Cathedral Valley Loop (Capitol Reef National Park)
76 Mi.(122 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Originally from the UK, Ann now lives in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley where she is the ultimate weekend warrior, working a full time job and maximizing pre- and post- work micro adventures usually of the bikepacking variety. Find more of her adventures on instagram @anndriggers
The Cathedral Valley Loop is a bikepacking route based upon the 58-mile Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park, connecting the off-road portions with a six-mile section on the scenic and smooth Highway 24, and with additional mileage logged for visiting the scenic overlooks within the Park. The recommended direction to ride is clockwise, starting with a refreshing crossing of the Fremont River. After you’ve dried off, follow a winding road that gradually climbs through bentonite hills and greasewood flats. Plan on taking short detours to view the dramatic scenery at the overlooks of Lower and Upper South Desert. On the final climb, the road becomes slightly more rocky as you approach the Cathedral Valley Campground, 28 miles from the river and your destination for the day. Situated in the pinon and juniper-clad foothills of Thousand Lake Mountain with spectacular views of Cathedral Valley, and the distant Canyonlands and Henry Mountains, the campground location could not be better. Furthermore, star gazers will be enchanted by the night skies as Capitol Reef is an International Dark Sky Park.
The second day starts with a fast descent from the campground into Cathedral Valley with views of jaw-dropping entrada sandstone monoliths rising from the desert floor. Again, plan on taking detours to visit the sights of the Gypsum Sinkhole and the Temples of the Moon and the Sun before continuing on the slightly sandy washboard road through the colorful rolling hills of the Painted Desert to the finish.
Difficulty: The Cathedral Valley Loop is assigned a 5 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. Much of the riding is relatively easy with a few sandy and washboard sections on the Cathedral Valley Road on the second day. However, the crossing of Fremont River likely requires wading. An NPS hotline provides updates on the water level, but whatever the season, count on getting wet. Despite there being two reliable water sources, both are within the first 15 miles of the route, so riders must plan on carrying all their water for their entire trip.
- Explore one of Utah’s lesser known but stunning national parks, where travel by bike is welcomed
- Cycling through massive monoliths, a stark, dramatic, and unique landscape
- An International Dark Sky Park, this area is a star gazer’s delight
- Spectacular wildflowers in the spring
- Explore the history and orchards of the park’s pioneer community, Fruita, settled in 1880, before or after your trip
- Geologic wonders, such as Glass Mountain, a large, exposed mound of selenite crystals; and the Gypsum Sinkhole, a decomposing gypsum plug.
- Entrada Sandstone formations with intriguing names such as the Walls of Jericho and the Temples of the Sun, Moon, and Stars.
- Spring and fall are the best times to ride the Cathedral Valley Loop. Summer is too hot and winter too cold, with snow and freezing temperatures.
- Although this route can be sandy in spots, we rode with 2.3″ tires without issues. All sections were rideable.
- Parking is available near the Fremont River crossing, though it necessitates finishing your ride with the highway section of the loop. If you prefer to get the highway section done first, as we did, ask at the Rodeway Inn in Cainville if vehicles can be left overnight.
- Do not attempt this route if there is any forecast of significant precipitation, as the route can turn into a mud fest and the Fremont River can flood.
- Bentonite clay (altered volcanic ash) absorbs water and becomes very slick and gummy when wet, making vehicle or foot travel difficult or impossible.
The route falls half on BLM Land and half in Capitol Reef National Park. Once in the National Park, only camping at the Cathedral Valley Campground is permitted. This has six sites, first come first served, with no fee. There is an outhouse, but no water. The campground is at 7,000 feet, so be prepared for a cooler night at elevation.
Carry all the food and water you need for this route. Although there are two reliable water sources–the Fremont River and Ackland Spring–both are within the first 15 miles.
- Capitol Reef National Park details the route and provides a hotline for information on the Fremont River Crossing. https://www.nps.gov/