Fremont River Valley, as seen from the Cohab Canyon Trail
Distance: 7.0 miles (plus 3.6 miles by bicycle)
Walking time: 4 1/2 hours
Elevations: 1,040 ft. gain, 1,060 ft. loss
• Cohab Canyon Trailhead (start): 5,420 ft.
• highest point: 6,460 ft.
• Grand Wash Trailhead: 5,400 ft.
Trail: Popular, well maintained trail
Season: Spring, summer, fall, winter. There is snow on some parts of the trail during the winter months. During the summer months the trail is very hot, with temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees F. There is no water along the way so be sure to carry plenty. For current conditions call the Visitor Center, Capital Reef National Park, at (801) 425-3791.
Vicinity: Capitol Reef National Park, near Fruita
Sixty-five million years ago, while forces inside the earth were pushing up the Colorado Plateau, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s mantle was formed in southern Utah. Thousands of feet of subterranean sedimentary rock was forced upward as the fold developed, twisting and buckling to form a convoluted range of mountains we now call the Waterpocket Fold. Today, after a great deal of erosion, the mountains rise less than two thousand feet above the desert floor, but what remains is a fairyland of geologic sculpture. The ancient mountains, most of which are now part of Capitol Reef National Park, have been carved into a tangle of hidden canyons, monolithic spires, and towering cliffs. The hike described here starts in the Fremont River Valley, near the pioneer settlement of Fruita, and crosses a portion of the Capitol Reef to Grand Wash. It offers a good representation of the unique landscape of the Waterpocket Fold.
From Cohab Canyon Trailhead the path begins by switchbacking up the clay bentonite mounds of the Chinle formation. Finally, after about 0.3 mile, it arrives at the base of the reddish cliffs that can be seen above the road. These sandstone cliffs are part of the 370-foot-thick geological formation known as the Wingate Sandstone. The trail then skirts around the west side of the cliffs and soon drops into a shallow, hidden drainage called Cohab Canyon. Cohab Canyon and its trail continue all the way to the Fremont River, on the east side of the Capital Reef, but you won’t be following it that far on this hike.
About 0.6 mile after entering Cohab Canyon you will come to a trail junction with a sign indicating the way to two overlook points. You should turn left here before continuing down the canyon and make a side trip to one of them. After 0.2 mile the overlook trail splits again, and you are given a choice between the north and the south overlooks. If you are interested in taking photographs, take the south overlook trail (0.3 mile). It leads to a high vantage point above the Fruita area. But if you like adventure bear right to the north overlook (0.1 mile). This trail leads to a small overhang at the top of the cliffs above the Fremont River with a shear 400 foot drop below.
When you are finished with the overlooks, backtrack to the Cohab Canyon Trail and continue onward for a short distance toward Highway 24. After just a hundred yards you will come to another trail leaving Cohab Canyon to the south. This is the Frying Pan Trail, the one that will lead you to Grand Wash. The Frying Pan Trail winds over a tortuous route along the top of the Fold, twisting through piles of sandstone and working its way around gullies and drainages. In some places only rock cairns will tell you that you are still on the path, and you will probably wonder how you would ever be able to find your way through the obstacle course if you lost the trail.
Finally, after a long tiring climb, you will reach the highest point on the Frying Pan Trail and start down again toward Grand Wash. Then, 1.5 miles later, you will see a sign marking the short spur trail across the slickrock to Cassidy Arch. Cassidy Arch is a large and impressive arch only a ten minute walk from the main trail. It was named after the outlaw, Butch Cassidy, who is thought to have used Grand Wash occasionally as a hideout. The path ends on the plateau above the arch, and if you have a hiking partner and a camera it is easy to get a picture of someone standing on top of it. Getting to the bottom of the span, however, requires some rock climbing.
From Cassidy Arch junction the Frying Pan Trail continues for another 1.1 miles before reaching the bottom of Grand Wash. Once you get to the bottom of the wash turn right and walk for another 0.2 mile to the end of the Grand Wash Road, where your shuttle car is parked. If you look to the right as you drive back towards the Visitor Center you can see Cassidy Arch again from the bottom of Grand Wash. It should come into view about 0.5 mile from the end of the road.
Content provided by David Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order his book Utah’s Favorite Hiking Trails.