The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Cohab Canyon in Capitol Reef NP

Hiking Cohab Canyon
Image by Kee Yip via Flickr

Capitol Reef is full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Among these less-known treasures, Cohab Canyon might be the most surprising. Its sizable walls and side canyons are a real highlight of any trip to the park. If you are looking for a short trek that will amaze you and make you admire this part of Southern Utah, hiking Cohab Canyon is perfect for travellers looking to be spellbound for an afternoon.

What is the Cohab Canyon?

The Cohab Canyon is a beautiful, moderately challenging hike. Very accessible by the Fruita Campground, it explores a canyon nestled up in the mountain. Being inside this old secret canyon feels like being in a cocoon. Far from a well-beaten track, the uneven path of this trail gives the impression of being among the first to discover this place and its combinations of vegetation and large boulders means you won’t notice the other hikers on the trail.

Cohab Canyon takes its name from the term “cohabitation.” Legend has it that the polygamists of Fruita would have used this canyon to flee whenever the marshals came around. However, those acquainted with Capitol Reef’s topography will notice that neither trailhead is a good option to quickly “flee” from Fruita.

Some pretend that Cohab Canyon doesn’t offer the same beautiful panorama as other hikes in the national park. In my humble opinion, hiking inside this remarkable canyon is well worth the trade-off.

Options for Hiking Capitol Reef’s Cohab Canyon

There are a few things to consider before choosing a starting point. Do you want to hike both ways? Do you want to hike other trails at the same time?

If you want to avoid going back and forth (and are lucky enough to have two cars), the best way to explore the canyon and enjoy the maximum payoff is by starting on Highway 24. (If you only have one car, you can always walk along the road back to the parking or even try to hitchhike.) Otherwise, you’ll have to hike the trail both ways. Moreover, being part of a more extensive trail network, combining the Cohab Canyon with others trails in the national park is possible. Although tricky in terms of logistics, a more lenghty trek can be immensely rewarding.

This out-and-back trail has two entrances, each with its own advantages. Let’s check it out!

Starting From the Fruita Campground

The first entrance to the Canyon is next to the campground in Fruita. This may seem ideal, considering you don’t need to take the car to get to the trailhead. On the other hand, it is undoubtedly the way into the trail, making the hike as challenging as possible.

Starting from Fruita means you will first face a strenuous climb before acceding to the gentle downward slope inside the Canyon. Once you reach the trail’s end, you can go to the North and South Overlooks to admire the great view of Navajo Dome, the Fremont Canyon area and the Waterpocket Fold.

Starting from Highway 24

It is usually recommended to start at the trailhead on Highway 24. Hiking from there makes for a leisurely walk, requiring no dramatic climb. People often skip the steep descent near Fruita and only enjoy the picturesque panorama from the top of the cliff. If you choose to retrace your steps to the Highway, the way back is easier since it’s all downward from there.

Where should you start from?

Start from Fruita: if you want a challenge
Start from Highway 24: if you want an easy afternoon hike or want to hike other trails afterwards

Combining Cohab Canyon with other trails

Cohab Canyon can be done as a single 2 hours hike, but strong hikers may wish to combine more than one trail.

  • Single hike: 3 miles out and back
  • Combined with Frying Pan and Cassidy Arch Trails: 5 miles point to point (starting at the Cohab Canyon Trailhead near Fruita and ending at the Cassidy Arch/Grand Wash trailhead)
  • Combine with Frying Pan, Cassidy Arch, and Grand Wash Trails 10,5 miles (Starting and ending on Highway 24, including 2 miles of road-walking)

Starting at the trailhead farther away from Fruita is always the best option if you want a better chance at hitchhiking at the end of your trek. It will be much easier to ask for a ride at the campground than to wait at the end of a random trailhead.

Frying Pan Trail when hiking cohab Canyon
Frying Pan Trail, Image by Kee Yip via Flickr
Hiking Cassidy Arch Trail
Cassidy Arch Trail, Image by Kee Yip via Flickr

Hiking the Cohab Canyon Starting in Fruita

Hiking statistics

Distance: 1.7 miles (one way) + 1.1 miles to both Overlooks
Elevation Gain: 793 ft. (242m) if you hike both ways
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
Water: No
Kid-friendly: Yes

Cohab Canyon ELEVATION
Elevation Change during the hike
Cohab Canyon MAP
Cohab Canyon Map with Overlooks

Overview of the route

0 – 0,3 miles

The hike starts basically in the Fruita Campground; you cross the street and are almost magically on the trail. The first ¼ mile is the hardest part of the hike. It demands to go up 450 feet over the short switchback facing the town.

