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Capitol Reef is an equally beautiful but less traveled National Park in Utah. History buffs and adventure addicts will both be entertained by the park. We’ve compiled a thorough list of the most popular and unique bucket list things to do at Capitol Reef.

For a one-day detailed timed Capitol Reef itinerary including recommended and optional hikes check out One Perfect Day at Capitol Reef: Don’t Miss Highlights included in a Detailed Itinerary with Optional Hikes.

Now back to the amazing 20 things to do at Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef at A Glance

Entrance fee: The entrance fee to Capitol Reef is $20 per vehicle for 7 days of admission or included with the America the Beautiful National Park Pass.

Campground:

Backcountry camping: Backcountry camping is allowed within Capitol Reef National Park. Free backcountry camping permits are required and can be obtained at the visitor center.

Location: Capitol Reef is located in South Central Utah near the town of Torrey. The closest airports to Capitol Reef are Salt Lake City (220 miles or 3 hours drive time), Las Vegas (337 miles or 5 hours drive time) and Moab regional (118 miles or 1 hour 45 minutes drive time).

Annual Visitation: 950k visitors

20 Amazing Things to do at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is my favorite Utah National park. I mean there are fewer crowds, homemade pie, pick-your-own orchards, epic hikes, beautiful views and short drive times.

Capitol Reef has something for everyone including history buffs and adventure addicts.

1. & 2. Take a Drive at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef park is huge and having a car will be necessary for most visitors. A few hardy souls may bike or hike the park but most visitors enjoy driving the park.

The most traveled roads are Highway 24 and the Scenic Drive including Capitol Gorge and Grand Wash. Both drives are accessible by passenger vehicles.

1. Explore the Scenic Drive

The Scenic Drive at Capitol Reef is a 7.9 miles paved road with two optional dirt spurs, Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. Allow 1.5 hours for the drive including both dirt spurs.

the scenic drive is a must see if only spending one day in capitol reef

Both dirt roads are generally accessible by passenger vehicles and RVs up to 27 feet. We drove both dirt spurs without any issues in our low clearance sedan. Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge are subject to closures from flash floods or snow.

grand wash dirt road in capitol reef national park

2. Drive Hwy 24

Highway 24 is part of Capitol Reef National Park but it doesn’t require an entrance fee. This means you can experience some of Capitol Reef’s highlights even if the entrance fee doesn’t fit into your roadtrip budget.

Highway 24 is the longest contiguous state highway in Utah. A portion of Highway 24 in Utah has been designated as the Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway.

The highway starts near Salina and runs 163 miles to Green River.

Within Capitol Reef, Highway 24 offers multiple opportunities to experience National Park beauty.

3. Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs from the Fremont culture dating back 3,000 years are viewable on a cliff face on Highway 24 near the Capitol Reef Visitor Center.

A road sign on highway 24 east of the visitor center identifies the parking area for the Capitol Reef petroglyphs. The historic carved figures cover multiple vertical cliffs adjacent to the road.

No hiking is required but a well-maintained short wooden boardwalk allows closer access from the parking area.

Informational signs at the site help identify location and meanings.

capitol reef petroglyphs

4. – 6. Check out the Scenic Overlooks

The scenery at Capitol Reef is sweeping and there is no shortage of scenic overlooks.

4. Panorama Point

Panorama Point is well-named. After a short walk, visitors are surrounded by panoramic views of Capitol Reef.

The Panorama Point viewpoint is located on Highway 24 and is free to visit.

5. Sunset Point

Sunset Point and Goosenecks Overlook share a parking lot in Capitol Reef. The 0.7 mile hike to Sunset Point has minimal elevation gain and is family-friendly.

Sunset Point offers views into Sulfur Creek Canyon. The setting sun lights up the Waterpocket Fold and highlights Capitol Gorge and the Grand Wash drainages from the Sunset Point.

The turn-off to Goosenecks Road which leads to Sunset Point and Goosenecks Overlook is located 2.3 miles west of the Visitor Center on Highway 24. The total distance from the visitor center to Sunset Point is 3.7 miles.

6. Gooseneck Overlook

Sunset Point and Gooseneck Overlook share a parking area on Goosenecks Road off Highway 24 in Capitol Reef.

The Gooseneck Overlook is located 800 feet from the start of the Sunset Trail and offers a small taste of the epic views at Sunset Point.

7. Get a sweet treat at Gifford House

You cannot visit Capitol Reef and not eat a pie from the Gifford House.

