The Best Things to Do at Capitol Reef National Park (+ 1 to 4 day itineraries!)

Whether you have one day or multiple days at Capitol Reef National Park, this guide shares the best things to do at Capitol Reef throughout the park’s different regions, plus some itinerary options!

During our Southern Utah road trip, our biggest goal was to visit all five of the Utah national parks, nicknamed the Mighty Five. While we had been to Zion and Bryce Canyon before, the remaining three, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches, were brand new to us.

Before our trip, we knew the least about Capitol Reef National Park. You hear a ton about Arches, Zion, and Bryce Canyon, but Capitol Reef seemed to get lost among the others and we weren’t really sure what there was to do there. 

We set aside one day for the park, but after researching it more and more, we realized that there was in fact a LOT to do at Capitol Reef and we struggled to figure out what to prioritize in what we quickly learned was too little time in the park.

We crammed in as much as we possibly could into 24 hours and WOW, what an underrated gem of a park! With incredible beauty, unique history, delicious pies, and fun hikes, we enjoyed every second of our time at Capitol Reef National Park. It was one of the best surprises during our entire time in Utah!

Watch our experience at Capitol Reef National Park!

In this guide we’re sharing the best things to do at Capitol Reef National Park, plus information about the park, where to stay, when to visit, multiple itinerary options depending on how much time you have, and more! 

Whether you only have a short amount of time in the park, or can explore it in depth, we hope that this guide helps you figure out how to prioritize your time and we hope that you fall in love with the park like we did!

Looking for more things to do in Southern Utah? Check out these guides:

Leave No Trace Principles

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

  1. Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
  4. Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
  6. Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Capitol Reef National Park

Navajo Knobs Trail at Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is located in South-Central Utah, near the small town of Torrey. It is named after the white Navajo Sandstone dome formations, which look similar to domes found on capitol buildings, and because the reef of mountains that proved to be a barrier of travel for pioneers.

The park’s most defining feature is the Waterpocket fold, which is a nearly 100-mile long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. We aren’t geologists, but from our understanding, over 50-70 million years ago, an underlying fault line was forced upward and then more recently (as in 15 million years ago), there was more uplift along the Colorado Plateau, which created “water pockets,” where water made its way in between tilted sandstone layers and then created arches, canyons, cliffs, domes, and monoliths.

Beyond the geologic features of the park, the park has some really interesting history, as it was once home to Mormon pioneers, who lived and worked on this land, planting orchards, which provided food and income for the community. You can still see many of these orchards today!

Different Regions of Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is approximately 368 square miles in size and is made up of 3 areas to explore: Fruita, Waterpocket (South), and Cathedral Valley (North). 

Each area is home to great hikes, scenic drives, and views, with the Fruita area being the easiest to access and most popular. Below is insight into each area, including where they are located, some highlights of the area, and important things to know before visiting.

Note: We only were able to visit the Fruita Historic District, so this guide will focus mainly on this area, but we will also provide some options of things to do in the other areas, based on our “to-do” list for when we go back!

Fruita Historic District

Fruita Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita is located along Highway 24 and is the central part of the park, sandwiched between the North (Cathedral Valley) District and the South (Waterpocket) District. 

With mostly paved roads (minus a section or two), this is a very accessible area for cars and RVs, with some spots to visit being just off the highway. The Fruita area has an amazing mix of hiking, sightseeing, and tasty eats, as well as Mormon pioneer, homesteading, and Native American history to experience.

South (Waterpocket) District

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

The South (Waterpocket) District is remote and rugged and even though most passenger cars, pickups, and SUVs can navigate the unpaved roads, be sure to check the weather and road conditions before your trip out there. This area can be reached either from near the visitor center by Fruita or near Boulder, Utah in the Grand Staircase-Escalante area.

One of the most popular activities to do in this district is to take the Loop-the-Fold driving tour, which is one of the best ways to get totally immersed in the geology of Capitol Reef. We will cover more about the driving tour below in the things to do section! 

North (Cathedral Valley) District

Photo by Brady Stoeltzing on Unsplash

Cathedral Valley is another area that is rugged and remote. This area of the park was named in 1945 by Frank Beckwith and Charles Kelly, the first superintendent of the park, because the upward-sweeping, tapering lines, and three dimensional surfaces reminded the men of Gothic and Egyptian architecture. 

While the unpaved roads can be navigable by 2WD cars with high clearance, fast changing weather can quickly make the roads impassable, so make sure to check the weather and road conditions before venturing out at the visitor center or by calling 435-425-3791 then pressing #1 for information, and then #4 for current road conditions or #3 for weather conditions. 

Most visitors tour the valley by driving the 60 mile Cathedral Valley Driving Loop, which is the #1 thing we originally wanted to do at the park, but with our van, we personally didn’t feel comfortable (next time!). We cover this driving tour in the things to do section below. 

