Time for only 1 hike in Capitol Reef? - Hike Cohab Canyon!
Are you looking for a beautiful hike to get your morning started off right when exploring Capitol Reef National Park? Look no further than the Cohab Canyon Trail. Capitol Reef has a number of great hikes, but probably none that give you spectacular views of the famous "Capitol Domes" (for which the park is named), cool slot canyons, and an aerial view of the town of Fruita and its surrounding Orchards - all in one hike.
Cohab Canyon can be hiked as a point-to-point hike from the town of Fruita to the Fremont River (just across the street from the Hickman Bridge trailhead) or as an out-and-back hike. Point-to-point the trail is 1.7 miles long and climbs 440 feet, with most of the elevation gain coming at the first part of the hike.
To avoid having to shuttle, I recommend hiking the trail out-and-back from the Fruita side and hiking to both the North and South Overlooks from the main trail. The trailhead is well marked and starts just across the road from the barn in Fruita. There is a dirt parking lot, just north of the trailhead.
The trail starts with some steep switchbacks up the hillside for the first half mile, gaining about 340 feet of elevation. This is the toughest part of the hike. Once past this short steep section you are rewarded with a beautiful canyon and an elevated view of the surrounding area.
The trail flattens out and takes a left into Cohab Canyon. Rock walls line both sides of the canyon creating some welcome shade. As the trail meanders through the canyon, side trails lead into narrower slot canyons that are fun to explore.
At about 1.1 miles you'll come to a junction in the trail where you can hike to the North and South Overlooks or you can complete the point-to-point hike ending descending to Highway 24. I highly recommend going to one or both overlooks if you have time.
From the junction to the North Overlook is about .4 miles one way and gains about 200 feet of elevation. The South Overlook is accessed from this same trail and is .5 miles from the junction and also gains about 200 ft in elevation. Doing both overlooks, adds about 1.2 miles roundtrip to this hike and about 400 feet of elevation gain.
The North overlook brings you to the edge of a cliff and provides great views of the white "capitol" formations from which the park gets its name. You can also see the Fremont River down below and highway 24 as it winds its way through the park.
While the North Overlook is on a cliff edge, don't be intimidated if you are afraid of heights. The overlook is quite large and there are cliffs below it so a large fall from this overlook is unlikely. Of the two overlooks, the North is a little easier to get to and provides the best views of the more dramatic and distinct rock formations of the park.
The South Overlook is a bit further than the North Overlook, and while its views may not be as grand, the hike out to the overlook is beautiful and crosses some fun terrain.
The overlook itself is set on a large sandstone cliff, with large boulders scattered all around it, making for some interesting foreground elements for a photo. As its name suggests it provides views of the Reef looking south in the direction of Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. I found both overlooks to be beautiful and definitely worth the side detour from the Cohab Canyon trail if you have time.
The Cohab Canyon hike is great for anyone that isn't intimidated by a few steep switchbacks. Once you get the initial ascent out of the way, the trail enters Cohab Canyon that has a unique beauty. The canyon provides a home to diverse plant life and pine trees along with several small side canyons little children and large adults will love to explore.
If you take my recommended route starting at Fruita and hiking to the trail junction and going to both the North and South Overlooks and then heading back the way you came, you'll hike about 3.4 miles and gain about 800 feet of elevation. I recommend hiking Cohab Canyon in the Spring or Fall months any time of day, or in the morning or evening during the summer to avoid the heat.
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