Cathedral Valley Loop

Torrey, Utah (Wayne County)

Last Updated: 04/17/2019
5 /5 ( 6 reviews )
Information
Nearby Trails
Status: Open
Typically Open: Year Round
Difficulty: 1-1
(EASY )
Length: 64.6 miles
Highest Elevation: 6900 feet
Duration: About 5 hours
Shape of Trail: Loop
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: Torrey
Nearest Town w/ Services: Torrey
Official Road Name: Hartnet Road/Cathedral Road/0082
Management Agency: National Parks Service/Bureau of Land Management
District: Capital Reef National Park/Henry Mountain Field Office
Distance:
Showing 0 trails within 2 miles

Highlights

Highlight: Cathedral Valley Loop

Cathedral Valley Scenic Backway takes you into the heart of the "Cathedral District", a land filled with natural wonder. A title like that is something you think you should be hearing in Paris, but instead, you are right next to Capitol Reef National Park, a wonder in its own right. With prominent natural landmarks named Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon, and Jericho Wall you always question if the beauty is overhyped. It is not. For the off-road crowd, this trail is a must do simply for the visual stimulation factor. Cathedral Valley Loop presents no challenging obstacles, but mile after mile of a colossal panorama is the journey's reward.

Video

Weather

7 day forecast for Cathedral Valley Loop

Route Information

Advanced Rating System (BETA)

Recommended Vehicle:
2WD Vehicle with High Clearance
Concerns:

Technical Rating: 1-1
(EASY )

Dirt and/or rocky road. Potential rocks and/or tree stumps less than 5" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 5" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 6" inches. Good tire placement likely. Can be steep, but with good traction.

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Description

The road crisscrosses in and out of National Park Service and BLM controlled land. It is a somewhat maintained dirt road for almost the entire time and is well marked with signage. It is important to start this road from its western trailhead simply for the fact that you must cross the Fremont River. You will know in the first half-mile if the river is passable or not. Otherwise, if starting from the eastern trailhead, you will have to backtrack the entire trail to exit the area if the river is flooded. This is a simple dirt and rocky road that is impassable when wet. Always check the weather prior to heading out. Mileage shown includes all the out and backs to the overlooks. This route is suitable for all high clearance SUV vehicles.
Due to the nature of wash trails, always check the weather before heading out. Washes can become a ​very swift moving river in a matter of seconds with the right storms.

Waypoints

1. Fremont River/West Trailhead (0.00 mi)

There is ample space here to air down as well as various spots to camp. Follow the more defined road east where it turns north to the river.

2. Fremont River Crossing (0.50 mi)

Enter the river and travel upstream a short distance to the large crossing area on the other side. The river is usually just a foot deep, but in times of rain it can flood very quickly. The bottom is smooth and hard. After crossing the river, you start up onto the North Blue Flats, a wide open space between the South Desert and the Caineville Reef in Capitol Reef National Park.

3. Old Water Drilling Equipment (7.00 mi)

Continue straight to keep going or stop to examine the well-preserved water well drilling equipment with evidence of its handy work.

4. Bentonite Hills (9.00 mi)

Continue straight after coming through the Salt Wash and the unique volcanic clay-based Bentonite Hills. Bentonite is very easy to drive on when it's dry. However, when it is wet, it becomes very slick and nearly impossible to drive on.

5. Intersection - 0862 (9.40 mi)

Continue straight. Intersection with 0826 where 0826 simply loops back up to the road you are on further up the trail.

6. Intersection - 0146 (9.90 mi)

Follow the main road west. The intersection of 0146 where 0146 cuts back across to the eastern side of the Cathedral Valley Loop.

7. Spur - Lower Desert Valley Overlook (13.50 mi)

Turn west for the Lower Desert Valley Overlook with views of Jailhouse Rock.

8. Lower Desert Valley Overlook (14.60 mi)

Take time, on foot, to follow the washed out road down towards the valley floor. All the views here are amazing and worth taking the 45 minutes to an hour to explore.

9. Intersection - South Upper Desert Overlook (28.50 mi)

Just off the main trail, this overlook gives you different views as you continue along the trail.

10. Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook (29.20 mi)

Here get views of the famed Temple of the Moon, Sun, and Stars. There is a 1-mile, steep descending hike down the monoliths here as well.

11. Polk Creek Road Trailhead (29.80 mi)

Follow Hartnet Road north. Hartnet Junction immediately follows, where the Cathedral Valley Loop turns right. If you continue straight at this junction you will be on Polk Creek Road which takes you to Forsyth Reservoir, Mill Meadow Reservoir, and eventually Fish Lake, all part of the Fishlake National Forest.

