December 1, 2023
Cathedral Valley featured photo

Cathedral Valley featured photo 1

Enjoy the most scenic drive in Capitol Reef National Park. Explore the backcountry of this amazing park and discover wonders like Cathedral Valley, a deep gorge with towering sandstone monoliths.

The Most Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

Photo of Cathedral Valley Capitol Reef
This photo was taken on the Cathedral Valley 58 mile 4x road, which winds through the spectacular Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park. (Photo by D. Saparow)

I find it interesting that on our first road trip to Capitol Reef National Park it was a bit underwhelming for me. However, on our next visit, we decided to explore the back-country of the park. Wow, it totally exceeded my expectations, and now Capitol Reef National Park is my favorite park in Utah.

What is the Cathedral Valley?

Cathedral Valley is a scenic drive in Capitol Reef National Park that takes you through some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the park. The valley is home to many different geological features, including the Glass Mountain and the Temple of the Sun and Moon. The drive is 57.6 mile (92.7 km) long and takes you through some of the most remote and untouched parts of the park.

How Do I Get to Cathedral Valley?

Cathedral Valley is located in the south-central part of Capitol Reef National Park. The easiest way to access the valley is via the Cathedral Valley loop road, (which is a gravel road that is impassable in wet weather). The loop road can be accessed from both the east and west sides of the park.

What Are the Most Popular Activities in Cathedral Valley?

Some of the most popular activities in Cathedral Valley include hiking, backpacking, photography, and sightseeing. The valley is home to many unique rock formations, including the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, which are popular destinations for hikers and backpackers. Photography enthusiasts will enjoy capturing the natural beauty of the landscape, and sightseers will appreciate the panoramic views of the valley.

The Valley offers a variety of hiking trails that vary in difficulty, making it a great place for both beginner and experienced hikers.

Photo of Cathedral Valley Capitol Reef2
Cathedral Valley (Photo by D. Saparow)

What Are the Must-See Sights in Cathedral Valley?

There are several must-see sights in Cathedral Valley, including:

  1. The Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon: two of the largest and most impressive monoliths in the valley
  2. The Golden Cathedral: a massive rock formation that glows golden in the late afternoon sun
  3. The White Dome: a striking white rock formation that is one of the most popular photographic spots in the park
  4. The Capitol Reef: A massive rock formation that is the largest in the park
Cathedral Valley
Cathedral Valley (Photo by D. Saparow)

What Are the Most Scenic Drives in Capitol Reef National Park?

There are many scenic drives in Capitol Reef National Park, but the most popular and well-known is Cathedral Valley. This valley is home to many of the park’s iconic features, including the towering monoliths of the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon. Visitors can explore the valley via a network of dirt roads, and there are also many hiking trails that wind through the area.

Cathedral Valley is the most scenic drive in Capitol Reef National Park for a few reasons. First, the valley is home to some of the most unique and interesting rock formations in the park. Second, the valley offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and cliffs. Finally, the valley is a great place to see wildlife, including bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope.

What Are the Best Times of Year to Visit Cathedral Valley?

The best times of year to visit Cathedral Valley are spring and fall. The weather is mild and the flowers are blooming, the views are stunning and the hiking is great.

Can I Camp in Cathedral Valley?

Yes, dispersed camping is available in the Cathedral Valley Campground. This car/van/tent* campground is located in the heart of the valley and offers stunning views of the surrounding rock formations.

The Cathedral Valley Campground is located approximately halfway on the Cathedral Valley Loop Road, which traverses Capitol Reef’s Cathedral District. About 36 miles (57.9 km) from the visitor center, this primitive, no-fee campground has 6 sites, each with a picnic table and fire grate. There is a pit toilet, but no water is available. The campground is open year-round, but could be inaccessible due to weather. Visitors should check road conditions with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center (or call the information line) prior to planning an overnight stay. The campground is at approximately 7,000 feet (2,133 m) in elevation, in the Pinyon/Juniper-clad foothills of Thousand Lake Mountain. No reservations; first-come, first-served.

*Note: There is RV dispersed camping near the visitor center.

Cathedral Valley River Ford
Cathedral Valley River Ford

Cathedral Valley Trip Planning and Safety

Cathedral Valley is a remote and rugged part of Capitol Reef National Park. The roads are usually negotiable by vehicles with high ground clearance, but it’s always a good idea to check at the visitor center (435-425-3791) for current road conditions before you go. If you’re planning on visiting Cathedral Valley, be sure to carry plenty of water, food, gas, adequate clothing, and emergency supplies.

The driving loop tour of the valley is about 6-8 hours long, and it is recommended that visitors drive the loop counter-clockwise. Starting from the Hartnet Road located 11.7 miles (18.8 km) east of the visitor center on Highway 24, continue on for 27.8 miles (44.7 km) to Hartnet Junction and turn right (north) onto Cathedral Road.

IMPORTANT: When planning a trip to Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park, it is important to be aware of potential dangers and take necessary precautions. For example, visitors should not attempt to cross the river during floods or other periods of high water. Additionally, it is important to ask at the visitor center about river ford conditions or call 435-425-3791 before attempting to cross. The ford has a hard packed, rocky bottom and water levels are normally a foot or less deep, so please take care when crossing. Also, please honor the posted no trespassing signs along the road near the ford by not parking off-road or camping in the vicinity.

See the Park pdf flyer for more info.

What are the best hiking trails in Cathedral Valley?

Cathedral Valley is home to some of the best hiking trails in Capitol Reef National Park. The valley is full of incredible rock formations, slot canyons, and petroglyphs that make for an unforgettable experience. (Also see: National Park Maps).

capitol reef cathedral district trail
capitol reef cathedral district trail

❶ Jailhouse Rock and Temple Rock Route

4.5 miles (7.3 km) round trip

2-3 hours

Moderate

Starting at the Lower South Desert Overlook (15.2 miles [24.5 km] northwest of Highway 24 via the Hartnet Road), an old road leads to a viewpoint that overlooks Jailhouse Rock, a large promontory rising from the valley floor. To continue on to Temple Rock, follow the switchbacking track until it disappears along the valley floor. A faint single track then leads around the north side of Jailhouse Rock across the South Desert and rejoins the road before reaching a low passage between volcanic dikes. Ascending the dike on the left provides a vantage point for viewing Temple Rock, an eroded monolith of Entrada sandstone. It is roughly 2.3 miles (3.7 km) from this point back to the trailhead.

❷ Lower Cathedral Valley Overlooks Route

1.5-2.5 miles (2.5-3.9 km) round trip

1-2 hours

Moderate

While most visitors look up at the Temples of the Sun and Moon from below, this hike offers a bird’s eye view of the two monoliths. Access is from the Hartnet Road, 17.6 miles (28.3 km) from Highway 24. A wooden sign with a diagram of the ridge ahead marks the start of the route. Follow the faint path to the north across a brushy flat, then climb a short, steep pitch to the rim of a saddle that affords views of Lower Cathedral Valley to the north.

A second saddle to the east can be accessed by returning to the base of the cliffs and turning east, following a sandy wash to a point level with the low pass to the north. While there is no reliable trail connecting the two saddles, there may be a faint track guiding hikers between the viewpoints. It is roughly 0.9 mile (1.4 km) between the two saddles. From here, traverse cross-country back to the trailhead, completing a 2.5 mile loop.

❸ Upper South Desert Overlook

0.4 mile (0.6 km) round trip

<30 minutes

Moderate

This short path affords views of the upper reaches of South Desert, flanked on the north side by steep cliffs, and the Henry Mountains to the east. A short spur road leaving the Hartnet Road 27.1 miles (43.6 km) from Highway 24 provides access to the trailhead. After a short stretch across relatively level terrain, the footpath climbs steeply to the top of a rocky outcrop with a 360-degree panorama.

❹ Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook

0.2 mile (0.3 km) round trip

<30 minutes

Easy

Approximately 27.4 miles (44.1 km) from Highway 24, a dirt track departs the Hartnet Road, heading north 0.3 mile (0.5 km) to the trailhead. A short, rolling trail leads to an excellent view of Upper Cathedral Valley. The panorama is highlighted by a line of monoliths in the valley below known as the Cathedrals.

❺ Morrell Cabin Trail

0.4 mile (0.6 km) round trip

<30 minutes

Easy

This short hike begins 1.8 miles (2.9 km) north of the junction of the Hartnet and Cathedral Roads, at the base of a series of steep, rocky switchbacks, approximately 28.1 miles (45.2 km) from Highway 24 (via the Cathedral Road). Follow an old road 0.2 mile (0.3 km) to Lesley Morrell’s historic cabin, used as a seasonal camp for local cowboys from the 1930s until 1970. The cabin is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors may peer through the windows to see the interior. To the south are the remains of a small corral near the edge of a nearby wash.

❻ Cathedrals Trail

2.4 miles (3.9 km) round trip

1-2 hours

Easy

This 2.4 mile (3.9 km) out-and-back hike follows a low ridgeline that parallels a line of monoliths known as the Cathedrals. The trailhead is on the Cathedral Road, 27.4 miles (44.1 km) from Highway 24, or 2.4 miles (3.9 km) north of the Hartnet Road junction. A small wooden sign marks the start of the trail, which begins with a short, steep ascent, followed by a relatively level walk along the gentle ridge to the west. A small hill at the trail’s end provides a broad view of the Cathedrals and Upper Cathedral Valley.

SOURCE: Hiking Routes in the Cathedral District

Final Thoughts

You’ll find a lot of outdoor adventure and scenic mind-blowing views in Cathedral Valley. The area is noted for its beauty and popularity. Cathedral Valley is a must see for any camping trip in Capitol Reef National Park. With its amazing views and abundant wildlife, and with its towering limestone monoliths and deep gorge, it’s sure to take your breath away.

Happy Trails,

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Cathedral Valley Overland Trip

View on YouTube | Justin Labinski

Read more…

Cathedral Valley – Capitol Reef National Park (U.S. National Park …
Charles Kelly, the first caretaker and superintendent of Capitol Reef, named the area “Cathedral Valley” because the eroded sandstone shapes reminded early …

Temple of the Sun (Utah)
the Moon, in the Middle Desert of the park’s North (Cathedral Valley) District. Cathedral Valley was so named in 1945 by Charles Kelly, first superintendent

Glass Mountain (Utah)
4547; -111.1919 The Glass Mountain is a geologic feature in Lower Cathedral Valley of Capitol Reef National Park consisting of large selenite (gypsum)

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