Bikepacking the Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park

Bikepacking the Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park is a great way to see this beautiful area of the park – one which not many visitors get to experience. The scenery is absolutely stunning, and at 72-miles, the loop makes for a great one-night bikepacking adventure.

There’s a good chance that affiliate links are scattered throughout this post. If you click on one I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you and I’ll definitely be using it to buy bike gear.

I did this trip as an overnighter with a friend and while it’s pretty straightforward, this guide will help you plan your trip out to Cathedral Valley on two wheels.

In this post, learn everything you need to know about bikepacking the 72- mile Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park.


What & Where is Cathedral Valley?

Cathedral Valley is located in Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah, a lesser-known and lesser-visited National Park. The park is located in the south-central part of the state and is characterized by its unique rock and land formations that make up the rocky spine of the Water Pocket Fold. There are massive red rock bluffs, white sandstone cliffs, colorful bentonite hills, and a scenic drive through the historic Mormon settlement of Fruita.

Road winding through Capitol Reef National Park in Utah and sun setting on tall red rock bluffs
Capitol Reef is a lesser-visited National Park, but it’s still stunning!

Cathedral Valley is a remote portion of the park that is known for its towering monoliths, bentonite hills, abandoned mines, and other unique and beautiful attractions.

There is a 60-mile sandy dirt road that traverses through this rugged and remote area and passes through a valley of towering monolith mountains of Cathedral Valley with names like Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. Most people drive this route in a day, but it can also be done as an overnight bikepacking trip, which is what a friend and I recently did.

The loop is about 72 miles total and can easily be done in two days with plenty of time to explore the sights and attractions of Cathedral Valley.


Bikepacking the Cathedral Valley Loop

Quick stats

  • Miles: 72.74 miles*
  • Elevation gain: 4,547ft*
  • Number of nights: 1 night
  • Rideable time: 100%
  • Percent singletrack: 0%
  • Start/End: You have several options. We started and ended at Sleepy Hollow Campground (see planning info below)
  • Water availability: Very limited

    *As measured by my Garmin Edge 830 computer. There are several side attractions you can visit along the Cathedral Valley Loop, most of which are just a mile or two off the main route. The total mileage will differ depending on which sights you visit.

Screenshot of Cathedral Valley Bikepacking route map in Capitol Reef National Park
Cathedral Valley bikepacking loop (note that this route starts/end in a different place than what I did)

Detailed Overview

The Cathedral Valley Loop is a 72-mile doubletrack (often sandy) road that traverses through the Northern Cathedral Valley District of Capitol Reef National Park. This area earned its name ‘Cathedral Valley’ because “the eroded sandstone shapes reminded early explorers of ornate, Gothic cathedrals, with fluted walls, alcoves, and pinnacles” (NPS Website).

In addition to the giant monoliths, the route also passes by colorful bentonite hills, sweeping desert overlooks, a gypsum sinkhole, and a really cool glass ‘mountain’.

The total elevation gain over the 72 miles is only 4,547 feet, making it a great two-day overnight adventure.

View of Temple of the Sun monolith in Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park
Cathedral Valley is home to amazing monoliths like this Temple Of The Sun

Cathedral Valley Loop: Day 1

  • Mileage: 33 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,540 feet
  • Elevation loss: 990 feet
  • Time needed: 5-6 hours

We started our Cathedral Valley Loop ride from Sleepy Hollow Campground, which is situated right in the middle of the paved highway section of the loop. There are several places you can start the ride, but we chose Sleepy Hollow Campground because we could leave our car there overnight and there were hot showers waiting for us at the end! (I’m kind of a princess…) For other options on where to start or leave your car, see the planning section below.

From Sleepy Hollow Campground, it’s a short warmup climb on the paved highway before turning off onto Hartnet Road. Shortly after leaving the paved road, you’ll come to a river crossing, which was 2-3 feet deep when we rode the loop in April. You will get your feet wet!

Bikepacker pushing bike through shallow river on Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park
The river crossing was 2-3 feet deep when we rode the Cathedral Valley Loop

After the river crossing, there’s a short switchbacked climb and then, to be honest, the next few hours of pedaling the Cathedral Valley Loop are a bit monotonous and boring.

You’ll pass through valleys lined with red rock bluffs and sandstone cliffs and while the landscape is pretty, but it’s not spectacular. There are a few attractions to explore like the Lower Desert Overlook, which is a worthwhile detour, and the Bentonite Hills, which are otherworldly. But for the most part, day 1 is a slow and sandy pedal up to the Cathedral Valley Campground. But be consoled by the fact that tomorrow is almost all downhill and the landscape of the actual Cathedral Valley is 10x more impressive!

Bikepacker pedaling up dirt road surrounded by small Bentonite Hills on Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park
Pedaling through the Bentonite Hills is an otherworldly experience

You’ll spend the night at the no-fee Cathedral Valley Campground, which is first-come-first-serve and has a pit toilet (no toilet paper). The 6 campsites are studded with Pinyon and juniper trees and each site has a fire pit and picnic table. The campground is situated at 7,000ft and can be suuuper windy at night, so be sure to pack layers.

