A remote backcountry with no paved roads, Capitol Reef's northern Cathedral District features stark landscapes and a high degree of solitude. Here the northern flanks of the Waterpocket Fold give way to broad deserts, stunning monoliths, and volcanic dikes and crags. The Cathedral and Hartnet roads (passable only to high-clearance vehicles; four-wheel drive often recommended) provide access to a number of short hikes, a selection of which are described here.
These routes are not official, maintained trails. Route conditions including obstacles in canyons, change frequently due to weather, flash floods, rockfall, and other hazards. Routefinding, navagation, and map-reading skills are critical. Do not rely solely on unofficial route markers (rock cairns, etc.); they are not maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), may not indicate the actual route in this description, or may be absent.
Roads in this area are maintained infrequently and are not plowed in winter. Some sections of road cross areas of bentonite clay, which becomes impassable when wet. Deep, soft sand may also exist on roads. Roads may occasionally require four-wheel drive, and may quickly become impassable due to wet weather. At the south end of the Hartnet Road near Highway 24, vehicles must ford the Fremont River; there is no bridge over the river. Do not attempt to cross the river during floods or other periods of high water. Ask at the visitor center about river ford conditions or call 435-425-3791. Press 1 for more information; press 4 for road conditions.
Check weather forecasts and road reports before departing. Be prepared for changing conditions. Let others know your travel plans, especially if exploring backcountry areas. Carry extra food, water, and appropriate clothing. Stay hydrated, and limit exposure to desert sun. Have a self-rescue plan. Beware of storms that may cause sudden flash floods, and avoid travel in narrow canyons if rain is approaching. Do not walk or drive across flooded roads or trails - play it safe and wait until floodwaters subside. You are responsible for your own safety.
A PDF version of this information can be downloaded and printed.
Jailhouse Rock and Temple Rock Route
4.5 miles (7.3 km) round trip
Starting at the Lower South Desert Overlook (15.2 miles [24.5 km] northwest of Highway 24 via the Hartnet Road), an old road leads to a viewpoint that overlooks Jailhouse Rock, a large promontory rising from the valley floor. To continue on to Temple Rock, follow the switchbacking track until it disappears along the valley floor. A faint single track then leads around the north side of Jailhouse Rock across the South Desert and rejoins the road before reaching a low passage between volcanic dikes. Ascending the dike on the left provides a vantage point for viewing Temple Rock, an eroded monolith of Entrada sandstone. It is roughly 2.3 miles (3.7 km) from this point back to the trailhead.
Lower Cathedral Valley Overlooks Route
1.5-2.5 miles (2.5-3.9 km) round trip
Upper South Desert Overlook
0.4 mile (0.6 km) round trip
Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook
0.2 mile (0.3 km) round trip
Morrell Cabin Trail
0.4 mile (0.6 km) round trip
2.4 miles (3.9 km) round trip
Rules and Regulations
Spring and fall.
USGS 7.5-minute series: Cathedral Mountain, Fruita NW. Maps available at the visitor center.
For more information:
Call the Capitol Reef Visitor Center at 435-425-4111.
Trailhead Location Map
Driving distances from Highway 24/ Hartnet Road junction
Driving distances from Highway 24/ Cathedral Road junction
Last updated: February 14, 2020