Fun Things To Do At Capitol Reef National Park

Fun Things To Do At Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park was established in 1971 but was designated as a national monument in 1937. Despite being a lesser-known national park, Capitol Reef is one of the larger parks in the southern area of Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park gets its unique name from two different aspects of the Park. The “Capitol” portion is named after the white Navajo Sandstone dome formations and cliffs in the area, which resemble the white dome tops on capitol buildings. Then the “Reef” refers to the Waterpocket Fold, a huge rocky barrier.

The Park is about 378 square miles, larger than many more popular national parks, like Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches. Despite its size, it is a park that can be explored in a single day or over several days

if you want to hike the many trails in the Park. It’s a park worth visiting, especially if you happen to be exploring some of the other national parks in the area.

Capitol Reef is one of the more low-key national parks in Utah. It’s a park that often gets overlooked simply because of the area’s high number of national parks. But it’s unique and worth exploring, especially if you’re a national park lover.

Fun Things To Do At Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden gem in south-central Utah, USA. The Park is known for its stunning red rock formations, canyons, and natural bridges, which provide visitors with a unique and unforgettable experience.

In this post, we will explore some fun things and places to visit at Capitol Reef National Park based on our experience.

1. Visitors Center

The Visitors Center is the perfect place to start visiting Capitol Reef, National Park. Here, visitors can learn about the Park’s history and geology and get information about hiking trails, camping, and other activities in the Park.

While we came in from the east side of the Park, along Highway 24, and

always find it useful to stop at the Visitors Center to get the latest information about the Park.

You’ll also need to stop here to pay your entrance fee to continue southwards on the Scenic Drive. We also recommend getting offline maps and recommendations from the rangers based on the current conditions.

2. Hickman Bridge Trail

Once we left the Visitors Center, we backtracked along Highway 24 to the Hickman Bridge Trailhead. The trail is 1.8 miles round trip, and I would rate the hike as medium difficulty.

While the trail isn’t technically difficult or long, there isn’t much vegetation, so you’ll be in direct sun for most of the hike. You’ll also gain about 400 feet of elevation while on the trail.

The trail starts along a stream and then takes you through some rocky terrain. You’ll get some great views of the white dome formations in the area, including the famous Capitol Dome. The trail ends at Hickman Bridge, which is a 133-foot natural arch. The arch is similar to what you’ll see in other national parks in Utah, but we found this one to be much less crowded.

3. Fruita Orchards

The Fruita Orchards are a historic fruit orchard preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. Visitors can pick their fruit (in season), learn about the history of the orchards, and even purchase some of the fruit to take home.

We passed by petroglyphs from the Hickman Bridge Trail and stopped at the historic Fruita Schoolhouse and district. This area is home to many orchards, a unique aspect of the Park. There is no charge for fruit consumed within the orchard, but there is a fee for any fruit removed.

The availability of fruit depends on the harvest time. For example, when we visited in late September, there weren’t many untouched pieces of fruit left. But walking in the orchards and spotting apples was still fun, especially with the beautiful landscape.

4. Take Scenic Drive Through The Take Scenic Drive Through Grand Wash Trail & Cassidy Arch Trail

We then proceeded southwards from the Visitors Center into the Park along the Scenic Drive. The Grand Wash Trail is a 4.4-mile hike that takes visitors through a wide and winding canyon. The trail can be accessed via the Scenic Drive, which offers stunning views of the Park’s unique geological features.

We then turned left off the main road toward Grand Wash, an unpaved road leading to the Cassidy Arch Trail. This is both the starting point for the Cassidy Arch Trail and also the end of the Grand Wash Trail.


Since the Cassidy Arch Trail was listed as a strenuous 3.4-mile round-trip hike, but it was worth the trip. This “strenuous” hike follows a beautiful canyon and offers stunning views of the Park’s natural beauty. The trail offers visitors an opportunity to see more of the Park’s stunning scenery

5. Scope The Bear Canyon & The Narrows

Bear Canyon and the Narrows are two popular hiking trails in the Park. The Bear Canyon trail leads visitors through a beautiful and secluded canyon. In contrast, the Narrows trail takes visitors through a narrow, winding canyon that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Our hike took us along Bear Canyon, a large, open trail surrounded by beautiful rock formations. We even saw bats flying overhead as we walked along the trail, even though it was midday.

The trail eventually leads to the Narrows, which had a similar feel to the ones found in Zion National Park. As the name implies, the trail becomes much narrower as you pass through the canyon.

Overall, this was a long but easy hike. Also, walking the entire trail to the Grand Wash trailhead is unnecessary. If you’re short on time or looking for a shorter hike, you can always turn back around mile three once you’re in the middle of the Narrows.

6. Head To The Capitol Gorge

Afterward, we drove further southwards on the Scenic Drive to Capitol Gorge. The roads are again unpaved, and conditions can be windy, so you’ll want to take it slow, especially around the tight corners.

Bear Canyon and the Narrows are two popular hiking trails in the Park. The Bear Canyon trail leads visitors through a beautiful and secluded canyon. In contrast, the Narrows trail takes visitors through a narrow, winding canyon that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

While it was a beautiful drive, we, unfortunately, didn’t get a chance to hike here. By the time we arrived, the parking lot was full. Since we were short on time and still had a two-and-a-half-hour drive to our Airbnb near Bryce Canyon, we decided to head back along the Scenic Drive toward the Visitors Center.

However, we wished we had hiked the area. The Pioneer Register Trail is one of the most highly rated hikes in the area and was used by pioneers to get through Waterpocket Fold. The pioneers even left signatures on the rocks, so it’s worth stopping and exploring if you have the time.

