This trail climbs through Capitol Gorge, winding in and out of side canyons on its way up to a great view of the Golden Throne, a distinctive mountain with sheer yellow cliffs. The trail is approximately two miles, each way, and once you reach the end, you’ll backtrack using the same trail. You do not end up at the top of the Golden Throne, or even at the base of it — but you do get a very nice view of the mountain, as well as Capitol Gorge, and all the rest of the surroundings.
The Golden Throne Trail holds a special place in my heart, because it was the last trail I would hike on my 2013 trip to Utah. As soon as this hike was over, I needed to make a non-stop drive back to Salt Lake City, to catch a flight that departed early the next morning. So, I was determined to enjoy every minute of the hike, and make it last as long as possible.
The sign at the trailhead prepares you for the two mile hike, which gains about 1,100 feet. That sounds like a lot of elevation, and you do have to do a lot of climbing, but I don’t recall the climb causing me to struggle, and most of the trail climbed at a reasonable pitch.
At the start of the trail, it’s not clear where you’ll end up. The Golden Throne isn’t immediately viewable, but you do have a good perspective on Capitol Gorge — the canyon you’ll have to drive through, to get here. Don’t worry about that dirt road, it’s smooth and well-maintained for any kind of vehicle.
I soon realized that the trail was going to (roughly) follow the road, albeit at a higher elevation. As the canyon curved, so would the trail, on the cliff above the road. By the end, I was standing above the end of the paved portion of the road — the “Scenic Drive” that cuts into the middle of the Waterpocket Fold.
On the way up, you’ll squeeze between giant rocks in this field of boulders.
Look at that sky! Could I have asked for a better day?
The trail rounds the outside of a hill, then dips back into the side-canyon that follows, about three times. At one point, you round the corner…
… and receive a great view of the backside of the Golden Throne.
These side-canyons (and this one in particular) are great places to take pictures.
In some places, you’ll be hiking across bare rock — but the trail is always well-marked and easy to follow.
There’s no mistaking the end of the trail. It’s clearly marked, on a sign propped up by a pile of stones, atop a huge slab of bare rock. Of course, from here, you have a great view of the Golden Throne — but the truth is, you’re still quite a long distance away from it.
While I didn’t see any way to hike any closer to the Golden Throne, there are other places to go, once you’ve reached the official end of the trail. Take a short hike in the opposite direction (away from the mountain), and you’ll come to the edge of a cliff. Down below, you get another look at the dirt road — and from the right spot, you can see the parking area at the end of the scenic drive.
Even if a hundred people had been hiking this trail, it would have been easy for me to find a spot of solitude. But there weren’t a hundred, or even a dozen. I didn’t see anyone, at any time, on the entire trail. I had the place all to myself, and it was wonderful. I laid down on the rock, propped my head up on my backpack, and stared up at that beautiful sky for at least 15 minutes, watching airplanes cross overhead, their passengers oblivious to the beauty below them. I knew the clock was ticking towards the moment when I would be one of them, but I tried not to think about it. I had a few precious moments remaining, and I intended to use every one of them.
The Bottom Line
If you’re in good enough health to make a 4-mile round-trip hike, with some elevation gain, this hike is an excellent choice — maybe one of the best that Capitol Reef has to offer. Prepare to be the only person on the trail — bring snacks and water.
The trailhead for the Golden Throne trail is located at the end of the Capitol Gorge Road — the dirt-road extension of Capitol Reef National Park’s “Scenic Drive”.
From Utah Route 24, turn south at the visitor center, and follow the paved road until you reach a parking area at the end of the pavement. There are two dirt-road options here — you want the one that’s straight ahead (even though on a map, it looks like it requires a left-turn). At the end of the dirt road, you’ll find another parking area. As you drive in, the trailhead will be on your left.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through Capitol Reef National Park: