Distance: 3.8 miles
Best time of year: Year-round
Last hiked: 2015 October
I was fooled the first few times I saw the Chimney Rock Trailhead. Just a few hundred yards to the east is Chimney Rock. Surely the trail can’t be that long or even that interesting, I mistakenly thought. Of course it wasn’t until much later I found out that the trail doesn’t even go by Chimney Rock. It only starts nearby. The actual trail boasts strenuous climbs up to some of the best views of the Waterpocket Fold and even offers hikers a side trip into a deep canyon with steep and dramatic sandstone walls. It may also very well be the best spot to watch sunset in the park.
The trail starts from the parking area and meanders a short distance to the north of Chimney Rock passing it quickly, giving you a nice view of the backside as you head away from the road. A steep climb soon starts its way up from the Moenkopi Sandstone into the Chinle Formation where the views of the Wingate Formation become increasingly spectacular just to the north of the trail while you’re surrounded in bold and chalky pastel clays.
After a bit of climbing, the trail comes to a fork. Both directions will take you around the Chimney Rock Loop, but for whatever reason, the sign encourages you to go right. If you’re hiking this trail for sunset, I would actually encourage you to go left. This will allow you to walk around the backside of Mummy Cliff to eliminate much of the distance after sunset, assuming you want to be up there that long. If you’re just out for the day-hiking fun of it, proceed right.
Heading left from the fork, the trail flattens out and gently rolls over the eroded hills along the backside of Mummy Cliff. You soon reach another fork will that will take you down into Chimney Rock Canyon, or will bring you around to complete the loop. If you have the time, heading left into Chimney Rock Canyon is well worth the detour. Do not, however, enter the canyon if rain is in the area.
Over the course of two miles, the canyon gradually and easily drops down into a much larger and narrower canyon where the strong rusty color of the Wingate Sandstone towers above hundreds of feet. It’s a fantastic sight that makes the easy detour well worth it. Each twist and turn through the canyon is greeted with one imposing fortress view after another. After two miles, the trail intersects with Spring Canyon, giving you more options to explore if you have the time, or a good place to turn around and head back to complete the loop.
After rejoining the trail, another climb begins. It only takes a short distance though before you’re rewarded on this one. Topping out at a switchback, an incredible view of the Waterpocket Fold is revealed, capped with the Navajo Knobs in front of you, and stretching for dozens of miles to the south.
After climbing only a short distance, another amazing view is revealed behind you. I personally preferred this one over all the others. With commanding views of the twisting canyons on the desert floor butting heads with the gigantic walls of the Waterpocket Fold, it would make for a great location for sunset, as long as you were comfortable with hiking the rest of the distance out in fading light.
At this point the trail begins its final ascent up to the top of Mummy Cliff. Panoramic views of the Waterpocket Fold and of the gorges along the Fremont River and its tributaries are lit up brilliantly in the evening light. Enjoy these views, for they are truly unique.
When you’re ready, follow the trail along the top of Mummy Cliff and then down the switchbacks along the western side, where you then meet up with the first fork in the trail. Follow the trail out the same way you came in.
Getting there: From the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center, get back on Highway 24 and head west for 3 miles. On the right will be the Chimney Rock Loop Trail parking lot.