Billings Peak and Capitol Reef NP High Point
I woke up Thursday morning at 5:30am. It was very cold at 9000 feet, so it was tough to get up and get ready. My plan for the morning was to climb the high point of Capitol Reef National Park (8960 feet). The high point is in the northwest corner of the park and is accessible from Fishlake National Forest. Unfortunately, it’s not an actual peak but rather an arbitrary point on the southeastern slope of Billings Peak (9256 feet). I planned to climb both Billings Peak and the national park high point. Starting from the Riley Spring trailhead (which is an ATV trailhead), I continued east and then south on Forest Road 206 for 6.5 miles and then went left on Tubb Flat Road (Forest Road 1576). This road deteriorated almost immediately so I only made it about 0.3 mile before parking. I started hiking at 6:47am from 9968 feet. A crescent moon was visible as it started to get light in the east.
This hike would be odd in the sense that I would primarily be descending towards the peak. I was starting about 1000 feet higher than my destination. By the light of my headlamp, I hiked in a northeast direction. The terrain alternated between open hills and intermittent groves of trees.
It was 41 degrees when I started, so I was bundled up against the cold. However, I warmed up quickly as I hiked so I shed layers as it got lighter out.
I soon reached Tubb Flat Road again. I realized later I could have just stayed on the road rather than hiking cross country. The route I took was slightly more direct but probably took me longer.
At 1.58 miles I reached Billings Pass. I left the road here to make the short climb to Billings Peak. Billings Peak is about 100 feet higher than the pass, so this would be the only actual uphill on the “ascent” portion of the hike.
The cross country hike to Billings Peak was short and easy.
I reached Billings Peak at 7:33am at 1.92 miles, just in time for the sunrise.
I located a benchmark and reference marker no. 1
There was some tree cover on the summit, but the views were still pretty nice. This is looking back the way I came:
I continued on after a short break. The national park high point is about a quarter mile southeast of Billings Peak. There was some brush, but it wasn’t too bad. There were also some cairns to help guide the way. I reached the national park high point at 7:47am at 2.27 miles. The spot is marked by a few cairns on top of a boulder. Kinda lame, but good enough for my 6th national park high point.
I spent some more time enjoying the sunrise.
I had a decent view of Capitol Reef to the southeast. I was excited to visit this afternoon! I also got my first good look at Mount Ellen rising in the distance beyond the national park. Mount Ellen is a 5k prominence peak (1 of only 57 in the contiguous US) and I was planning to climb it the following day.
I signed the register which only had a handful of signatures dating back to 2014. The most recent one, from 8/31, was a guy from Sydney, Australia attempting to climb all the national park high points in the US. After a short break, I began the return trip. I hiked uphill back to Billings Peak, which I reached at 2.61 miles. I then made the minor descent down to Billings Pass, which I reached at 2.95 miles. From there, I hiked back along the road to where I parked. Note that this road is very rough – I wouldn’t recommend driving beyond where I did unless you have an ATV.
I could tell it was going to be another beautiful day, but it was still pretty chilly at nearly 10,000 feet. The road was fairly steep at times, but it wasn’t too bad. I came across the skeleton of some dead animal on the way back.
I reached the car once more at 8:48am. This hike totaled 4.6 miles, 1211 feet elevation gain, and 2:01:06 total time.
Thousand Lake Mountain
I had about an hour and a half drive to Capitol Reef from here, but I decided to first climb nearby Thousand Lake Mountain (11,306 feet). I didn’t have any special interest in Thousand Lake Mountain, but it has over 2000 feet of prominence and it was a long drive to get here so I figured why not. I drove back to the main road and continued south for a few more miles and then parked. I began this hike at 9:12am from 10,532 feet.
I wasn’t anticipating this hike to be too difficult as it would be under 2 miles one way and less than 1000 feet to the summit. It definitely felt colder here than on my first hike though. I hiked west and immediately came upon Snow Lake.
Snow Lake was dry this time of year.
I hiked around the northern side of the lake and entered the woods. There was supposed to be some kind of trail I could follow part of the way up, but I was unable to find it, so I ended up just kind of wandering uphill through the woods.
At 0.6 mile I came to a road which I followed a short way until I realized it was leading me the wrong direction.
I left the road and climbed up some boulders to the west. I then finally found the trail I was looking for – the Great Western Trail.
I’m not really sure what the Great Western Trail is, but I saw signs for it in other areas as well. I’d be curious to learn more about it. The trail makes several steep switchbacks up the eastern side of the peak.
I followed the trail until it eventually started going the wrong way. I then hiked cross country southwest towards the summit. There was tons of deadfall to climb over which made this part kind of tedious.
I eventually came to a clearing and saw the rocky summit dead ahead.
I reached the summit at 10am at 1.98 miles! Notice the hat I’m wearing below:
I found the summit register inside a mailbox on the summit. It had a just a few signatures dating back to 2016. The first entry was very creepy – it talked about being stranded in the wilderness and having to eat cows to survive. Definitely seemed like a joke, but a very weird one.
I located the benchmark and 2 reference markers. I noted that Thousand was spelled 1000 on the benchmark.
The views were incredible. The air here was much clearer than I experienced earlier in the trip on Signal and Virgin Peaks. I had a great view of Boulder Mountain to the south. Boulder Mountain is a flat topped 2k prominence peak also within Fishlake National Forest. Thousand Lake Mountain, also flat topped, looks very similar when viewed from a distance.
To the southeast I could see Mount Ellen again. The smaller peak to its right is Mount Pennell (a 3k prominence peak in the same range as Ellen).
I began the descent after a half hour break.
I reached the trail at 2.79 miles. I followed the trail across the road I had briefly hiked on earlier, and then all the way down to Snow Lake. There was even a sign for the trail right by the lake (Thousand Lake Mountain is locally referred to as Flat Top). I’m not sure how I missed it on my way up!
From there, I hiked around the lake again and back to the car.
I reached the car at 11:11am. This hike totaled 3.83 miles, 797 feet elevation gain, and 1:58:14 total time.
Cohab Canyon and Hickman Bridge
I packed up and made the long drive back to pavement (about 12 miles). From there I took State Route 72 south to Loa, and then Route 24 east to Capitol Reef National Park. The scenery was pretty awesome as I got closer to Capitol Reef which made me excited to explore. I entered the park and drove through the ghost town of Fruita, which contains many historic buildings as well as the park visitor center. I parked in a large lot across the street from Fruita Campground, the only developed campground in the park. Since I only had a half day to spend here, I was planning to do a number of shorter hikes in an attempt to see as much of the park as possible. First up was Cohab Canyon, which I also intended to combine with the Hickman Bridge Trail. I started this hike at 1pm from 5431 feet.
The trail began by making several steep switchbacks above the parking area. Some of the historic buildings in Fruita could be seen below.
The trail went south and then bent to the northeast and entered Cohab Canyon.
Cohab Canyon was very cool. The walls of the canyon had a bizarre look to them.
At 1.2 miles I passed a junction for the Fruita overlooks and the Frying Pan Trail. I continued straight as the canyon began to open up.
The trail gradually descended as it continued northeast. The scenery was really amazing.
Capitol Reef gets its name from the rocky domes that resemble the Capitol building.
At 1.8 miles I reached Highway 24 and the Hickman Bridge parking area.
I crossed the road and the Fremont River and began hiking uphill on the Hickman Bridge Trail.
The trail flattened out and bent to the west.
The trail was crowded but not too bad. It was pretty warm out now.
At 2.74 miles I reached Hickman Bridge (which is technically an arch).
The trail passed directly beneath the arch. It was very impressive!
I climbed up some rocks and took some good pictures from the other side.
The trail made a small loop, so I returned the way I came when I was done admiring the arch.
There were amazing rock formations everywhere.
I made it back to the Hickman Bridge parking lot at 3.78 miles. I crossed Highway 24 and then returned on the Cohab Canyon trail. While both trails were crowded, the Hickman Bridge Trail was definitely worse.
One last look down the canyon:
I reached the car again at 3:12pm. This hike totaled 5.64 miles, 1319 feet elevation gain, and 2:12:24 total time.
Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash
I still had a little time left in the afternoon so chose to another short popular hike – Cassidy Arch (I was working off of a list of the Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park). I drove just a few miles south on the park scenic drive and then a few miles east on Grand Wash Road, which is an excellent dirt road. I started this hike at 3:32pm from 5440 feet. I started hiking up Grand Wash, which is itself a popular hike in the park. As the name suggests, it is a large wash with very high walls on each side. It was pretty awesome.
At 0.2 mile I reached the turnoff for the Cassidy Arch trail.
The trail climbed steeply out of Grand Wash onto the terrace above. The sun was in my eyes this whole section.
Once again, all the rock formations were really beautiful.
The trail winded its way southwest towards the arch.
The final approach involved walking on some wide slabs.
At 1.66 miles I reached Cassidy Arch. It was very impressive. You are even allowed to walk on top of it!
I took some pictures and the walked across the arch. I took a short break and then started to head back towards the trailhead. On the way back I got a good picture of Cassidy Arch from a distance.
At 3.17 miles I reached Grand Wash again. It wasn’t even 5 yet, and I didn’t have a ton of driving to do this evening, so I decided to keep hiking. The Grand Wash trail is about 4 miles round trip, so I decided to do that before leaving the park.
I hiked northeast through the wash. The high walls were very scenic.
The start of the hike was pretty crowded, but I noticed the crowds thinned out after about a mile. This section was called The Narrows – this is where the walls are the highest.
After the Narrows the canyon opened up again.
At 5.44 miles I reached the end of Grand Wash at Highway 24. There is another parking area here alongside the road. I was getting pretty tired now and was ready to be done for the day. I turned around and started hiking back to the trailhead. Only 2 more miles!
It was getting pretty late in the day, so the trail was much less crowded than before.
I reached the car again at 6:15pm. This hike totaled 8.03 miles, 1670 feet elevation gain, and 2:43:17 total time.
I was very exhausted by the time I reached the car. The last 2 days had been a lot of miles. I was pretty impressed myself with all that I did this day though. It was almost crazy to think that my Billings Peak hike was earlier this same day! I was a little bummed that I hadn’t planned more time in Capitol Reef. I was really impressed with the desert scenery here – so unlike the California deserts that I’m used to. Still, I was pretty happy that I managed to squeeze in 4 of Capitol Reef’s most popular hikes into one afternoon. That would probably be an entire week for some people. Anyway, my plan for the next day was to climb Mount Ellen, an extremely remote peak basically in the middle of nowhere. It took me only 45 minutes to drive from Capitol Reef to the little town of Hanksville, where I got fuel and ice for my cooler. It is a very long 26 mile dirt road drive from Hanksville to Bull Creek Pass – the trailhead for Mount Ellen. I managed to drive to within about 6 miles of the pass where I found a nice spot to pull over and spend the night at around 7500 feet.
To be continued…