a shorter way to reach the Bentonite Hills area from Cainville if the river ford is too high to cross. I don't recommend it. 
10.3 miles (12S 488163mE 4247567mN / N38° 22' 34" W111° 08' 08")

The Lower South Desert Overlook side road leaves at mile 14. This side road, about 1.1 miles each way, ends at a stunning overlook into the Lower South Desert. Those looking for a hike can walk an old road from the parking area west to even better views, then descend into the Lower South Desert proper. (less than 1 mile round-trip depending on how far you hike) It is a nice hike, and highly recommended.  If you have time, you can continue along a social trail/faded mining track west along to the photogenic Temple Rock.  This makes for about a 4.6 mile round-trip hike. 

14 miles (12S 483790mE 4250457mN / N38° 24' 08" W111° 11' 08")

A small pull-out on the right at mile 17.5 marks the Temple of the Sun and Moon Overlook trail. This unofficial trail crosses the wide plain and climbs to the rim looking down on the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. The hike, out-and-back, is about 1.5 miles and well worth doing. The social trail is generally well travelled and easy to follow. 

17.5 miles (12S 482046mE 4253581mN / N38° 25' 49" W111° 12' 21")

At 27.1 miles, as the road is almost on top of the high ridge, the Upper South Desert Overlook side road is on the left. This short road leads to a short (less than 1/2 mile round trip) hike to overlook the South Desert.  

Next up, at 27.4 miles, is the Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook trail side road on the right. This short side road leads to a short (less than 0.5 mile) trail that overlooks Cathedral Valley proper. 

Mile 28.1 is a major junction.  To continue to Cathedral Valley, you turn right here.  Optional Return: Straight climbs up and over Thousand Lake Mountain and down to highway 72 near Fremont.  This is the quickest way back to pavement from this area, and is about 12 miles. IT IS ONLY PASSABLE WHEN DRY, AFTER WINTER SNOWS HAVE MELTED OFF THOUSAND LAKE MOUNTAIN. It is generally a very good road and well signed. If visiting in the summer, and it is hot, it is not far up this road (about a mile) to National Forest Land and some good primitive campsites. Higher up is typically a fair bit cooler. 

28.1 miles (12S 468260mE 4257965mN / N38° 28' 10" W111° 21' 50")

Cathedral Valley Campground is on the left at mile 28.4. This is an excellent place to camp if a spot is available and has great sunsets. 

Cathedral Valley Campground (12S 467973mE 4258524mN / N38° 28' 28" W111° 22' 02")

The road soon begins dropping down to Cathedral Valley. This is often the roughest section of road and fairly steep. If snowy or muddy, be very cautious (or turn around!).  Once you reach the valley floor, the road is easy again. At mile 29.9 is the Morrell Line Cabin trail on the left. This short (a little over 0.5 miles roundtrip) trail visits an old line cabin.

From the NPS:

MORRELL LINE CABIN

This cabin, built in the 1920s, originally stood at Paul Christensen's summer logging camp on Thousand Lake Mountain, several miles west of here. There it sheltered the Christensen family of eight during the work season. In 1932, cattleman Lesley Morrell bought the cabin for use in his livestock operation. He numbered each log, then dis-mantled the cabin, hauled the pieces down the mountainside in a horse-drawn wagon, and rebuilt the cabin on this site. For the next 40 years, the cabin was used by cowboys when they moved livestock each summer to mountain pasture and each winter to valley rangeland. Returning to the shelter after a day's work, the cowboys would let their horses into the nearby pole corral, wash up, and fix dinner before bunking down.

Western hospitality dictated that the cabin be kept furnished and stocked with food, open to all who needed shelter or a meal. "Les's cabin," as it was locally known, was for years a landmark and meeting place for all who worked in the vicinity. Use of the building ended by 1970 as grazing allotments in the area were restructured. The cabin still serves as a reminder of the area's Old West heritage.
29.9 miles (12S 468511mE 4259562mN / N38° 29' 02" W111° 21' 40")

At 30.5 miles there is a small pullout on the right. This is the start of the Cathedrals Trail. This trail gives close, lofty views of the main cathedrals in the valley. It is about 3 miles round trip, and gains a bit of elevation, but was one of our family favorites. Highly recommended at sunrise or sunset for even more magical views.

30.5 miles (12S 469200mE 4260019mN / N38° 29' 17" W111° 21' 11")

The road meanders through the valley, with amazing towers and walls all around. A major junction is reached at 33.3 miles. The Baker Ranch road goes north here, traversing through the southern San Rafael Swell and eventually reaching I-70. Stay straight instead, heading east. 

33.3 miles (12S 472323mE 4262003mN / N38° 30' 21" W111° 19' 03")

Just past the Baker Ranch Jct (at 33.4) is the side road to the Gypsum Sinkhole. Follow this side road (on the right) for about a mile one way to the gigantic Gypsum Sinkhole.  It is within sight of the parking area.  Obviously, stay back from the edges!

