While we may not have done all the hikes in Capitol Reef National Park, we are going out on a limb and calling this hike the best hike in Capitol Reef National Park. If you’ve followed us for a while, you know that we’ve done a fair bit of hiking in some of the most incredible places around the world (both with and without our kids) so we have a pretty good idea what makes an superb hike!
For our final day in Capitol Reef, we strung together three one-way hikes into one continuous back-to-back trail: Frying Pan Trail to Cassidy Arch Trail to Grand Wash Trail. Again, after a 3.5 week road trip around Utah, we both felt this was some of the best hiking we’d done in Utah. It has a little bit of everything which makes 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 hike in Capitol Reef National Park!
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We chose to start this one-way hike in Capitol Reef NP from the Hickman Bridge parking lot and crossed the highway to get to the Frying Pan trailhead. The trail starts to climb reasonably steeply and before long we got good views of the Hickman Bridge Trail we did the other day. The trail clings to the upper ridge of a beautiful valley canyon below on the right. In early May, when we did this hike, there were all sorts of wildflowers, flowering cacti and yucca plants on the trail.
The early views 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 are quite amazing and make it hard to focus on where you are walking! We found a nice lookout point and had a great time shouting words and listening to the echoes – fun for everyone and no surprise our kids wanted to stay and do it over and over.
As you follow the 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 path. As usual, it just feels like Utah is showing off again.
After leaving the ridge of the Cohab Canyon, the 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 hike.
We reached the summit after 2.7 miles / 4.4km and 3h15m of hiking. Our 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 are a great reward for the climb up; you’ll also feel great knowing it’s all downhill from here!
After a well-deserved lunch, we started downhill towards Cassidy Arch. The initial 0.6 miles / 1km after the summit is through a beautiful pine & juniper forest. The kids were so happy for the downhill 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 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 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.
We got to the Cassidy Arch spur trail after 4h15m of hiking. The walk to the arch is a fun one which crosses over smoothly water-carved slickrock. There are a few spots along this trail which 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 arch it, 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 viewing ledge in from on Cassidy Arch is quite frightening and the rock slopes downhill, so again, keep an iron grip on the kids. From the viewpoint, the 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 out quite comfortably, as was Celine. We didn’t risk bringing the kids out on it though.
The final leg down to the canyon floor 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. We have a rule about them needing to walk on the inside – furthest away from the edge.
This section ends with a series of tight downhill switchbacks down steep rock steps. We were glad to be walking down these steps and not up!
It was a real treat to reach the Grand Wash Trail at the bottom of the canyon. This trail is almost completely flat and without any precarious parts, so the kids were so happy to be able to run free without a parent hanging on to their hands. Even after the 5.6 miles / 9.1km it took to get to this point, the kids 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 walk.
After 8.2 miles / 13.2 km and 7h15m of total time (6h00m walking 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 entire thing herself and our 3 year old son walked 12km himself! We were beyond impressed with both of them.
Frying Pan – Cassidy Arch – Grand Wash Hike Stats
Distance: The one-way distance of this hike is 8.2 miles / 13.2 km.
Elevation Gain: This hike has two sections where the trail is steep for an extended amount of time, both within the first 2.7 miles / 4.4km; it’s all downhill from here. The elevation gain we recorded for this hike is 1,260 feet / 385m.
Difficulty: This is a long hike with several long uphill sections. The Capitol Reef hiking guide rates the Frying Pan and Cassidy Arch trails as “Strenuous” and we’d have to agree with them. Do not attempt this hike unless you and your kids are in reasonably good shape.
Our 5 year old daughter walked every step of the way herself and our 3 year old almost made it, but 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 little hikers; they did so amazing and they had so much fun, they didn’t complain at all.
Duration: This hike took us 7 hours and 15 minutes to complete if you include our breaks. Without factoring in breaks, we walked 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.
There are two directions which you can do this one way trail. The one we did starts across the street from Hickman Bridge, the other starts at the Grand Wash trailhead on Highway 24, about 4km east of the Hickman Bridge parking lot. We thoroughly enjoyed the direction we walked and would recommend it, but I’m sure the other direction would be equally rewarding.
How to Get There
If you wish to hike the same direction we did, park at the Hickman Bridge parking lot, on Utah Highway 24, a few minutes east of the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center. It’s a small, busy parking lot used for several different hikes, so get there early. The Frying Pan Trailhead Location is across the highway from the parking lot.
If you wish to go 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
By this point, you’ve probably realized that this trail 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 use your own judgement before getting into a car with a stranger.
On a hike of this length, there are many highlights. We felt the scenery along this hike was some of the best we’ve seen in our 3.5 weeks in Utah. Some highlights are:
- The views of the vast red & white Cohab Canyon are simply breathtaking and make the initial ascent very worthwhile.
- The trail has so many giant boulders alongside it that the kids wanted to stop literally every 30 seconds. While we love watching them enjoy their time in nature, to be honest this got a little frustrating after a while.
- The 360 degree views from the trail summit are amazing.
- We’ve seen a ton of arches during our visit to Utah, but the Cassidy Arch was interesting and unique enough to stand out from the crowd. Being able to (reasonably) safely walk on top of it 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 the hike in early May there were lots of beautiful wildflowers, including flowering cacti and yucca plants.
Hiking Frying Pan – Cassidy Arch – Grand Wash with Kids
- On the whole, this hike has safe trails for kids, but there are sections where the drop-offs are frightening. The 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 Visitor Center. Fill every single water container you have as there is little relief from the blazing Utah sun on this long hike.
- The trail on this hike is 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 trail is not stroller accessible. By far the most common method parents carried small children in Utah was with a backpack carrier.
- No dogs are allowed on any of these trails.
- The kids will love finding all the lizards who make their home near these trails. There is also an abundance of butterflies and birds.
- There are tons of huge boulders and rock piles alongside the 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 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 for a break 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.
- 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
- Sun hats
- Hydration packs for the adults and kids
- Plenty of snacks for everyone and as much water as you can carry
- Good hiking boots for everyone
- A garbage bag to carry out your trash
Other Hikes in Capitol Reef
We enjoyed several other hikes during our three day stay in Capitol Reef, including:
- Looking down on the mighty Chimney Rock from the Chimney Rock Loop
- A walk through the Capitol Gorge was a great place for the kids to run wild and explore
- Enjoy great views and an impressive arch on Hickman Bridge Trail, one Capitol Reef’s most popular hikes.
Hickman Bridge vs Cassidy Arch
If you are short on time and are wondering which arch in Capitol Reef is the better hike, the answer depends on your interests and capabilities. Both are very enjoyable hikes with excellent scenery.
Hickman Bridge is the more family-friendly hike, with lots of stuff for your kids to climb on and explore.
Cassidy Arch is much harder, with a grueling climb up rock steps at the beginning of the hike. You are amply rewarded with amazing views and a really interesting and unique arch.
If I was forced to pick just one, I’d say the Cassidy Arch, but both are really great hikes.
Capitol Reef National Park with Kids
For more Capitol Reef National Park things to do with kids and family friendly Capitol Reef hotels, visit our Capitol Reef National Park with Kids post.
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