Hickman Bridge, Navajo Knobs and an Awesome Sunset
[Capitol Reef National Park, UT – Mar 25, 2022]
You know I love to make the most of my long weekends. At the end of March, most Californians get a day off to celebrate Cesar Chavez, a labor leader and civil rights activist. At my old job, this holiday was typically combined with Good Friday to make an extra long Easter weekend. But with my current job, I no longer get Good Friday off and Cesar Chavez is a stand-alone holiday. Therefore, I had just a “regular” 3-day weekend to work with. The closest park with a good chance for good weather was Capitol Reef. So I took Thursday afternoon off work, too, and used the time to make my way to Torrey, UT – the closest town to Capitol Reef and a 3.5-hr drive from Salt Lake City.
I decided to hike the most miles on my first day, so I had to get going early. I grabbed breakfast at the on-site restaurant at my hotel right as they opened at 7 am, then drove 15 minutes to Hickman Bridge trailhead. This is where 2 of the best hikes in Capitol Reef begin. The easier of the two is Hickman Bridge, which is only 1.7 miles out and back. The harder hike is the Navajo Knobs trail. At 9.1 miles and over 2,000 ft of elevation gain, this hike is a beast. But I was determined to do both, with an option to shorten Navajo Knobs if I absolutely had to. There are a couple of viewpoints along the way that make for good turn-around points if you don’t want to go to the top.
The trail began with a short ascent along the Fremont River.
Not long after, the junction for Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs appeared. I went to Hickman Bridge first because I knew it would get busy later in the day due to its accessibility.
It didn’t take long to get to the bridge. The trail goes under it and then circles behind to make a loop around one of its legs. This allowed me to see the bridge from various vantage points, which meant taking lots of pictures! I only saw one couple on this trail. I also caught up to a hiker at the Navajo Knobs junction but he continued on to Navajo Knobs.
Now it was time to tackle the bigger hike. I returned to the junction, then started the ascent.
There are several overlooks on the Navajo Knobs trail. The first one was above Hickman Bridge! It was nice to see it from above.
As I continued up the trail, it became more rocky and I had to start following the cairns to know where I’m going. I was gaining a lot of elevation and the views kept getting better and better. The landscape around me also kept changing.
When I made it to the Rim Overlook, I caught up to the hiker I had seen at the junction at the start. I was pretty impressed with myself for catching up to him. I didn’t think I was keeping a good pace because my breathing was quite laborious due to the altitude. Capitol Reef is at 5,000 ft of elevation (1,500 m), and that’s before any elevation gain on the trail. I took a snack break here and the guy I caught up to was nice enough to take my photo. The rest of the photos of me on this trip are all selfies.
The trail continued along a ridge and I could see a rock formation below me called Castle Rock. There was another overlook here and most trail reviews I’d read said that’s a good turning point. But I was determined to make it to the top.
My picture taking took a nose dive on this last portion of the trail. At this point it was all uphill and I had to pay close attention to the cairns since there was no trail whatsoever. I even made sure to turn around a few times and take in the surrounds behind me so I’d know what to look for on the way down. I was afraid I was going to be tired and distracted at that point! I was so happy when I finally made it to the Navajo Knobs! The view from up there did not disappoint.
The way down was long, steep and hot. The sun was now in my face, so I had to bring out my super dorky hiking hat. I took this single photo on the way down. 🙂
I must have high-tailed it on the way down also, because the trail took me less than 4 hours moving and less than 4.5 hours. It generally takes 5 hours to complete. But I was super exhausted and my feet hurt. Alas, I took solace in the fact that I had a chance to grab one of the famous pies at the Gifford Homestead inside the park. Mormons used to farm in the Fruita Valley before the land became a national park, and this homestead dates from that time. The house itself was built in 1908. Today, it serves its famous pies and cinnamon rolls. The homestead opens for business on March 14 each year (pie day), so I was just in time with my visit. In the summer when visitation is higher, the pies sell out pretty quickly. But when I arrived at 1 pm that day, there were plenty of pies left and all the flavors were available. The cinnamon rolls, however, were sold out. I got a strawberry rhubarb pie and settled on a picnic table outside to devour it. It didn’t take long. I also stopped by the visitor center and got my passport stamped.
When I got back to my hotel around 2 pm, there were hardly any cars in the parking lot. I think I beat everybody with my early start! It gets pretty cold at night here in the desert (temp was 40F/4C when I left this morning), so it made sense that people waited for it to warm up before exploring. Unless you’re out there huffing it up the trail, 40F is pretty cold! I decided it’s a good time to go to the hot tub, which I had to myself.
For dinner, I checked out the Capitol Burger food truck. I am not usually a burger person but the 12 miles on the trail worked up my appetite! The reviews that lead me here in the first place weren’t lying – that burger was amazing!
In the evening, I went back into the park to Sunrise Point. This is a good sunrise spot, as the name implies. At sunset though, the sun is opposite the cliffs and if you arrive early enough, you can watch the cliffs change color as the sun sets. I arrived a full hour before sunset and parking at this usually busy spot was a breeze.
Watching the sunset was a really peaceful and relaxing experience, despite the fact that it got busier as it got closer to sunset. I people-watched and cliff-watched, and the light show did not disappoint. As I looked to my left, I recognized Castle Rock and was able to see where the trail had taken me earlier that day. It seemed so far away and so high up! What a fantastic way to finish out my first full day in the park!