When to visit Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park and its campgrounds are open 365 days a year, but the Gifford Homestead Store and Museum is only open from March 14 (Pi Day) to October 31, so we recommend visiting during this time frame so you can get the full park experience!

However, regardless of when you visit, you will still have an incredible time in the park and each season will bring a slightly different experience.. Here’s a bit of what to expect!

Winter

Winter will bring solitude, colder temperatures, and possibly a dusting of snow! While Southern Utah doesn’t get tons of snow (an average of 1.5-4 inches per month), you will have a good chance to see the white powder against the cream and orange rocks, which would be beautiful

You should still be able to do most items on this guide, although depending on the weather, you may need spikes for icy trails, so make sure to check the current conditions before you go!

The downside of visiting in the winter: NO pie! But if you aren’t a pie fan, this may be the perfect time for you!

Spring

The spring is one of the most popular times to visit the park, as the temperatures are mild, there are various school holidays, and pies are being sold! We visited in April and the mornings were a bit chilly, but the afternoons were perfect, with lots of sunshine. 

If you plan to visit in the spring, you’ll want to start early to avoid crowds. While Capitol Reef isn’t as busy as Arches or Zion, there were full parking lots and lines when we visited.

Summer 

Summertime at Capitol Reef National Park will be warmer, with average highs in the upper 80s and low 90s, with tons of sunshine to heat you up further. Between July and September, Capitol Reef has monsoon season, which can bring storms and flash flooding, so make sure to check the weather before you go and avoid any spots that would be dangerous in those conditions.

One perk of visiting in the summer is that not only will you be able to eat pie, you’ll also be able to pick your own fruit! We think this would be such a fun and unique National Park experience and you can see the different fruit harvesting times here to plan your trip around your favorite.

Fall

Similar to the spring, fall (especially September and October) is another popular time to visit, as the temperatures start to cool a bit. We’d love to visit in the fall next time, as we could avoid the spring break crowds, still enjoy pie, and have cooler temperatures. Plus, you’ll be able to see some of the leaves change, which would be gorgeous against the already stunning, rocky backdrop.

Getting to Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is located in Southern Utah, in Torrey, Utah and about halfway between Bryce Canyon and the Moab area. Out of the 5 national parks in Utah, Capitol Reef feels a bit more remote and is a little more out of the way to get to on its own (it’s more than worth the trek though!), but when combined with the other national parks, it makes the perfect road trip. 

Here’s how long you can expect to drive to the park from other popular spots in Utah!

Zion National Park: 3 hours 48 minutes, 193 miles
Bryce Canyon National Park: 2 hours 21 minutes, 122 miles
Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky Visitor Center): 2 hours 31 minutes, 154 miles
Arches National Park:
2 hours, 16 minutes, 140 miles
Salt Lake City, Utah: 3 hours 46 minutes, 225 miles
St. George, Utah: 3 hours 31 minutes, 217 miles

Getting around Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Unlike Zion and Bryce Canyon, there is not a park shuttle at Capitol Reef, so you’ll need a car to not only get to the park, but also get around, especially if you want to visit the other areas outside of Fruita.

Fruita itself is pretty compact and walkable, with a campground, the Gifford Homestead, and a handful of trails easily accessible in a small area, so you could camp in the park and walk or bike to a few activities, but to get to many of the popular spots, you will need to drive.

Where to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is home to one developed campground and two primitive campgrounds, with an option in each area of the park. While there is not a park lodge, the town of Torrey is just minutes from the park, and while it’s a small town and not as developed as the areas around Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches, it still has a variety of lodging options for any preference. It’s a great home base to explore all areas of the park!

Below are some options of places to stay in all of the park’s districts, ranging from campgrounds (free and paid), to Airbnbs and hotels (if available).

Airbnb in Torrey, Utah

Fruita Historic District

The Fruita Historic District is the closest area to Torrey and has the most options when it comes to places to stay!

Fruita Campground

Fruita is home to one developed campground, which has 71 sites that cost $20/night. This campground is sometimes referred to as “an oasis in the desert” and is surrounded by orchards and is next to the Fremont River. 

From March 1 to October 31, the sites are reservation only and between November 1 and February 28, the sites are all first come, first served. It usually books up months in advance, so make sure to plan ahead!

Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or an above ground grill, but there are no individual services like water or electric hookups. There is an RV dump and potable water fill up near loops A and B, though.

Dispersed Camping

We LOVE free camping and there are a couple good free camping areas just outside of the park. These are all dispersed camping areas, which are basically just open areas where you can park and sleep (no designated sites). 

The best practice is to pick a spot that is already worn down and may have a fire pit already there. They also will not have restrooms or trash cans, so PLEASE pack out any trash!

Beas Lewis Flat Campground 
We stayed at the Beas Lewis Flat Campground for several nights and there are many spots to choose from. Instead of being just a big open lot, there were little pull offs off the dirt road to camp at, so you had some space between you and others (although not much privacy due to the lack of trees). Bonus, it had very good cell phone service!

