The Capitol Gorge hike in Capitol Reef National Park is a popular one. It features a scenic canyon, rock art, water tanks (naturally formed potholes), a narrows and even some historical relics.
You can knock the hike to Capitol Gorge 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 hike takes visitors past Petroglyph panels, a pioneer register, and the famous water tanks. Another name for the water tanks is potholes or waterpockets.
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Capitol Gorge hike summary
Access: The Capitol Gorge hike is easy to access from the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Centre. And the drive itself is spectacular.
Distance: Hike from 0.5 miles to 6 miles round trip, depending if you just want to see the Pioneer Registry or you’re up for a hike to the Golden Throne.
Elevation gain/loss: +/- 80 feet
Time needed: Allow 1 – 3 hours depending on how far you hike.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Best time to go: The Capitol Gorge hike can be done year-round.
Dogs: Permitted on a leash, but pack out their poop.
Don’t forget: This is a desert environment so pack more water than you think you’ll need. Even though it’s a short hike, be sure to carry the hiking essentials.
Petroglyphs: Take photos but please don’t touch.
Capitol Gorge hike description
The Capitol Gorge 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 far end of the Capitol Gorge hike
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 – where views are magnificent. 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. Late afternoon is best if you’re a photographer.
Here’s a look at the visual treat that’s in store for you on the Capitol Gorge hike.
Finding the Capitol Gorge hike trailhead
To get to the Capitol Gorge hike 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.
Click on the three dots in the top right hand corner to email a copy of the map.
Where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park
Torrey is the closest town with roofed accommodation options. Some places to consider include the following: