While we may not have done all the hikes in Capitol Reef National Park, we are going out on a limb and calling the best hike in Capitol Reef National Park. For our final day in Capitol Reef, we strung together three one-way hikes into one continuous back-to-back hiking trail: Frying Pan Trail to Cassidy Arch Trail to Grand Wash Trail.
We call the Frying Pan to Cassidy Arch to Grand Wash best hike in Capitol Reef because after a 3.5 week road trip around Utah with kids through all 5 Utah national parks, we felt this was one of the best hikes in Utah, let alone the best hike in Capitol Reef.
The Frying Pan to Cassidy Arch to Grand Wash trail has a little bit of everything which makes hiking in Utah great; multi-colored canyons with towering walls, hoodoos, boulders, beautiful ancient dead trees… you name it and you’ll find it on this incredible Capitol Reef hike!
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Part 1 – The Frying Pan Trail
The Frying Pan trail starts to climb reasonably steeply and before long we got good views of the Hickman Bridge Trail we did the other day.
The Frying Pan hike clings to the upper ridge of a beautiful valley canyon below on the right. In early May, when we did this beautiful Capitol Reef hike, there were all sorts of wildflowers, flowering cacti and yucca plants along the hiking trail.
The early views on the Frying Pan trail are really impressive, but before long you transition from views of a small valley to incredible views of the Cohab Canyon, a huge canyon with towering red and white rock walls. The textures and patterns on the rock in Cohab Canyon are quite amazing and make it hard to focus on where you are walking!
We found a nice lookout point for Cohab Canyon and had a great time shouting words and listening to the echoes. Making echoes is a fun thing to do while hiking with kids. To no one’s surprise our kids wanted to stay and do it over and over.
As you follow the Frying Pan Trail and gain or lose elevation, you’ll notice the color of the underlying rock changes along with the changing geological layers. There are hoodoos and impressive rock formations all along the hiking path. As usual, it just feels like Utah is showing off again.
After leaving the ridge of the Cohab Canyon, the Frying Pan trail descends for a bit across the floor of yet another valley. It’s not long before you start climbing again, but this time it’s the final extended ascent of the entire Frying Pan hike.
We reached the Frying Pan trail summit after 2.7 miles / 4.4km and 3h15m of hiking. Our hiking pace was slower than usual due to the incline and all the fun rocks the kids wanted to climb the whole way up.
The 360 degree views from the top of the Frying Pan Trail are a great reward for the climb up; you’ll also feel great knowing it’s all downhill hiking from here!
After a well-deserved lunch, we started hiking downhill towards the Cassidy Arch Trail. The initial 0.6 miles / 1km after the Frying Pan summit is through a beautiful pine & juniper forest.
The kids were so happy for this downhill section of the Frying Pan Trail that they literally ran through the forest. It was a rare stretch where they didn’t need a parent nearby for safety, so we were happy to let them loose.
Once the forest ends, the Frying Pan trail opens up again and the views reappear, with red cliffs rising on the left and the Grand Wash Trail canyon below to the right.
At this stage, the Frying Pan hiking trail clings to the side of the canyon wall, snaking its way towards the bottom. It’s quite safe most of the time, but there are a few sections where we had an iron grip on the kids due to a precipitous drop-off.
Part 2 – Cassidy Arch Trail
After 4h15 minutes of hiking with our kids, we reached the end of the Frying Pan Trail where the Cassidy Arch spur trail begins.
The Cassidy Arch trail is a fun one which crosses over smoothly water-carved slickrock. There are a few spots along the Cassidy Arch where you’ll need to hold the kids tight, but for the most part it’s just super fun terrain for the kids to walk on.
If you don’t know where the Cassidy Arch is, you may just miss it. We walked right past it before we realized where it was. The upper bridge of the Cassidy Arch is level with the ground you are walking on, so you need to look down and left to see the arch.
The drop-off at the Cassidy Arch viewing ledge is quite frightening and the rock slopes downhill, so again, keep an iron grip on the kids. From the viewpoint, the Cassidy Arch bridge looks quite narrow, but once you get up close to it, it’s quite wide; I’d guess approximately 15′ wide.
