Perched high in the cliffs of Waterpocket Fold, the Cassidy Arch Trail leads to the top of a massive sandstone arch and is easily one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. You can even walk out on top of the arch for better views of Capitol Reef’s unique landscape. In this article, we’ll tell you what to expect and everything you need to know to hike the Cassidy Arch Trail!
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Cassidy Arch Trail Overview
- Cassidy Arch Trail Details
- Other useful resources
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
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Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is Utah’s least visited national park, but still has plenty of natural beauty to offer! The park is full of unique geological features like sandstone arches, colorful badlands, deep canyons and majestic rock domes.
The park itself is very narrow, running north to south tracing the path of it’s most defining feature – the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold, which is a monocline, or step-like fold in the rock resulting in exposed layers of stratified rock.
Capitol Reef gets it’s name from two distinctive geological formations: “capitol” comes from the dome-shaped sandstone cliffs that resemble the dome of a capitol building, and “reef” is named after the rocky cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold that resemble an ocean reef.
If you’re looking to get off the beaten path and escape the crowds that are found at most Utah national parks, add Capitol Reef to your Utah road trip itinerary!
Cassidy Arch is a massive sandstone arch located off the Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park, accessed via a moderate 3.4-mile round trip hike that features incredible views of the colorful layers of Waterpocket Fold.
Cassidy Arch is named after Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker), the infamous train and bank robber and leader of a gang of outlaws during the late 1800’s. Cassidy reportedly had a hideout in nearby Grand Wash while on the run, which is how the arch gets its name!
Cassidy Arch Trail Overview
- Hiking distance | 3.4 miles
- Elevation gain | 670 feet
- Total time | 2 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 7
- Difficulty | Moderate
- Fees | $20 entrance fee to access the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, or covered with annual U.S. National Parks Pass
Find this hike on AllTrails: Cassidy Arch Trail
How difficult is Cassidy Arch Trail?
Maybe it’s because we had just finished a backpacking trip that morning, but the Cassidy Arch Trail was harder than I was expecting! Although the hike is only 3.4 miles roundtrip, it gains nearly 700 feet of elevation gain in just under 2 miles making for a pretty steep climb.
The trail starts at the bottom of a canyon and the first half-mile up and out of the canyon is the definitely toughest part. Once you reach the rim of the canyon, the trail levels off a bit and gains elevation at a milder pace.
The trail to Cassidy Arch is well marked and easy to follow. As you approach the arch and follow along the canyon rim, the trail traverses solid rock, so you will need to keep an eye for cairns to stay on course.
- Cassidy Arch is huge and more impressive in person than in pictures
- Incredible views from above Cassidy Arch
- Despite the short length, the trail to Cassidy Arch is quite steep
- 1.5-mile drive down a bumpy dirt road to reach the trailhead
When is the best time to hike?
Spring (March through May) and fall (September through October) are great times to hike the Cassidy Arch Trail. We did the hike in mid-March and it was a lovely 65-degree day!
During the summer, temperatures in Capitol Reef often reach the upper 80s and lower 90s during the day, and the lack of shade on the Cassidy Arch Trail would make the hike pretty unpleasant.
During winter, snow is possible, making the steep climb difficult and dangerous.
As always, be sure to check the weather before you head out!
Grand Wash Road, which is the road that brings you to the trailhead, is a rocky, unpaved dirt road that leads right down the middle of a canyon. It is passable in good conditions for any car, but is prone to flash floods and can get very muddy if precipitation is in the forecast. Do not attempt to drive down this road if there is any rain or storms in the forecast.
Where to stay nearby
The best place to stay nearby is Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef National Park, located just 10 minutes from the trailhead.
Alternatively, the town of Torrey, Utah offers a few hotel and lodging options, located about 30 minutes away.
If you are looking for free dispersed camping, there are several options on BLM land near Torrey.
Tips for a great hike
- $20 entrance fee per vehicle is required to enter Capitol Reef National Park. Alternatively the $80 America the Beautiful Pass gives you admission to all U.S. National Parks for one year
- You can walk out onto Cassidy Arch – it’s not as narrow as it looks!
- There is no shade on the trail, so bring sun protection and pack plenty of water.
- The endpoint of the trail is a great spot to have a picnic lunch.
- Parking is limited so arrive early to avoid waiting for a parking spot.
- Stop by Gifford House for a fresh apple pie on your way out!
Cassidy Arch Trail Hike Details
In this section, we will detail each section of Cassidy Arch Trail so you know what to expect from the hike!
