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The Capitol Gorge Hike

Capitol Gorge Hike in Capitol Reef National Park

The Capitol Gorge hike in Capitol Reef National Park is a popular one. You can knock it off in an hour if you really want to, ideally late in the afternoon when the light is at its best and the area glows golden. It’s just a two mile round trip hike to the Tanks with an elevation gain and loss of 80 feet.

Interestingly the Capitol Gorge route was the main one through the park until 1964 when Highway 64 was constructed. The Capitol Gorge takes visitors past Petroglyph panels, a pioneer register, and the famous water tanks. Another name for the water tanks is potholes or waterpockets.

Updated January 2020

Even the drive to the trailhead glows golden
Even the drive to the trailhead glows golden

The route to the Capitol Gorge

The hike starts off following a wash – with canyon walls rising steeply at times. They provide some shade in the heat of the day and are very welcome. At the 0.6 mile mark you reach a pioneer registry with a heap of names carved in the rock in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Shortly after passing the Pioneer Registry look for signage to the Tanks pointing to the left (north) and then continue up a rocky, steep trail for just 0.2 miles. Unless the “tanks” are full of water they are a tad underwhelming but there’s nothing underwhelming about the landscape.

For better views and some fun playing on the rocks continue up past the Tanks until you’ve had enough. Retrace your steps. I think the Capitol Gorge – Tanks hike offers a lot of visual interest considering its length. 

Options from the Capitol Gorge

At the canyon’s east end, surefooted hikers can continue up to the Golden Throne via a steep trail with switchbacks. That gets you near the top of the Waterpocket Fold. That adds another four miles return along with 730 feet of elevation gain. Only consider it if you’ve come prepared with lots of water, food and sun protection.

Here’s a look at the visual treat that’s in store for you on the hike.

The start of the hike to the Tanks
The start of the hike to the Tanks
It's easy walking along the wash
It’s easy walking along the wash
Climb just 80 feet on the hike to the Tanks
Climb just 80 feet on the hike to the Tanks
The Capitol Gorge - Tanks hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
You might see wildlife on the hike to the Tanks
This is one of the tanks but unfortunately there's not much water
This is one of the tanks but unfortunately there’s not much water
The Capitol Gorge - Tanks hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
Close-up of the some of the colours in the rock
Take lots of water on a hike in this kind of environment
Take lots of water on a hike in this kind of environment
The Capitol Gorge - Tanks hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
The landscape offers continual drama
The Capitol Gorge - Tanks hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
Using friction to move up the crack
The Capitol Gorge - Tanks hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
Grand scenery
The Golden Throne Hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
The trail gets quite rough once you continue past the “Tanks”
The Capitol Gorge - Tanks hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
Our turn around point in sight of the Golden Throne

Finding the trailhead

To get to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead (which is also used to access the Golden Throne Trail) drive 4.5 miles south along Scenic Drive from the Capitol Reef Visitor Centre until it turns into dirt covered Capitol Gorge Road. Continue another 2.4 miles to a parking lot. The drive itself is spectacular.

Further reading on hiking in Utah

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Capitol Gorge - Tanks Hike in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Leigh,

    I too love Utah – it is a spectacular place to hike. But given recent developments there, I have absolutely no interest in returning anytime soon:
    https://www.outsideonline.com/2155931/outdoor-industry-pushes-back-against-utah
    In fact, the actions and rhetoric of the current political regime in the US have lead me to look elsewhere for my travel plans. And I am not alone:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/20/travel/after-travel-ban-declining-interest-trips-to-united-states.html
    So a suggestion: fewer articles about the US, and a lot more about Canada, Mexico, pretty much anywhere else. As Canadians, we can vote with our travel dollars.
    Regards,
    Kevin.

    1. @Kevin I hate the politics of the US as much as I suspect you do. But there is a reality here – and that is I have family and friends in the US – all who hate Trump with a passion. So I will not stop visiting as Trump himself could give a damn if there are fewer tourists and there are lots of people who benefit from me visiting – both Trump and non-Trump supporters. As Canadians we have a lot at stake with Trump in power. But he’s not the only leader and the US is not the only country with politics I don’t agree with. How many people are willing to boycott other countries? How about Israel with Palestine, China and human rights, Norway slaughtering whales.. Seriously there are so few countries out there that have a perfect record. And we as Canadians don’t have much to be proud of when it comes to how we’ve treated native peoples. So it’s a sticky issue and I think everyone has to decide for themselves what is right or wrong for them.
      Having said all that I will definitely be thinking outside the box about where I want to travel for longer trips. And already next year I am thinking about hiking in Malloraca in February versus Arizona.
      Just as an FYI, today’s post is from a trip to Utah two years ago that I never got around to writing.
      Thanks for the links. I didn’t know about Utah’s position – and yet it’s a landscape that calls me back – not the government. Weird times we live in.

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