Utah

Hiking the Popular Cassidy Arch Trail in Capitol Reef National Park

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.

The parking lot for both the Cassidy Arch Trail and the Grand Wash Trail in Capitol Reef
The parking area for the Cassidy Arch Trailhead

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!

The Cassidy Arch TrailHead in Capitol Reef National Park

Going Up

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).

Beginning the initial ascent along the Cassidy Arch Trail
Sandstone Steps and a great view while hiking in Utah's  Capitol Reef
Standing on the steep sandstone trail while hiking to Cassidy Arch

Leveling Off

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.

Looking down about halfway along the Cassidy Arch Trail
Looking down after the first part of the ascent

Ultimately you will turn a corner and can spot the arch in the distance along the edge of the plateau.

A picture of Cassidy Arch as it sits on the edge of a plateau in Capitol Reef National Park
Notice the Arch in the right upper corner

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.

Hiking across the mostly flat sandstone surface atop the plateau
Unusual and beautiful rock formations in Capitol Reef National Park
Unusual and beautiful rock formations including yellow sandstone in Capitol Reef National Park
Cairns mark the trail approaching the Arch
Notice the rock cairn on the left edge of the photo

Cassidy Arch

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.

Cassidy Arch in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park

My previously mentioned fear of heights required that the braver Mrs. Thorough Tripper go check it out first….

Standing on top of Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef National Park

She convinced me that I would be fine…. And it’s not nearly as narrow as it looks from afar 🙂

Standing on top of Cassidy Arch with an angle showing it's exact width
Standing on top of the Arch
Looking down over the edge of Cassidy Arch
Looking down over the edge of the Arch

Turn Around and Head Back Down

Cassidy Arch from a distance along the its trail

Tips For Hiking the Cassidy Arch Trail

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. There is a pit restroom in the parking lot
  4. The hike could be a challenge for smaller children or the poorly conditioned.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
Views of Capitol Reef's Waterpocket Fold on the Scenic Drive
View of Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold on the Scenic Drive

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

24 Comments

    • thethoroughtripper

      Tasha would have loved it…..

      (Bryan is my brother – some of you may remember him from past boating stories. Anyway, Tasha was our dog growing up – a dachshund. We camped in Arches NP every spring break for years when we were kids and she loved to scramble around the red rock with us. It was always amazing to see what that wiener dog could do on steep sandstone)

      • Becky Exploring

        Another beautiful hike, Steven! The scenery and rock formations on your hikes are so different from ones that I’ve been on. It’s nice to be able to virtually hike somewhere different. That arch is stunning and I’m glad your fear of heights wasn’t an issue!

  • Linda Kouwenhoven

    I can only imagine the colour of your shoes…hahaha…no white canvas on these trails. I love the picture of the rock that has the overhang! Looks like one to add to a photo wall 😀 Sure hope to get down that way one of these years!

    • thethoroughtripper

      Here’s how it went down – About 3 groups of hikers including us were looking across at the Arch. I said, I’m pretty sure we can walk on top of it – I’ve seen pictures online. We all said – it looks kinda scary. Mrs. TT said – Come on everybody, live a little. I’ll go…

  • Ross

    This looks like an absolutely amazing hike Steven. Those rock formations are incredible and love the colours. A couple of places where you need a head for heights by the look of it. Great photos and tips. Thanks 👍

    • thethoroughtripper

      A head for heights is definitely helpful, but it’s also easy to stay away from the edges if you don’t have one. Thanks for reading!

  • kmf

    I’m loving my hikes at state parks in MN – just hiked at my 28th park today. And once I’m done with that challenge, I’m hitting the national parks – and Utah keeps calling my name! This hike looks perfect! And great photos!

  • Lisa at Following the Rivera

    Great post Steven. I’ve never been to Utah when in the US, plus I’m a newbie hiker. I really enjoyed reading this one of the Cassidy Arch Trail.

    • thethoroughtripper

      I know the Utah National Parks and surrounding towns are missing their European visitors. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to come over here when things get back to normal

  • Wendy White

    This sounds and looks like somewhere we would love to hike. The views from the summit are worth the effort on the climb. I love the sandstone rock formations and the redness, reminds me of the Australian outback.

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