Backpacking Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch is among the most popular landmarks to hike to in Capitol Reef National Park. Most people choose to make it a simple day hike considering that it's only about 1.75 miles from the nearest trailhead in Grand Wash.  Jessica and I opted to take a longer way and then spend a night nearby in the Capitol Reef backcountry.

We actually planned to do the loop I did solo last year over two nights while the kids stayed with their grandparents up the road, but the weather forecast gave us cause to make the trip a one night affair instead.  So, we made it an out'n'back trip that featured a visit to Cassidy Arch.

- Day 1 -
Thursday - April 7, 2016

This trip started and ended in Fruita where the Capitol Reef Visitor Center is located.  There, we checked in and picked up our backcountry permit.  From there, it was a quick minute drive down to "the pasture" lot to park the car and begin the ascent up the switchbacks into Cohab Canyon.

Once in Cohab, we had to make a quick stop to explore one of the many side slots.

Moving on, we made our way further down through Cohab.

After a few more minutes of hiking, we dropped our packs and took out our day's lunch and snack bags along with a water bottle and took the little side hike up and out to the Fruita overlooks to have lunch with a view.

On the way back down into Cohab, I noticed a Kokopelli petroglyph just off the trail.  There was some other writing and modern graffiti to either side of it and considering that it was in a far different style than all of the other Fremont petroglyphs found throughout the park, I'm fairly confident this was not an authentic petroglyph.  Then again, I've been wrong before.

Back at our packs, I looked up to discover an arch above I had not seen before in my previous hikes through Cohab.

With our packs back on, we made another exit up and out of Cohab Canyon and down into a secluded little wash.

At the bottom of the wash, we paused for another little rest and a view down the pour-offs the wash drains into.

From there, we had to hike up the other side of the wash, gaining over 800 feet of elevation in just under a mile before we'd arrive at the area I had in mind for setting up camp for the night.

Finally we were at the point where it was time to stake out a site for camp.  The spot I used last year wasn't really suitable for a two person tent, so we moved on a few hundred feet further, being careful to avoid the fragile patches of cryptobiotic soil in the area before stumbling into a real gem of a site.

With camp all set up, we packed my little summit pack with a few snacks and other small essentials and set off for the relatively quick trip out to Cassidy Arch.  Along the way, we paused at the rock I had camped at last year to take in the view.  Still one of my favorite spots in the park.

Moments later, we were looking down upon the road leading into Grand Wash below.  Fern's Nipple is on the left across on the horizon.

From there we only had to turn a corner and descend a couple hundred feet to reach the turn off for Cassidy Arch.

Jessica kept wondering when we'd be able to see it and I had to explain that we wouldn't see it until we were right at it because of the way it's tucked down off a cliff we'd be hiking along the top of in order to reach it.  She wondered if it was named after Butch Cassidy because of the fact that it is so well hidden.  I hadn't thought of it that way, but it was fitting.  Perhaps so!

We were actually surprised to find nobody else around when we got there.  Last time I had made it up to Cassidy Arch, there were dozens around the arch, and dozens upon dozens more going up and down the trail leading out to it from Grand Wash down below.  It was awesome to have it all to ourselves, but at the same time, it also meant there was nobody else around we could ask to take a routine picture of us standing atop the arch together.  We spent a good half hour or so enjoying the sight and taking individual turns going out on top of the arch.  

While wandering around, I also found a little baby arch.  Perhaps Cassidy had kids?  Can you see it?

Right as we were about to leave, we spotted another couple approaching.  So, we hung out long enough for them to arrive, and then asked them to take a picture of us and offered to do the same for them.  They obliged.

After taking a picture of the other couple, we said farewell and left them to enjoy the arch all alone.  Before settling into camp for the night, we explored up around another area near our camp, mostly to obtain a bar of cell service so Jessica could send out a text to check in with her mom and our kids.

There were a few nice specimens of petrified wood we stumbled over.  Of course, such is not uncommon in these parts.

While waiting for a response back from Jess's mom, I wandered around a bit more.

We were soon ready to return to camp for the evening.  Again, the views surrounding us were still amazing and we felt so blessed to have found such a site.

By now, it was a good time to get dinner going.  Among the many things I enjoy about backpacking is being able to use such clever little tools to cook outdoors as well as finding nearby rocks when such are present and then using them as a little camp kitchen.

 There's nothing like a good dinner and a view with your significant other.

I was hoping for a nice sunset because I'm spoiled that way.  We had about an hour before then, and we were getting tired, so we chose to just lay down in the tent and have a good nap.  I set my timer for when the sun should set down.  Unfortunately, when I awoke and looked out the tent to the west, the sky was too overcast and dull.  No color whatsoever.  Disappointed, I drifted off back asleep for about another 15 minutes before I decided to get out of the tent and have a look around.  To my surprise, when I looked to the north, there were some colors along the horizon.