Capitol Reef Overflow Dispersed Camping
We took a look at this campground, which is closest to the park, but it was very busy, so we decided not to stay here. From the area we could see, it looked to be just a big open area, so you’re parked very close to others, and it’s right off the road, so it’s also pretty loud.

If you just need a place to rest your head this is a good spot, but if you want a bit more privacy, you will not find it here. 

Hotels

Capitol Reef Resort
Red Sands Hotel
Days Inn by Wyndham Capitol Reef
Cougar Ridge Lodge-Casitas (a bit pricier!)

Airbnbs & VRBOs

Tiny in Torrey (1 bedroom, 1 bath): A private tiny cabin located within walking distance to Torrey, UT and only 5 miles from the park. This tiny cabin was built by the owners two hands and has almost all of the amenities you might need including outdoor patio, kitchen, ¾ bathroom, and a couple different sleeping options.

Tinker Creek Cabin (2 bedrooms, 1.5 bath): This A-frame duplex has a fully equipped kitchen, laundry facilities, and wifi. The cabin is a serene getaway surrounded by red rock views and mature trees.

Cozy New Home (1 bedroom, 1 bath): This house is new and comes with breathtaking views and includes amenities like a rain head shower, gas BBQ pit, back patio, washer/dryer, red rock vistas, and apparently tons of visiting wildlife.

Exceptional Rental (2 bedrooms, 2 bath): This house is perfect for a family or a friend getaway! It has an open layout, perfect for hanging out, a great outdoor space, plus rooms on either end of the house that open onto their own private patios! This is owned by the same owners as the previous listing and offers the same views and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Serene Vacation Home (2 bedrooms, 1 bath): This rustic cabin has a great outdoor space with amazing views, a kitchen (no oven), and can sleep up to 6!

North (Cathedral Valley) District

As we mentioned above, this is a very remote area, so we’d suggest staying in Torrey and doing a day trip, but if you’d like to camp, you have a couple options! Make sure to bring all of the supplies you’ll need and be prepared in case you get stuck. Cell service is limited and it can take hours for someone to get to you.

Cathedral Valley Campground

There is only one campground in this area of the park, called the Cathedral Valley Campground, which is a primitive campground with 6 sites that are first come, first served. It is also FREE!

Free camping outside of the park

You cannot camp for free overnight at national parks (minus the primitive campground above), but the Cathedral Valley area borders Bureau of Land Management land, which you can camp on for free. So you can leave the national park borders and find a dispersed camping area to sleep at.

There are also some free camping areas off of the main highway, close to where you’d turn off to go to Cathedral Valley, like Capitol Reef East Dispersed Camping and Pleasant Creek Dispersed Camping

South (Waterpocket) District

Cedar Mesa Campground

Similar to Cathedral Valley, the Waterpocket District also has a primitive campground called the Cedar Mesa Campground, which is free and offers 5 first come, first served sites.

How much time do you need in Capitol Reef National Park

Navajo Knobs Trail at Capitol Reef National Park

Before our visit, we thought one day was enough to see the park, especially since we knew we couldn’t go to Cathedral Valley, but if we could go back in time, we’d have at least two days.

You can definitely do a couple short hikes and eat pie if you only have one day or are just driving through, but to see the major highlights, we’d suggest two full days. In those two days, you’d likely want to stick to Fruita, as it offers a ton of options close to each other.

If you have three days and the right vehicle, we’d suggest spending a day at Cathedral Valley or the Waterpocket District. And with four days, you could do both!

We are sharing different itinerary options below for different timeframes, as well as for different hiking abilities.

Things to know before visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita Orchards Capitol Reef National Park

Before heading to the park, here are a few important things to know!

Fee

It costs $20 per vehicle to enter Capitol Reef National Park, however there are some free areas, including the hikes off Highway 24 and the main Fruita area. But to go deeper into the park, you will need to pay. Unlike most national parks, there is not an official entrance station with a ranger that takes the fee. There is just a stand where you pay, but you can also get a digital pass in advance.

If you plan to visit more national parks in Utah or anywhere else in the United States, we highly recommend the America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 for a year and will cover your entrance fee into any national park, federal lands, and more.

Check the road conditions and weather

As we have mentioned above, some areas of the park require high clearance and potentially 4×4 if the conditions are poor. Make sure to check the current conditions before visiting or ask a ranger, to ensure you do not get stuck anywhere.

Pets

Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas of the park, including the Fremont River Trail, the campground, on the trail from the visitor center to the campground, and our favorite part, in the gated orchards! Kona loved getting to walk around some of the orchards with us and it was nice to be able to have her get a walk in between our hikes. 

Learn what we do with Kona when she cannot join us

Things to bring to Capitol Reef National Park

Things to do at Capitol Reef National Park

As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!

