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Bucket List Guide to the 35+ Best Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

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Last Updated on February 11, 2024 by Sarah Puckett

This guide to the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park will guarantee you are able to make the most of your visit. Capitol Reef National Park is Southern Utah’s hidden gem among the renowned national parks in the Southwest USA. Encompassing a vast landscape of stunning red rock formations, canyons, cliffs, and ancient rock art, this park offers a unique blend of natural beauty and rich historical significance.

We’ve visited Capitol Reef National Park numerous times over the course of our USA road trips, and it’s one of our favorites on every trip to the Southwest. We’ve explored the vast majority of the park, and are excited to share what we think are the absolute best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.

From exhilarating hikes to scenic road trips, from immersing oneself in the park’s rich history to indulging in local cuisine, Capitol Reef National Park offers a multitude of experiences that will leave visitors awe-struck and inspired. In this guide, we will delve into the best things to do in the park, including the best hikes, scenic drives, viewpoints, historical sites, where to stay and eat, and the best things to see nearby, ensuring you make the most of your visit to this captivating destination.

Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles: plan your hike in advance, stick to designated trails, carry out all your belongings, dispose of waste properly, leave natural areas untouched, minimize the impact of campfires, show consideration for fellow hikers, and avoid approaching or feeding wildlife.

Temple of the Sun and Moon, Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park
Temple of the Sun and Moon, Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park

Table of Contents

Best Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

To keep this list of best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park organized and easy to use in your planning, we are breaking the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park into these categories:

  • A. Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
  • B. Best Scenic Roads and Scenic Drives in Capitol Reef National Park
  • C. Best Scenic View Points in Capitol Reef National Park
  • D. Best Historical Sites in Capitol Reef National Park
  • E. Best Foodie Experiences and Where to Eat in Capitol Reef National Park
  • F. Best Stays and Where to Sleep in Capitol Reef National Park
  • G. Best Outdoorsy Activities in Capitol Reef National Park
  • H. Best Things to Do Near Capitol Reef National Park

A. Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park

These are the nine best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park! If you only have time for one or two hikes, our top recommendations are the Hickman Bridge Trail (combine it with the Rim Overlook Trail for a two-fer) and the Cassidy Arch Trail. These are the two most iconic hikes in the park.

If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten path hiking experience in Capitol Reef, check out the Chimney Rock Loop Trail.

1. Hickman Bridge Trail

  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 416 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

The Hickman Bridge Trail is a moderate 1.7-mile round trip that leads to an impressive natural bridge. As you hike through a lush canyon, you’ll be surrounded by towering sandstone walls before reaching the magnificent Hickman Bridge—an arch spanning 133 feet. The trail offers a captivating combination of natural beauty and geological wonders.

2. Cassidy Arch Trail

  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 666 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

For those seeking a more challenging hike, the Cassidy Arch Trail is a must-visit. This 3.1-mile round trip takes you on a thrilling journey to a massive arch named after the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy. The trail provides breathtaking views of the park’s rugged landscapes, and reaching the arch is a rewarding experience.

3. Capitol Gorge Trail

  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 374 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

The Capitol Gorge Trail is a 4.5-mile out-and-back trail through a gorge under the Capitol Dome rock formation. The trail features historic petroglyphs and natural water tanks, though many hikers say they enjoyed the dirt road drive to the trailhead more than the hike itself!

4. Cohab Canyon Trail

  • Distance: 3.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 793 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

Offering panoramic views of the park, the Cohab Canyon Trail is a moderate 3-mile round trip that takes you through colorful canyons and towering cliffs. As you ascend, the scenery unfolds, revealing sweeping vistas that will leave you breathless. Keep an eye out for wildlife, as bighorn sheep are often spotted in this area.

5. Chimney Rock Loop Trail

  • Distance: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 793 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

The Chimney Rock Loop Trail is a moderate 3.3-mile loop that showcases the park’s unique rock formations. As you hike through this desert landscape, you’ll witness towering sandstone “chimneys” and enjoy stunning views of the Waterpocket Fold. Sunset or sunrise hikes offer particularly magical moments when the warm hues of the rocks come alive.