The Gifford House gift shop is well known for its homemade fruit pies and jams. They also sell ice cream and cinnamon rolls. When open, the cinnamon rolls sell out quickly.

We were lucky enough to buy a strawberry rhubarb pie and cinnamon roll at Gifford House. I enjoyed the pie more than the cinnamon roll. And I’m not usually a big pie fan.

Hours are limited from March through October. The Gifford House was completely closed on Sundays during our visit.

If you only have one day in Capitol Reef and don’t want to miss the pie, I would recommend going directly to Gifford House after leaving the visitor center upon arrival.

Once you’ve secured the precious pie, save it for dessert after lunch or an afternoon snack. However, if you want to eat morning pie, you are among friends and no one will judge you.

strawberry rhubarb pie from gifford house

8. Animal spotting at Capitol Reef

Animal spotting is fairly easy at Capitol Reef and the park wildlife offers great photo opportunities.

Deer and marmots are abundant and it’s easy to see either in the Fruita area. Mountain lions are more elusive and difficult to spot but they do live in the park.

While visiting Capitol Reef we lost count of the deer we saw near the Fruita picnic area. A park ranger said they had become braver during the COVID closure and were getting too close to visitors. I experienced this first hand while sitting in my hammock in the Fruita picnic area.

deer in fruita picnic area

I was reading and looked up to see they were grazing within 10 feet of me. My clapping and shouting did little to scare them away. They just jumped, stared at me for a few seconds, and went back to grazing.

I spent the same afternoon watching two marmots frolic nearby. This was my first time seeing a marmot. They look and act like beaver and prairie dog cross.

marmot in capitol reef

9. Attend a Ranger Talk to Learn

Ranger talks are a great way to learn about the animals and features of a National Park. Ranger talks are included in your entrance fee at Capitol Reef. At Capitol Reef, ranger talks are generally held in the Fruita campground around sunset a few times per week.

Schedules are posted in the visitor center so check when you arrive for upcoming ranger talks or other park events.

During a ranger talk about Capitol Reef’s mountain lions, the ranger shared photos of mountain lions hidden among the rocks. Most people were unable to find the lions in the photos until the ranger pointed them out. They are masters of disguise and have likely been nearby without us even realizing it.

ranger talk at capitol reef national park

The lions can leap up to 15 feet vertically and can easily jump from high canyon ledges onto prey. Thankfully, we attended this talk after hiking Cohab Canyon or I would have been a lot more nervous walking in the canyon.

kevin in cohab canyon

10. Pick Your own Fruit from the Capitol Reef Orchards

The Gifford Homestead was originally settled in 1908 by polygamist Calvin Pendleton. And the historic orchards still produce fruit.

When production allows, visitors are welcome to pick their own apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums. The orchards are located within a few miles of the visitor center in the Fruita area.

During low production years such as the drought in 2020, the NPS doesn’t open the Capitol Reef orchards for public fruit picking.

Current fruit blossom and harvest times can be obtained by calling the park’s information line at (435) 425-3791. Press #1 for visitor information, and then press #5 for the fruit hotline.

11. Get the Famous Barn Picture

You have probably seen the barn photos taken at Capitol Reef. Snapping the same epic view might even be on your Capitol Reef bucket list.

The barn on the former Gifford homestead at Capitol Reef isn’t quite as Instagram famous as the Grand Teton barns on Mormon Row but it’s a photo you won’t want to miss.

The barn is located 1 mile south of the Visitor Center on the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive near the Gifford House.

Pro tip: The best photo angle of the Capitol Reef barn is from the north when you’re leaving the park.

barn in historic fruita within capitol reef national park

12. Step back in time at Fruita

Fruita is the lush valley located in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park. The Capitol Reef scenic drive runs right thru Fruita.

Fruita is a historic village built by Mormon settlers along the Fremont River. Capitol Reef park visitors can still visit the historic orchards, schoolhouse and the Gifford homestead.

fruita capitol reef barn with horses

13. Go Hiking in Capitol Reef National Park

Hiking is a popular activity in Capitol Reef with over 15 day-use trails. If you have time during your visit, chose a hike or two to get your heart pumping while you explore.

Best Hikes at Capitol Reef

Best hikes at Capitol Reef is a loaded question because everyone has different hiking abilities. These recommend best hikes at Capitol Reef are based on average fitness levels so will not include any difficult hikes.

A few of the most popular easy to moderate hikes at Capitol Reef are:

  • Capitol Gorge to Pioneer Register and the Water Tanks, 2.5 miles, easy
  • Sulphur Creek Trail, 2.3 miles, easy
  • Cohab Canyon, 3.4 miles, moderate
  • Hickman Bridge, 1.8 miles, moderate
  • Cassidy Arch, 3.4 miles, strenuous

Hiking Tips for Capitol Reef

Summer weather can get very hot. Sunny 90-degree temperatures were pretty miserable in early June.

Winters are snowy and cold at Capitol Reef. Wear warm clothing in multiple layers. Hats and gloves are also key to staying warm on cold days.

  • Start early to avoid the hottest part of the day.
  • Bring a paper map or download offline trail maps before you arrive. There is no cellular service in the park.
  • Hike with a map, first aid kit, extra water and snacks, and sun protection (wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen).

Capitol Gorge to Pioneer Register and the Water Tanks

The Capitol Gorge trail to the Pioneer Register and the Water Tanks is an easy 1.5-mile walk in the dry gravel and sandy Fremont River bed. It is accessed from the Scenic Drive and is a popular hike.

capitol gorge

Mormon pioneers signed their names and date on the canyon walls of the Pioneer Register as they passed through the gorge. Unfortunately, people have since vandalized the area and it was difficult to pick the historic signatures from the modern graffiti.

pioneer register in capitol reef

The ‘water tanks’ or water folds were natural depressions in the stone that Native Americans used to collect rainwater during dry seasons. They required a fairly short, steep climb and were underwhelming puddles to me.

waterpockets

Sulphur Creek Trail in Capitol Reef

The Sulphur Creek trail is located behind the Capitol Reef visitor center. It is great to cool down on hot days. This is a well-traveled riverside walk to a small waterfall. The trail is not marked on any National Park guides or maps.

small waterfall at end of sulphur creek trail in capitol reef

The trail ran alongside the Fremont River but many people, including us, walked all or some of the path in the water rather than following the trail. It was a pretty walk with minimal effort and perfect to combine with another hike or a bike ride.

sulphur creek trail in capitol reef

Cohab Canyon Trail in Capitol Reef

The Cohab Canyon hike offers epic viewpoints of the Fruita Valley and the gorgeous rock formations on Hwy 23.

If visiting during warm weather, wake up early to hike Cohab Canyon. It’s a little strenuous with steep climbs at both trailheads.

Many areas of the 4-mile Cohab Canyon trail are exposed to the direct sun but the canyon portion is shaded. So be sure to wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.

Starting the Cohab Canyon trail on Hwy 24 allows an out and back route to Fruita. This is an ideal route to take a mid-hike Gifford House pie break. Check Gifford House hours beforehand to ensure they are open.

Before we hiked down the 0.5 miles of switchbacks to the Fruita valley from the Cohab Canyon trail, we realized the Gifford House is closed on Sunday. We disappointingly shared some almonds before making our way back to the trailhead.

Hickman Bridge Trail

Hickman Bridge is a popular hike and should be done either first thing in the morning or late afternoon when crowds leave the park.

In our one day Capitol Reef itinerary we recommend hiking Hickman Bridge for sunrise.

The Hickman Bridge trail is exposed and uphill so hiking in the midday sun is not recommended. Due to our schedule, we hiked after lunch and were thankful for our wide-brimmed hats and hydration packs full of water.

The two-mile trail would have been easier on a cooler day but at 90 degrees it was a bit challenging.

hickman trail in capitol reef

The massive natural bridge at the end of the hike was very impressive.

hickman bridge in capitol reef
Isn’t a natural bridge an arch?

No, a natural bridge is not an arch. Well technically they look the same but they are created differently.

Arches are caused by weathering usually a combination of wind and the freeze-thaw process over time. Bridges are caused by flowing water eroding into the stone over time.

kara under hickman bridge in capitol reef national park

14. Relax at Fruita

The Fruita picnic area is a lush grassy area along the Fremont River and is a great place to relax in Capitol Reef.

There were other visitors with blankets and books lounging in the shade.

I also saw several families cooling off in the river. Summertime river swimming at Capitol Reef will be lovely on those hot Utah days.

If you have more than one day in Capitol Reef, I’d definitely recommend a relaxing afternoon in Fruita.

deer beside my hammock at fruita picnic area in capitol reef

15. Capitol Reef Mountain Biking

Capitol Reef shares a land border with the Dixie National Forest which is home to several mountain biking trails. The MTB Project is a great free app to find mountain biking trails near you.

