Utah has no shortage of spectacular things to do but the national parks there take center stage, without a doubt. This is a guide of the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park for first-time visitors.
Capitol Reef is not the most popular national park in Utah, but it sure is a spectacular one! It is one of the twenty-five most visited national parks in the US and for very good reason – it is remarkable!
Capitol Reef is diverse compared to many of the other national parks in the region. You can find a lot of fossils and pieces of pre-historic times in the park in addition to the fantastic landscapes and star-gazing opportunities.
One of the most famous things to do in Capitol Reef is to marvel at the Waterpocket Fold – one of the most mind-blowing landmarks in the United States.
This guide will detail 12 reasons to visit and things to do in Capitol Reef National Park for first-time visitors. If you have any tips, please drop them in the comments!
It is also a very manageable national park, perfect for the solo traveler or for families. There are also many affordable Airbnbs in Torrey, Utah… a great place nearby to use as a base!
At the end of this guide, we also include lodging near Capitol Reef NP and some travel tips for the Utah destination.
Quick Facts about Capitol Reef NP
Capitol Reef National Park Things to Do
Below are twelve incredible places to visit and things to do in Capitol Reef National Park. If you know of any hidden gems in Capitol Reef or things to do that we missed, please leave them in the comments for future travelers! Thanks!
1. Waterpocket Fold
The Waterpocket Fold is thought to be the park’s defining attraction. It’s a nearly 100-mile-long warp in the crust of the Earth, a classic monocline, a step-up in the rock layers.
The area was formed almost 50 to 70 million years ago during the Laramide Orogeny, a massive mountain building ‘era’ in western North America.
Eventually, the Colorado Plateau was formed (about 15 million years ago), allowing it to erode further, resulting in the creation of “water pockets.”
The most scenic part of the Capitol Reef landmark is visible with its deep erosion and temple-like Entrada sandstone monoliths. Because it is such an ancient and jaw-dropping spot, it’s definitely better to visit the Waterpocket Fold at least once in your life than to hear about it several times!
2. Hickman Bridge Trail (and Hickman Natural Bridge)
Distance: 1.8 miles
Type of Trail: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 442 feet
In case you’re interested in some short distance hikes while having the opportunity to enjoy awe-inspiring canyon views, then Hickman Bridge is where you should head to during your trip to Capitol Reef National Park!
This is a heavily-trafficked out and back trail located near the city of Torrey. The trail is best used from March until November but it is accessible year-round if you’re planning to visit Capitol Reef National Park in winter.
If you’re hiking this moderate trail in spring and into summer, you will witness many wildflowers and breathtaking views! Do be aware that it can be snowy and cold if you visit in winter, resulting in slick surfaces.
3. Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon (Cathedral Valley)
Cathedral Valley connects Highway 24 at the Hartnet Road and the Caineville Wash Road. For years, this place kept the attention of people with its unique scenery.
The valley was named this because of its visual similarity to the temples of Egypt and several Cathedrals with designs reminiscent of Gothic architectural elements.
Thanks to its views, this road impresses visitors who consider themselves nature and culture lovers. The trail type is a self-guided ‘road trip’ and it is available for visitors all year round! The trip is around 60 miles, and there is no charge to drive it.
The most popular destination on this route are the mesmerizing Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, two giant rock formations that can be viewed from the Upper Cathedral Valley Trail.
You will need the proper type of vehicle if you plan to drive this, however, as you will need to ford the Fremont River.
4. Cohab Canyon
Distance: 3 miles
Type of Trail: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 793 feet
A destination atop Waterpocket Fold, Cohab Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park is a popular place to visit when you’re inside the Utah national park. Its lower end goes down into the gorge alongside Highway 24, and the upper side reaches Fruita’s historical community.
The hike to Cohab Canyon is of moderate difficulty and is best done from March until November.
Visiting Cohab Canyon allows you to do a tour of the Waterpocket Fold’s northern section, as the trail connects it to the Frying Pan Trail, which in turn connects to the Grand Wash Cassidy Arch Trail. The hike is of moderate difficulty and is 1.56 miles (one way).
5. Cassidy Arch
Distance: 3.1 miles
Type of Trail: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 666 feet
Cassidy Arch is located in the central part of Capitol Reef National Park, named after the famous Butch Cassidy. It is located beside the Scenic Drive. The overview of the arch is spectacular, and you can take some really great photos in there.