Fruita Trailhead of Cohab
Hiking Cohab Canyon

0,3 – 0,7 miles

This is when you truly enter the Cohab Canyon. The path requires circumventing the many rocks paving the wash between the canyon’s high walls.

This was, in fact, my favourite part of the hike. I loved being in the beautifully shaded canyon with the rest of Capitol Reef clearly visible in the distance. The surprise natural bridges and slot canyons showing up now and then are a real highlight.

0,7 – 1 mile

Head east until you meet the famous hoodoo at 0.8 miles. Afterward, the canyon widens, and the walls become lower. The path slowly leaves the wash and leads you onto the sandstone instead.

cohab canyon capitol reef
cohab canyon trail capitol reef

1 mile

At the 1-mile mark, you quickly reach two consecutive trail forks.

The first one leads you to the panoramas; This is where you can leave the canyon to go to the North and South overlooks, adding about 1.1 miles to the hike. The South overlook is a spectacular section of Capitol Reef. It really lets you appreciate the scenery created by the Waterpocket Fold in the distance.

Soon afterward is the second fork formed by the trail junction with the Frying Pan Trail. Going to the right, you’ll be led eventually to Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash. The path on the left will take you to Highway 24.

Overlook Cohab Canyon Capitol Reef
cohab canyon capitol reef

1,3 miles

The canyon widens and the views become more open.

1,6 miles

The trail slowly descends to Highway 24. At 1,7 miles, you finally reach the parking lot.

Pro Tip

I personally prefer to retrace my steps to the trailhead in Fruita than to walk on the side of the road.

How fit do you need to be?

Anybody can hike Cohab Canyon starting from Highway 24. Coming from the Fruita Trailhead is another matter altogether.

When to hike Cohab Canyon?

Winter: There is snow on some parts of the trail during winter. Wearing crampons might be considered.
Spring: Spring is the most temperate season, meaning the weather is just right to hike Cohab Canyon. It is, nonetheless, frequent to see rain in Capitol Reef during those months of the year. Be aware of the weather before leaving to hike Cohab Canyon!
Summer: During the summer months, the trail is scorching, with temperatures often exceeding 100 F. There is no water along the way, so be sure to carry plenty. This is also the beginning of the monsoon season, with higher risks of flash floods.
Autumn: This season is also a great time to hike the hidden canyon of Fruita. The temperature becomes more bearable, and heavy rainfall is much less common after the end of September.

Best time to hike Cohab Canyon?

While anytime between April and September is a great time to hike in Utah, April, May, and September would be my pick for hiking Cohab Canyon since it lets you avoid the sweltering heat of the summer months.

Flash Floods in Capitol Reef National Park

Flash floods are always possible during the monsoon season (from mid-June to mid-October). Hickman Bridge or Cohab Canyon are all things considered trails with lower risks of flash flooding. For more information about Flash floods in the park, visit Capitol Reef National Park official page on the subject. Flooding and road damage might make you change your plans, but they’re not a significant danger. Use your common sense, have a rain jacket in your backpack and check the weather forecast before going on a hike.

Frequently asked questbions

What is the best way to hike Cohab Canyon?

While this trail can be a one-way or out and back, starting on Highway 24 and turning around as you come out of the Canyon, looking down on Fruita, is the best way to tackle this easy hike.

Where to park to hike Cohab Canyon?

Parking may be more accessible at the Fruita Trailhead near the visitor centre. You can also park near the Hickman Bridge Trailhead off Highway 24.

Hiking the trail one-way, how hard is it to get back to the parking area?

Both Highway 24 and The Scenic Drive lack a shoulder for tired hikers. Considering the road’s narrowness, hiking out and back of Cohab Canyon is definitely the better idea. On the other hand, if you combine trails, you don’t have the choice to walk carefully on the side of the road.