The 19-mile Pleasant Creek mountain bike trail starts in the Dixie National Forest and ends in Capitol Reef National Park.

It does require a shuttle driver to drop cyclists off at the trailhead and pick them up inside Capitol Reef National park. This can also be done using two vehicles but it will take a lot of driving time.

The mountain top trailhead is about a 20-minute drive from Torrey but about an hour from the end of the trail at Pleasant Creek Road. The temperature dropped around 20 degrees as we climbed to higher elevations.

The Pleasant Creek trail is primarily downhill with a few uphill challenges. Cellular reception is poor on the trail.

If the downhill single track sounds too challenging, less experienced cyclists may enjoy riding the Pleasant Creek Road inside Capitol Reef Park. It is a lightly traveled dirt road with some uneven spots that would be difficult on narrow tires. Park entrance fees apply.

cows in valley on pleasant creek bike trail

16. & 17. Get Off the Pavement

Capitol Reef is a massive national park and much of the park is not accessible without a 4×4 vehicle. If you have more than one day at Capitol Reef, there are two popular scenic drives for those with a sense of adventure and a capable vehicle.

  • Cellular service is not functional in the park.
  • Backcountry areas of the park are lightly traveled so there may not be passers-by to help.
  • Travel with recovery gear and extra supplies to survive if you get stuck in the backcountry unplanned.

16. Drive through Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley is a unique park district within Capitol Reef that offers a backcountry experience with amazing views.

Expect potholes and washboard along Cathedral Road. It is a loop drive through some of the park’s most unique features, Temples of the Sun and Moon. These sandstone monoliths mysteriously rise from the surrounding desert floor.

The road requires crossing the Fremont River without a bridge. It is not recommended during high water. Passenger vehicles cannot make this drive safely. 4×4 and high clearance are recommended.

The entire 57.6-mile Cathedral Valley Loop Road requires 6 to 8 hours of driving time.

If offroading the Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef is on your bucket list, check the NPS page for full details.

17. Loop the Fold at Waterpocket Fold

The southern section of Capitol Reef is known as the Waterpocket district. Driving the 124-mile dirt loop road this section is known as Looping the Fold It is home to the Waterpocket Fold, a unique formation caused over thousands of years of geologic activity.

It is a remote and beautiful area of the park. Looping the Fold allows visitors to drive along the eastern slope of the Waterpocket Fold. These views are not accessible in other areas of the park.

During dry weather, most passenger vehicles can access the Waterpocket district. The full loop drive through the Waterpocket district is 124 miles and requires 4-6 hours.

For current road and weather conditions check at the visitor center or call 435-425-379. Press #1 for information, and then #4 for current road conditions or #3 for weather conditions.

There are multiple opportunities for hiking and backpacking along the drive. Camping is available at the primitive first come first serve Cedar Mesa campground. Backcountry camping is permitted in Capitol Reef with a free permit.

If your Capitol Reef bucket list includes Looping the Fold at the Waterpocket Fold, check the NPS page for full details.

capitol reef wilderness

18. – 20. Enjoy Nature

Capitol Reef offers multiple ways to enjoy nature including wildlife watching, stargazing and more.

18. Stargazing

Capitol Reef is a designated International Dark Sky Park meaning the park offers near-pristine night skies with minimal impact from light pollution. It is a great location to practice star gazing.

Local companies even offer astronomy and stargazing tours at Capitol Reef.

Clear sky forecasts predict visibility by the hour and is a great free resource for stargazers.

Recommended stargazing locations in Fruita at Capitol Reef:
  • Panorama Point (on State Route 24, 2 miles west of the visitor center)
  • Danish Hill (on the Scenic Drive)
  • Slickrock Divide (on the Scenic Drive)
  • Fruita Campground Amphitheater Parking Lot
Tips for Stargazing:
  • Use a red flashlight to preserve your night vision.
  • Scout the location in daylight for trip or fall hazards.
  • Nights can be cold. Dress accordingly.
  • Use common sense. Darkness impairs sight.
    • Step gently so you don’t trip or fall.
    • Don’t block roadways with your body or car.
fruita schoolhouse at capitol reef

19. Capitol Reef Sunrise at Cassidy Arch

The best location for sunrise at Capitol Reef is Cassidy Arch.

However, the 3.1-mile roundtrip hike means you need to wake up a little earlier to allow hiking time. Cassidy Arch trail is rated as moderate with 666 feet of elevation gain. Prepare for steep uphills early in the trail.

Hikers are afforded distance views of Cassidy Arch along the trail plus the opportunity to walk on top of the bucket list arch at Capitol Reef.

Parking is limited at Cassidy Arch trailhead. If hiking Cassidy Arch later in the day, prepare for direct sun during most of the hike.

20. Capitol Reef Sunset at Sunset Point

Sunset Point is gorgeous during the day but it’s even better when the sun lights up the surrounding canyons and formations.

Remember sunset point is a popular spot for sunset at Capitol Reef so arrive early to allow time for parking and the 0.3-mile walk to the point.

How much time do you need at Capitol Reef?

Visitors can explore the Fruita area of Capitol Reef in one day if you are wondering how much time you need at Capitol Reef.

We created a detailed one-day itinerary for Capitol Reef that maximizes your time and experience with timed recommendations.

However, you will need at least 3 partial days to explore beyond the Fruita district, hike more or tackle many of the more unique bucket list things to do at Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef Location & How to Get There

Capitol Reef is located in south-central Utah between Arches and Zion National park. All of the Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah combined with Grand Staircase Escalante and Red Canyon make a great Utah road trip.

google maps utah national parks

Allow a minimum of one day at each park including travel time to fully experience it. Be sure to check out our ready-to-use itineraries for each park and a few other amazing Utah destinations.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Capitol Reef depends upon your schedule and preferred activities. The most popular time to visit Capitol Reef is between April and October.

Best Weather

The best weather at Capitol Reef is during spring and fall. Mild spring and fall weather makes mid-day hikes possible without the risk of heat-related injuries.

Most Daylight

If you want to fit the most into daylight hours at Capitol Reef then late June offers the longest days. However high temperatures in late June can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and midday hiking is not safe.

Least Crowds

Winter at Capitol Reef has the least crowds but snow can cause closures in the park. Some park roads and trails close seasonally and others only close when snowfall make them unpassable.

drive into capitol reef

Know Before You Go

  • There is no cellular coverage in Capitol Reef National Park. Download offline maps and Gypsy Guides before your arrival for the best park experience.
    • Gypsy Guide is a self-guided GPS-based audio tour that works offline. It is an affordable, low-stress way to learn about the parks you visit and not miss any hikes or attractions.
  • Limited food and drinks are available inside the park. Water fill stations are located at the visitor center and Fruita picnic area. Gifford House sells jams, ice cream, fruit pies and cinnamon rolls.
  • Weather can cause dangerous conditions year-round. Flash floods during warm weather and snow during cold weather impact hiking and driving conditions at Capitol Reef.
  • Utah sun is dangerous. Drink extra water and avoid midday sun during hot days. Wide-brimmed hats are great for sun protection year-round.
  • If hiking during hot months, either hike early or after the sun sets to avoid the midday heat. Always hike with a map, first aid kit, extra water and snacks, and sun protection.
  • Highway 24 attractions are free to visit. Entrance fees are not required beyond the Scenic Drive and the Fruita district.
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Where to Stay

Despite being a small town, Torrey, has several lodging options ranging from free camping with no amenities to a luxury resort and everything in between including a few glamping (glamourous camping) rentals.

Don’t fret we’ll help you find where to stay at Capitol Reef.

Lodging

The most expensive and luxurious lodging option for visiting Capitol Reef is a hotel in the nearby town of Torrey.

Options for hotels and traditional lodging in Torrey are:

Cougar Ridge
Capitol Reef Resort
The Noor Hotel
Red Sands Hotel
Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse
The Rim Rock Inn
Days Inn Capitol Reef
Austins Chuckwagon Motel
Skyridge Inn

Booking.com

Camping at Capitol Reef

There are a few options for camping near Capitol Reef including the NPS Fruita Campground, nearby BLM or numerous private campgrounds in Torrey.

Many of the private campgrounds in Torrey also offer cabin, wagons and glamping RV rentals for those not interested in roughing it.

Check out complete details for all camping options at Capitol Reef including Glamping rentals at Complete Capitol Reef National Park Camping Guide: Everything from Luxury RV Parks to Free Dispersed Camping.

Photo credit: Capitol Reef Resort

Summary Things to Do at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is in a sweet spot of Utah National Parks, beautiful and less crowded. It is three times as big as the next largest Utah National Park and gets a third of the visitation as the most visited Utah park. We hope this list helps you to not miss all of the amazing things to do at Capitol Reef on your next trip.

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