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Away from it All

Stay up late for the dark skies.

If you’ve read and admired Western writers Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, this is the itinerary for you. Though Stegner says, “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in,” this ambitious two-day itinerary will soothe your soul and boost your spirits as you do more than just look in. Welcome to the wild country.
Many stop by Cedar Breaks National Monument to peer into its colorful amphitheater. Separate yourself from the crowd by arriving early and racing the sunrise to the Ramparts. Later, drop deep into the backcountry of Bryce Canyon’s spire-filled basin, where few tourists ever venture — an amphitheater of peace. Then, at night, admire the stars in the pristine darkness of Bryce Canyon’s 9,000-foot elevation.
In Capitol Reef, day two will provide you with a national park experience without the usual crowds. Head out into nature’s place of worship in Cathedral Valley and breathe in the dry, juniper-scented air as you marvel at the massive monoliths. Wander through narrow, hidden passages on the Grand Wash and Cohab Trail. Capitol Reef is a certified International Dark Sky Park. Return home if you must, or plan an early departure tomorrow morning so you can renew yourself again under the pitch black night sky and the billions of stars it reveals.
Spend a few days away from the hustle and bustle and gain a new appreciation for the peace you’ll find in wild places.

Day 1 125 Miles
  • Cedar Breaks National Monument
  • Under-the-Rim Trail
  • Dark Skies of Bryce Canyon

The Ramparts hike of Cedar Breaks National Monument can separate you from the crowd, especially if you get an early start and race the sunrise. This will also give you time to tackle Bryce Canyon’s Fairyland Loop or perhaps a spur trail to the remote reaches of Bryce Canyon. If you can spare an extra day, the Under-the-Rim Trail is a premier backcountry hike. Wherever you land for the night, stay up late for pristine dark skies.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

This majestic 2,000-foot deep natural amphitheater calls to mind its big brother Bryce Canyon to the east with huge spires shaped over millions of years of wind blowing through the canyon. Because it’s an official Dark Sky Park, camping nearby is a must do, especially if you can attend a ranger-led stargazing program during the summer months at this certified Dark Sky Park.

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Under-the-Rim Trail

You’ll want more than a day to explore the breadth of Bryce Canyon’s premier backpacking route along the Pink Cliffs. Connector trails enable shorter routes, or you can tackle the full 23 miles with a permit and designated campsite.

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Dark Skies of Bryce Canyon

As an accredited International Dark Sky Park, Bryce Canyon is the ultimate place to experience the splendor of the night sky. Protected by a special force of park rangers and volunteer Utah astronomy enthusiasts, Bryce Canyon is known as the last grand sanctuary of natural darkness and has one of the nation's oldest astronomy programs.

Photo: Prajit Ravindran

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Day 2 125 Miles
  • Cathedral Valley Backway
  • Cohab Canyon to Grand Wash
  • Hickman Bridge + Navajo Knobs

Your high-clearance vehicle will get you to the backcountry of Capitol Reef, where some of its most iconic sandstone monoliths stand sentry over these peaceful but rugged lands. You can also break from the crowd on the Frying Pan and Cassidy Arch hikes between the popular Cohab Canyon and Grand Wash hikes. If you can show late for work tomorrow, stay up for a second date with the Milky Way in this certified International Dark Sky Park.

Cathedral Valley Backway

Solace seekers with wayfinding skills can set out across open backcountry for close-up looks at giant castle-like sandstone formations. A high-clearance vehicle is essential back here. There’s a river ford and some big bumps to negotiate. Go prepared for the unexpected.

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Cohab Canyon to Grand Wash

Taken individually, the Grand Wash and Cohab Canyon are both excellent out-and-back hikes with distinct trails. Separate yourself from the crowd by combining the two with the Frying Pan Trail, an excellent exploration of the Waterpocket Fold. Arrange a shuttle or add 2.5 miles of hiking up the road.

Hickman Bridge + Navajo Knobs

These front country hikes in Capitol Reef National Park lead to amazing rock formations and panoramic views of Southeastern Utah. Hickman Bridge is a short out-and-back (about 2 miles). The Rim Overlook and/or Navajo Knobs add 2.3 and 4.7 miles (one-way), respectively, for an elevated 360º panoramic view of Capitol Reef’s tilted landscapes.

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