The fairly short (but steep) hike up to Hickman Bridge has been described as “one of the highlights of Capitol Reef” and “an iconic hike”. While I hadn’t planned on doing this walk, we were driving past the trailhead on our south-western USA road trip, so it was a good opportunity to stretch the legs on a long driving day. The trailhead is near the Capital Reef Fremont Culture petroglyphs, which is also worth a stop.
The signposted Hickman Bridge Trail initially follows the Fremont River, and is initially fairly flat with just a few steps. It’s a fairly easy hike, but there’s almost no shade along the entire trail.
The trail soons starts to climb quite steeply with a few switchbacks, up the lower slopes of the Waterpocket Fold. The “climb” is fairly short, before the trail ascends more gently. After 0,3 miles (0.5km) there’s a trail junction with the Rim Overlook Trail, which is a more challenging hike to the Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs.
The Hickman Bridge Trail continues straight ahead, and from this section of the trail there’s a great view of the iconic Capitol Dome. It’s not actually a dome, but a series of fins that blend together, resembling a dome – so it only appears as a dome from the east. The white domes of Navajo Sandstone are why the national park is called Capitol Reef, named by early settlers because they resemble the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, DC.
Another interesting rock formation you can see from here is Pectol’s Pyramid, a 6,211 foot (1,893m) high peak composed of Navajo Sandstone. It’s named after Ephraim Portman Pectol, a man instrumental in the early efforts to establish protection for the area that is now Capitol Reef National Park.
The trail then descends into a wash, where the sand acts as an insulator to limit evaporation and enough sub-surface moisture is retained to support large trees and shrubs (including pinon pine, Fremont cottonwood, skunkbush, juniper and Utah serviceberry).
In the wash is the the Nels Johnson Bridge, a small natural bridge – not to be confused with the much larger Hickman Bridge.
The Hickman Bridge soon comes into view – the natural bridge has a span of 130 feet (39.4m) and a height of (38.1m). Carved out over time by water, it was named after Joseph Hickman, a local educator and an advocate for the preservation of Capitol Reef as a National Park. (Natural bridges are formed by the flow of water, while arches are formed when a weaker section of rock gives way.)
The trail continues and does a loop under the bridge… but with the rest of the family waiting for me at the car I figure I’d better head back, having seen the rock formatiion from a distance…
Getting to the Hickman Bridge Trail
The Hickman Bridge trailhead is about two miles (3.2km) east of the Capitol Reef visitor centre, near where the Utah State Route 24 (UT 24) crosses from the south to the north side of the Fremont River There’s a small carpark, and if it’s full you can park along the highway. It’s about 230 miles (370km) or 3.5 hours drive south of Salt Lake City.
Hickman Bridge is a self-guided nature trail, and the Hickman Bridge Trail Guide [PDF] describes what you will see at 17 markers along the trail. You can also get the trail guide at the trailhead for a small donation.