Hickman Bridge is easily the most hiked trail in Capitol Reef National Park. A two-mile out and back, it leads you up carved sandstone steps; past landscape dotted with pinyon, juniper, and black basalt rocks; under a “moki” remnant (Fremont Indian granary); and up to the natural bridge itself. While this hike can be overrun with visitors in spring and fall, winter should see virtually no people on this short trail into the heart of Capitol Reef geology.
How to do this hike:
1. From the Visitors Center, drive two miles east on Highway 24 (the main road). The large parking area for Hickman Bridge will be on your left (north). This is immediately off the highway; it’s a large, marked parking lot. There is a vault toilet available.
2. The trail takes off on the eastern side of the parking lot. Pick up a trail brochure here that lists points of interest along the way. The trail winds right against the red sandstone to begin with before angling uphill and back (north), away from the highway.
3. As you gain elevation (total gain is 400 feet), your vista will open up. The folds and rock crannies of the canyon will reveal themselves, and the sounds of any vehicles on the highway will recede as you move farther up and away.
4. You’ll see the ancient rock granary tucked up under a ledge (bring the guide brochure to be sure you don’t miss it.) Just past this granary is the small Nels Johnson Natural Bridge.
5. When you reach Hickman Bridge itself, stay a while. This is a really fine example of a natural bridge. Solid-seeming and multi-colored, it reflects classic Capitol Reef geology. Great shots can be taken with people standing beneath it. You cannot climb this natural bridge. (Well, I don’t know, maybe someone has. I wouldn’t want to, though!)
Image: Michael D. Martin/Flickr
Tips on doing this hike:
1. As usual, spring and fall are the primo hiking seasons here. Early morning and later evening are best in summer for sure. In winter, try midday. The trail is pretty much unshaded, which can be brutal midday summer but welcome midday winter.
2. To lengthen your hike, do the Rim Overlook Trail (additional two miles), or hike to Navajo Knobs (9 miles roundtrip). The trail split to both of these is partway along the Hickman Bridge Trail, well signed.
3. For another trail option, you can park in the lot here and head across the highway to find the eastern trailhead for Cohab Canyon, which also joins up with the Frying Pan Trail. If you hike Cohab Canyon, it will be an out and back unless you have another vehicle waiting for you at the Cohab Canyon trailhead along the Scenic Drive (by the horse barn), or at the Grand Wash trailhead parking for Frying Pan and Cassidy Arch.
Random facts about this hike:
1. Hickman Bridge spans 130 feet and rises 125 feet from the ground.
2. Joe Hickman, for whom the bridge is named, was one of the original people who sought to get this land protected. His efforts helped lead to the original Capitol Reef National Monument. It achieved National Park status in 1971. Hickman’s descendants still live in the area.
3. Nels Johnson was an original homesteader in the Fruita area, which was settled by LDS (Mormon) pioneers in the late 1800s.
4. Supposedly, when Utes and Paiutes first came across the ancient ruins of Fremont Indian culture, they wrongly concluded that the small mud structures they saw must have housed a tiny race of people. They dubbed these Southwestern small people “Moki” or “Moqui,” which also turns out to be an older term for the Hopi people. Much later research by trained archaeologists revealed that the small structures were granaries, used as storage to contain the corn, beans, and squash raised by these ancient, normal sized farmers. However, the structures are still often referred to as Moki houses or Moki huts by locals.