12. Cathedral Valley Campground (30.20 mi)

If you are not camping, stay on Harnet Road. To camp turn north. Staying at one of the six sites here is free and available on a first come, first served basis. There is a vault toilet and all of the spaces were of good size with picnic table and fire ring. On the east side of the camping area are excellent viewing areas of the valley below to the east. Shortly after the campground, you will descend a wide shelf road down into Cathedral Valley.

13. Morrell Cabin (31.70 mi)

Continue straight. Throughout much of the 20th century, cattle rancher Lesley Morrell owned much of the real estate in this area. Today the cabin is part of the Capitol Reef National Park. This is a .5 mile out and back hike.

14. Scenic (32.70 mi)

Continue straight as you take in the Cathedral District.

15. Cathedral Valley Cutoff Trailhead (35.00 mi)

Continue straight. If you turned north here, you could reach I-70 in 27 miles, with many other options along the way.

16. Spur - Gypsum Sinkhole (35.20 mi)

Continue straight to keep going, or turn southeast/right for the Gypsum Sinkhole.

17. Gypsum Sink Hole (36.00 mi)

The Gypsum Sinkhole is an occurrence formed by the reverse of the process that created Glass Mountain. Here groundwater is dissolving a buried gypsum plug. The area left behind has collapsed under the weight of overlying rock layers. The sinkhole is up to 200' deep.

18. Park Boundary (40.90 mi)

Continue straight.

19. Intersection - 8212 (45.50 mi)

Continue straight at the intersection of 8212 where 8212 dead-ends.

20. Intersection - Temple of the Sun and Moon/Glass Mountain (46.10 mi)

Continue straight to follow the main trail, or turn west to explore the Temples and Glass Mountain.

21. Temple of the Moon (47.10 mi)

Deep erosion has carved Cathedral Valley's free-standing monoliths, or temples, out of the soft reddish-orange Entrada Sandstone, which was originally deposited as sandy mud on a tidal flat. Some of the cathedrals are capped by thin, hard beds of a greenish gray marine sandstone, the Curtis Formation.

22. Temple of the Sun (48.20 mi)

The scenery of the Entrada Sandstone temples of Cathedral Valley is complemented by evidence of other geologic processes at work.

23. Glass Mountain (48.30 mi)

The flowing and dissolving of gypsum, a soluble mineral, created Glass Mountain and the Gypsum Sinkhole. Glass Mountain is an exposed plug of gypsum.

24. Intersection - 8211 (50.60 mi)

Continue straight at 8211 where 8211 eventually dead ends.

25. Park Boundary (53.50 mi)

Continue straight.

26. Intersection - Unknown Road (55.90 mi)

Continue straight as you leave Cathedral Valley.

27. Willow Seep (57.10 mi)

Continue straight. Willow Seep is a spring that almost always has water flowing.

28. Wash (61.90 mi)

Continue straight as you come out of the wash area.

29. Intersection - 0090 (64.50 mi)

Continue straight across Caineville Wash. Turning onto 0090 will take you into Factory Butte and one could drive all the way to Goblin Valley.

30. Caineville/Eastern Trailhead (64.60 mi)

Back to pavement. Go west for Capitol Reef National Park or Torrey.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 38.274762, -111.089598

Starting Point: Capital Reef National Park Visitors Center, Utah

Travel 11.7 miles east from the Capital Reef National Park Visitors Center on State Route 24. The trailhead will start at mile marker 91 labeled as Hartnet Road.

Camping

Designated

There is camping with a vault toilet at waypoint 12, Cathedral Valley Campground. Staying at one of the six sites here is free and available on a first come, first served basis. There is a vault toilet and all of the spaces were of good size with picnic table and fire ring. On the east side of the camping area are excellent viewing areas of the valley below to the east.

Camping: Cathedral Valley Loop

Trail Reviews (8)

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
3 other rigs plus myself drove this route as part of a 10-day overlanding adventure through the Utah Badlands (Croton Rd, Left Hand Collet Cyn., Hole-in-rock, Mount Hillers, Cathedral Valley, Cottonwood Cyn, North Rim Grand Canyon) The road through Cathedral Valley was freshly graded and the water crossings were barely running. Very little washboard this time of the year - which was very nice. The river crossing at the beginning of the road was normal, with no risk involved to our moderately lifted jeeps & truck. We camped at Cathedral Valley Campground which is a perfect little campground. The views from some of the campsites are amazing! Although not technical in any way, Cathedral Valley is a "must-see" when in this area. Absolutely stunning views.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
We Did this loop as part of a trip from goblin valley to cathedral valley, this is a great trip and outlined well here, the drill equipment and spring are really cool to see, the history of this area is amazing . The glass mountain is a must see.. The western leg is more open and a smoother road where the eastern side a little rougher but in my opinion has the better scenery

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Stunning road. Ran this in a brand new 2017 Mazda CX-5 (with paper plates still), which was probably dumb, but there was nothing in the road that was too challenging. A little rain during the day made some of the wash exits more exciting, but mostly, it is just a gorgeous loop with truly unique sites. We also drove the Polk Road up and over to the highway on the way home. I would add that if you do that portion, watch for mud. Some of the Polk Road can get quite muddy on the switchbacks, causing a little heartburn if your vehicle is not a true offroader or has highway tires (such as a Mazda family crossover).