We tackled the hike to Cassidy Arch after backpacking the Lower Spring Canyon the night before. Frankly, we knew this was one of the most popular hikes in the park and went into it fully expecting to be underwhelmed.
But we were so wrong! Cassidy Arch Trail completely exceeded our expectations. Not only is the arch huge and more impressive in real life than any photos we’d seen, but the views from the arch and along the entire trail were lovely.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
The trailhead for Cassidy Arch is located on Grand Wash Road off the Scenic Drive, about 20 minutes from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center in the Fruita section of the park. The last 1.5 miles to the trailhead on Grand Wash Road is a bumpy dirt road, but should typically be passable with 2WD. Note that Grand Wash Road is prone to flooding and can be closed in poor weather conditions.
To access the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, you will have to pay a $20 per vehicle entrance fee. The fee is covered by the annual U.S. National Parks Pass.
Starting the hike
The hike starts out along a dry wash. At 0.2 miles into the hike, you reach an intersection with a sign for Cassidy Arch to the left.
The trail begins to immediately gain elevation as you switchback your way up the canyon wall. This is the steepest and toughest part of the hike and could be challenging if you have a fear of heights. However, about a half mile in, the trail starts to level off and maintains a fairly moderate incline for the rest of the hike.
Continuing the climb to Cassidy Arch
As you continue higher and higher above the canyon floor, the views begin to open up. The trail hugs the edge of the canyon wall as you continue to gain elevation. Layers of colorful rock and creamsicle-colored swirls of petrified sandstone keep you occupied as your legs and knees burn from the elevation.
Cassidy Arch Viewpoint
At 1 mile into the hike, you will round a bend and suddenly be treated to a stunning view of Cassidy Arch carved out of the canyon wall out in the distance. Look closely and you can see people standing on top of the arch – that’s where you are headed!
The final quarter-mile section of the Cassidy Arch Trail leads over a large slab of slickrock, with no well defined path. To find your way, follow the strategically-placed cairns until you reach Cassidy Arch. The endpoint of the hike brings you above Cassidy Arch for an awesome view looking down into the arch and the colorful landscape surrounding it.
You can even walk out onto Cassidy Arch! The “bridge” is actually quite a bit wider than it looks, so walking across it isn’t too scary unless you have a serious fear of heights.
We hiked to Cassidy Arch at noon on a Sunday in late March, and shared the final viewpoint with a couple of other hikers but were pleased that it wasn’t too crowded. No waiting in line to take a picture on the arch (as we have done in other places – looking at Devil’s Bridge)!
Optional add-on: Grand Wash
To extend your hike, you can tack on a detour to Grand Wash, a canyon that gets down to 15-feet wide at its narrowest. The trail to Grand Wash continues through the wash that you turn out of to get to Cassidy Arch.
From the intersection, the trail continues for 2 miles, but it’s only 1.1 miles to the Grand Wash “Narrows”. The trail is flat and easy, and hiking to the narrows and back would give you a roughly 6-mile round trip hike with 800 feet of elevation gain.
Cassidy Arch Trail Packing List
- National Parks Pass | Gives you entrance to all U.S. National Parks for one year.
- Plenty of water, snacks and lunch
- Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L) | We both use a similar Camelback backpack for day hiking – they’re comfortable, lightweight and just big enough to hold the essentials without weighing you down. Plus they both come with a 2L bladder, plenty of water for the 3 mile hike to Cassidy Arch.
- Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | A pair of quality hiking boots with good traction are a good idea for the steep sections of the trail.
- Hiking poles (Hers: Black Diamond Distance Z poles, His: Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles ) | Helpful for the steep sections of the climb up to Cassidy Arch.
- Camera (Canon M100)| You won’t want to miss out on the awesome photo-ops from the top of Cassidy Arch! The Canon M100 was my first “real” camera and its compact size makes it great for hiking, while still taking great quality photos.
- Sun protection (sunscreen, chapstick, sunglasses)
Other useful resources
Planning a road trip through Utah? Read more about a few of our favorite adventures in the area here:
- Road Trip | Adventurous One Week Road Trip in Arizona and Southern Utah
- Zion | How to Spend One Day in Zion National Park: 3 Great Ideas
- Bryce Canyon | The Ultimate 3-Day Zion to Bryce Canyon Itinerary
- Grand Staircase Escalante | 9 Hikes You Can’t Miss in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
- Canyonlands | Complete Guide to Hiking Druid Arch in Canyonlands
For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide
Questions about the Cassidy Arch Trail? What was your favorite hike in Capitol Reef? Let us know in the comments section below!