Water

No matter what you’re doing and what time of year, be sure to bring and drink plenty of water. Even in the winter you can become dehydrated quickly in the desert and mountains. The air is super dry and our throats and noses were not fans!

We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving.

Proper Footwear

The trails in Capitol Reef are a mix of dirt, sand, and rock, so you’ll want to have a sturdy shoe for lots of terrain types. We almost always wear our Lowa Renegades (Kathryn) and Altra Superiors (Adam), but also love our Chacos, which are great hiking sandals for the warmer months and for sandy and smooth rock terrain.

Layers

The temperature can swing widely throughout the day, with the mornings being cool or cold, so make sure to pack layers!

Sun Protection

It is very sunny in Southern Utah and we may or may not have gotten a little sunburnt at first. Sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen are a must! We have been using Bare Republic, which is a “better for you” sunscreen, although it may give you a nice white, vampire-esque sheen. 

AllTrails Offline Maps

We highly recommend downloading AllTrails maps for any hike you are going on, so you can navigate without cell service. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership which is $29.99 per year, but is WELL worth the investment in our opinion!

Things to do at Capitol Reef National Park

What really surprised us about Capitol Reef National Park is just how much there is to see and do there, as well as the diverse mix of history, hiking, and other activities, which was unlike any other park we have been to. Here is a list of the top things to do at Capitol Reef National Park, split up by the different regions.

Fruita Historic District

Explore the historic Fruita community

Different groups of people have called this valley home, including the Fremont peoples over 2,000 years ago, who left behind art, pit houses, and irrigation canals. Compared to the rest of the park, which is very rocky, this area feels like a lush, green oasis, with tons of orchards, plus historic buildings, like a schoolhouse, blacksmith, barn, and cabins.

There are pathways that can take you all around this area, so it’s easy to explore by foot. It’s so fun to walk around this area and learn the history and if you have a dog with you, this is a good place to let them get some exercise. We’ll share a couple of the can’t miss spots in this area next!

Schoolhouse Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita Schoolhouse

The Fruita Schoolhouse is located just across the highway from the Fruita orchards and is such a cool stop! This one room schoolhouse was built by residents in 1896 and also served as a church, community meeting house for dances, elections, town meetings, and more! 

Today the school stands in its original location and has been restored to what it looked like in the 1930s. You can park at the schoolhouse and during certain hours, walk inside and take a look!

Fruita Orchards Capitol Reef National Park

Pick fruit at the orchards

In the 1880s, Mormon settlers planted fruit trees in Fruita, including apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums, which provided food and income for the residents until the 1960s. Today there are over 1,900 trees and the orchards are maintained by the park staff using the original irrigation canals dug by the pioneers and heritage techniques. 

You can pick the fruit during the prime picking season which is mid-June through the end of October, which sounds like such a fun and unique national park activity! A few of the rules for picking fruit is to only pick fruit from the orchards that have “U Pick Fruit” signs, don’t pick unripe fruit, and you must pay for all fruit that you pick. 

The hours for the fenced orchards are 9 AM-5 PM and for the unfenced orchards are dawn until dusk. The type of fruit you can pick varies on the month you visit and you can see the harvesting schedule here!

Get LOCALLY MADE pie (& other treats!) at the Gifford Homestead

NOTE: Only open from Pi Day (March 14) until October 31.

The Gifford Homestead was originally built in 1908 by Calvin Pendleton and then later sold to the Giffords, who lived on the homestead from 1928 to 1969 and were the last residents until the area was sold to the National Park Service. The Gifford family was self-sustaining, eating only what they raised and grew on the homestead. 

Today the homestead is a sales outlet for the Natural History Association and there are a variety of unique handmade items made by local artisans and craftsmen for sale, including reproduction of pioneer utensils and household tools. You can also buy jams, jellies, cookbooks, sauces, and most importantly locally made pies and homemade ice cream!

There are quite a few pie flavors (it was SO hard to choose), but we first tried the strawberry rhubarb (sooo tasty!) before deciding halfway through that pie that we needed a second! We chose an apple pie as our second pie, which had an amazing crumble on top. Both pies were phenomenal, loaded with fruit, and had a delicious crust.

We also hear that their cinnamon rolls are amazing, but they sell out super fast, so come early! While the pies do stay in stock longer than the cinnamon rolls, you will definitely want to arrive at the Gifford Homestead within the first few hours of them opening to snag one, as they tend to run out by the afternoon. You can see the Gifford Homestead hours here.

Hickman Bridge Capitol Reef National Park

Hickman Bridge

Miles: 1.7 miles 
Elevation: 416 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

Hickman Bridge is one of the iconic sights to see in the Fruita area of Capitol Reef. This is a short, fun hike that takes you to a huge sandstone natural bridge that spans 130 feet and is 125 feet high, which you can walk under!

You’ll have some elevation gain along the way, but get amazing views of the park! The hike starts off of Highway 24 (free to access) and has a parking lot, but when we visited on a Friday afternoon it was full, so we had to park along the highway, along with many others.

