Capitol Reef National Park
Distance: 9.4 miles Time: 5 hours Type: There and back
Capitol Reef National Park is a tall, slim national park in central Utah, 60 miles from north to south and only 6 miles wide, which connects with its larger neighbour Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the south. Its most dominating feature is the Waterpocket Fold, the largest exposed monocline in North America - a 65-million-year-old wrinkle in the earth's crust. For years, the territory represented an impenetrable barrier that resisted crossing or exploration and to this day remains a vast area of wilderness.
The hike to Navajo Knobs is one of several hikes near Fruita, the main town in the park and home to the visitor center and campground. I can safely say, without exaggeration, that the view from Navajo Knobs is one of the most breathtaking panoramas I have ever seen and the hike to reach it is one I cannot recommend highly enough. While the views are exceptional along the entire path, at its end there is a small rocky butte which affords 360-degree views over the Waterpocket Fold and the Henry Mountains to the south and Thousand Lakes Mountain and the Cathedral Valley District to the north. The epic scale, the contrasting terrain and the vidid colours make for an utterly unique impression (and a view photographs cannot do justice).
The hike to Navajo Knobs is actually a continuation of the Rim Overlook hike, a popular trek. While the Overlook itself offers a stunning viewpoint, it's certainly not as impressive as the view from Navajo Knobs, which is another 2.3 miles or so further along the trail and much less visited.
The trailhead is located a short drive east from Fruita, along State Route 24, sharing a small parking area with the Hickman Bridge trailhead. Make sure you take plenty of water with you as there is none available on the trail.
The hike begins with a steady climb, which is going to be the general pace for the rest of the hike to the summit. You quickly gain height and soon enjoy views onto the road valley below, and across to Cohab Canyon and Capitol Dome. The path winds its way west, gradually gaining height and at times running close to the cliff's edge on top of a sloping shelf in the Kayenta formation, a colourful layer of rock. You can take a short detour to Hickman Bridge Overlook, although the view of the land bridge is not as impressive as that from the Hickman Bridge Trail. Still worth a look, though.
From here, it's another hour or so to the Rim Overlook, a good place for a pause. Below, the Fruita settlement is clearly visible. This is where most hikers turn back so you will enjoy more solitude from this point on. From here, the path continues to climb and edge higher along the cliff edge. The path is fairly obvious and marked with cairns along the entire route. One notable feature is the Castle, a collapsed tower of deep, red rock set off from the cliff. After you round this feature you reach the last section of the hike: when you round a corner you can look across to the Knobs but must follow the curvature of the cliff in a large arc.
Once you finally reach Navajo Knobs, the views really open up. There are lots of great spots to take pictures, but the best is atop a small butte which requires a quick scramble to summit. It can get windy up there so take care!
To return, you simply retrace your steps on the same path. Given it's all downhill from here, and a relatively gentle descent at that, you can actually return at a quick tempo and the return journey takes far less time than the climb.
For a map of the trail: