Cathedral Valley, in the far northern reaches of Capitol Reef National Park, is a landscape of solitary sandstone monoliths and cliffs. Very few visitors to the park ever see this remote and awe-inspiring area. It could conceivably be reached on foot through the South Desert, but Cathedral Valley is generally accessed by vehicle over one of the few dirt roads into this area. Visiting this area requires advanced planning and provisioning for the very real possibility of being stranded due to impassable roads with no help available for days. The most common route, and the one described in this report, is a 62-mile loop beginning and ending at UT-24 east of the park's visitor center and campground. The inexpensive guide to the loop that is available for purchase at the visitor center is a valuable resource, and with the park map is sufficient for the trip. Start early and plan at least six hours for this trip; take the full day to allow for additional hikes and exploring on the way.
Starting at River Ford about 5 miles east of the park entrance, the road crosses the Fremont River and heads north on Hartnett Road. This road passes through the beautiful Bentonite Hills starting at about 8 miles and continues by two scenic overlooks above the South Desert at miles 14 and 27, and both are worth the short detour to see. There is also a 1-mile cross-country hike at mile 17 to see an overlook of the Lower Cathedral Valley. The first view of Upper Cathedral Valley from high above it is reached at mile 27.5, and the drive to this point has likely taken at least 2 hours. The section of switchback road going down into the valley is the worst section of road on the trip and should be taken very slowly. There is a simple campground in the valley with six sites, and it is seldom occupied.
Once you are down in Cathedral Valley, check out the Morrell Cabin from the 1920s and the Cathedral Trail, a 2.2 miles round-trip hike with fabulous views of the monoliths. If you have the time, there are also plenty of cross-country exploring possibilities. The second half of the road is in a bit better shape than the first, and the views are more spectacular. The Gypsum Sink Hole at mile 33 is interesting, but the highlight of this part of the loop is Lower Cathedral Valley, where you'll find the Temples of the Sun and Moon and Glass Mountain. The latter is not a mountain, but rather a little hill made of pure crystal that makes a great platform for taking pictures of the majestic temples nearby. From this point it is about an hour through more Bentonite Hills back to UT-24.
NOTE: It is imperative to speak with the park rangers about the weather and road conditions before taking this road. The clay road surface becomes impassible to any vehicles when wet, there is no cell service, and very few people travel the road. The river ford could be impassible after a storm. Bring plenty of water, extra food, a full fuel tank, and warm clothes in case the unexpected happens. In case of a breakdown, it could be hours or days before another vehicle comes by.