Rim Overlook at Capitol Reef National Park

Rim Overlook

Miles: 4.1 miles
Elevation: 1,053 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Rim Overlook is a stunning hike that takes you high above the highway to get amazing views of not only the surrounding rocks, but the Fruita area below. This hike begins from the Hickman Bridge trail and is so worth the extra mileage and elevation if you have the ability and time.

We hiked to the Rim Overlook before continuing on to Navajo Knobs, which we will share more about below, and despite the Hickman Bridge being busy, we hardly saw anyone on the way to the Rim Overlook!

Navajo Knobs

Miles: 9.1 miles
Elevation: 2,139 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

Navajo Knobs was our favorite hike we did in Capitol Reef National Park, but it was tough, so if you’re looking for a butt-kicking hike, with epic views, Navajo Knobs is the hike for you! 

Navajo Knobs starts from an offshoot trail on the Hickman Bridge Trail, the same offshoot you take to get to the Rim Overlook. And while the Rim Overlook is an amazing place to stop if you’re short on time or energy, if you can continue on to Navajo Knobs, you’re in for a treat!

The views on this hike were amazing the entire way as you climb high up, skirting the canyon rim and getting views of the Fruita area, crazy rock domes, and really unique rock formations like the Castle. 

After a short scramble to the top of the Navajo Knobs, you’ll be treated to 360º views, including areas that you could not see from lower down on the trail. It was incredible! And the best part? We had the top to ourselves and saw hardly anyone during the entire trek. But as we stated  above, this hike is HARD, so make sure to eat your Wheaties before heading out and give yourself enough time to complete it. While we squeezed this hike into our 24 hours in the park, we’d recommend saving this hike for its own day so you can rest after. 

It’s also recommended to start early to try to beat some of the heat. We did this hike late afternoon and finished just as it was getting dark, which was hot for the uphill portion, but cool coming down. It wasn’t as ideal, but in April, it was doable.

Cassidy Arch

Miles: 3.1 miles
Elevation: 666 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

Cassidy Arch was a close second favorite hike for us, after the Navajo Knobs. This hike had an amazing effort to views ratio, with relatively low mileage and elevation gain, gorgeous views of the area, plus a very unique feature, an arch that you can WALK ON! While there are many arches in Utah, it’s very rare you can walk on one.

The arch gets its name after the outlaw Butch Cassidy, who apparently had a hideout in Grand Wash and while it may look sketchy from afar to walk on the arch, it’s actually very wide and felt totally safe! 

We did this hike for sunrise and were able to navigate the trail in the dark just fine, had an incredible sunrise along the way, with deep pink and orange colors, and had the entire arch to ourselves!

Grand Wash Capitol Reef National Park

Grand Wash

Miles: 5 miles
Elevation: 341 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Grand Wash is a gorge that cuts through the upper part of the Waterpocket Fold and is a relatively flat trail that takes you through the huge canyon walls. The trail goes from a parking lot on Highway 24 or at the Cassidy Arch Trailhead parking lot, so you can start the hike in either direction.

The most popular area of this hike is the Narrows, which is a 0.5 mile portion that is narrower than the rest of the canyon and gives off miniature Zion Narrows vibes. Since we had been in a lot of epic slot canyons before visiting this park and were short on time, we just went in about 1 mile from the Cassidy Arch trailhead.

Although we didn’t get to see it all, we loved what we saw. We felt tiny among the walls!

Cohab Canyon

Miles: 3 miles
Elevation: 793 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

If you’re looking for amazing views of Fruita, but the Rim Overlook is a bit daunting, Cohab Canyon would be a great hike choice! This short (but steep at the beginning) trail takes you through a canyon, with some hidden slot canyons to explore, and offers multiple viewpoints overlooking the Fruita area.

This trail is an out and back trail, with one end being in Fruita, right by the Gifford Homestead, and the other being across the highway from the Hickman Bridge, which would be a good addition you could add on right after, before hiking back to Fruita.

Photo Credit: NPS/ C. Roundtree

Capitol Gorge Trail

Miles: 4.5 miles 
Elevation: 374 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Capitol Gorge Trail is similar to the Grand Wash, yet many reviews claim it isn’t as grand. However, a couple things that make this hike unique and worth seeing are petroglyphs and the Pioneer Register, which is a wall that pioneers wrote their name and date on when passing through the area many years ago.

To get to this hike, you have to drive down the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive (this is the paid portion of the park) and then drive down a dirt road for the last 2 miles or so. This dirt road is in good condition and the views as you drive through it are amazing, with huge canyon walls around you. It sort of felt like we were driving through the Grand Wash!

We tried to do a portion of this hike, but the parking lot was jammed packed by the time we made it there (early afternoon), so we were unable to stay unfortunately.

Chimney Rock Loop Trail

Miles: 3.3 miles
Elevation: 793 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Chimney Rock Loop Trail begins off of Highway 24 (free to access) and starts with a steep climb up some switchbacks, but once you get to the top, you’ll have a gradual decline for most of the way with amazing views of the Waterpocket Fold surrounding you.

We hear the best way to do this hike is counter-clockwise to get most of the elevation out of the way at the beginning. 

Sulphur Creek

Miles: 5.8 miles (ONE WAY)
Elevation: 410 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions

If you’re looking for an adventure, check out Sulphur Creek! This hike takes you through a canyon, with waterfalls to check out and streams to walk through, which can sometimes be CHEST high! So prepare to get wet and protect any belongings so they don’t get ruined.

This hike is said to be like a Narrows experience at Capitol Reef because of the water element. And similar to all slot canyons, please do not do this hike if the weather looks rainy or stormy, as flash floods can happen quickly! We suggest reading the NPS website about this hike to ensure you feel prepared to tackle this “trail” and talking to rangers beforehand to learn the current conditions.

Another important thing to note about this hike is that the 5.8 miles is ONE WAY. You will need to have a car parked at either end OR you will have to walk 3.3 miles along Highway 24. They do not advise hiking both directions.

Note: The trailhead parking for this hike is 0.3 miles west of the Chimney Rock Trailhead along Highway 24. Capitol Reef’s website says to NOT park at Chimney Rock. 

Petroglyph Panel

For a super quick and easy stop, check out the Petroglyph Panel, just 1.5 miles from the visitor center drive on Highway 24. This short boardwalk trail takes you to see a panel of petroglyphs left by the Fremont and ancient Puebloan peoples. 

Goosenecks & Sunset Point

This overlook is one of the best sunset spots in the park! You can drive on a gravel road to Goosenecks Overlook and then walk less than 0.5 mile to Sunset Point

Scenic Drive Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Looking for an easy way to see the park without hiking? Drive the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive! This 7.9 mile road, which is suitable for all vehicles, takes you from Fruita to the end of the road, where you could turn onto the dirt road to Capitol Gorge, or turn around and head back towards the front of the park.

Along this road, there are many beautiful views of the rocks that make up Capitol Reef, with some pull offs along the way to enjoy the views. You can learn more about the road and what to expect along the way here!

Note: this is the paid portion of the park. You will need to pay at the payment station right before starting this drive.

North (Cathedral Valley) District

We know we’re a broken record, but the Cathedral Valley area of Capitol Reef National Park should only be visited if you have a high clearance vehicle (4×4 is a bonus). Please check the conditions before you go at the visitor center or by calling 435-425-3791 then pressing #1 for information, and then #4 for current road conditions or #3 for weather conditions.

Also, make sure you fill up your car with gas and load up on water before you hit the road, as there is no potable water in this part of the park.

Cathedral Valley Driving Tour

The Cathedral Valley Driving Loop Tour is about 60 miles of unpaved roads and takes about 6-8 hours to complete, with many side trips and hiking opportunities that tempt you along the way.

The popular way to do this route is to go clockwise and enter the loop 11.7 miles east of the Visitor Center, turning onto Hartnet Road. Very soon after this you’ll have to cross the Fremont River. There is NO bridge and you will have to drive through the river, so please do not attempt this if the water is high.

It is very important to know the river conditions before you attempt this loop. You can visit the Visitor Center or call 435-425-3791 and then press #1 for information, and #4 for current road conditions. The river bottom is hard packed and the water level is usually 1 foot or less deep, but it can vary. You will want to immediately turn right when you get to the river, staying close to the shore, and then turn left to cross the river to the exit.

A big reason why this route is best clockwise is so that you do the river first. It would not be fun to do the loop counter clockwise and arrive at the river, only to discover it’s too high to cross and you have to find an alternate route. If you get to the river and it’s too high, you can do the drive counter clockwise and exit at a different point to avoid the river on the way back.

After crossing the river, you will continue on Hartnet Road for 27.8 miles. Along this 27.8 mile stretch, some good stops are:

After driving Hartnet Road, you’ll reach Hartnet Junction and turn right onto Cathedral Road for 29.9 miles until you reach Highway 24 again. This stretch is home to some of the most iconic sights. Some stops to make are:

  • Cathedrals Trail, which is a 2.5 mile trail that gives you amazing views of the sandstone formations.
  • Temples of the Sun and Moon, which are the iconic, massive monoliths that this area is known for. 
  • Glass Mountain, which is a big mound of selenite crystals, a variety of gypsum. This was formed by groundwater carrying dissolved gypsum, which then started to crystallize, and formed a “gypsum plug.”
  • Gypsum Sinkhole, which was formed by the reverse process of Glass Mountain. Here, a buried gypsum plug starts to dissolve from water, then the cavity left behind collapsed, leaving a large 50 foot wide by 200 foot deep sinkhole

Earth Trekkers and Dirt in my Shoes both have very amazing guides on driving this route that we found SUPER helpful when determining if we could do it or not with the time we had. Although we didn’t have time and were too nervous in the van, we hope to rent a different vehicle next time because this is the #1 thing we want to do on a return visit to Capitol Reef.

South (Waterpocket) District

In the Waterpocket District, the #1 thing to do is Loop-The-Fold, which is a scenic driving route through the southern, more remote parts of the park. While we were unable to Loop-The-Fold, we did get to drive a portion of this (the Burr Trail) and LOVED it! 

Here is some info on how to Loop-The-Fold and what to expect, but for even more information, we suggest checking out Earth Trekker’s guide (if you can’t tell, we LOVE their guides. They help us plan our own adventures!).

Loop-the-Fold Driving Tour

The Loop-The-Fold driving tour is a 124 mile loop on mostly dirt or unpaved roads that usually takes about 4-6 hours, so we’d suggest having an entire day so you don’t feel rushed. Most vehicles can do this drive just fine, but please check the weather beforehand. Wet conditions can make the “road” muddy and impassable to some vehicles. 

We’d also highly suggest filling up your gas tank and loading up on water beforehand, as the area is far from civilization and cell service is pretty nonexistent.

To experience this drive, you can either start at Notom-Bullfrog Road, which is off Highway 24, or you can start in Boulder, Utah, along the Burr Trail. 

Along the way you’ll get first hand experience of all types of geologic layers and formations in the park, including “muffin” or “biscuit” shaped formations in the Navajo and Page sandstones, as well as bentonite clay. One stop to make in this area is the Oyster Shell Reef, which are  100-million-year-old oysters from when the area was covered by the sea.

About 12 miles down the road you’ll turn onto the Burr Trail and go onto the Burr Trail Switchbacks, which gains 800 feet in 0.5 miles!

Shortly down the road, you’ll reach a turn off for the Strike Valley Overlook, which boasts 150 million years of visible geological history. The Strike Valley Overlook is one of the best overlooks along the drive, but you do need 4×4 to access, or you’ll need to walk the road (6.2 miles) to reach the overlook.

As you drive through the Burr Trail, you can make a pit stop at Singing Canyon, which is a slot canyon that is known for having great acoustics. 

One of our favorite stops along the Burr Trail, which is towards the end of the drive (or beginning if starting in Boulder), was Long Canyon, which is an orange canyon you drive through with tall walls and cool rocks, alcoves, and arches forming. You can pull off right around here (there is a small pull off area) to see it from above!

Once you make it to Boulder, we highly recommend eating at Magnolia’s Street Food before heading back to Capitol Reef National Park. Their burritos and tacos are amazing!

Where to eat near Capitol Reef National Park

Before we jump into some itinerary options, here are a handful of restaurants and coffee shops to check out while in the area if you’d like to eat out. 

If you’d prefer to cook, the larger grocery store is in Lyman, Utah, which is 20 minutes away (and passes through Bicknell, which has a GREAT coffee shop), or there is the Chuckwagon General Store in Torrey, which is open seasonally.

Whatever you choose to eat, don’t forget to grab some pie from the Gifford Homestead!

Coffee

Sweetgrass Coffee House (Bicknell)- This spot is a GEM! We worked here a couple days and they make great coffee!
Dark Sky Coffee (Torrey)

Food

Capitol Burger (Torrey)- We hear this spot has amazing burgers! We really wanted to go here! Check their hours, as they vary by day.
The Wild Rabbit Cafe (Torrey)- Coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Chak Balam (Torrey)- Mexican food
Hunt & Gather (Torrey)- A higher end spot, open Thursdays- Mondays for dinner
Slackers (Torrey)- Another burger option
Curry Pizza (Bicknell)- Unique pizzas with an Indian twist that have been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives!

Capitol Reef National Park Itineraries

Now that you know of many things to do at Capitol Reef National Park, it’s time to figure out how you’ll squeeze it all in! 

To hopefully make planning your own adventure easier, here are some itinerary suggestions for between 1-4 days, with easier hike itineraries, which will include hikes doable for almost anyone, as well as harder hike itineraries, which will include a mix of easier and more strenuous hikes.

Things to do at Capitol Reef National Park

One Day Itinerary- Option 1 (Easier Hikes)

  1. Hike to Cassidy Arch for sunrise.
     
  2. Visit the Fruita Historic District. Make sure to get pie at the Gifford Homestead (go first thing to make sure they have plenty of options for you).
     
  3. While in the area, walk around the orchards and go visit the schoolhouse. There are some great spots to have a picnic in this area too if you want something more substantial in addition to your pie.
     
  4. Head back towards the Gifford Homestead and hike Cohab Canyon to see Fruita from above.
     
  5. Cross the highway at the end of Cohab Canyon to hike Hickman Bridge (you can also drive to this trailhead) and then make your way back to Fruita on the Cohab Canyon Trail.
     
  6. Enjoy dinner in town at one of the options we have listed above.
     
  7. Head to Gooseneck & Sunset Point for sunset!
Navajo Knobs Trail at Capitol Reef National Park

One Day Itinerary- Option 2 (Harder Hikes)

  1. Hike to Cassidy Arch for sunrise.
     
  2. Stroll through part of the Grand Wash, making it to the Narrows (1.5 miles in) and then turning around to head into Fruita.
     
  3. Visit the Fruita Historic District. Make sure to get pie at the Gifford Homestead (go first thing to make sure they have plenty of options for you).
     
  4. While in the area, walk around the orchards and go visit the schoolhouse. There are some great spots to have a picnic in this area too if you want something more substantial in addition to your pie.
     
  5. Hike to Hickman Bridge and then continue on to the Rim Overlook. If you are feeling extra ambitious and have enough time you could try to hike to Navajo Knobs as well. We’d make sure you have at least 6 hours to do the Hickman Bridge to Navajo Knobs.
     
  6. Enjoy dinner in town at one of the options we have listed above.
Cassidy Arch Capitol Reef National Park

Two Day Itinerary- Option 1 (Easier Hikes)

Day 1

  1. Hike to Cassidy Arch for sunrise.
     
  2. Stroll through part of the Grand Wash, making it to the Narrows (1.5 miles in) and then turning around to head into Fruita.
     
  3. Visit the Fruita Historic District. Make sure to get pie at the Gifford Homestead (go first thing to make sure they have plenty of options for you).
     
  4. While in the area, walk around the orchards and go visit the schoolhouse. There are some great spots to have a picnic in this area too if you want something more substantial in addition to your pie.
     
  5. Head back towards the Gifford Homestead and hike Cohab Canyon to see Fruita from above.
     
  6. Drive the scenic drive down to Capitol Gorge and hike the Capitol Gorge trail!
     
  7. Enjoy dinner in town at one of the options we have listed above.
     
  8. Head to Gooseneck & Sunset Point for sunset!

Day 2

  1. Grab breakfast and coffee in town at The Wild Rabbit Cafe (or drive a little further to Sweetgrass Coffee House for coffee!).
     
  2. Hike to Hickman Bridge and if you are feeling like a slightly strenuous hike, you can continue to the Rim Overlook as well.
     
  3. Depending on how much adventure you’re looking for, you can either hike to Sulphuric Creek or do the Chimney Rock Loop.
     
  4. Make a quick stop at the Petroglyph Panel.
     
  5. Hike the Grand Wash Trail in its entirety, starting from Highway 24 and turning around when you get to where it meets up with the Cassidy Arch trailhead.
     
  6. Enjoy dinner in town at one of the options we have listed above.
Cassidy Arch Capitol Reef National Park

Two Day Itinerary- Option 2 (Harder Hikes)

Day 1

  1. Hike to Cassidy Arch for sunrise.
     
  2. Stroll through part of the Grand Wash, making it to the Narrows (1.5 miles in) and then turning around to head into Fruita.
     
  3. Visit the Fruita Historic District. Make sure to get pie at the Gifford Homestead (go first thing to make sure they have plenty of options for you).
     
  4. While in the area, walk around the orchards and go visit the schoolhouse. There are some great spots to have a picnic in this area too if you want something more substantial in addition to your pie.
     
  5. Head back towards the Gifford Homestead and hike Cohab Canyon to see Fruita from above.
     
  6. Drive the scenic drive down to Capitol Gorge and hike the Capitol Gorge trail!
     
  7. Enjoy dinner in town at one of the options we have listed above.
     

Day 2

  1. Get an early start and hike to Hickman Bridge and then continue on to the Navajo Knobs. This will be a LONG hike and pretty exhausting, but SO worth it! We’d make sure you have at least 6 hours to do this hike, which leaves room to enjoy the spots along the way. Make sure to pack plenty of water and food!
     
  2. On your way into town, make a quick stop at the Petroglyph Panel.
     
  3. Enjoy an early dinner in town at one of the options we have listed above.
     
  4. Head to Gooseneck & Sunset Point for sunset!

Two Day Itinerary- Option 2 (Hikes & scenic drives)

For this two day itinerary, you’ll mix a hiking day with a scenic drive day. Choose whichever one day itinerary sounds the best to you and then for day two, either drive the Cathedral Valley Loop or Loop-The-Fold in the Waterpocket District. 

Three Day Itinerary

For a three day itinerary, pick the two day itinerary of your choice and for day three, either drive the Cathedral Valley Loop or Loop-The-Fold in the Waterpocket District. 

Four Day Itinerary

For a three day itinerary, pick the two day itinerary of your choice and for day three and four, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop (one day) and Loop-The-Fold in the Waterpocket District (one day). 

Ready to explore Capitol Reef National Park?

Pin this guide with things to do at Capitol Reef National Park to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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