Cohab Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park makes for a great little run, hiking lung-opener, or start to a long day if you decide to tie in several other trails. It’s also a sweet little hike by itself, totaling 3.5 miles. If you have only one vehicle, your hike will have to be an out and back, but it’s very much worth it. Once you ascend above the Scenic Drive and get swallowed by the canyon itself, you are a part of the southern Utah landscape in an intimate manner. Sounds of any highway traffic mute into nothingness, canyon wrens may gently scold, and running your fingers along the canyon wall as you walk can bring the land itself into a sharp, tactile awareness. Get ready for a good uphill push the first little ways, and then welcome a hike that displays classic Capitol Reef scenery and formations.
How to do this hike:
1. Head down the Scenic Drive from the visitors center. Park in the little pullout (not marked) on your left just past the large horse barn, or at the campground. If it’s really crowded, park in the lot across the way from the Gifford House and walk along the paved road to the Cohab Canyon trailhead sign on your left (southeast).
2. You’ll head up a small series of switchbacks at first. One foot in front of the other…you can do it. Passing through layers of colorful bentonite clay, the trail disappears into a sandstone crack well above the road.
3. You’re now in the canyon itself. As you head east, sandstone walls rise on either side. Not narrow enough to be called a slot canyon, this is still a small fissure in the earth.
4. Halfway to the trail’s terminus at Highway 24, you will pass another marked trail leading due south. If you take this, you can get to Cassidy Arch via the Frying Pan Trail. If you have two cars or hire a shuttle in Torrey, you might consider adding this section of trail to lengthen your trip and add a great deal of mind-boggling scenery.
5. One and three-quarters of a mile from the Scenic Drive trailhead, you’ll reach Highway 24. If you don’t have another car or shuttle, turn back here and retrace your steps. Alternatively, cross the highway to the Hickman Bridge trail for a mile-long trek to a very nice example of a natural bridge.
Tips on doing this hike:
1. Although the canyon itself is shaded, the switchback approach from the Scenic Drive is completely exposed, making it a poor choice for midday summer. Beware possible icy spots in the canyon during winter. If rain recently slicked the bentonite clay of the trail, you’ll be slip-sliding all the way up and down.
2. Stop by the Gifford House before or after your hike for refreshment. Coffee, ice cream, cocoa, and all sorts of handmade pioneer-like treats are available. The Gifford House is open 8am-5pm, April-October.
3. Watch this area travel video for some Cohab Canyon scenes. Yep, that’s me, your trusty guide, hamming it up for the camera along the trail. Look for me in the blue t-shirt and white ball cap; that’s what I’m wearing while on the Cohab trail. The video gives you a good idea of the scenery and topography of Capitol Reef in general.
Random facts about this hike:
1. The name Cohab has a few supposed origins. The most imaginative one comes from “cohabitationists,” aka polygamy. Polygamist Latter-Day Saints were the first white settlers of the area. The founded the little town of Fruita in the heart of Capitol Reef. (Fruita still exists today as the employee housing area and location of the visitors center, campgrounds, Gifford House, and historic buildings.) The story goes that when the law approached to nab the illegally sinning polygamists, the cohabitating husband and plural wives would flee into Cohab Canyon to hide out. There are flaws to this theory, however, which you can read about in this interesting, well-written NPS history, which also lists other possible origins of the name.
2. Indian Paintbrush, sometimes known as Painted Cup, is a plant found all over the Capitol Reef area. You may see its distinctive red color in full flower in Cohab Canyon April-November.