For a moderate 3.5 to 5 hour outing in Capitol Reef National Park you would do well to choose the Navajo Knobs hike. Over the 9 miles round-trip, you gain and lose 2,500 feet in a stunning landscape that includes long stretches of slickrock ledges.
In the book Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country by Kathy and Craig Copeland, they suggest that the Navajo knobs hike is one of the two must do hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. We did four hikes in total in Capitol Reef and the Navajo Knobs hike was definitely our favourite.
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Summary of the Navajo Knobs hike
Distance: 9.0 miles round trip to the top of the Navajo Knobs. It’s 4.5 miles (7.2 km) round trip to hike to the Rim Overlook with 1,100 feet (335 m) of elevation gain. Hickman Bridge is only 1.4 miles return.
Elevation gain: 2,500 feet (762 m)
Level of difficulty: Moderate.
Time needed: Allow 3 – 5 hours to do the return Navajo Knobs hike.
Rim Overlook elevation: 6,400 feet
Navajo Knobs elevation: 6,980 feet
Trailhead: The same one used for Hickman Bridge and the Rim Overlook.
Dogs allowed: No
Map: Trails Illustrated Fish Lake North/Capitol Reef or use Organic Maps for an offline hiking app.
Permit: You will need a Capitol Reef National Park pass to visit. It’s $20 per vehicle and good for 7 days. Pedestrians and bikers pay $10.
Best time to hike: The shoulder season when temperatures are moderate
Go prepared: Pack lots of water, a sun hat, sunscreen and a light jacket in case its windy.
Don’t forget: Use common sense when hiking in the high desert-like environment. Always pack the 10 hiking essentials.
When should you do the hike?
Plan to do the Navajo Knobs hike in spring or fall when the temperatures are neither too hot or too cold. In the summer, you’ll bake on the rock and in winter, snow can make for treacherous hiking.
Navajo Knobs hike description
The hike starts by the Fremont River. The Navajo Knobs Trail is the same trail used for the 0.3-mile hike to Hickman Bridge.
Don’t be put off by the crowds at the start as they’ll thin out after you pass the trail intersection to Hickman Bridge. The crowds are close to non-existent, even in high season on the rest of the Navajo Knobs trail.
There’s also a warning sign that might scare some people. It says something to the effect – No stopping. Beware of falling rocks. It’s a short section and the bottom line is – don’t linger!
About a mile up the trail you get a fabulous view of Hickman Bridge from above. People look puny in this landscape. After hiking in and out of two box canyons, and along some slickrock ledges, ascend a sandy wash. After about an hour of hiking from the trailhead, enjoy a view of the Golden Throne and the Rim Overlook at the 2.5 mile mark.
The Rim Overlook offers dramatic views in all directions including down, though anyone fearful of heights might want to pass on the “down” part.
At the bottom of the cliffs you’re standing on are the Fruita orchards and the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Centre.
After the Rim Overlook, the trail loses 100 feet before a series of small ups and downs. After hiking about 0.7 miles from the Rim Overlook, the Navajo Knobs trail begins a long ascent, mostly on wonderful slickrock. You feel like you could ride your bike here!
The grade of the trail is never steep. In fact most of it is a gentle slope with some of it on lovely slabs of sandstone – the closest thing to a natural ramp that I’ve hiked. Views are superlative, every step of the way.
The last five minutes of the hike requires a short but moderate climb up to the Navajo Knobs. The way forward is obvious, though anyone afraid of heights might want to give it a pass. The hike is a little airy and requires a very minor amount of boulder scrambling.
Our friend Ted who loathes heights, did it and was happy he’d made the effort, though I think he was even happier to be down. On top there is room for a few people to enjoy the splendid view. The Navajo Knobs hike is an extraordinary one – and my favourite in the park.
To return to the trailhead, simply retrace your steps. Take your time, as this hike is one where you’ll want to linger, drinking in the views.
Views of the Waterpocket Fold
The Navajo Knobs trail provides one of the best views of the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold, a defining feature of Capitol Reef National Park. But you really need to go the top of the Navajo Knobs to get the full view.
Go prepared for hot, dry conditions
There isn’t much in the way of shade on the Navajo Knobs hike and the only water you’ll find is at the river at the start of the trail. Be sure to carry several litres of water – more on hot days and don’t forget the sun hat and sunscreen either.
Where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park
The closest town with accommodation options to the Navajo Knobs hike is in nearby Torrey. Some places to consider include the following: