This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.
Located in central Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is easily the most underrated of the Utah Mighty 5. Among the ranks of Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion, it’s easy to see why many people overlook this park. However, even just one day in Capitol Reef National Park allows you to witness the highlights and beauty that this park has to offer.
Throughout this post, you’ll learn all about how to see the best parts of Capitol Reef in a day. This post truly has it all, from the best hikes in the park to going on a scenic drive. Plus, there’s a recommended itinerary at the very end!
Keep reading to learn more about how to spend one day in Capitol Reef National Park.
Where is Capitol Reef National Park?
Capitol Reef National Park is located in central Utah. The closest towns to Capitol Reef National Park are Torrey, Escalante, and Boulder. For reference, it’s about 2.5 hours by car to get to this park from Moab, where most people visit when heading to Utah.
While there’s not much to see in the general area around the park, the drive there is impeccable. You’ll get your breath taken away by the views, and you’ll feel like you’re all alone in the wilderness.
How to Get to Capitol Reef National Park
The best way to get to Capitol Reef National Park is by car, because of its location. You can get to the park by taking I-70 west, I-70 east, I-15 north, I-15 south, or Utah State Route 12. It ultimately depends on where you’re coming from!
As a quick reference, if you’re traveling to Capitol Reef from Salt Lake City, then you’ll take I-15 south and get off at exit 188, where you’ll follow US-50 east. Then, you’ll eventually turn onto UT-260 south and turn right again onto UT-24 east until you reach the park.
Another popular travel route is Capitol Reef from Las Vegas. Take I-15 north and then take exit 95 and follow UT-20 east. You’ll eventually turn onto US-89 north and then left again on UT-62 east, and finally right onto UT-24 east until you reach the park.
The closest airport is actually Slat Lake City Airport, but you could also fly right into Las Vegas and then rent a car to drive to the park. It’s in a remote location, so, unfortunately, the only way to get there is by car.
Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
Most people will opt to visit Capitol Reef National Park in the summer, thinking that’s the best time of year to visit. Long story short, if you want to visit Capitol Reef in one day, do yourself a favor and skip out on the summer heat. This is also the busiest time of year to visit any of Utah’s Mighty 5.
So, instead, visit any other time of year. Honestly, fall, winter, and spring are all great times to visit. I visited during the fall (late October) and loved it. The weather was great, there were barely any other people at Capitol Reef, and I truly felt like I had most of the park to myself. Prices for accommodation in the state were also reasonably low during this time of year.
Best Places to Stay Near Capitol Reef National Park
Because of Capitol Reef’s location, there aren’t that many places in the area where you can stay. But, even though options are kind of limited, you can still find an excellent accommodation. For one day at Capitol Reef National Park, you could even stay at one of the many great Utah cabins.
Here are a few of the best places to stay near Capitol Reef!
Capitol Reef Resort
First up is the Capitol Reef Resort, the most popular place to stay near Capitol Reef. It’s located right near the park’s entrance and has tons of amenities, like a swimming pool, free wifi, and more. Plus, there are fun accommodations to choose from, like wagons. Rooms can accommodate up to six people at a time, depending on which room you book.
Torrey Schoolhouse B&B Inn
Last but not least is the Torrey Schoolhouse B&B Inn. It’s located inside an old building from 1914. Guests get free parking, wifi, breakfast, and air conditioning. This is a great place to stay if you’re visiting the area with a significant other or solo.
One Day in Capitol Reef Tips
Get There Bright & Early
Do your best to get to the park as early in the morning as possible. This allows you to beat the heat, which can be pretty bad in Capitol Reef, depending on the time of year that you visit. Plus, the park doesn’t have much shade, so if you can get there before mid-day, you’ll have a great time.
Grab a Map
The park may not be as big as other parks in the USA, but you’ll still want to save yourself time by grabbing a map at the visitor center. This way, you’ll know where everything is, and you won’t have to waste your time trying to figure out where you’re going in the park.
Visit During the Week
Most people will visit Capitol Reef on the weekend. If you visit during the week, your odds of it being busy are even smaller. Trust me, the beauty of Capitol Reef is best experienced when there are barely any people at the park!
Pack a Picnic Lunch
Last but not least, pack yourself a picnic lunch when visiting Capitol Reef because there aren’t many places to eat nearby. Grab a cooler, fill it with ice, and put sandwiches and chips inside. There are many spots throughout the park where you can enjoy your lunch with a view, and there are even picnic tables, so you don’t have to sit on the ground!
What to Pack for Capitol Reef National Park
You absolutely need to pack a water bottle for your trip to Capitol Reef… or a few. There are so many water bottles out there, but it’s best to get one that actually keeps your water cold all day because of the scorching Utah heat.
My personal favorite is the 32 oz Hydroflask. Yes, they are a bit pricy, but they do their job. I’ve had mine for a few months now, and I swear sometimes my ice lasts almost 24 hours. It was well worth the cost. Mine’s a pretty aqua blue color, but it comes in many other colors too!
Next, you’ll need to pack a backpack of some kind. I prefer skinnier daypacks versus a bulky backpack when I’m visiting a national park because they hold just the essentials and aren’t as high priced.
