This trail is quite steep and has lots of challenging footing. If you do decide to tackle it, consider proceeding straight out to the viewpoint and back, omitting the loop.
The Old Wagon Trail offers nice views of the Waterpocket Fold, but there is a lack of diversity along the trail that some runners may find unexciting. Parts of the loop are very rough and rocky, more so than any other front country trail. Despite this, the trail offers plenty of solitude for those who want to avoid the crowds.
Immediately from the parking area, the trail drops into and across a wash. On the other side a steady climb leads up through the Moenkopi Formation. A half-mile of steady climbing gains a slight break in the slope after two sets of steps. This is a good place to pause and turn around to take in the emerging view of the Henry Mountains over Capitol Gorge.
A short distance later, the loop portion of the the run begins to the left. If the viewpoint is your goal, simply continue straight ahead up the slope, but if completing the loop, it is best to follow the arrow left.
The tread of the trail gets significantly rougher after the junction and the climbs continue in earnest. A half mile from the start of the loop, the trail nears the rim of Capitol Gorge. Nestled in the distant formations below is Capitol Reef’s oldest rock layer, the White Rim Sandstone. Back to the east, the view has improved and now sweeps farther to the north.
A third of a mile farther on, the path makes a gentle turn to the north and the climbing is done. The 1,100 foot elevation gain over the last 1.7 miles is certainly a good workout. After leaving the canyon rim, it is only a little ways further to a right turn onto a downhill section of the Old Wagon Trail.
The route follows the old road down, then turns left. Continue on, and soon a sign indicates the spur trail to the viewpoint (straight ahead) and the return to the trailhead to the right. The short climb up the rocks to the viewpoint is well worth the effort.
From the spur trail junction, the main loop trail proceeds south, following the contours of the landscape for a short distance, and then trends more to the east as it works down the slope. Happily, the rocks are largely left behind, and the tread is smooth enough that travel is pleasant. All the way back down to the trailhead, the broad views to the east are wonderful.
This content was contributed by author Rick Stinchfield. For a comprehensive running guide to Capitol Reef National Park and to see more by Rick, click here
Along the route, piñons and junipers bring dark green contrast to the rock, and occasionally other shrubs and forbs manage to squeeze themselves in.
The portion along the Wagon Trail provides a break in the piñon and juniper cover - an opening that gives the the narrowleaf yucca the opportunity to flourish, and the eight inch to one foot (20-30 cm) spheres of yucca spikes are abundant.
Like all yuccas, Yucca harrimaniae has a symbiotic relationship with moths. Usually a single species of moth relates to a specific kind of yucca, although a few moth species are less choosy. The moth gathers yucca pollen, into which it lays its eggs after inserting it into a different yucca plant. Not only are the plants pollinated by this, but the seeds nourish the moth larvae when they emerge. Since some seeds are left over, the yucca is sustained as well.