6. Rim Overlook

  • Distance: 4.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,066 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

The Rim Overlook Trail is a 4.3-mile out-and-back hike near the historic Fruita townsite. From the top of the 1000 feet high cliffs, there’s an impressive view over the town and expansive landscape all around, including one of my favorite landmarks in the park, Pectols Pyramid. From this trail, you can also get a good view over Hickman Bridge. If you want to hike to the bridge (a natural rock arch), it’s another 1 mile (out-and-back) trail branching off from the Rim Overlook trail near the trailhead. 

7. Navajo Knobs

  • Distance: 9.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,139
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

The Navajo Knobs hike is a strenuous and rewarding 9.1-mile round trip that takes you to one of the highest points in Capitol Reef National Park. This challenging trail showcases the park’s stunning vistas and diverse landscapes. As you ascend, you’ll pass through colorful sandstone formations and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding canyons and cliffs. The trail leads you to the summit of Navajo Knobs, where you’ll be treated to breathtaking 360-degree views of the park. The hike requires endurance and proper preparation, including carrying ample water and wearing sturdy hiking shoes. But the stunning vistas and sense of accomplishment at the summit make it all worthwhile.

8. Sulphur Creek

  • Distance: 5.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 416 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

For a unique hiking experience that combines canyon hiking and refreshing water features, look no further than Sulphur Creek. This 5.9-mile trail takes you through a beautiful slot canyon, where you’ll wade through ankle to waist-deep water. The journey is a delightful mix of hiking, wading, and navigating rocky sections. The trail showcases the park’s geological wonders, with towering cliffs and vibrant sandstone formations. Along the way, you’ll encounter cascading waterfalls and serene pools, offering the perfect opportunity to cool off on a hot day. The hike requires good navigational skills and sturdy water shoes, as the terrain can be slippery. Ensure you check the weather forecast and park conditions before attempting this hike, as flash floods can occur.

9. Grand Wash

  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 341 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any
  • AllTrails Link

The Grand Wash is a moderate 5-mile hike that follows the sandy bottom of a wide canyon. This leisurely hike is perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in the tranquility of Capitol Reef’s stunning landscapes. As you meander through the canyon, you’ll be surrounded by towering cliffs adorned with colorful desert varnish. The hike can be done as an out-and-back or as part of a longer loop by connecting with the Cassidy Arch Trail.

Tips for Hiking in Capitol Reef National Park
  • Start your hikes early in the morning to beat the heat and the crowds.
  • Carry plenty of water and wear appropriate footwear and sun protection.
  • Check trail conditions before starting your hike and be prepared for any potential weather changes. Be especially cautious about any precipitation or clouds if you are hiking in a slot canyon. Fatal flash flooding is frequent enough that you should never hike in a slot canyon if there is rain the forecast!
  • It’s advisable to bring a map or use a GPS device to navigate the trails.
  • Respect the park’s rules and regulations, including pack-in/pack-out principles to preserve the park’s natural beauty. Always follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

B. Best Scenic Roads and Scenic Drives in Capitol Reef National Park

Here are the best scenic roads and drives in Capitol Reef National Park. If you only have time for 1-2, we recommend the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive (including Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge Spur Roads) and Highway 24, which you have to drive through the park just to cross it anyway.

If you have a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance, don’t miss the Cathedral Valley loop! This is our favorite section of the park!

10. Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any

This 8-mile old wagon route, known simply as Scenic Drive, is mostly paved, but if your vehicle can manage dirt roads, don’t miss the two offshoots on Capitol Gorge and Grand Wash roads! Capitol Gorge road goes through a canyon and leads to the Capitol Gorge trailhead. Grand Wash Road will take you to Cassidy Arch trail head. Allow about an hour and a half for the drive alone (not including any hikes). 

Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive is one of the best things to do in the park.
Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive

11. Grand Wash Spur Road

  • Distance: 1.3 miles each way
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any, but note this is a dirt road

The Grand Wash spur road traverses a narrow and steep-walled canyon showcasing a dramatic setting, immersing you in a unique and awe-inspiring environment. Several hiking trails, including the popular Cassidy Arch, start from this area.

Note that you should not enter the canyon if there is rain in the forecast due to the risk of flash flooding.

12. Capitol Gorge Spur Road

  • Distance: 2.3 miles each way
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any, but note this is a dirt road

The Capitol Gorge spur road is a long and winding route that showcases the impressive erosion forces at work in Capitol Reef National Park, with its twisting narrows cutting through Wingate Sandstone, the formation responsible for the sheer cliffs and towering walls in the area. Before venturing into the gorge, it’s essential to consider the weather conditions for safe exploration.

13. Highway 24 Scenic Byway

  • Distance: 156 miles from Torrey to Moab, Utah
  • Time: Half to full day with stops, 2.5 hours driving through
  • Park District: Fruita Historic District
  • Vehicle: Any

Embark on a scenic drive along Highway 24, which traverses Capitol Reef National Park. The route offers breathtaking vistas of the park’s iconic formations, including the towering cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold. Beyond the park, the route also passes near Goblin Valley State Park, where otherworldly hoodoos create an otherworldly atmosphere, before eventually joining up with Interstate 70 and ending in Moab, Utah. Along the way, you’ll have opportunities to stop at scenic overlooks, hike stunning trails, and witness the incredible natural beauty that defines Utah’s landscapes. We highly recommend taking half to a full day to enjoy the sights along this highway from Capitol Reef National Park to Moab.

14. Cathedral Valley Loop Road

  • Distance: 57.6 miles
  • Time: Half to a full day
  • Park District: Cathedral Valley (North) District
  • Vehicle: High-clearance 4×4
Sarah, Tim, and their Sprinter van at Temple of the Sun and Moon, Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park
Temple of the Sun and Moon, Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park

The 57-mile Cathedral Valley loop takes about 4-6 hours to complete, driving over dirt roads that require 4×4 and high clearance vehicles to navigate. Cathedral Valley is the least-visited region of the park due to its remoteness and difficulty in accessing. That said, here is where you’ll see some of the park’s most awe-inspiring (and Instagram-famous) locations. Notable highlights include the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon monoliths, seemingly endless fields of colorful bentonite hills, and the Glass Mountain.  

15. Loop-the-Fold and Burr Trail Road (Notom-Bullfrog Road)

  • Distance: 124 miles
  • Time: Half to a full day
  • Park District: Waterpocket (South) District
  • Vehicle: Any, but note some portions are dirt roads

Loop-the-Fold via the Burr Trail scenic drive , which connects the small towns of Boulder and Bullfrog and passes through Capitol Reef National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The views along this road are incredible. You’ll pass through a canyon with towering cliffs on either side, see dramatic views of the water pocket fold, and navigate spine-tingling switchbacks. Allow a half to a full day for the Loop-the-Fold and Burr Trail Drive. 

Tips for Scenic Drives in Capitol Reef National Park
  • Fill up your gas tank and bring extra supplies, as services are limited within the park.
  • Drive cautiously, especially on unpaved roads, and adhere to speed limits.
  • Take advantage of the pullouts and overlooks to admire the scenery and capture memorable photographs.
  • Consider visiting during the golden hour—early morning or late afternoon—for the best lighting and colors.

C. Best Scenic View Points in Capitol Reef National Park

These viewpoints offer the best panoramic views in Capitol Reef National Park with minimal effort.

16. Sunset Point

As the name suggests, Sunset Point in Capitol Reef National Park offers a stunning vantage point to witness breathtaking sunsets. Situated along the scenic drive, this viewpoint provides panoramic views of the colorful cliffs and rugged landscapes, with the setting sun casting a warm glow over the entire scene. It’s a perfect spot to capture memorable photographs and marvel at the natural beauty of Capitol Reef.

17. Goosenecks Overlook

Located within Capitol Reef National Park, Goosenecks Overlook offers a mesmerizing perspective of the meandering Sulphur Creek as it carves through the deep canyon. The viewpoint showcases the impressive geologic forces that shaped this unique formation, with the creek winding in tight bends resembling the neck of a goose. The dramatic cliffs and intricate curves create a captivating sight and provide an excellent opportunity for photographers to capture the beauty of the goosenecks.

18. Strike Valley Overlook

Situated along the scenic drive in Capitol Reef National Park, Strike Valley Overlook offers expansive views of the striking Strike Valley. From this vantage point, visitors can admire the vastness of the valley and the surrounding cliffs that define the rugged landscape. The viewpoint allows for a remarkable perspective of the geological formations and the interplay of light and shadows across the valley, making it a favorite spot for both photographers and nature enthusiasts. This viewpoint requires a short walk of about 1-mile round trip.

19. Panorama Point

True to its name, Panorama Point provides visitors with a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding landscapes in Capitol Reef National Park. Perched at a high elevation, this viewpoint offers sweeping vistas of the colorful cliffs, deep canyons, and the expansive desert stretching into the distance. The vastness of the scenery and the vibrant hues of the rock formations create a visual spectacle that is sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors. It’s an ideal spot to soak in the grandeur of Capitol Reef and appreciate the immense beauty of the natural surroundings.

D. Best Historical Sites in Capitol Reef National Park

20. Capitol Reef Visitor Center

We always recommend visiting national park Visitor Centers, and so of course we think Capitol Reef National Park’s visitor center is worth stopping at! Not only will you get to learn more about the park’s history and watch a short film about the unique geology, you will also be able to speak with park rangers to answer any of your questions.

21. Gifford Homestead

Step back in time at the Gifford Homestead, located within the Fruita Historic District of Capitol Reef National Park. This restored pioneer farmhouse offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of early settlers. Stroll through the orchards and gardens, and learn about the challenges and triumphs of the families who called this place home. Don’t forget to visit the gift shop, where you can purchase homemade preserves, pies, and other local products.

22. Pioneer Register

Discover a piece of history at the Pioneer Register, a collection of names and dates etched into the rock by early pioneers and travelers passing through Capitol Reef. This historical site provides a unique connection to the past and allows you to trace the footsteps of those who ventured into this rugged landscape.

23. Fruita Schoolhouse

Visit the Fruita Schoolhouse, a testament to education in the early days of Capitol Reef. This one-room schoolhouse served as the center of learning for local children and provides a glimpse into the challenges and joys of frontier education.

24. Petroglyphs and Native American Rock Art

Delve into the rich Native American heritage of Capitol Reef National Park by exploring the petroglyphs and rock art scattered throughout the area. Hike along designated trails or join guided tours to discover these ancient creations. Admire the intricate designs and symbols etched into the rock surfaces, each with its own cultural significance. Take a moment to reflect on the connection between the land, the people, and the stories told through these remarkable pieces of art.

The easiest place to see petroglyphs is 0.5 miles east of the Fruita Schoolhouse at the Petroglyphs Panel pullout. There is a short boardwalk that leads to a viewing platform where you can get a great look at the rock art.

Please do not touch the petroglyphs or carve or paint anything into the rocks.

Capitol Reef National Park Petroglyph Panel
Capitol Reef National Park Petroglyph Panel

25. Behunin Cabin

Visit the historic Behunin Cabin, a rustic log cabin built by Elijah Cutler Behunin in the late 1800s. This well-preserved structure provides a glimpse into the challenges and simple lifestyle of early settlers in Capitol Reef. The cabin serves as a tangible reminder of the human history that has shaped the park.

Tips for Exploring the Best Historical Sites in Capitol Reef National Park
  • Take the time to read the interpretive signs and information available at each site to enhance your understanding of the area’s history.
  • Follow designated paths and respect any restrictions to preserve the historical sites for future generations.
  • Engage with park rangers or join guided tours for a more in-depth exploration of the historical sites.

E. Best Foodie Experiences and Where to Eat in Capitol Reef National Park

Believe it or not, this remote area of Utah near Capitol Reef National Park is home to some culinary gems you’ll want to put on your itinerary. Here are the best places to eat in and near Capitol Reef National Park.

26. Enjoy Gifford Homestead’s Famous Pie

No visit to Capitol Reef National Park is complete without indulging in a mouthwatering fruit pie from the Gifford Homestead. Treat yourself to a slice of homemade goodness, made with freshly picked fruits from the orchards surrounding the historic farmhouse, and savor the delightful flavors that capture the essence of the park’s agricultural heritage. Just make sure to get here right when they open, because they run out of pies quickly each day!

Note that the Gifford House Store and Museum is open seasonally from March 14 (aptly, Pi Day) through November 25 daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. There is a 45-minute closure from noon to 12:45 pm.

27. Curry Pizza

Curry Pizza is the only restaurant we come back to time again on our trips to Capitol Reef National Park. Curry Pizza has been featured on the Food Network’s show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This piqued our interest, and we decided to order their chicken tikka masala pizza. It was delicious and unique, and I highly recommend it, especially if you like Indian food.

28. Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm

Hells Backbone Grill and Farm is a hidden gem that captivates visitors with its rustic charm and commitment to sustainability. The restaurant’s farm-to-table philosophy takes center stage as it sources fresh, organic ingredients from its own on-site farm and local producers. The menu reflects the essence of the region, showcasing inventive dishes that blend flavors from the Southwest and the mountains. Make sure to save room for dessert – trust us.

F. Best Stays and Where to Sleep in Capitol Reef National Park

For a unique and truly southwestern stay in Capitol Reef National Park, we recommend camping or staying in a yurt like Escalante Yurts!

29. Camp within Capitol Reef National Park

For those seeking an immersive outdoor experience, Capitol Reef National Park offers several campgrounds. Fruita Campground, nestled within the Fruita Historic District, provides convenient access to hiking trails and historical sites. Cathedral Valley Campground is ideal for those looking for a more remote and secluded camping experience.

30. Sleep in a Yurt

Check “sleep in a yurt” off your bucket list at Escalante Yurts, in the nearby town of Escalante. This is where we stayed on one of our first trips to the area, and we’d stay again in a heartbeat. The yurt experience is basically glamping, and you have a really nice shower and bathroom, big comfy bed, and even a mini fridge. They welcomed us with some local snacks, too! >>> Book Escalante Yurts here.

Other places to Stay Near Capitol Reef National Park

If you prefer a hotel or B&B roof over your head, the towns of Torrey, Bicknell, and Hanksville have options for tourists visiting Capitol Reef.

G. Best Outdoorsy Activities in Capitol Reef National Park

31. Stargazing and night photography

Capitol Reef National Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park, offering breathtaking opportunities for stargazing and night photography. Experience the magic of a clear night sky, away from light pollution, and capture stunning images of the Milky Way and celestial wonders.

32. Horseback riding and guided tours

Explore the park’s rugged terrain on horseback with guided tours available in the area. Ride through canyons, along scenic trails, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty.

H. Best Things to Do Near Capitol Reef National Park

33. Explore Escalante

If you have time to explore outside of the park boundaries, we recommend spending a day on the hiking trails near the town of Escalante, Utah, about an hour and a half from the Fruita Historic District of Capitol Reef National Park. Some of our top recommended hikes in the area are Lower Calf Creek Falls, Dry Fork/Peekaboo/Spooky Slot Canyons, and Kodachrome Basin State Park.

34. Factory Butte

The most stunning butte off of Utah State Route 24, is Factory Butte, 32 miles east of the National Park Visitor Center. You can take a dirt road called Coal Mine Road on this Bureau of Land Management area to get closer to the butte!

35. Moonscape Overlook

Continue down Coal Mine Road to these GPS coordinates: 38.45234904261238, -110.83819975240992 to reach Moonscape Overlook, an otherworldly viewpoint and dispersed campsite. Please practice the principles of Leave No Trace when you visit this location. There are no trash cans or bathroom facilities, so please plan accordingly and bring a trash bag for your rubbish and plan to drive it out with you when you leave.

Moonscape Overlook Utah
Moonscape Overlook, Utah

36. Bentonite Hills

The rainbow hills known as the bentonite hills are one of the prettiest geological phenomena near Capitol Reef National Park. You can take Caineville Wash Road to colorful bentonite hills, though you can also see some of these formations from Utah State Route 24. If you decide to take Caineville Wash Road, note that it is a dirt road and may be impassable when wet. We managed to get pretty far in our Ford Escape (AWD), but a 4WD and high-clearance vehicle is your best bet. If you take the Cathedral Valley scenic drive in Capitol Reef National Park, you will see bentonite hills there too.

The most beautiful Bentonite Hills are near the Mars Desert Research Station. While you cannot go to the Mars Desert Research Station itself, you can explore on the dirt roads near the facility. We especially love this location at sunset and during blue hour for the best colors.

Capitol Reef National Park FAQs

Where is Capitol Reef National Park?

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah in the United States. The area is remote, and Torrey, the closest town, has a small population of just 200 people. Moab to the east and Cedar City to the west are the closest cities, each being about 150 miles away (2.5 hours driving). 

How was Capitol Reef’s geology formed?

What sets Capitol Reef National Park apart is its diverse range of geological formations, including the Waterpocket Fold—a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. This dramatic feature, combined with colorful canyons, towering cliffs, and the meandering Fremont River, creates a captivating landscape that beckons visitors to explore its wonders. Moreover, the park is steeped in history, with remnants of pioneer homesteads, petroglyphs, and rock art dating back thousands of years.

Colorful hills in Capitol Reef National Park on the Cathedral Valley Scenic Drive
Cathedral Valley Scenic Drive

How to get to Capitol Reef National Park

To get to Capitol Reef National Park, most visitors fly into one of the airports in the southwest region of the United States.

  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC): Located approximately 220 miles north of Capitol Reef, Salt Lake City is the primary gateway for travelers. It offers numerous flight options and rental car services. From the airport, you can embark on a scenic road trip or consider connecting flights to smaller regional airports for a shorter drive.
  • Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT): Situated around 150 miles west of Capitol Reef, Grand Junction Regional Airport is another viable option. It provides a convenient access point for visitors coming from the west and offers a range of flights and rental car services.
  • Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS): If you prefer starting your journey from Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport offers a wide selection of flights and rental car services. From Las Vegas, you’ll travel northeast on Interstate 15, then take Highway 9 east near St. George, Utah. This route leads you through the scenic landscapes of southwestern Utah, and after passing through the charming town of Torrey, you’ll reach the entrance of Capitol Reef.
  • St. George Regional Airport (SGU): For a closer option to Capitol Reef, St. George Regional Airport serves as an alternative. Situated in southwestern Utah, it offers flights from several major cities. From St. George, you’ll travel northeast on Interstate 15 and connect to Highway 9, leading you to the park. This route allows you to enjoy the beautiful scenery of southern Utah before reaching Capitol Reef.

When you get to the region, you will want to rent a car. The only way to access Capitol Reef National Park is by car, foot, or bicycle. There are no public transportation options or shuttles in or around the park. Alternatively, you could arrange a tour. If you are renting a car, I highly recommend renting a 4×4 vehicle you can take offroad (if you have offroad driving experience) in order to visit more remote areas of the park. 

Capitol Reef National Park Entrance Fees

There is no entrance gate at Capitol Reef National Park, so to pay for your entrance fee, you should stop at the visitor center when you arrive. Alternatively, you can buy your pass online and skip lines to pay fees when you arrive!

The entrance fees for Capitol Reef National Park are as follows:

  • Private Vehicles: $20 for a 7-day pass, which covers all occupants of a private vehicle.
  • Motorcycles: $15 for a 7-day pass, which includes the rider and passengers.
  • Per Person: For visitors entering the park on foot, bicycle, or non-commercial organized groups, the fee is $10 per person for a 7-day pass.
  • Annual Pass: The Capitol Reef National Park Annual Pass costs $35 and provides unlimited entry to the park for one year from the month of purchase.

National Parks Pass

You can also use annual national park passes like America the Beautiful National Park Pass for entry to the park at no additional cost. 

The America the Beautiful National Park Pass is a must-have for avid outdoor enthusiasts and travelers alike. With this pass, you gain access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and more, across the United States.

Save Money at National Parks

Get a National Parks Pass

Entry to all US national parks at no additional cost for 12 months

America The Beautiful National Parks Pass at REI

Whether you’re planning a trip to Capitol Reef National Park or exploring other iconic destinations, this pass offers incredible value. Not only does it grant you unlimited entry to these breathtaking natural wonders, but it also covers entrance fees for everyone in your vehicle, making it a cost-effective option for families and groups.

What is the best time to visit?

The best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park is during the spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) seasons. During these times, the weather is typically mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from comfortable to warm. Spring brings colorful wildflowers blooming across the park, while fall showcases the stunning foliage of the surrounding landscapes. Additionally, these seasons offer optimal hiking conditions and allow for the exploration of the park’s various trails, scenic drives, and attractions.

It’s important to note that summer can be hot and crowded, so if visiting during this time, be prepared for higher temperatures and plan outdoor activities accordingly.

Winter brings colder temperatures and occasional snow, limiting access to certain areas of the park. However, it offers a unique experience for those seeking solitude and a quieter atmosphere.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park depends on personal preferences and desired activities, but spring and fall generally provide the most favorable conditions for an enjoyable and memorable visit.

Data Source: https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/weather.htm

How much time should I spend in Capitol Reef National Park?

We recommend spending 2-3 days if you are an avid hiker and have a 4×4 vehicle for off-pavement scenic drives. If you are more of a sight-seer and want to do 1-2 short hikes, one or two days should be plenty.

How do you spend 2 days in Capitol Reef National Park?

If we were to plan two perfect days in Capitol Reef National Park, this would be the 2-day itinerary we’d recommend:

Day 1:

  • Enter the park on Scenic Highway 24 from the west.
  • Rim Overlook/Hickman Natural Bridge Trail
  • Scenic Drive and Cassidy Arch Trail
  • Sunset at Sunset Point
  • Camp overnight in the park and stargaze

Day 2:

  • If you have a 4×4, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop
  • If you do not have a 4×4, explore the Waterpocket Fold (South) District of the park and drive the Loop the Fold scenic route.
Sprinter Van in Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park
Sophie Sprinter in Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

What are the three districts in Capitol Reef National Park?

Fruita Historic District

Located in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, the Fruita Historic District is a charming pioneer settlement that offers a glimpse into the area’s rich history. Many of the best hikes in the park are located in this area, as well. It is the most frequently visited part of Capitol Reef National Park.

Cathedral Valley (North) District

Situated in the northern part of Capitol Reef National Park, the Cathedral Valley District showcases awe-inspiring rock formations that resemble towering cathedrals. Highlights of this remote and rugged area include the monolithic Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, as well as the vast expanses of desert and sky. Scenic drives, backcountry adventures, and camping opportunities allow visitors to fully appreciate the grandeur and serenity of this unique district.

Waterpocket Fold (South) District

The Waterpocket Fold District stretches through the central and southern regions of Capitol Reef National Park, encompassing the iconic geological feature known as the Waterpocket Fold. This nearly 100-mile-long fold in the Earth’s crust offers breathtaking views of colorful sandstone cliffs, hidden slot canyons, and striking rock formations.

Is Capitol Reef National Park worth seeing?

YES! We have actually visited Capitol Reef National Park more times than any other Utah national park, and it is one of our favorites. We constantly find more hikes and scenic drives we want to do there and find ourselves returning to old favorites like the bentonite hills and Rim Overlook trail time and time again.

Are there any guided tours in Capitol Reef National Park?

Yes! Here are some well-rated tours available in and around Capitol Reef National Park

What Should I Pack to Visit Capitol Reef National Park?

Check out our blog post for a detailed national park packing list and subscribe via email to get a PDF printable packing list straight to your inbox!

Sarah and Tim at Ooh Aah Point In grand canyon national park

Stuck in a packing quandary?

Check out our ultimate national park packing list!

Final Thoughts on Best Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park offers a plethora of experiences, from exhilarating hikes through stunning landscapes to immersing oneself in the rich history of the area. Scenic road trips, mouthwatering dining options, and a range of outdoor activities ensure a memorable visit to this remarkable destination.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking an escape into the beauty of the Southwest, Capitol Reef National Park promises to captivate and inspire. Its unique geological formations, cultural heritage, and diverse range of activities make it a must-visit destination for adventurers and explorers.

Looking for even more USA adventures? Don’t miss our other United States guides.

If you are visiting Capitol Reef National Park as part of a larger Utah National Parks road trip, you need to check out our comprehensive map + itinerary that you can load into Google Maps for easy access and directions during your trip! >>> Get it here.


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