Views out over desert valley with red rock bluffs in in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
The views on the first day aren’t spectacular except for this one lookout out onto the Water Pocket Fold

Cathedral Valley Loop: Day 2

  • Mileage: 39 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,007 feet
  • Elevation loss: 3,557 feet
  • Time needed: 4-5 hours

Day 2 is definitely the highlight of bikepacking the Cathedral Valley Loop. The road is almost all downhill and the views and landscapes of Cathedral Valley are really stunning and beautiful.

From the campground, you’ll start with a steep switchbacked descent into the Valley with views of gigantic sandstone monoliths in the distance. Throughout day 2, there are several side attractions that are worth checking out. First is the gypsum sinkhole, which is pretty cool and only a mile off the main route.

I also recommend pedaling out to the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, both of which are giant rock formations that poke straight up out of the ground. On the way back from the temples, check out the Glass Mountain – I’d never seen anything like it!

Michelle standing next to Glass Mountain, a rock and crystal formation in Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park
Michelle standing next to Glass Mountain

As you make your way out of Cathedral Valley, the road slowly winds its way back down to the highway where you’ll turn right and pedal a few miles back to the campground.

The Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park is a perfect overnight bikepacking adventure with incredible views and mellow pedaling
The views throughout Cathedral Valley are stunning!

planning your Cathedral Valley Bikepacking Trip

Water Availability

Plan for NO WATER on the Cathedral Valley Loop. You will cross the Fremont River within the first few miles on day 1, but there is no guarantee of water past the river.

I carried 8L of water for two days. I had about a liter leftover, but I always prefer to overestimate how much water I’ll need, even though it makes my bike heavier!

You can drive up to the Cathedral Valley Campground to stash water, but a friend of mine did this only to discover a mountain lion had commandeered it.

Where to Camp

The Cathedral Valley Campground is situated about halfway along the Cathedral Valley Loop at 33 miles and it’s also the highest point along the route. The campground is first-come-first-serve with 6 sites and it’s free. There is a pit toilet (no toilet paper when we were there) and each site has a fire pit and picnic table.

If you need to camp before and/or after the ride, Sleepy Hollow Campground is a great choice because it’s located on the loop and splits up the 10-mile highway section. The campground is privately owned and has clean bathrooms and showers and potable water. It’s $20/night for tent/car camping. Call Forrest at (435) 456-9130 to reserve a site and let him know that you want to leave your vehicle overnight.

Be prepared for sand

Be prepared for some sandy pedaling. The Cathedral Valley Loop is a mix of hardpacked surface, rock-studded sections, and very sandy sand pits. I highly recommend wide tires that are at least 2.5 – 2.8. The fast-rolling Maxxis Rekon tires are a great choice – they come in 27.5+ and 29 x 2.6 or you could probably get away with the 2.4s.

How to navigate the route

The Cathedral Valley Loop is pretty easy to navigate because most of the intersections are well-marked, but I still recommend bringing something to navigate by. I downloaded the GPX file from Bikepacking.com to use on my Garmin Edge 830, but you can also download it to your phone if you have a GPX compatible app like Ride With GPS.

Paper maps of Capitol Reef National Park are also available.

Entrance Fee

There is a self-pay station just past the Visitor’s Center and the entrance fee is $20 per vehicle. I’m not sure how (or if?) you pay this if you enter the Park from the other direction, i.e. from Hanksville since the loop is over in that direction.

About half of the loop is in the National Park and the money helps keep our beautiful lands beautiful.


Best time to Bikepack the Cathedral Valley Loop

The best time to ride the Cathedral Valley Loop is in the spring and fall when both day and night temps are moderate. Summer is too hot and winter can see snow and freezing rain. We did our trip in April and the temps were a little chilly (highs of mid-60s and low of low 40s) but still manageable. The Cathedral Valley Campground is at 7,000ft, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.

One other thing to keep an eye on is rainfall. The roads can get really sloppy and muddy after rain, making them near impossible to bike on, and the Fremont River, which you need to cross, can flood.

View of Cathedral Valley from above before descending down into it
View of Cathedral Valley from above before descending down into it

Bikepacking gear for the Cathedral Valley Loop

For a complete list of gear, head over to my Bikepacking Gear Checklist. Here are a few modifications specific to our Cathedral Valley trip:

  • A bivy sack instead of a tent: I opted to take a bivy sack instead of a tent for this overnight because I wanted to pack lighter. It ended up being really windy at the Cathedral Valley Campground and I think a tent would have provided more protection from the wind, but it would also have been very noisy. If I did this loop again, I’d probably still opt for the bivy sack.
  • Wide tires: As I mentioned above, sections of the Cathedral Valley Loop are really sandy, so I recommend wide tires that still have good traction. The Maxxis Rekons are a great choice.
Sign post in Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park showing directions and mileage to other sights and landmarks

What questions do you have about bikepacking the Cathedral Valley Loop? Is this a trip you’d like to do? Leave a comment below!

Pin it for later!
The Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef National Park is a perfect overnight bikepacking adventure with incredible views and mellow pedaling

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.