The Cathedral Valley Loop is extremely underrated and can only be described as raw and natural beauty.
Driving the Cathedral Valley Loop is one of the best things to do in Hanksville, Utah! You might be aware that Utah is famous for its otherworldly landscapes and Cathedral Valley is definitely included on the Utah list of crazy-looking places.
Cathedral Valley is part of Capital Reef National Park but surprisingly, many people miss out on doing this 73 mile scenic 4×4 drive.
Cathedral Valley looks and feels like another planet and a couple of the viewpoints along the drive are some of the most beautiful spots we have ever seen and photographed.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about driving the full Cathedral Valley Loop, including what type of car you need for it, the best and must-see stops, along with all of the other optional stops and our opinions on each of them.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that may earn us a small commission should you decide to click through and make a valid purchase (at no extra cost to you). Thanks so much for your support!
About Cathedral Valley
📍 Where is Cathedral Valley
Cathedral Valley is located partially in Capital Reef National Park. The loop is not fully located within the National Park. You will drive in and out of the park as you complete the loop.
The closest towns to Cathedral Valley are Hanksville which is 20 minutes from the start of the loop and Torrey, which is 35 – 40 minutes from the start of the loop.
Salt Lake City is a 4 hour drive from Cathedral Valley and is a great place to start your Utah adventure if you are coming from elsewhere is the US or the world.
🚗 Where does the loop start from
There are two different places that you can choose to start the loop from.
Direction 1 – Temple of Sun and Moon first (Counter-clockwise)
The first option will take you to the Temple of the Sun and the Moon first. This is the way we drove because we wanted to catch the sunrise at the Temple of the Sun and the Moon.
To get to the beginning of the loop, you will need to direct to the Cathedral Valley Inn by taking the UT-24 W / W-100 N from Hanksville if that’s where you are coming from.
Just after you pass the Cathedral Valley Inn, you will need to take a right down Cathedral Road / County Road. This is where the rough dirt road begins.
Direction 2 – River Crossing first (Clockwise)
If you decide to take the second option, this will take you directly to the river crossing first. If you don’t care about taking sunrise photos at the Temple of the Sun and the Moon, this is the better option because you can decide whether or not you are going to make the crossing.
To get to the start of the road from the Capital Reef National Park visitors centre, you need to drive to Hartnet Road and turn left when you reach the sign pointing towards Hartnet Road / 2130 East, River Road to Cathedral Valley.
This intersection is located 11.7 miles (18.8 km) east of the visitors centre. After this intersection, you will want to stay right.
You will drive past a road going to the left pretty close to the crossing but you will want to stay right here to continue on. The left hand turn road leads to a dead end and a steep drop off into the Fremont River.
📃 Things to Know Before you Go
- The entire road is a dirt road and is quite bumpy in sections. The condition of the road great depends on the recent weather. I do recommend a high clearance vehicle to do the drive. You could maybe get away with lower clearance vehicle if you just want to visit the Temple of the Sun and the Moon but I always think it’s best to be safe and just rent a high clearance vehicle. The road can become impassable after rain even for the best 4×4 vehicles.
- There is a river crossing over the Fremont River which you need to research before heading out. This is one of the reasons you will need a high clearance vehicle. More on this later.
- A large portion of the loop is located in Capital Reef National Park so you will need a national parks pass.
- It is a super long drive of 73 miles / 117km on a 4×4 road with no cell service. Make sure you have plenty of food and water, a spare tire and a full tank of gas. The 73 miles includes any detours to see the sights. Without the detours, the full loop is 58 miles / 93km.
- Without detours, the full drive will take about 4 hours, however if you add in all of the stops, it could take anywhere from 6-8 hours.
- In the Summer months, this area gets extremely hot. Be prepared with proper sun protection and plenty of water as there is nowhere to fill up on the way. Check this weather forecast specifically for Cathedral Valley.
- Leave No Trace – Keep Cathedral Valley beautiful by taking out everything you bring in and leaving everything the way you found it.
🛎 Places to Stay Near Cathedral Valley that are SO Worth it!
Cathedral Valley is situated right next to Capital Reef National Park and Hanksville so it’s worth spending a few days in the area. One of the things I love about this area is how amazing some of the accommodation options are!
Broken Spurr Inn and Steakhouse – This is where we stayed! It was a great affordable option with a super comfy bed and full breakfast!
Skyview Hotel – Oh my goodness the views from this hotel! 😍 Apart from the incredible views, the hotel is super modern and clean and has a rooftop terrace and hot tub!
Red Sands Hotel – Mountain views, a swimming pool, restaurant, spa and wellness centre AND a hot tub?! What more could you want!?
Cathedral Valley Loop Itinerary and Stops
📷 Best Stops along the Cathedral Valley Loop
There are loads of stops along the Cathedral Valley Loop, however if you are short on time, I recommend stopping at the following:
- Temple of the Sun and the Moon
- Bentonite Hills
- Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook
- Upper South Desert Overlook
🗺 Cathedral Valley Loop Map
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
🚙 Cathedral Valley Loop Itinerary
This is the order that we did the loop in. We started at the Temple of the Sun and the Moon for sunrise photos and ended at the river crossing.
