The Temples of the Sun and Moon are located in a remote region of Capitol Reef National Park. They are accessible by a rough dirt road that begins outside the park. There is no fee to visit them. There is also an amazing bonus adventure when visiting the temples called Glass Mountain.
There are several roads to the temples, which are located in Cathedral Valley, and most of them will take you all day. But we did a short out-and-back to the temples that only took about two hours. This road was called Caineville Wash Road and ran 16 miles to the temples. To access the road, drive to Caineville, which is around 20 miles east of the Visitor Center. Before you get to town (if you pass the Rodeway Inn, you’ve gone too far), there is a sign that says 490 West with Cathedral in small letters below it. Turn left (north) down the dirt road.
We drove this road in our van, and we could have made it in a passenger car, but it does require a bit of a skilled hand. (Check out the tips below if you have limited driving experience on rough roads). The worst part of the road is the washboards. They’ll shake the eyeballs out of your head, but we never felt as though we couldn’t go on. We did take an hour to drive these fifteen miles, which seems like about fifteen miles per hour!
There are a few junctions on this road, but none that would really get you lost. At .2 miles, the road splits and a false road leads to a camping area to the left. Take the right and stay right along the ridge. There is a second junction, and this one is larger, at 2.1 miles. Stay left this time.
Eventually there is a sign for entering Cathedral Valley. At this point, the Temple of the Sun comes into view. It is a large freestanding rock, and when I say large, I mean hundreds of feet. The much smaller Temple of the Moon stands to the left. It is still several miles to their base from the sign.
Stay on the Caineville Wash Road until you reach a sign that points to the left. There is a second sign with distances: One mile to the Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon, and Glass Mountain. Drive over to Temple of the Moon and start there first. There are great photo opportunities from the south side. The Temple of the Sun is next, and it is so large that it is difficult to photograph. We stood on a low hill and took pictures, so it actually looks smaller than it appears.
Finally, drive over to Glass Mountain. It was our favorite of the three. Though it is only about 12 feet high and it would easily fit on a baseball diamond, it glitters and sparkles in the sun. Pictures don’t really show the dazzling reflections. We climbed to the top and there are even more sheets of glass to see. There is a sign that prohibits collecting pieces of the silicate, so please leave it there for everyone to see.
The Caineville Wash Road continues on toward Cathedral Valley, but we flipped around and drove 16 miles back to town. The Cathedral Valley road requires a river crossing, and a good 4 wheel drive, so if you continue on, make sure that you can make it. We loved our trip to the Temples! And Glass Mountain made it that much better. For more information about Capitol Reef, read about our visit.
Tips for Driving on Rough Dirt Roads
Don’t spin the wheels in sand. If you have to stop in the sand (don’t), ease your foot off the brake and allow the gears to pull you forward. Revving the motor will dig a nice deep hole.
Don’t try to straddle rocks or other things that point up. Instead, put your tire on them. This will keep your axle or oilpan off of them.
Be in control of your speed. Going too fast won’t allow you to react to unexpected holes, and this road has a lot of them.
Concentrate on the wheelbase of your car. Put the driver-side wheel, which is right under you, on the safest, smoothest part of the road.
Don’t worry about your side of the road. There are no “sides” unless you have to pass somebody.
Try different speeds on the washboards. They aren’t dangerous, just annoying!