Hickman Bridge is one of the most popular hikes in Capitol Reef National Park and is a good introduction to the park. This easy, scenic hike begins by following the Fremont River before starting to climb along the side of a large hill. The views of the surrounding cliffs and valley get amazing pretty quickly.
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After a climbing a set of stairs to the crest of the hill, the trail enters a valley and starts to descend. This stretch is really fun for the kids with many large and small caves to explore and play in. Before long, you will come to the small loop at the end of the hike; turn right (counter-clockwise) to see the 133 foot natural stone bridge.
We’ve seen a lot of natural stone arches during our month in Utah, but this one held its own. It’s an impressive bridge in a beautiful setting. This one is extra fun because the hiking trail walks right through the hole in the arch.
Distance: The official round trip distance of this hike is 1.8 miles / 2.8 km, but our GPS measured it as 2.3 miles / 3.7 km (the difference likely due to chasing our kids around).
Elevation Gain: The official elevation gain for this hike is 400 feet / 122m, but our GPS clocked in at 480 feet / 146m.
Difficulty: The Capitol Reef hiking map describes this trail as “moderate”, but we’d rank it as “easy”. There are two short inclines on this hike, but they aren’t very hard. Anyone in reasonable shape ought to be able to do it no problem. Our 3 & 5 year old kids easily did this entire hike themselves.
Duration: This hike took us 1 hour and 56 minutes to complete, which is bang-on to our usual pace with the little ones. Without kids, a trail of this length and difficulty would take us roughly 30-45 minutes.
How to Get There: The Hickman Bridge trailhead is along Highway 24, not too far east of the Capitol Reef Visitor Center. This parking lot is used for several trails, so it can get full pretty quickly. We arrived at 9:20am on a Monday morning in April and we got one of the last spots. We noticed that all the overflow vehicles were parked along the highway when we finished our hike.
Hickman Bridge Trail Highlights
- The highlight of this hike is (obviously) the view of the 133 foot Hickman Bridge. It’s an impressive natural rock arch in a beautiful setting. This hike is one of the most popular in the park for a reason.
- The early elevation gain on this hike results in some really nice views of the surrounding Capitol Reef valley. The second half of the hike follows a dry riverbed with cliffs towering overhead and off in the distance.
- Despite being in a desert environment, when we did the hike in April there were lots of beautiful wildflowers, including several flowering cacti.
Hiking Hickman Bridge with Kids
- There are toilets at the Hickman Bridge trailhead. Use them as there are not many spots to hide along this trail if a little one has to go.
- There are no water bottle filling stations on this hike. If you need to top up your hydration packs before starting, the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center has a water station.
- The trail on this hike is a variety of surfaces ranging from soft, deep sand, to stone steps to uneven rock. A good pair of shoes is sufficient for this hike, but real hiking shoes would be better.
- There isn’t much tree cover on this hike, so you need to be prepared for full sun exposure for the duration of the hike. Bring lots of water and sunscreen.
- This trail is not stroller accessible, but most parents we saw hiking with small kids in Utah used a hiking backpack carrier for babies or toddlers.
- No dogs are allowed on Hickman Bridge Trail.
- Keep your eyes open for wildlife. We saw a several lizards, chipmunks and lots of butterflies.
- Along the dry riverbed portion of the trail, there are lots of big and small caves for the kids to explore and play in. The biggest cave even has skylights!
- On our way to the trailhead, we stopped at Gifford House to buy a pie before they sold out (which typically happens before 9am every day). We bought a strawberry rhubarb pie and a cinnamon roll. The pie was freshly baked and still warm, so we descended on it like piranhas on a cow; it was gone it less than a minute! It was pretty small, but man was it good!
We have an entire post full of all our best tips for hiking with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The best place to stop for lunch is somewhere in the loop at the top of the hike. The area around the Hickman Bridge will likely be too crowded to stop as a group for lunch, but once you pass through the natural bridge, there are lots of good places to stop.
Capitol Reef is named after a series of white domes which early settlers thought resembled the dome of the Capitol building in Washington. Capitol Dome is the best known of these white domes and it can be seen from the trailhead if you look east.
- The sun can get intense in southern Utah, so bring more water than you think you will need.
- Due to a looming rock cliff immediately next to the trail, the very beginning of the hike has a falling rock warning.
What to Bring
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 while hiking the Chimney Rock Loop
- The short hike in Capitol Gorge was a great place for the kids to 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.
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 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.