Temple of the Sun and the Moon
Stats from Utah State Route 24
Distance: 17.3 miles / 27.84km
Driving Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
The Temple of the Sun and the Moon, in my opinion, is the best stop along the Cathedral Valley Loop. A lot of people choose to just do this stop as an out and back drive.
The Temples of the Sun and the Moon are huge rock formations clustered together in the middle of the Utah desert. They are made from earthy, buff-pink Entrada Sandstone which people say started forming 160 million years ago by the deposition of sand and silt in tidal flats. Pretty incredible right?!
You will come to the Temple of the Sun first, which is the largest of the rock formations. You can keep driving to reach the Temple of the Moon, which is where the road ends.
There is a specific spot to view the 3 rock formations together as seen in the above photo. For directions to this spot, check out our guide.
Stats from Temple of the Sun and Moon
Distance: 1.24 miles / 2km
Driving Time: 4 minutes
Glass Mountain is really close to the Temple of the Sun and Moon. You can literally see it from your car so you don’t even need to get out if you don’t want to.
Glass Mountain in Cathedral Valley is a mound made from selenite crystals which is a type of gypsum. The exposed selenite crystals give off an impression that the mound is made out of glass shards.
Stats from Glass Mountain
Distance: 11.8 miles / 19km
Driving Time: 45 minutes
The Gypsum Sinkhole is a massive sinkhole in the ground which was formed by groundwater dissolving a buried gypsum plug. The remaining ground that was left behind then collapsed from the weight of the large rocks above, leaving a huge hole in the ground.
The sinkhole is nearly 50 feet (15 m) wide and 200 feet (61 m) deep. Standing on the edge, peering into the sinkhole, all you can really see is pitch black darkness which is pretty eery!
You can park on the side of the road pretty close to the sinkhole. From there, you will just need to walk for a couple of minutes to get closer to the hole.
Stats from Gypsum Sinkhole
Distance: 5 miles / 8km
Driving Time: 13 minutes
There is a short 0.8km / 0.5 mile trail which takes you all of the way to Morrell Cabin, which was built back in the 1920s and really well preserved for its age!
The cabin started as a summerhouse in Lake Creek (Thousand Lake Mountain) for a family to stay at their sawmill. Then it was sold to the Morrell family and moved to Cathedral Valley, where it became a winter camp for Morell’s cowboys until 1970 when it was sold to the National Park Service.
Cathedral Valley Campground
Stats from Morrell Cabin
Distance: 1.24 miles / 2km
Driving Time: 4 minutes
This is where the road gets a bit more rough and a lot steeper. You will climb up the side of the mountain before turning off to the campground. Look out for the Cathedral Valley Campground signs on your right-hand-side.
The campground has 6 campsites, with fire rings and there is a toilet available. We were surprised to find that this is the only toilet on the entire loop.
Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook
Stats from Cathedral Valley Campground
Distance: 1.24 miles / 2km
Driving Time: 4 minutes
To get to the Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook from the Cathedral Valley Campground, it is only about a 4 minute drive. From the parking lot it is a short 980 ft / 300m walk to the overlook.
The view from the overlook is incredible! You can see back down into the valley where you came from and all of the incredible rock formations in all of their different oranges and reds.
Upper South Desert Overlook
Stats from Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook
Distance: 0.62 miles / 1km
Driving Time: 3 minutes
The Upper South Desert Overlook is a slightly longer walk to the overlook than the Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook, but the views are totally worth it! The walk from the parking lot is mostly uphill and 1,968 ft / 600m to reach the stunning views of the South Desert.
Luckily, you can still get some amazing views a bit of a shorter walk from the parking lot if you don’t have time. This is what we did as we were running a little late.
Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook
Stats from Upper South Desert Overlook
Distance: 9.3 miles / 15km
Driving Time: 40 minutes
The Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook gives you a view of the Temple of the Sun and Moon from above. The name over this viewpoint might be “lower,” however, you are still up really high with an amazing view of Cathedral Valley!
To get to the overlook, it is a short 1.7 mile / 2.7km hike with an elevation gain of 150ft / 46m.
Lower South Desert Overlook
Stats from Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook
Distance: 5 miles / 8km
Driving Time: 25 minutes
This is a viewpoint where you can choose to admire the view from the parking lot, or go on a short 0.25 miles / 0.4km walk to the overlook.
From the parking lot, you will be able to see Jailhouse Rock and the Lower South Desert from the same level as you are, however the overlook provides you with an incredible view looking down on the South Desert.
The viewpoint is not marked, but you will know when you are because you will reach a shelf drop off overlooking the desert below.
Stats from Lower South Desert Overlook
Distance: 6.2 miles / 10km
Driving Time: 20 minutes
The Bentonite Hills are our second favourite stop along the Cathedral Valley Loop. They are truly crazy to see and being surrounded by this incredible landscape will make you feel like you have stepped onto another planet.