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Fun, easy loop. Go from west to east so you start with the river crossing. Pretty uneventful, but gorgeous.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Super awesome loop. We ran it reverse of the instructions given here, and it was beautiful, We did it in Subaru Foresters, and it was completely within their abilities. Amazing views. The wheeling itself is not intense, but the scenery is amazing.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Made the loop in my Ford Expedition 4x4. The river ford was simple with about 12” of water that day. The bottom was firm and my grip was never in question even with highway style tires. The early scenery at the Bentonite Hills was otherworldly, the middle section was a little underwhelming considering the expectations I had built up in my head, but that all changed as I took the shelf road down into the actual valley. The monoliths blew me away. The Glass Mountain was an amazingly cool stop. I set up for a sunset shot at Temple of the Sun and got some great colors off of the surrounding rocks. I finished the trail in the dark but guided by the biggest, brightest full moon I have ever seen. Overall, great trail that can be done with many vehicles in the right weather. The variety of wonders will shock you. Spend all day out here and enjoy! Saw only 1 Jeep all afternoon.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
I had always heard of this trail and have driven past the trailheads a few times on my to Capitol Reef National Park but never had a chance to run it. I ran it reverse here of how the guide is shown, and it was a truly beautiful trail! I was a little disappointed as to how well maintained the road was, since I was looking for a little more off-road adventure. The guide was perfect though! Thank you.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Cathedral Valley is stunning. Even though this trail has no thrills on the road, the scenery is breathtaking. Absolutely a must do if you are visiting Utah

Questions & Answers (4)

Q: Can I do this loop in an all wheel drive like a RAV-4 without any problem. Plan late October so no rain. Mostly worried about the river ford. Thanks
–Frank (10/12/2018)
A: The biggest hurdle you would have in that vehicle is the water crossing. That area floods badly, so don't even attempt if its wet. The other issue with wet conditions and your vehicle would be traction. The recent rains may have created washouts etc that could pose a problem. However, the road is grated periodically so if you catch it at the right time you should be ok with careful driving.
–Todd (10/16/2018)
Q: Is there BLM land boondock camping along this trail?
–Teresa (03/07/2018)
A: I apologize for the delayed response. I have been trying to get the most accurate information possible. The section between waypoints 7-18 is on National Park land, so the only camping available is within the campground. Between waypoints 1-7 and 18-30, the majority of the trail is on BLM land. BLM camping regulations in regards to dispersed camping state a maximum of 14 consecutive days, 200 feet from water sources, try to use existing fire rings, dispose of human waste properly (away from water, and in a 6" deep hole) and to choose sites that are already established. I cannot say, however, that the regulations along this loop are not altered. I will keep on digging and try to find a solid answer, and post it up the second I find out!
–TJ Bosworth (03/13/2018)
Q: I don't think you mean " Go east for Capitol Reef National Park or Torrey " which is how you end your excellent write-up. Shouldn't "east" be changed to "west"?
–Joe Blow (06/12/2017)
A: Thank you for the catch! We do mean to say WEST. We will get that fixed!
–TJ Bosworth (06/12/2017)
Q: Do you know where Hartnett Road leads to on your waypoint 11? Is it worth the time?
–Tom Culver (01/16/2017)
A: Hartnett Road leads into a complete network of Forest Service roads. Due to the climb in elevation, the geography changes drastically and you end up passing by many smaller lakes within a much greener area. You also reach Elkhorn Campground if you follow FR206 south after trailing FR022 west. If you head north once you hit FR206, you can follow it all the way to Utah State Route 72 which can lead you into Fremont or up to Interstate 70.
–TJ Bosworth (01/17/2017)

Writer Information

TJ Bosworth

Mapping Crew - Utah

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, he's only been off-roading since he was 16 but fell in love immediately. He attended college in Denver for Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management and wheeled in Colorado for 4 years, but ended up moving back home to Salt Lake City. He currently works in an off-road shop and spends his free time doing anything he can to stay busy, which is usually working on his jeep or playing music. Outside of off-roading, he is an avid whitewater rafter and outdoor cook. Camping at least every other weekend in any season is a normal year. The further from civilization, the better. Bring on the memories!
For individual use only, not to be shared.