Capitol Reef National Park may be Utah’s least visited national park, but that’s all the more reason to put this underrated national park at the top of your Utah trip bucket list. If you want to plan a trip to Capitol Reef National Park, you have come to the right place! In this ultimate guide to Capitol Reef National Park, you’ll find answers to questions like how to visit, what to do, and when to visit. Read on to get even more excited to visit Utah’s most overlooked national park!
Why Visit Capitol Reef National Park
- It’s Utah’s least-visited National Park! No crowds, lots of bragging rights.
- The central feature of the park is a 100-mile-long water pocket fold – a literal fold in the earth’s crust. Mind. Blown.
- Even short hikes lead to big views like the Rim Overlook Trail.
- You can take dirt roads to some of the most rugged areas in the world in Cathedral Valley.
- There are several distinct areas of the park – from a historical town to colorful bentonite hills.
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 to Get to Capitol Reef National Park
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. If you are arriving in Utah by air, you should rent a car from the airport to get to Capitol Reef National 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 costs $20 USD for a car and all its occupants to enter, and you can also use annual park passes like America the Beautiful Pass for entry to the park at no additional cost.
What to Wear to Capitol Reef National Park
The weather in Capitol Reef National Park can be extreme, with lows below 20 F in January and highs breaking 100 F in July. That’s why it’s important to pack and dress accordingly!
Regardless of when you visit, you’ll need to bring:
- Backpack to carry everything (but the car!) in
- Camera (see our camera gear here)
Here’s what I recommend packing if you are visiting in the winter:
- Underwear (duh!)
- Baselayer – wool pants and a shirt
- A thermal/wool sweater (Paka is my favorite brand for ethically and sustainably made alpaca wool clothing. You can get 15% off your order if you use code SPUCKETT at check out).
- Thermal hiking pants (him) or fleece-lined leggings (her)
- Wool socks
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Warm coat
- Wool hat
- Microspikes for hiking on icy trails
All of our winter hiking gear (with the exception of Paka-brand items) can be found in our Amazon storefront in our Winter Hiking Gear list!
Here’s what I recommend packing if you are visiting in the summer:
- Underwear (no one likes a sweaty bum)
- T-shirts/tanks (sweat-wicking and with SPF are best!)
- Hiking pants or shorts (if you opt for pants, I recommend the kind you can roll up or convert for hot days)
- Light, water-wicking socks
- Hiking boots or sandals
- Light jacket and sweater for cool nights and mornings
Where to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park
Torrey (population 200) is the closest town, with a few hotels and restaurants catering to park visitors.
Cedar City is a good base if you plan to also visit Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park on your visit and don’t want to have to change accommodations at all. Cedar City is within 1-2.5 hours of all three of these national parks and is a large town with grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, and other amenities. We stayed at a pet-friendly Airbnb for the 2 months we spent in Cedar City.
Moab is another good base if your plans also include Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park on your Utah trip. Moab is 2.5 hours away from Capitol Reef National Park (which is the same as Cedar City), and only 10-15 minutes from Arches and 45 minutes from Canyonlands National Parks.
Where to Eat in Capitol Reef National Park
Curry Pizza in Bicknell
Admittedly, Curry Pizza is the only restaurant we ate at in the area. While I don’t have anything to compare it to, 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!
The Gifford Homestead in the park’s historic town of Fruita is the actual former home of the Gifford family, Mormon settlers who came to the region in the early 1900s. Today, you can buy jellies, jams, fruit pies, and ice cream there, in addition to handmade home goods like quilts and soap. Note that the Gifford Homestead is only open seasonally from March to October.
Restaurants Near Capitol Reef National Park
Check TripAdvisor for other restaurants in the area and reviews.
Note that not all restaurants are open year-round. Many close for the winter due to a low number of visitors, so check ahead before you go if you are visiting in the winter months between November and March.
Aside from the Gifford Homestead are no cafes or restaurants inside the National Park, so plan to pack in any food you plan to eat while inside the park. Because of the park’s size, I don’t recommend planning to leave the park at lunchtime to pick up food and then coming back after. You’re much better off bringing your lunch plus any snacks into the park with you, regardless of where you get it (restaurant or grocery store). Gas stations and markets in Torrey and Bicknell will have limited, but sufficient, provisions.
Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park
Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
Rim Overlook Trail and Hickman Bridge
The Rim Overlook Trail is a 4-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.
The Cassidy Arch trail is a 3-mile out-and-back that leads to a spectacular view over a large arch.
Capitol Gorge Trail
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! We didn’t hike Capitol Gorge
Scenic Drives in Capitol Reef National Park
Burr Trail Drive
The Burr Trail scenic drive 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 waterpocket fold, and navigate spine-tingling switchbacks. Allow a full day for the Burr Trail Drive.
Scenic Drive Road with Capitol Gorge and Grand Wash
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).
The 57-mile Cathedral Valley loop takes about 8 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 Moon monolith and seemingly endless fields of colorful bentonite hills.
Historic Sites in Capitol Reef National Park
Fruita Historic District
The Fruita Historic District is within the heart of the park. Human activity in this area dates back thousands of years, but most of what you’ll see in Fruita dates from the Mormon pioneers who settled here in the early 1900s. At the Gifford farmstead, you’ll see resident horses and fruit trees. Across the street, you can still visit the one-room schoolhouse.
Visitors can spot petroglyphs from multiple places in the park, but the easiest way to see an impressive wall of rock art is on the north side of Utah State Route 24 just a half-mile from the Fruita Schoolhouse. A short boardwalk leads the way!
Other Things to See Near Capitol Reef National Park
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 Rd on this Bureau of Land Management area to get closer to the butte!
Swing Arm City
Swing Arm City is a popular dirt bike/motocross location near Caineville, Utah. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some adrenaline junkies in action!
Caineville Wash Rd leads 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 Rd, 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.
Final Thoughts on Capitol Reef National Park
Thanks for reading this trip planning guide to Capitol Reef National Park! We hope you love this special part of the world as much as we do.
As a reminder, we share this information with you all trusting that you will abide by the principles of Leave No Trace. These locations are priceless and fragile – we must all do our part to protect them!
If you enjoyed this post, check out our other blogs about USA travel!