They weren't much, but I wondered what it all may have looked like moments earlier.  The northern sky was obscured by our tent wall, so I never got to know.  I got back in the tent to do a bit of reading while waiting for it to get dark enough to play with some long exposure settings my phone's camera was just recently updated with.

Of course, that meant some writing with our flashlights.

I also tried some light painting on the rock wall above our camp, but my phone's camera didn't prove to be sensitive enough to capture enough light to make it look decent.  I also tried some star pictures, but again, nothing much there.  I then just settled for a couple tent shots while painting our packs and a nearby tree that were much closer to the tent.

Still not too shabby for a cell phone camera.  I can't expect a cell phone camera to be on par with a DSLR of any kind, but mine sure feels like a step closer now.  With the new shutter speed and exposure controls, I plan to order a cell phone ND filter to clip on and try out some motion blur effects with rivers, streams, and waterfalls.

Having been satisfied with my playtime with the phone's new camera settings, I joined Jess back in the tent where we slept the night away.

- Day 2 -
Friday - April 8, 2016

Recall that the weather forecast gave us cause to cut our planned trip short and only spend one night out instead of two.  The afternoon was supposed to bring a high chance of showers and possible thunderstorms.

Well, there's that saying that goes, "Red at night, sailors' delight.  Red in the morning, sailors take warning." We sure got some red in the morning.

On the distant horizon, the sun ultimately arose over the La Sal Mountains.

Knowing what weather was supposed to be coming in later that day, I didn't let Jess sleep in long.  We had breakfast and got all packed up.

Then we took turns modeling our packs while taking more photos before saying goodbye to our beloved campsite.

And a selfie.

Had to get a couple more shots including a panorama at my rock spot, too.

We paused for another second at what would be another prime site to camp, particularly for a solo tent or maybe two people under a tarp, if it weren't so close to the trail.

As we worked our way back out to Cohab Canyon, I caught site of this rock with a hole through it.  One could definitely say that between our trip with our kids and this trip with all the arches we saw, "Hole in the Rock" became the grand theme of our travels for the week.

Along the way, Jess had the idea to do some shadow art and make a "W" with our poles.  I think it'll have to be our trademark now.

This guy wasn't too shy about having a picture taken.

Yet another hole in the rock.  This time a pour-off back in Cohab Canyon.

We soon had Fruita back in view.  Note the little red Subaru all alone in the pasture below.  That's Jess's mom's car we took, having left our minivan with her parents so they could transport all our kids if needed.  Quite a contrast from the day before when we started and the lot was full of a dozen other cars.

Down the switchbacks and past the old barn we went.

And with that, we were back at the car.

We ultimately concluded the trip with a stop at the Flute Shop on the way back where I picked up an unfinished wooden flute to learn how to play and finish. From there it was over to Slackers to pick up some burgers for lunch and some ice cream to take back to the kids.


Having young children makes it so Jess and I can't get out alone to do some backpacking very often at this stage of our lives, so it's always a cherished event when we do. This was a short and sweet trip we were fortunate to have and I'm thankful for Jessica's parents being so willing to take our kids in every now and then to allow me to take her out on these kinds of trips.


  1. great summary of your adventure. I will be exploring Capitol Reef this upcoming week. I would love to follow this route. Would you be willing to share the route details? (eg gps waypoints and such)

    1. Thanks Brent. We did not keep a GPS track of this hike and I usually don't with my trips, nor do I navigate much with GPS. I usually just study Google Earth real well, and mark out routes with CalTopo and print them off from there when I need a navigational aid.

      Of course, none of that was needed for this trip as we just followed the trail up Cohab Canyon out of Fruita (it's very popular) and then took the signed turn-off for the Fruita overlook before back tracking to the signed turn-off for the Frying Pan Trail. Then we just followed that over before pulling off to set up a camp. There are numerous flat sandy areas not far off the trail that make good spots to camp at if you're looking to do that. You just need to get a backcountry permit from the visitor center. However, it's only a few miles so most people that hike it just do it as a day hike. The next morning we just came back the way we went using the same trails.

      Cassidy Arch is extremely popular too and to get there, we just continued down the easy to follow trail before coming back to our campsite. There really isn't any specific obstacles or anywhere that would present real navigational concerns that would warrant waypoints. The whole route follows popular signed and maintained trails that are all also on the park map you can get at the visitor center and if you keep your eyes open, you'll be able to see just about everything in my pictures above right from the trail (with the exception of our campsite) and perhaps discover other little geological features and details on your own which will be even more rewarding for you.

      Cassidy Arch is the only one that might be a little tricky, only because it's a lot of slickrock you hike over and not an actual trail but there are a lot of cairns to follow. Since it's spring break for a lot of folks in Utah, that park will be packed with people next week and if you do Cassidy Arch in the day time, you'll see plenty of people you can parade along with to the Arch. A shorter hike to the arch would be to go up to it from the Grand Wash, but because it's shorter, that's also the more popular way up with lots more people.


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