A quick ascent leads to a gentle climb along the edge of a bench alongside a line of cathedrals. The trail ends on top of a small hill with commanding views.
From the parking area, this out-and-back hike climbs moderately to the top of the bench that separates the Morrell Cabin drainage from the Cathedrals to the north.
Once on the bench, the grade is gentle as the trail passes through open grassland. After a half mile, the path runs along the edge of the mesa for an excellent view of the Cathedrals lined up to the north. The protective effect of the tan Curtis Formation sandstone on the weaker red Entrada mudstone below is apparent.
The largest cathedral (to the left, or west) has a robust cap of Curtis, while the next one to the east (closest to the trail at this point) has less Curtis formation capping the feature and is smaller. The two others back toward the road have lost their caprocks and are eroding quickly.
Beyond this point, the path is flanked by numerous piñon pines and Utah juniper, along with expanses of grass. The distribution of the trees is such that it almost feels like you're navigating through a tended garden.
The path wanders among the trees and black boulders to another point on the edge, where the view back to the east is especially good, and the thin profile of the Cathedrals is revealed. There are several nicely-framed views for photographers, along with fluted cliffs in the background.
At the end, it may be a surprise to find that the trail does not end on the edge of the bench, but rather on top of a small hill. This vantage point provides another of the panoramic vistas so prevalent on the Cathedral Valley loop. The Henry Mountains peek up in the southeast and clockwise to their right are impressive switchbacks on the road up to the campground. You'll note that just the very top of Thousand Lakes Mountain appears over Entrada badlands, and you'll be able to see the forested Baker Bench with both the Summerville and Salt Wash formations exposed above.
Notice the line of cathedrals paralleling the trail and the bench fanning out below. Once again, the Morrell Cabin is visible, although finding it is a good test of visual acuity.
The journey back down to the trailhead is just as pleasant as the stroll up and makes an excellent hike in the afternoon for those staying at the campground.
This content was contributed by author Rick Stinchfield. For a comprehensive hiking guide to Capitol Reef National Park and to see more by Rick, click here
Piñon and Utah juniper are plentiful alongside the trail.