I’m really afraid of being too close to the edge of a sharp drop-off, but I was able to walk across the Cassidy Arch bridge quite comfortably, as was Celine. We didn’t risk bringing the kids out on the Cassidy Arch as we felt it was a little too risky.
After hiking back up the spur trail, we hiked the Cassidy Arch trail down to the canyon floor. Here, the Cassidy Arch hike continues to be along a tight trail with steep drop-offs. You’ll need to hold on to your kids hands for a lot of this stretch as well.
When hiking with kids on a dangerous ledge such as this, we always make them walk on the inside – furthest away from the edge.
This section of the Cassidy Arch Trail ends with a series of tight downhill switchbacks down steep rock steps. We were glad to be walking down these steps and not up! This is another great reason to start this excellent Capitol Reef hike with the Frying Pan trail.
Part 3 – Grand Wash Trail
It was a real treat to reach the Grand Wash Trail at the bottom of the Capitol Reef canyon. The Grand Wash Trail is almost completely flat and without any precarious drop-offs. The kids loved being able to run free without a parent hanging on to their hands.
Even after the 5.6 miles / 9.1km it took to hike the Frying Pan Trail and Cassidy Arch Trail get to this point, the kids still had enough energy to play tag and have mini-races through the canyon (little tricks we use to keep them moving).
The Grand Wash Trail is quite similar to the Capitol Gorge Trail; an easy stroll through a tight canyon with huge canyon walls looming overhead. It’s a humbling feeling walking beneath these giant walls and it’s a highly enjoyable kid-friendly walk.
After 8.2 miles / 13.2 km and 7h15m of total time (6h of hiking time) we reached the end of the hike at the Grand Wash Trail parking lot on Highway 24.
Our 5 year old daughter hiked the best hike in Capitol Reef all by herself and our 3 year old son walked 7.5 miles himself! We were beyond impressed with both of them.
Stats for the Best Hike in Capitol Reef
How Long is the Best Hike in Capitol Reef?
Combining the Frying Pan Trail, the Cassidy Arch Trail (with spur) and the Grand Wash Trail, the total one-way distance of the best hike in Capitol Reef is 8.2 miles / 13.2 km.
How Steep is the Frying Pan Trail?
The Frying Pan Trail has two sections where the trail is steep uphill for an extended amount of time, both within the first 2.7 miles / 4.4km. Once these two sections of the Frying Pan trail are complete, it’s all downhill from here. The elevation gain we recorded for this amazing Capitol Reef hike is 1,260 feet / 385m.
How Difficult is the Best Hike in Capitol Reef?
This combination of three Capitol Reef hikes is a long hiking trail with several long uphill sections. The Capitol Reef NPS hiking guide rates the Frying Pan and Cassidy Arch trails as “Strenuous” and we’d have to agree with them.
Do not attempt this strenuous Capitol Reef hike unless you and your kids are in reasonably good shape.
Our 5 year old daughter walked every step of this difficult Capitol Reef hike by herself and our 3 year old almost made it, but he wanted to be picked up for about 0.6 miles / 1km at the end – both personal records for them.
We’re so proud of our kids; they did amazing on this strenuous Capitol Reef hiking trail. The best part? They had so much fun, they didn’t complain at all.
How Long Does this Capitol Reef Hike Take?
This excellent Capitol Reef hike took us 7 hours and 15 minutes to complete if you include our breaks. Without factoring in breaks, we were hiking for 6 hours.
This is a bit faster pace than we usually achieve with the kids, likely due to the long extended downhill sections and the mini-races we did through the Grand Wash Trail.
Without kids, we could have hiked the best hike in Capitol Reef in around 3 hours.
Trailheads for the Best Hike In Capitol Reef
There are two directions which you can do this one-way Capitol Reef hike. We started on the Frying Pan Trail across the street from Hickman Bridge. The other option is to begin this excellent Capitol Reef hike at the Grand Wash trailhead on Highway 24, about 4km east of the Hickman Bridge parking lot.
