Capitol Reef National Park Winter Hikes

There are amazing Capitol Reef National Park winter hikes to do at this Utah National Park during the offseason. Before hiking at Capitol Reef in the winter you should talk to a park ranger to get the most updated information about trail conditions and weather.

It will be cold with the possibility of snow-covered red rocks, but if you’re prepared with the right gear, you’ll enjoy the quiet beauty hiking in the winter at Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef National Park winter hikes

This list of Capitol Reef winter hikes details the distance, time, elevation gain, and important information about what it’s like to hike each trail.

In this Capitol Reef National Park guide we also share tips to help you plan your winter vacation: hiking trails, what to pack, where to stay, and more! It’s important to know the services available, weather, and road conditions to expect during the winter months at Capitol Reef.

Living only a few hours away, we’ve had the opportunity to visit Capitol Reef National Park many times. In this article you’ll find helpful resources to plan your winter vacation to Capitol Reef National Park based on our experiences visiting the area throughout the years.

Our number one tip is to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting Capitol Reef during the winter months. Grab your free printable Capitol Reef National Park packing list by clicking the image below!

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A Photo Tour of Capitol Reef National Park

Take a visual tour through Capitol Reef National Park to see the stunning landscape and wildlife you’ll find in the park!

What to Expect at Capitol Reef in the Winter

In the winter many of the Capitol Reef services have changed hours or have closed for the season. Check the website for specific Capitol Reef operating hours.

Winter is the offseason for all five Utah National Parks so you’ll enjoy the park with no crowds. But the weather can be unpredictable and the temperatures will be cold.

Winter Weather at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park weather in the winter can be unpredictable with rain or snow. Here are the average temperatures you can expect at Capitol Reef in the winter:

Fruita Barn at Capitol Reef National Park
Fruita Barn

Capitol Reef National Park Winter Hiking Tips

One of the best Capitol Reef National Park winter activities is hiking. Your safety is your responsibility, especially during the winter. Important things to note when hiking at Capitol Reef:

  • Stay on the trail.
  • Stay back from cliff edges.
  • Observe posted warnings.
  • Please watch children.
  • Avoid narrow canyons when storms are threatening.

Winter Clothing for Hiking

Canyonlands National Park experiences cold weather in the winter. Be sure to wear and pack winter clothing essentials.

  • Base Layers: Wicking base layers will give you the warmth you need to fight off the cold winter weather in Canyonlands. Plus, you can take them off easily whenever you no longer need them. 
  • Fleece jacketsFleece jackets serve as a light layer on warmer days in the park but can also add warmth to your layering.
  • Insulated Jackets: Insulated jackets provide the perfect warmth whether you are going for a light hike or a more extended excursion. 
  • Wool socks: Do not wear cotton socks. It is best to wear wool socks for winter. Bring a spare just in case anything unexpected happens.
  • Insulated hats: An insulated hat will protect you from losing too much of your body temperature through your head.
  • Winter gloves: If it’s extremely cold, use an insulating glove inside a waterproof shell mitt to provide dexterity and warmth.
  • Waterproof hiking bootsHiking boots need to be waterproof. You may also need traction devices for some trails.

Winter Hiking Gear

Canyonlands National Park has no services during the winter, so you must bring everything you need. Here’s the winter hiking gear we recommend:

  • Water: At least two liters of water is enough for a day in Canyonlands, but it does not hurt to bring more. Use a wide-mouth Nalgene water bottle since the narrow-mouth are prone to freeze shut more easily. A Neoprene bottle sleeve also works. Canyonlands is a desert so dehydration remains a threat even in winter. The Maze does not have running water, but you can get water at Island in the Sky and The Needles.
  • First aid kit: No matter whether your hike is long or short, always pack a hiking first aid kit. Make sure your first aid kit has the essentials like plasters, bandages, anti-bacterial wipes, etc. Other items to pack for a winter day hike are a hiking lighter and a PLASTIC whistle.
  • Headlamps: Carry a headlamp for winter hiking because there are fewer hours of daylight. Use lithium batteries for all electronic devices since they are resistant to cold temperatures.
  • Snacks: Snacks are essential. Choose the ones that are easy to munch, so you can grab them to refuel your energy. Also, snacks that are high in protein and carbohydrates are strongly recommended.

Since most of the trails are fully exposed to the sun you’ll need sunscreen, even in the winter.

Trails are usually marked with cairns (small rock piles) and have signs at intersections. Many remote trails do not receive regular maintenance and may not be adequately marked. All backcountry hikers should carry a topographic map.

In the winter the trails may be covered in snow or ice that may require traction devices for hiking.

winter hiking gear

Winter Capitol Reef National Park Hikes

Always remember, winter hikes at Capitol Reef require careful preparation due to the cold weather and potential snowfall. So, bundle up, wear sturdy boots, and bring along your sense of adventure!

Many of the best day hikes in Capitol Reef National Park can be explored in the winter. Here’s a list of the trails we recommend:

Hickman Bridge hike in the winter
Hickman Bridge hike in the winter

Hickman Bridge Winter Hike

  • Distance: 1.8 miles roundtrip
  • Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Elevation Change: 400 ft 
  • Trailhead Location: parking lot along Highway 24 marks the trailhead to the Hickman Bridge Trail

Among the most popular hikes in the park is Hickman Bridge, which is a suitable trail for beginners or families. The two-mile hike includes some mild inclines but nothing strenuous.

The trail may have snow-packed or icy sections which may require traction devices. We recommend you check trail conditions at the Visitor Center.

