Capitol reef National Park


Hickman Bridge Trail


            The Hickman Bridge trail is an exciting hike in that it takes you through various geologic settings and culminates at the Hickman Bridge.  The bridge is really an arch in that it was created by weather and wind and not cut through by the flow of water, which is what would be responsible for creating a bridge.  

             The trail is one mile long (two mile roundtrip) from the parking lot trailhead to the bridge with a vertical rise of about three hundred feet.   The end of the trail is a actually a loop that takes you through the arch and around the back side of the sandstone formation that supports the bridge.  

            The trailhead is about two miles north of the Visitor Center turnoff on the State Route 24 road that traverses this section of the park.   The parking lot borders the Fremont River that once was a force that cut through the huge canyon walls, but today it flows gently through Capitol Reef National Park.  Many years ago, this region was home to Indians, but they had moved on after living there for some years.   More recently, however, the area was inhabited by a small number of Mormon families that had planted a productive crop of fruit trees and it became known appropriately as the Mormon community of Fruita.           

        Even though we are in a desert, the area right along the river is rich with tamarisk, willow and cottonwood plants that stand in stark contrast to the rest of the region just a few yards removed from the river.  At the trailhead, the canyon walls of the park rise up more than a thousand feet on both sides of the road.   It is an awesome sight with extraordinary formations of both the Entrada sandstone (red) and the Navajo sandstone (white) that soar up into the sky      

         The trail starts level, on a sandy walkway along the Fremont River and continues for about five hundred yards.  It then breaks off to the left up and away from the river.  As we start to climb on the sandy trail our surroundings change dramatically as we are now clearly in a desert where the plants and the animals must use water very sparingly.


            We could soon see that the high canyon walls formed a barrier to travel, in a way similar to that of ocean reefs.   And we can also see many of the high Navajo sandstone domes that surround us…the huge one just in front of us is called the Capitol Dome.  From these two significant attributes of this region we get the name Capitol Reef National Park.

            Soon we see black boulders, the product of volcanic eruptions from long ago and the water worn remains of these lava flows.  Pinon and Utah Juniper trees live in this environment …relatively dispersed so they that they can have their access to the limited available water.    

            We continue to walk to higher ground, and then enter a small “wash”, where water will occasionally flow from an infrequent heavy rain.   The trail then leads us on to rock formations that have long ago been eroded by water which is evident by the rock walls that have been eaten through and formed potholes in the sandstone formations.

            We stop for a moment on the trail and then we see off in a distance a sandstone work of art…the Hickman Bridge.  We still have a ways to go, but there is the “bridge” before us …that is the why we have been hiking for almost an hour. 


            The “bridge” had evolved from a sandstone formation known as a fin or a wall.  Wind, rain and weather conditions have with time eaten away at the thin “fin” of sandstone until the inside wears away, an alcove first develops and then the inner rock falls away leaving an arch formation.  

             We continued walking on the trail toward the “bridge” and the panorama surrounds us with the white Navajo dome formations that were once desert sand.  Over one hundred millions years ago they were compressed into rock by geologic action.  And even now weather is wearing down the sandstone into sand grains and the cycle continues. 

           We finally reached Hickman Bridge…it is 133 feet wide and towers 125 feet above the rock sandstone that lies below.   It is an amazing natural work of art, certainly not unlike the many arches that we had the opportunity to observe in Arches National Park, especially Delicate Arch.    We sat, relaxed and thought about being there, just trying to imagine what has taken place over millions of years for the evolution of this breathtaking scene. 

             Heading under the “bridge”, the trail continues over more sandstone formations until we reach the rim of the canyon wall that we had climbed for the last hour and fifteen minutes.  Looking down from the rim we see the highway, the Fremont River and the orchards of Fruita that still bear fruit each year; but the massive canyon walls are definitely a breathtaking view. 

            Continuing on we soon complete the loop through the bridge, past the canyon rim and reach the juncture point for the trail that will take us back down to the trailhead.   We know that Capitol Reef National Park like the other parks we visited will not last forever, for time and weather will slowly wear away the domes, canyons and cliffs that lie before us.   For now, however, it is a wonderful place to visit and to experience.