The Cassidy Arch Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. This hike takes you up along the side of a cliff to the top of a high plateau, offering amazing views all along the way. Your ultimate destination is a natural arch sitting along the edge of the plateau – an arch you can actually walk across! Cassidy Arch is named for the outlaw Butch Cassidy who was thought to roam these parts. In this post, I’ll take you along with us as we hike the Cassidy Arch Trail in Capitol Reef National Park on a perfect September afternoon.
How to Get to the Cassidy Arch Trail
Capitol Reef National Park is located in south central Utah – 3.5 hours from Salt Lake City. It’s one of Utah’s famous Mighty 5 National Parks.
To get to the Cassidy Arch Trailhead, follow Capitol Reef’s Scenic Drive from the Visitor’s Center for 3.5 miles. A $20 fee is required in this part of the Park (good for 7 days). A well-marked turnoff directs you down a dirt road. 1.3 miles later you will arrive at the parking area shared by both the Cassidy Arch Trail and the Grand Wash Trail.
From the parking lot, hike 0.3 miles down the Grand Wash and you will arrive at the Cassidy Arch Trailhead. The sign indicates an elevation gain of 950 feet and a distance of 1.5 miles to the Arch. Get ready for some climbing!
Past the trailhead marker, the first part of the trail is quite steep. You are essentially quickly climbing up the side of the plateau’s cliff. Steps have been created at certain sections, and in other sections you hike along a steep sandstone path. I’m scared of heights, but you aren’t directly on the edge, so it’s not a big deal for the height-phobic. It is a strenuous climb though. AllTrails.com rates the Cassidy Arch Trail as a moderate hike. I would rate it as moderate plus. (All Trails also indicates an elevation gain of 660 feet – different than the gain indicated on the trailhead sign).
After the initial ascent, the hike levels off somewhat. There is still a mild elevation gain almost all the way to the arch, but it’s not nearly as strenuous. I’ll have to admit though, once we hit the 1-mile marker, we were both surprised that we still had 0.5 miles to go. It felt like we had hiked much farther.
Ultimately you will turn a corner and can spot the arch in the distance along the edge of the plateau.
Up On Top
As you get closer to the Arch, the hike starts to flatten out. At this point, you are on top of the plateau, and will hike across it to reach the Arch. The sandstone up here is beautiful and varied, featuring unique formations and colors. The trail also becomes less well-defined in this area. Rock piles called cairns mark the trail out to the edge where the Arch lies.
After walking across the flatter sandstone, you will ultimately reach Cassidy Arch. From this viewing distance, the top of the Arch looks quite narrow. If you dare, you can work your way around either direction to the arch itself and stand on top.
My previously mentioned fear of heights required that the braver Mrs. Thorough Tripper go check it out first….
She convinced me that I would be fine…. And it’s not nearly as narrow as it looks from afar 🙂
Turn Around and Head Back Down
Tips For Hiking the Cassidy Arch Trail
- It took us a little less than 2 hours to complete the hike, though we did linger at the Arch for quite a while. Total hiking distance from the parking lot is 3.6 miles.
- Take plenty of water and sunscreen. There is no shade, and even with the temperature only reaching the high 70s on our hiking day, we were feeling pretty warm towards the end.
- There is a pit restroom in the parking lot
- The hike could be a challenge for smaller children or the poorly conditioned.
- The nearby Grand Wash Trail (4.4 miles round trip) is another great hike, and it’s mostly flat and easy. On this hike, you follow the Wash through narrow 500 foot canyon walls. If you aren’t too hot or tired, it’s a great second hike. And you don’t even need to move your car.
- We saved hiking Grand Wash for another day, and drove the rest of the 8 mile Scenic Road after our hike, taking in all the great views along it’s length.
This is the second post in my series on Capitol Reef National Park. Click here to read about an adventurous day driving through the Park’s spectacular but remote Cathedral Valley. And click here to read my Thorough Guide to Capitol Reef. For a look at another great hike in a popular Utah National park, check out my post on the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail