15 August, 2023

5 Fun things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

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Capitol Reef National Park in Southern Utah is a little remote and so, is less visited when compared to the other Utah national parks in the mighty 5. But, I would say, it's uniquely beautiful and has a lot of fun things to do. 

Capitol Reef is a few minutes west of Torrey. The park's expansiveness , majestic canyons and sweeping views are unbeatable. This park is surrounded by a geographical feature called Water pocket Fold (100 mile long wrinkle in the Earth's crust). The park got its name due to the white dome in the park which is similar to the State capitol domes and the cliffs forming a barrier like an Ocean reef. 

Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking solace in a breathtaking environment, Capitol Reef offers an unforgettable journey that redefines the desert experience. Prepare to be inspired, awed, and humbled by the hidden wonders that await in this remarkable national park.

Park Entrance:

Entrance fee is $35 per vehicle. 

We have our America the beautiful  Annual Pass which costed around $80. It's a good deal if you want to cover multiple national parks in the same year. This year, we covered 6 national parks so far :-)

Pin it for later!

Read the previous travelogues here:

Zion National Park - Part1

Zion National Park - Part2

Bryce Canyon National Park

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument


This landscape is formed due to deposition and uplift. 

From National Park's website:

Capitol Reef National Park’s geologic story reveals a nearly complete set of Mesozoic-era sedimentary layers. For 200 million years, rock layers formed at or near sea level. About 75-35 million years ago tectonic forces uplifted them, forming the Waterpocket Fold. Forces of erosion have been sculpting this spectacular landscape ever since.

For me, it's amazing to see different layers of rocks since 200 million years.  These sedimentary rock layers denote different times, different environments and eco systems. 

Goosenecks Overlook

How to Reach?

We flew to Las Vegas, drove to Zion, Bryce, Escalante and reached Torrey to visit Capitol Reef National park.

Here are some flight options to Las Vegas:

Where to Stay?

Torrey has a lot of options to stay. We stayed in Broken Spur Inn and Steakhouse, which is very good hotel with clean rooms, restaurant, pool, laundry, play area for kids, and beautiful views.

Check out all accommodation options near Capitol Reef:

5 Fun things to do in Capitol Reef National Park:

1. Experience the beauty of the park through Scenic drive

The paved 8 mile scenic road gives a wonderful introduction to the park and the Water-pocket fold feature. There are many pullouts and view points on the scenic drive. Chimney rock(5 mins walk), Goosenecks overlook(0.2 miles), Panorama point(0.6 miles) and Sunset points are easy to reach with short hikes.

The best of Capitol Reef! See the Layers

The White Capitol dome 

Chimney Rock

This scenic drive is not a loop. There are 2 more scenic drives which are dirt roads - Capitol Gorge and Grand Wash.

Capitol Gorge drive is very beautiful and shouldn't be missed. You don't need a 4 wheel drive. It is like driving through a canyon with canyon walls slowly narrowing the road further. 

2. Watch the petroglyphs

When you turn left from the visitor center to Fruita historic district, you can drive to Petroglyph point. This petroglyph panel contains around 200 petroglyphs created by Fremont tribe around 700 to 1300 AD.

You can also watch petroglyphs in Capitol Gorge area.

3. Eat the famous home made pie from Gifford House

We loved the Apple pie and peach pie at Gifford house. Gifford house is a few minutes away from visitor center. Home made ice cream and Cinnamon rolls are also available.

These pies are very popular and so they go out of stock if you go very late. 

We enjoyed these pies every day after hiking or in the evenings in-between hikes. 

The park is also home for Fruita orchards planted by Mormon settlers in the late 1800s. During harvest season(mid June to October), visitors can pick fruits from orchards. Unfortunately, no fruits were ready yet to pick when we visited in early June. 

4. Hike the Hickman bridge and Cassidy Arch

Hiking Trails in Capitol Reef national Park:

Hickman Bridge

Hickman bridge is a popular trail in the Capitol Reef National park. This is around 2 miles round trip. The initial section is very steep. This might take 2 hrs but you can walk below the huge arch and it is well worth the effort. 

2 small bridges on the way to Hickman Bridge

This is a moderate hike. You can see the Capitol Dome from the trail. The trailhead is on the Fruita scenic drive a few minutes away from Petroglyph point. 

Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch trailhead is at the end of Grand wash road scenic drive. It is the most difficult hike to do with kids with steep inclines and dropoffs. We couldn't do it as we were tired from previous day hikes in Bryce canyon national park. 

This is 1.7 miles steep and tough trail. But, you can walk on the arch as well if you can hike.

We could see the arch from a view point on Grand wash scenic drive. 

Pioneer Register and Tanks

This is the easiest hikes in Capitol Reef. The trailhead is at the end of the Capitol Gorge scenic drive. 

This is 1.6 miles round trip hike and add 0.6 miles to reach "Tanks" - Naturally formed water holes. You can watch the canyon walls narrowing on the pioneer register hike and see Mormon settlers' names carved on the canyon walls.

Capitol Gorge drive

The hike to Tanks is not flat and there might not be water in those water holes in summer. The trail is not very clearly marked and you need to climb rocks to reach them.

5. Explore the historic Fruita district

Pioneers have settled in this area in 1800s. They have also maintained fruit orchards growing apples, peaches, apricots , pears, plums etc.,

National park service has preserved old Fruita School house, Gifford house , barn and is maintaining the orchards.

The other remote areas to explore in the park are Cathedral Valley and Cohab canyon. Cathedral valley overlook and the temple of Sun and Moon rock formations are popular. 

We didn't get time to drive to Cohab canyon, but there are moderate trails to fantastic view points of the canyon.

Near Cathedral Valley

Cannot get tired of these views

We loved the experience in Capitol Reef. This is really the mighty one of the 5 Utah national parks. I think, no where else we can see the geology and Earth's wonders this close.

Let's meet on my next travelogue about Goblin Valley State park.

Until next time,

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