It rises 400 feet above the Scenic Drive and the Grand Wash Trail. The climb is not that difficult, and the trail’s length is about 3 miles round trip.
For the curious traveler, it should be mentioned that there is no official route to reach the base of the arch. And, if you’re spending winter in Capitol Reef National Park, do note that this trail becomes a bit challenging as it is slippery.
The trail to Cassidy Arch is of moderate difficulty and is best used from March until November.
6. Strike Valley Overlook
Distance: 6.2 miles
Type of Trail: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Strike Valley Overlook is yet another fantastic location in Capitol Reef National Park. The overlook is situated on a high sandstone cliff, which is great for views of the Waterpocket Fold. This is classified as an easy trail in Capitol Reef NP.
Be reminded that the location gets quite hot during the summertime, but the hike is considered suitable for healthy adults and kids.
The hike to Strike Valley Overlook is nearly 6 miles long, lightly trafficked, and is an out and back trail. It features some cool wildflowers. The trail can be used not only for hiking but also for natural trips and off-road rides. The best season is from March till November.
7. Goosenecks Overlook (Sulphur Creek Canyon)
To reach Goosenecks Overlook in Capitol Reef, you won’t need to be in great shape – in fact, the trail is extremely short and easy and suitable for almost all hiking levels.
Round trip can be achieved in about 10-20 minutes and the trail is merely about 600 feet in length. It is located about 3 miles west of the Visitor Center (signs will point you there as you drive west on Hwy 24).
The single switchback Capitol Reef trail will take you to an overlook called Sulphur Creek Canyon and from there, you will get to see the spectacular Goosenecks.
8. Gifford Homestead
Gifford Homestead is, first of all, a place that will amaze you with its greenness, especially after seeing all of the red hues from the canyons!
This farm is situated in Fruita Valley. The house originally belonged to the Giffords and was renovated by the Capitol Reef Natural History Association, along with the National Park Service.
The house incorporates the typical nature and style of early 1900s rural Utah farm homes. Gifford Homestead includes a barn, smokehouse, garden, pasture, and rock walls, and of course, a farmhouse.
This is the perfect place to grab a souvenir to bring home with you. They have everything from local, handmade items made by artisans, as well as quilts, aprons, and much more! Don’t miss out on their pies and homemade ice cream! They are renowned for their pies made with local fruits!
Gifford Homestead is located 1 mile south of the visitor center on Scenic Drive and is closed during the winter. Click here for more information.
9. Fruita Schoolhouse
The Fruita Schoolhouse is another essential place to visit in Capitol Reef National Park and it is not one that has to do with canyons, rock formations, or anything of that sort.
The schoolhouse was established in 1896, with donated money from Elijah Cutler Behunin. In earlier times, it was called Junction, and at the time, only eight families were living in the area, but those families were quite large.
In 1964, the school’s structure was restored, and today it stands in its original location, although Utah Highway 24 was added in 1962.
10. Panorama Point
Definitely visit Panorama Point if you want to take in the pleasure of a 360-degree view of the entire national park! It is one of the can’t-miss things to do in Capitol Reef National Park!
The trail that goes up to the top of Panorama Point is nearly 100 yards in length, but you can continue on your hike for a bit more and reach the end of the plateau.
Hiking there is considered suitable for children and adults of all ages, and the difficulty level is easy. All seasons are optimal for visiting, and there are no trailhead access restrictions.
11. Hike to Sunset Point
As you can gather from the name, this part is all about sunsets! This is the shortest hike in Capitol Reef, being approximately 0.4 miles in length.
There are two paths, and the one that is shorter starts from the same point and leads to an overlook of goosenecks. Again, it’s not a difficult hike and is available for visitors year-round.
The views along the way and on the top are absolutely mesmerizing. Don’t miss a chance to revel in probably one of the most beautiful sunsets of your life!
12. Grand Wash Trailhead (via Scenic Drive)
Distance: 6.9 miles
Type of Trail: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 557 feet
Capitol Reef’s famous gorge named Grand Wash has its spot in the upper portion of the Waterpocket Fold in the national park. The length of the hike is 6.9 miles if you embark on the one that is via Scenic Drive.
After getting to the top, visitors can hike back the way they came once they reach Cassidy Arch and the Scenic Road.
The northeast trailhead of it is actually the lower end of the canyon, which empties into the Fremont River. The elevation is 300 feet lower than the southwest trailhead, making the slope almost unnoticeable.