We thoroughly enjoyed starting at the Frying Pan Trailhead as we would recommend it to you, but I’m sure the other direction would be equally rewarding.
How to Get to the Frying Pan Trailhead
The Hickman Bridge parking lot is small and busy, so get there early. The Frying Pan trailhead location is across the highway from the parking lot.
How to Get To the Grand Wash Trailhead
If you wish to hike the best hike in Capitol Reef in the other direction, the Grand Wash trailhead location is further east down Highway 24. There isn’t really an official parking lot here, but there is room on the side of the highway (not sure if that’s legal though?)
There’s actually a third option which cuts out most of the Grand Wash Trail. You can start or end your hike at the Cassidy Arch parking lot. Note that this is a much longer walk back to your car though if you can’t catch a ride with someone.
How to Get Back to Your Car
By this point, you’ve probably realized that the best hike in Capitol Reef isn’t a loop and you end at a different location than your car.
Our base plan was for one parent to walk the 2.7 miles / 4.3km from the Grand Wash trailhead back to our car at the Hickman Bridge trail parking lot.
Upon completing the hike at the Grand Wash Trailhead, we were lucky enough to run into a couple who we had talked to on the Frying Pan trail earlier in the day. They were generous enough to drive me back to our car.
We knew from reading comments in discussion groups online that it is common to get a ride from fellow hikers and/or park rangers, but given this is not guaranteed your plan needs to include time to walk back to the car.
Please exercise caution and use your own judgement before getting into a car with a stranger.
Highlights of the Best Hike in Capitol Reef
On a hike of this length, there are many highlights. We felt the scenery along this excellent Capitol Reef hike was some of the best we from our 3.5 weeks in Utah. Some highlights of the Frying Pan to Grand Wash trail are:
- The views of the vast red & white Cohab Canyon are simply breathtaking and make the initial ascent on the Frying Pan Trail very worthwhile.
- The hiking trail has so many giant boulders alongside it that the kids wanted to stop and climb them literally every 30 seconds. While we love watching our kids enjoy their time in nature, to be honest it got a little frustrating after a while.
- The 360 degree views from the Frying Pan trail summit are amazing.
- We’ve seen a ton of arches during our family vacation to Utah, but the Cassidy Arch was interesting and unique enough to stand out from the crowd. Being able to walk (reasonably) safely across the top of Cassidy Arch was a thrill.
- Walking at the bottom of giant canyon walls along the Grand Wash Trail is a humbling experience.
- Despite being in a desert environment, when we did this Capitol Reef hike in early May there were lots of beautiful wildflowers, including flowering cacti and yucca plants.
Hiking the Best Hike in Capitol Reef with Kids
- On the whole, this Capitol Reef hike is safe for kids, but there are sections where the drop-offs are frightening. The hiking trail is always wide enough for everyone, but you will want to hold your kids tight at certain spots.
- There are bathrooms at each trailhead. The Frying Pan Trail isn’t busy at all and there will be plenty of opportunity to water the flowers. It gets much busier from Cassidy Arch to the end of Grand Wash and will have difficulty finding the necessary privacy for any bathroom breaks.
- There are no water stations at the trailheads. If you need to fill your hydration packs before the hike (and we strongly recommend you do) there is a water station at the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center. Fill every single water container you have as there is little relief from the blazing Utah sun on this long hike. Bring more water than you think you need.
- The hiking trail on the best hike in Capitol Reef has a variety of surfaces ranging from packed desert gravel, to uneven rocks to deep sand. You can probably get by with normal shoes, but hiking shoes are recommended. Definitely no flip-flops.
- This Capitol Reef hiking trail is not stroller accessible. By far the most common method parents carried small children in Utah was with a backpack carrier, like this Deuter Kid Comfort (which we have traveled extensively with).
- No dogs are allowed on any of these Capitol Reef hiking trails.
- The kids will love finding all the lizards who make their home near these Capitol Reef hiking trails. There is also an abundance of butterflies and birds.