At 37.5 miles, a small side road leaves on the left. Ignore it, and stay on the main dirt road. 

37.5 miles (12S 478308mE 4261260mN / N38° 29' 58" W111° 14' 56")

My favorite stop of the drive! At mile 42.8 is the side road to Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon, and Glass Mountain. Follow the side road about 2 miles (one way) to visit these features. Glass Mountain is north of the temples, with a signed side road visiting it. This is my favorite stop to get out and walk around one or both of the temples.  This is also the last stop on the drive. 

The road soon leaves the National Park and crosses the badlands. There are quite a few good primitive campsites along this section. At mile 55.7 a side road joins from the left. Stay straight, heading south. North Cainville Mesa is the large mesa just to the east. An impressive mesa that is a landmark for the area. 

Pavement! After an adventurous 58.1 miles, UT-24 is reached. Turn right here to head west back to Capitol Reef, or left to head to the small town of Hanksville. 


Maps

Printable Maps:
Mile Marker 91 on UT-24

12S 492148mE 4236282mN

N38° 16' 28" W111° 05' 23"

0.5 miles - River Ford

12S 492959mE 4236326mN

N38° 16' 30" W111° 04' 50"

2.9 miles

12S 492919mE 4238405mN

N38° 17' 37" W111° 04' 51"

7.2 miles

12S 489539mE 4243411mN

N38° 20' 20" W111° 07' 11"

8.7 miles

12S 488693mE 4245563mN

N38° 21' 29" W111° 07' 46"

10.3 miles

12S 488163mE 4247567mN

N38° 22' 34" W111° 08' 08"

14 miles

12S 483790mE 4250457mN

N38° 24' 08" W111° 11' 08"

Lower South Desert Trailhead

12S 482196mE 4250686mN

N38° 24' 15" W111° 12' 14"

Lower South Desert Overlook

12S 481846mE 4250531mN

N38° 24' 10" W111° 12' 28"

Lower South Desert Overlook 2

12S 481794mE 4250547mN

N38° 24' 11" W111° 12' 31"

Temple Rock

12S 478805mE 4251114mN

N38° 24' 29" W111° 14' 34"

Temple Rock Viewpoint

12S 479205mE 4251054mN

N38° 24' 27" W111° 14' 17"

17.5 miles

12S 482046mE 4253581mN

N38° 25' 49" W111° 12' 21"

Temple of the Sun and Moon Overlook

12S 482042mE 4254877mN

N38° 26' 31" W111° 12' 21"

Upper South Desert Overlook Trailhead

12S 469144mE 4258357mN

N38° 28' 23" W111° 21' 13"

Upper South Desert Overlook

12S 469215mE 4258019mN

N38° 28' 12" W111° 21' 10"

Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook Trailhead

12S 468787mE 4258766mN

N38° 28' 36" W111° 21' 28"

Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook

12S 468790mE 4258914mN

N38° 28' 41" W111° 21' 28"

28.1 miles

12S 468260mE 4257965mN

N38° 28' 10" W111° 21' 50"

Cathedral Valley Campground

12S 467973mE 4258524mN

N38° 28' 28" W111° 22' 02"

29.9 miles

12S 468511mE 4259562mN

N38° 29' 02" W111° 21' 40"

Morrell Line Cabin

12S 468159mE 4259555mN

N38° 29' 02" W111° 21' 54"

30.5 miles

12S 469200mE 4260019mN

N38° 29' 17" W111° 21' 11"

Cathedrals Trail End

12S 467719mE 4260434mN

N38° 29' 30" W111° 22' 13"

33.3 miles

12S 472323mE 4262003mN

N38° 30' 21" W111° 19' 03"

Gypsum Sinkhole

12S 472214mE 4261187mN

N38° 29' 55" W111° 19' 07"

Gypsum Sinkhole Trailhead

12S 472223mE 4261187mN

N38° 29' 55" W111° 19' 07"

37.5 miles

12S 478308mE 4261260mN

N38° 29' 58" W111° 14' 56"

42.8 miles

12S 484673mE 4256809mN

N38° 27' 34" W111° 10' 32"

Temple of the Sun

12S 483201mE 4255868mN

N38° 27' 03" W111° 11' 33"

Temple of the Moon

12S 483294mE 4255346mN

N38° 26' 46" W111° 11' 29"

Glass Mountain

12S 483263mE 4256286mN

N38° 27' 17" W111° 11' 31"

55.7 miles

12S 497617mE 4246658mN

N38° 22' 05" W111° 01' 38"

58.1 miles - UT-24 at mile marker 97.95

12S 497885mE 4242885mN

N38° 20' 03" W111° 01' 27"

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