7. Gifford House

Before arriving back at the Visitors Center area, we stopped at the Gifford House for a quick snack and coffee. The Gifford House is 1.1 miles south of the visitor center on Scenic Drive. It’s a preserved farmhouse from the early 1900s and a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy desserts and coffee.

The house is now a museum and gift shop, where visitors can learn about the area’s history and purchase local crafts, souvenirs, and a fun place to take a break if you plan to go on a long hike or return from one.

Unlike our other national park videos, we didn’t stay near the Park in an Airbnb, so I can’t recommend places to stay or eat. The Visitors Center and the Gifford House were the only places to buy snacks or drinks within the Park. There is a campsite in the Fruita Historic District and several hotels in the neighboring city of Torrey.

8. Goosenecks Overlook and Sunset Point

Located at the southern end of the Park, Goosenecks Overlook, and Sunset Point offer spectacular views of the Park’s unique geological features. Visitors can see the beautiful and meandering Sulphur Creek and the towering cliffs and spires of the Waterpocket Fold.

We then headed westward from the Visitors Center toward Goosenecks Overlook. These scenic spots offer stunning views of the Park’s dramatic rock formations and valleys. Be sure to bring your camera, as the sunset views here are breathtaking.

The gooseneck is a beautiful canyon with massive cliffs and a creek below. The trail is only 0.2 miles round trip, making it an easy stop. From here, we decided to take the short hike to Sunset Point. This is a 0.8-mile round-trip hike that’s fairly easy and provides beautiful views of the landscape.

9. Go Stargazing

Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best places to stargaze in the United States. The Park is known for its dark skies, making it great for Stargazing.

You can see the stars and the Milky Way with minimal light pollution like never before. Visitors can join a ranger-led stargazing program or enjoy the Park’s beautiful night sky.

Whether you join a ranger-led stargazing program or head out on your own, the beauty of the night sky is sure to leave you in awe. Bring a blanket, warm clothes, and a good flashlight. Trust me; you won’t want to miss this unforgettable experience.

10. Visit The Waterpocket Fold

The Waterpocket Fold is a unique geological formation 100 miles long and runs through the Park. This stunning rock formation is a must-see, as it offers a glimpse into the Park’s fascinating geology.

It was created millions of years ago by the earth’s tectonic plates pushing against each other, forming a wrinkle on its surface. The area has several hikes, including the Cassidy Arch Trail, which offers stunning views of the Waterpocket Fold. You can also drive the Scenic Drive and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Park’s unique rock formations.

Tips for Enjoying Your Stay At Capitol Reef National Park

And that was our itinerary. While we could have easily spent another day at the Park exploring more hikes, we thought we got a good taste of what Capitol Reef had to offer. It’s a beautiful place that’s worth your time. Between the majestic rock formations and peaceful orchards, it has a charm that is truly unique and different from the other national parks we visited.

If you’re planning a trip to Capitol Reef, here are some additional tips to remember.

1. Go Early

This goes for all national parks. The parking lots were much more crowded as the day went on. As I mentioned earlier, we didn’t want to wait for a parking spot at Capitol Gorge, so we ended up forgoing one of our planned hikes. If possible, I recommend entering the Park early so you can spend less time waiting for a parking space and more time exploring.

2. Pack Plenty Of Water And Snacks

Since there are only two places to get water and snacks, it’s worth packing at least a gallon of water per person and carrying them while hiking. Many trails are exposed, meaning there isn’t much vegetation to shield you from the sun. Also, we didn’t see any water bottle filling stations, so you’ll want to prep your water before entering the Park.

I recommend using insulated bottles, especially if you plan to leave extra water in your car. Since the temperatures can get quite high, these bottles can help keep your water cool and refreshing.

3. Bring Sunglasses And A Hat

Since you’ll be exposed to sun and heat on the trails, you’ll want to ensure you protect yourself. We also found many overlooks extremely windy, so you’ll want to keep that in mind. Having sunglasses helped to keep the blowing dust out of my eyes.

4. Monitor The Weather

Since Capitol Reef is comprised of canyons and gorges, it is susceptible to flash flooding. You’ll want to monitor the weather conditions in the area and avoid hiking in places prone to flash flooding, even when there’s a small chance of wet weather.

5. Rent An SUV

While you can explore many unpaved roads using a regular car, driving a vehicle with higher clearance may feel more secure. We did hit some bumpy patches on the road. While you would probably be okay driving a normal car, I recommend an SUV.

Also, several dirt roads are restricted to 4X4 vehicles. These are difficult to navigate, so I wouldn’t attempt them unless you’re confident in your off-roading skills. You’ll want to make sure to check with the rangers at the Visitors Center if you plan to do any off-roading.

6. Pack Hand Sanitizer And Wipes

Many bathroom facilities do not have running water, so you’ll be much happier if you have some hand sanitizer or wipes. And since we are releasing this video during the pandemic, this is more important than ever.

7. Sign-up For A Ranger-Guided Tour

While we didn’t do this, I was very interested in some of the tours the national park staff offered. This includes stargazing tours and a full moon night hike. If you stay in the Park late, you may want to take advantage of these programs.

Also noting, we came in through the Park’s east side for reference. You can also enter from the west side. Unlike most other national parks, there isn’t an official entry gate when driving into the Park. You’ll pay an entrance fee of $20 per vehicle if you want to tour the scenic drive, which I highly recommend and will cover later in this post.

I hope this guide helps you make the most of your visit.

Have you been to Capitol Reef National Park, or are you planning to visit in the future? Also, do you have any additional tips for others visiting the Park? Let me know in the comment section below. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Scroll to Top