Capitol Reef, the least known, and visited, National Park in Utah. But it is a hidden gem. Which is quite a strange label since it is a national park. And in that park, after a long drive on a dirt road, you reach the Cassidy Arch trailhead. Though it is no Delicate Arch, Mesa Arch, or Corona Arch, the Cassidy Arch is just as incredible as the rest. Yet, I had never heard of it either until we checked out the map we were given at the Visitor Center. So don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Court and I planned to check off the last of Utah’s National Parks during a weekend in April. After driving down from Salt Lake, we arrived at the BLM camping area before the sun set below the rocky cliffs that surround the sites. But even with all the extra time we had to relax and unwind around camp, Utah’s cold, Spring winds picked up and had us retiring to our tent shortly after we set up camp. An unfortunate, but common occurrence for most of our spring camping trips. But we weren’t going to let this rain on our parade (or our weekend).
The next morning, once we finally got the Coleman stove working in the cold, we headed into the park. Capitol Reef is significantly different the rest of Utah’s parks. It’s far less crowded and less, desert-like. We followed the main road for a few miles and then turned onto the Grand Wash dirt road. Thankfully, we took Court’s jeep this weekend, because my Scion definitely would have struggled to get back there. We bounced along dirt road, for a mile or so, until we finally reached the trailhead parking lot which was full of trucks. Not even on a trial yet, and the landscape around us was incredible. The tan colored walls towered high above us, but the arch was nowhere in sight yet. So we grabbed our packs, a last handful of gummy bears, and headed up the trail.
Up the wash we hiked, until the trail turned onto the side of the cliff wall. Off in the distance, a mountain peak stuck out from the surrounding bluffs like the Mount Crumpit over Whooville. The cliff walls we hiked along were layered different shades of reds, whites, and tans, with green bushes scattered throughout. A unique difference between this park and the rest of them. We passed through the landscape, nearly in solitude, with very few others on the trail. Another, much appreciated, difference compared to the arch trails in the other parks. But unlike those trails, these ones had lizards! Not usually a big deal, but we’d been spending so much time in the desert this past winter and rarely saw any kind of wildlife other than birds. So we were stoked to see these little guys.
As we came around the bend in the trail, we could finally see the arch for the first time. From a distance, it looked more like a cave. But as we got closer, the arch came into view. It was incredible. A bridge that connected two cliff walls. Below the arch, a group of climbers were rappelling down the cliff walls. Beyond the arch, off in the distance, was the sandstone mountains of the most incredible shapes. Rounded shapes piled on top of each other, like a mud castle one makes at the beach as a kid. Below the arch, you can see the groves and layers in the rocky walls across the valley. Truly stunning. We sat there, just watching the climbers and guides rappel down their 9mm ropes, into the abyss. We were told you could reach the bottom, right near the parking lot, in only three rappels. Next time, we are definitely bringing our climbing gear with us.
Of course, we had to set the camera up on time-lapse mode and walk over the arch for a picture. Unlike the rest of the arches, you can actually walk across this one! Another reason why this arch is totally worth the trip into the desert. Not to mention, the arch is a quick hike from the parking lot. The entire trail is only 3.1 miles, but it does climb up over 1,000 feet in that short distance.
Capitol Reef, as it stands, is an incredible place. I recommend going there with a car that has 4×4 capability. I also recommend to lower expectations. Unlike the other parks in Utah, this one does not have many incredible lookouts that are a short walk from the road or on the roadside. All of the lookouts and “attractions” require you to drive down dirt roads or hike at least a mile. But if you would like to avoid crowds, and quickly get into the backcountry, Capitol Reef is the place for you.