There are a few different places in Utah where you can see the Bentonite Hills, this being one of them. There is another spot near Hanksville to see the Bentonite Hills which you can read about in our How to Visit the Bentonite Hills in Utah Guide.
The hills are are made from layers of clay-rich sediments, including volcanic ash and fine-grained minerals. These sediments settled and accumulated over millions of years, eventually forming what we now see as beautiful colourful hills.
You will see Bentonite Hills along the Cathedral Valley Loop all around you as you drive along. There are a couple of places where you can pull over along the way.
Are you allowed to use a drone at the Bentonite Hills
The best way to see the Bentonite Hills is definitely from the sky. The Bentonite Hills are not located within the National Park and therefore, you can use a drone there. Always remember to check the FAA website for any updates on drone laws before you fly.
🙋♀️ Commonly Asked Questions
Which is the best direction to complete the loop in?
The best and safest way to complete the loop, is in a clockwise direction, starting at the river crossing first. The reason for this is that then you get the river crossing out of the way and will know whether or not you can make it across without having to backtrack a long long way.
Personally, we started at the other entrance and completed the loop counter-clockwise so that we could do the Temple of the Sun and the Moon for sunrise which was 1000% worth it!
However, when we got to the river, we actually turned around because we didn’t think we would make it. We were soon turned back around by some ranchers who were convinced that we would be fine.. and we were.
How Long do you need to do the entire loop?
The Cathedral Valley Loop is a super long drive and once you add in all of the stops, it will have taken up most of a full day. Driving the entire loop will usually take people around 6-8 hours on average but this of course depends on how often you stop and how long you stop for at each viewpoint.
I recommend leaving a full day free to explore the Cathedral Valley Loop, if you want to do the entire thing.
Some people just choose to drive to the Temple of the Sun and the Moon and back again, which would only take 1 hour 20 each way from the main highway plus about 1 hour to explore and enjoy the temples.
Can I See Cathedral Valley without a car?
If you don’t have the right sort of car for the Cathedral Valley Loop, don’t worry! You can still go by joining this tour!
Is Camping Allowed in Cathedral Valley
There is no dispersed camping in Cathedral Valley, however, there is a campground located about halfway along the loop called the Cathedral Valley Campground.
It is a primitive, free campground with 6 sites, each with a picnic table and fire pit. There is also a pit toilet available.
Do you need a 4WD to do the Cathedral Valley Loop?
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a 4WD but I definitely recommend a high clearance vehicle. The road is very bumpy and gets quite steep and a little crazy about halfway through the loop. We had an SUV with high clearance and we were fine.
There are also some deep water bars which you will need high clearance for and some pretty sandy spots so having that 4WD or AWD capability is nice to have as a backup. We didn’t find we needed it but the road can change constantly depending on the weather.
The road can become extremely muddy with rainfall and turn into a complete washout, making it impassable even for the best high clearance 4×4 vehicles.
You should check the latest updates on the road conditions before heading out on your adventure by stopping at the visitors centre, or calling 435-425-3791. Press #1 for information, and then #4 for current road conditions. For weather conditions press #3.
The Fremont River Crossing
The South end of the Hartnet Road near Highway 24 requires you to cross over the Fremont River. There is no bridge across the river so you will need to be driving a vehicle that is capable.
The river crossing will either be at the very end of the loop or the very beginning, depending on which direction you decide to complete the drive in.
The river water level can go up and down with the amount of recent rain. Do not try to cross the river during floods or any other times that there is high water. The bottom of river is rocky and hard packed and the water level is usually a foot or less deep.
Before you head out to drive the Cathedral Valley Loop, you should call 435-425-3791 to check the river crossing conditions.
Is a National Parks Pass required for the Cathedral Valley Loop
National Parks Passes are required for the Cathedral Valley Loop. You can get an annual pass which works for most national parks in the US here. If you are visiting Capital Reef National Park, you can use the same pass for that.
Are Dogs Allowed in Cathedral Valley
Dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails anywhere in Capital Reef National Parks which includes Cathedral Valley.
However, they are allowed to accompany you on any roadway open to public vehicle travel in Capitol Reef National Park which includes the Cathedral Valley Loop road. They should also stay within 50 ft of the road and be kept on a leash.
Is there any Cell Service in Cathedral Valley
There is no cell service in Cathedral Valley. We didn’t see many other people on the road during the day either, so it is really important that you are well prepared for breakdowns and any emergencies.
Also make sure you download offline google maps and pre-plan where about’s you want to stop along the loop because its almost impossible to figure it out along the way without internet.
You might also enjoy:
- Our Ultimate 7 Day Utah Road Trip from Salt Lake City
- 10 Amazing Things to Do in Hanksville Utah
- Cassidy Arch Trail – A Must Do Hike in Capital Reef National Park
- How to Hike the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail, Escalante Utah
📌 Share and Save for Later!