The hike begins with some smaller switchbacks before leveling out a bit. The trail continues along a wash then climbs a little higher with walls starting to tower over you.

At the fork in the trail, we recommend going to the right, but both will take you to the bridge since it’s a loop. Soon you will see the view of the bridge.

The trails rated as Easy may have uneven ground in places, but are fairly level for most of the hike.

Capitol Gorge Trail at Capitol Reef
Capitol Gorge Trail at Capitol Reef

Capitol Gorge, Pioneer Register and The Tanks Winter Hikes

  • Distance: 2 miles roundtrip
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Elevation Change: 80 ft 
  • Trailhead Location: small parking lot at the end of the Capitol Gorge spur trail at the end of the Scenic Drive

Walking along the Capitol Gorge trail is a terrific winter hike at Capitol Reef! There is a trail that runs parallel to the wash, eventually going into the wash.

As you hike, watch for The Pioneer register on the right that is kind of high up on the wall. On the left keep an eye out for the sign pointing out some petroglyphs. Further down on the left there will be more names from the pioneers that first went through the area. You can see evidence of old phone lines going through the gorge as well.

Tanks Trail at Capitol Reef
The Tanks filled with water

Toward the end of the walled canyon there will be a sign and cairns on the left leading to the Tank Trail. This hike requires a short section of scrambling over rocks as the trails heads up to the top, which could be slippery in the winter.

The tanks are cool to see, especially when they are filled with water. Enjoy the views of the canyon and keep an eye out for big horned sheep on the rocks in this area.

Goosenecks Overlook at Capitol Reef
Goosenecks Overlook

Goosenecks Overlook Winter Hike

  • Distance: 0.2 miles roundtrip
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Elevation Change: less than 50 ft
  • Trailhead Location: from Highway 24, turn onto the gravel road for Panorama Point and Sunset Point. Continue down the gravel road to the end and park in the parking lot. This road is suitable for standard cars.

The trail is a short switchback hike with a few rocky steps before hitting the top that overlooks Sulphur Creek Canyon. Traction devices may be needed depending on trail conditions.

Be sure to continue along where the trail dips and leads you to the edge of the canyon, where a metal fence marks the end of the trail.

Sunset Point after sunset at Capitol Reef
Sunset Point after sunset

Sunset Point Winter Hike

  • Distance: 0.8 miles roundtrip
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Elevation Change: less than 50 ft
  • Trailhead Location: same parking lot as Goosenecks hike above

The Sunset Point Trail is the shortest day hike in Capitol Reef National Park. The trail leads to a stunning view of the landscape made up of colorful cliffs and domes.

As the name would suggest, it’s a great spot Capitol Reef National Park photography spot at sunset. We also recommend it as a good sunrise photo spot as well!

Grand Wash Narrows
Grand Wash Narrows

Grand Wash Winter Hike to the Narrows

  • Distance: 2-ish miles roundtrip
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Elevation Change: 200 ft
  • Trailhead Location: there are two trailheads: one on Highway 24 and one at the end of Grand Wash Road along the Scenic Drive.

The Grand Wash is a cool slot canyon that doesn’t require walking in water, unlike Sulphur Creek or the Narrows hike at Zion National Park.

We don’t recommend hiking the entire length of this trail. Instead, start the hike at either trailhead and walk until you reach the narrowest section, called The Narrows. This is about one mile in whether you start at the trailhead on Highway 24 or at Grand Wash.

The Narrows is the central section of the Grand Wash, and it is roughly 1 mile from both of these trailheads. So, you can hike to the Narrows from either starting point and it is the same distance. 

Cohab Canyon hike
Cohab Canyon

Cohab Canyon Winter Hike

  • Distance: 3.4 miles roundtrip
  • Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Elevation Change: 440 ft 
  • Trailhead Location: across from the Fruita Barn

Cohab Canyon Trail provides amazing views of the Fruita area! Park in the small lot across from the Fruita Barn, then walk a short distance toward the campground to find the start of the trail.

The hike is an immediate climb UP! Check with the ranger to see if traction devices are needed for this hike.

The trail leads through Cohab Canyon then has one final climb to the top of the mesa where you’ll find a north overlook and a south overlook.

Cassidy Arch
Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch Winter Hike

  • Distance: 3.4 miles roundtrip
  • Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Elevation Change: 845 ft 
  • Trailhead Location: end of the Grand Wash Road

As you drive down Grand Wash Road, at about 0.75 miles you’ll see the viewpoint for Cassidy Arch. It’s a fun stop to see the arch from below before you do the hike.

This short hike features breathtaking views over the Grand Wash. But the most fun part is the chance to stand on Cassidy Arch and get your picture taken!

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock Loop Winter Hike

  • Distance: 3.5 mile loop
  • Time: 2 to 4 hours
  • Elevation Change: 580 ft 
  • Trailhead Location: Chimney Rock parking lot along UT 24 near the west entrance to Capitol Reef

The start of the hike is pretty flat, but then transitions to a series of switchbacks until you reach the top of the mesa. Take a breather and enjoy the views!

There’s a second incline taking you to the top where you can view Chimney Rock.

At this point, the trail is all downhill from here as you work your way down the opposite side of the mesa.

capitol reef guides and map

Capitol Reef Winter Lodging

Capitol Reef Itineraries

Check out these done-for-you itineraries for Capitol Reef based on the time you have to spend exploring the park! Click the graphic below to grab a free copy of the travel bundle with printable itineraries!

Get the Capitol Reef Travel Bundle

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