Chimney Rock is an impressive, towering natural spire which rises over 300 feet above the road. The Chimney Rock Loop takes you to the top of a mesa and allows hikers a view looking down on Chimney Rock as well as the amazing scenery up and down the valley. It’s an amazing hike which reminded us a lot of the Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon (one of our favorite hikes in Utah).
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The hike begins reasonably flat, but soon transitions to a series of switchbacks to the top of the mesa. This is the first of three stretches of altitude gain on this hike. Once you reach the Mesa top, the trail flattens out a bit and the views start to become pretty awesome.
The level trail doesn’t last long and the second incline begins. These inclines will test anyone who isn’t reasonably fit, but in truth they aren’t that bad. We were not short of breath and our two kids (aged 3 & 5) made it to the top on their own power without problems.
At the top, you can take a well deserved look down on Chimney Rock. It’s a gratifying feeling looking down on this monster which was looming so far overhead not long ago.
The hike becomes really fun at this stage. With the exception of a modest incline in the final stretch of the loop, the trail is all downhill from this point onwards. The trail snakes alongside the edge of the mesa flattop and then works its way down the opposite side of the mesa, winding through a series of small stream canyons. Again, the scenery is incredibly nice out along this upper stretch of the hike, and the winding downhill stretch feels effortless.
The hike soon reaches the base of a tall cliff with massive boulders (which have broken off this cliff and fallen) all around the trail. Once through this boulder graveyard the trail turns sharply east and goes slightly uphill until the end of the loop. This section of the trail parallels a section of massive red rock cliffs on the right.
About halfway through this final stretch, the sky darkened and it looked like it was raining in the distance. We picked up our kids for some extra speed as being at the bottom of a canyon didn’t seem to be a smart place to be in the rain. We were almost at the car by the time it started raining, so the extra speed paid off.
Hike Stats for Chimney Rock Loop Trail
Distance: The round trip distance of this loop trail is 3.6 miles / 5.9km.
Elevation Gain: This hike has two sections where the trail is steep for an extended amount of time. The official elevation gain for this hike is 590 feet / 180m.
Difficulty: The NPS Capitol Reef hiking guide rates this hike as “strenuous”. This is no easy stroll along a riverside, nor is it a grueling sludge to the top of a high mountain, so we’d respectfully disagree with the park and rate this trail as “moderate”. Anyone in reasonable shape ought to be able to do it no problem. Our kids did the hard climbing parts of this hike themselves, with the small exception of us picking them up when thunderclouds started looming overhead towards the end of the hike.
Duration: This hike took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete. This is a bit faster than usual; likely due to the fact we carried them for the final stretch to avoid being caught in a thunderstorm. Without us carrying them, our typical pace hiking with the kids would have us complete it in 3 hours.
How to Get There: The trailhead is on Utah Highway 24 a few minutes west of the Capitol Reef Visitor Center. It’s a small parking lot, but we were able to get a spot around noon on a Monday in April.
Chimney Rock Trail Highlights
- The biggest highlight of this hike is the dual thrill of seeing Chimney Rock from two very different angles. The first is staring up at this 300 foot beast from the parking lot, but it’s even better staring down on it from above. The viewing area has steep drop offs, so hang on to your kids. We had the kids take turns going to the viewing area (holding hands the entire time) while the other parent stayed back with the other kid.
- The elevation gain pays off big time in the form of panoramic views of the Capitol Reef valley. From the mesa-top, there are still many dramatic cliffs looming overhead, but in many directions you can see for miles.
- The descent from the summit of this hike is a long and enjoyable one. The trail snakes its way down the side of the mesa, offering amazing views of the rain run-off valleys and the looming cliffs overhead.
- Despite being in a desert environment, when we did the hike in April there were lots of beautiful wildflowers.
Hiking Chimney Rock with Kids
- As you’ll see from the parking lot, this mesa has some serious cliffs. When you are at the top, the trail doesn’t get very close to the cliffs, but there is certainly opportunity for them to get close, so watch your kids really close.
- The wind gets strong at the top and it’s noticeably colder. Bring extra layers of clothing to put on at the top.
- There are bathrooms at the trailhead. This trail isn’t too busy and there are lots of places for kids to go along the way if required.
- There are no water stations at the trailhead. If you need to fill your hydration packs before the hike (and we recommend you do) there is a water station at the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center. Fill every single container you have as there is little relief from the blazing Utah sun on this hike.
- Likewise, lots of sunscreen is a must.
- The trail on this hike is a variety of surfaces ranging from packed desert gravel to uneven rocks. You can get by with normal shoes, but hiking shoes or boots are even better. Definitely no flip-flops.
- This trail is not stroller accessible, but the most popular method we saw of parents hiking with small kids in Utah is putting them in a carrier.
- No dogs are allowed on Chimney Rock Loop Trail.
- We had typically seen lots of wildlife on our Utah hikes, but this day we only saw a couple of small lizards.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
Stopping along the top of the mesa is a great spot for lunch. The views are incredible and you’ll feel like you earned your meal. If the wind is blowing too hard for and enjoyable break, just walk downhill a ways and you’ll find some spots where you are sheltered from the wind. The views will still be great, trust us!
- The sun can get intense in southern Utah, so bring more water than you think you will need.
- Beware the combination of strong wind gusts and massive cliffs. Keep your kids far away from the edge at all times.
- Be aware that the final leg of the loop (walking counter-clockwise) is at the bottom of a canyon. You’ll notice that you walk through or cross many dry stream beds. These stream beds won’t stay dry long if a storm blows through, so watch the skies carefully. A storm was blowing in as we were walking though this section. To be safe, we picked up the kids to get back to the car as quick as possible.
What to Bring
Other Hikes in Capitol Reef
We enjoyed several other hikes during our three day stay in Capitol Reef, including:
- Enjoy great views and an impressive arch on Hickman Bridge Trail, one Capitol Reef’s most popular hikes.
- A walk through the Capitol Gorge with kids was a great place to let them run wild and explore
- An all-day adventure stringing the Frying Pan, Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash Trails together for some of the best scenery in the park.
Capitol Reef National Park with Kids
For more Capitol Reef National Park things to do with kids and family friendly Capitol Reef NP hotels, visit our Capitol Reef National Park with Kids post.