Tips for Visiting Capitol Reef National Park
We have tried to include some information about visiting Capitol Reef National Park below. Please let us know if you have any additional questions! Thanks!
How to Get to Capitol Reef National Park from Salt Lake City
One of the most popular places to visit Capitol Reef National Park from is the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City. Instead of venturing to the Bonneville Salt Flats or other sites in the north, many people love venturing to the crazy landscapes south of SLC.
While you can rent a car and venture there by yourself, not everyone has the access to a vehicle or may feel better taking a guided tour of Capitol Reef National Park.
This private tour to Capitol Reef National Park leaves from Salt Lake City and you’ll get your own guide who will explain all of the main attractions to you and your trip will certainly leave you with lasting memories!
How Many Days Do You Need at Capitol Reef National Park?
Usually, to see the main attractions and to enjoy the scenery along the Scenic Route in the park, it is sufficient to dedicate one full day. However, you may feel rushed, so we recommend staying overnight by camping or at a hotel or guesthouse somewhere nearby.
On the other hand, it is possible to see almost everything with one day in Capitol Reef National Park. You can try to see the petroglyphs and Fruita Schoolhouse, hike Cassidy Arch, check out Capitol Gorge (to the Pioneer Ridge), and if there is time leftover, check out Hickman Bridge.
If you are a first-timer, you can take your time and stay there for one night and dedicated the next day to not rashly explore the rest of the amazing spots in the park.
Driving in Capitol Reef National Park
You can drive through Capitol Reef National Park and it is recommended because the scenery is amazing, especially the main stretch of road, Highway 24.
Highway 24 is well maintained and paved and drivable for any type of vehicle. Driving in the territory of the park starts at the Visitor Center and you can choose your route from there.
This road is referred to as the ‘Scenic Drive‘ and it stretches for 7.9 miles. There are two dirt spur roads along the way. They are called Capitol Gorge and Grand Wash and you would take these if you’re planning to visit the trailheads associated with them.
Where to Stay
There are a few options for where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park. You can go camping or stay in a hotel or Airbnb in Torrey or Teasdale. Here are some of our top options:
Camping in Capitol Reef National Park
One of the most magnificent campsites in the United States is located at Capitol Reef, so we highly suggest staying there if you’re visiting the Utah park!
Fruita Campground has 71 sites and sits below a red cliff surrounded by many orchard trees and under the starry skies at night. There are no RV hookups here and reservations are recommended between March and November as the slots fill up so fast!
Fruita is situated in an ideal location for exploring the park and its hiking trails and main things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.
Best Airbnbs in Torrey and Teasdale
Below are some of the top-rated Airbnbs in Teasdale and Torrey, two of the best places to stay near Capitol Reef National Park. Click here to see our complete guide to the best Airbnbs in Torrey.
⇒ Economy “Tuff Shed” Cabins (Torrey) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Luxury Tiny Home (Teasdale) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Cactus Hill Guesthouse (Teasdale) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Joy & Bernie’s Place (Torrey) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Affordable Cabins (Torrey) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Red Rocket Retreat (Torrey) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Torrey Pines Cabin (Torrey) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Dark Sky House (Torrey) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
⇒ Tinker Creek Cabin (Torrey) | Check Rates on Airbnb.com
Should You Take a Trip to Capitol Reef National Park?
We believe that this is one of the most underrated parks in the United States, easily! Many other national parks in Utah get all the love and hype, but Capitol Reef’s landscapes are diverse and will leave you very inspired!
We hope that our guide helped you plan your trip to Capitol Reef National Park. If you have any tips for things to do in Capitol Reef National Park, please leave us a comment below!
Additional National Park Reading
Here are some of our month and season guides to visiting US national parks. Be sure to check them out!
- Best national parks to visit in December
- Best national parks to visit in January
- Best national parks to visit in February
- Best national parks to visit in March
- Best national parks to visit in April
Additionally, you might be interested in our other Utah national parks and attraction guides below:
- Bonneville Salt Flats travel guide
- Zion National Park in winter
- Best Airbnbs near Capitol Reef National Park
- Arches National Park in winter
- Bryce Canyon 1 day itinerary
- Winter in Bryce Canyon
- Best day trips from Salt Lake City
- Best Airbnbs near Arches NP
- Best attractions in Moab
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