- There are tons of huge boulders and rock piles alongside the hiking trail. If your kids are natural climbers (as ours are), they’ll have lots of fun climbing every chance you’ll give them.
- There are several great spots to play with echoes along these Capitol Reef hiking trails. We had a great time shouting into the Colab Canyon and into the Grand Wash canyon.
- There are many holes carved into the canyon walls during the Grand Wash leg of the hike. Again, little climbers will love scampering up into them and posing for great pictures.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are tons of great spots to stop and plop down a picnic blanket along these trails and enjoy a world-class view. We stopped for lunch on top of some gigantic boulders at the trail summit, where we got to enjoy the views in every direction.
Capitol Reef Hiking Safety
- The sun can get intense in southern Utah, and given the length of this hike, so bring way more water than you think you will need.
- Beware the combination of strong wind gusts and massive cliffs. Keep your kids away from the edge at all times.
- This is a one-way hike, so one parent may have to walk an additional 2.7 miles / 4km down Highway 24 to get the car. Or, you could do like we did and ask a generous soul to give one parent a lift.
What to Bring Hiking in Capitol Reef
The most important consideration when hiking Capitol Reef National Park with kids is to protect them against the sun. For sun protection we recommend kids wear hiking hats and sunscreen, while carrying hydration packs for the adults and kids will help keep everyone hydrated.
The National Parks Service Junior Ranger program encourages kids to pick up 3 pieces of garbage on every hike. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone did that? At a minimum, bring a small garbage bag to carry out your own trash, and even better carry out someone else’s too.
If you plan on doing a lot of hiking in Capitol Reef with your kids, take a moment to check out our Tips for Hiking with Kids and the Best Hiking Gear for Kids. The miles will go faster and you’ll all have more fun with these hiking songs for kids.
Other Hikes in Capitol Reef
We enjoyed several other Capitol Reef hikes during our three day family vacation, including:
- Looking down on the mighty Chimney Rock while hiking the Chimney Rock Loop.
- Hiking the Capitol Gorge was a great kid-friendly hike in Capitol Reef with plenty of space for the kids to run wild and explore .
- Enjoy great views and an impressive arch on Hickman Bridge Trail, one of the best Capitol Reef hikes.
Hickman Bridge vs Cassidy Arch
If you are short on time and are wondering which of the arches in Capitol Reef is better, the answer depends on your interests and capabilities. Both are very enjoyable hikes with excellent scenery.
Hickman Bridge is the more family-friendly Capitol Reef hike, with lots of stuff for your kids to climb on and explore.
Cassidy Arch is a much harder hike, with a grueling climb up rock steps at the beginning of the hike. When hiking to Cassidy Arch, you are amply rewarded with amazing views and a really interesting and unique arch.
If I was forced to pick just one of the arches in Capitol Reef, I’d say the Cassidy Arch a better arch than Hickman Bridge, but both are really great Capitol Reef National Park hikes.
Capitol Reef National Park with Kids
For more things to do in Capitol Reef National Park with kids and family friendly Capitol Reef hotels, visit our Capitol Reef National Park with Kids post.
Visiting Other Utah National Parks with Kids
No family trip to Utah would be complete without a visit to all of the Mighty 5 National Parks! We’ve got you covered with detailed posts on all the kid-friendly hikes we did and where we stayed while visiting the Utah National Parks:
- Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park with Kids
- Canyonlands National Park with Kids
- Zion Canyon National Park with Kids
- Arches National Park with Kids
We also highly recommend a stop at Goblin Valley State Park with kids!
More National Parks with Kids
Visiting national parks with our kids is one of our favorite things to do when traveling with kids. If your family vacation plans extend beyond Utah, check out these amazing kid-friendly national parks in the US and Canada:
- Shenandoah with Kids
- The Blue Ridge Parkway with Kids (actually a National Parkway, not a national park)
- Great Smoky Mountains with Kids
- Joshua Tree with Kids
- Banff with Kids (Canada’s most beautiful national park)
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