I personally own an Eddie Bauer bag, similar to this daypack that you can purchase for around $20. It’s the perfect size to hold my lunch box, snacks, water, camera, and other things that I know I’ll need for the day. Get a fun color or a more neutral one like black so it won’t get dirty!
One of the most underrated items to bring on your trip to Capitol Reef is a cooler. With a cooler, you can keep extra waters cold as well as your lunch food if you’re packing sandwiches. You don’t even have to invest in a super expensive one!
My friend and I have a simple cooler, similar to this Coleman Cooler, which is only about $20. It’s the perfect size to throw in the trunk of a car and holds just enough food and water for the two of us while traveling.
So many people think that it’s okay just to wear sneakers when hiking in national parks, but that’s not the case. Hiking boots help keep your ankles more in place and have a better grip so you won’t be sliding on the ground.
Take it from me; I was one of those people who kept wearing the same sneakers every time I went hiking, and my feet would be in so much pain after I invested in a pair of North Face hiking boots, and my trips have been so much better ever since.
Here are a few great options to choose from:
- Columbia Newton Ridge Hiking Waterproof Boots (comes in 25+ colors!)
- Salomon OUTline GTX Mid Women’s Hiking Shoes (even though they’re a different brand, these are the most similar to my North Face ones)
- The North Face Women’s Hedgehog Fastpack GTX Hiker (great if you want hiking boots that fit more like sneakers – my girlfriend loves her pair that are like these!)
You’re not going to be able to charge your phone while you’re at Capitol Reef out hiking, and it’s best to always have your phone on you in case of an emergency. So, do yourself a favor and pack a portable charger!
You could even save money and purchase a 2-pack of portable chargers like this set for only about $20. Then, you’ll be able to have double the charge. These slide perfectly into a backpack or knapsack while you’re out exploring.
Last but not least, do not forget to bring your camera! There are so many different cameras you can choose from, so choose whatever one works best for you. Truthfully, even some iPhone cameras are great now for taking photos.
If you want to invest in a great camera that doubles as one for photo and video, check these ones out. My friend and I have these three, and we use them for both vlogging and photography and love all three!
Places to Eat Near Capitol Reef National Park
Even though it’s a bit of a drive to get to some of the nearby restaurants, you may still want to eat out while visiting Capitol Reef National Park in one day. Here are three great places to eat nearby!
Austin’s Chuckwagon Deli
Sandwiches are divine, and if you’d rather not go to a grocery shop and make your own, head to Austin’s Chuckwagon Deli in Torrey. They have tons of sandwich options, including hot ones. Plus, they have salads that you can add as sides.
Dark Sky Coffee
You should know where the local coffee shop is! This is also located in Torrey and is the place to go to grab your fave coffee before exploring Capitol Reef. Plus, they have bagels, cookies, and other treats.
Rim Rock Patio
Located in Torrey, Rim Rock Patio is an excellent sit-down place to eat at, which is filled with delicious entrees. There’s sandwiches, pizza, pasta… you name it. Plus, it’s more of a local restaurant, so you can even chat with locals and find if there are any hidden gems worth exploring in the area.
What to Do in Capitol Reef National Park
There are many great things to do for your Capitol Reef one day itinerary! Here are some top things in the park to choose from.
Utah’s Scenic Byway 24
First up is one of the most scenic drives that you can do within the Capitol Reef area: Utah’s Scenic Byway 24. It runs from Hanksville to Loa and is reasonably long at around 75 miles. It even goes straight through Capitol Reef National Park.
Obviously, you don’t have to do the entire drive; it’s totally up to you how much of the drive you choose to do. In total, the drive will only take an afternoon if you choose to do the whole thing.
This is a great option if you find that it’s supposed to be super hot during your visit to Capitol Reef so that you can enjoy the beauty without getting out of the car.
Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
Another great road to go on when visiting Capitol Reef is the scenic drive. It’s only about 8 miles long and comes highly recommended. It only takes maybe around 1.5 hours to do the whole thing and will introduce you to the park and its beauty.
Stops along the way include Moenkopi Formation, the solution pockets, and more. Keep in mind that some of the parts of this road do close due to mud or snow during certain times of the year, so be sure to plan your trip wisely if you really want to drive it during your trip!
Grand Wash Trail
One of the most popular trails to hike in Capitol Reef is the Grand Wash Trail. The best way to do it is via the Northeast Trailhead, and it’s an easy hike that’s only about 5 miles long. It’s an out and back trail with less than 350 feet of elevation.
The trail will take you through the narrows, perfect if you’re looking to visit slot canyons in Utah. It also connects right to the arch trail, which is another popular hike within the park. Plus, this one is kid-friendly!
No trip to any of the parks in Utah’s Mighty 5 is complete without stargazing. So, when visiting Capitol Reef National Park, you absolutely must stargaze if you have the time! The sky there is so clear, it’s crazy. You can even wait in your car until it gets fully dark for you to hop out and watch the night sky change colors.
Don’t forget to change your camera to the proper night sky settings!
No visit to any national park is complete without stopping at the Visitor Center. Located near the park entrance, the Capitol Reef Visitor Center is the perfect spot to get acquainted with the park, chat with park rangers, and grab some souvenirs.
One of the most unique spots to visit in Capitol Reef National Park is the Fruita Schoolhouse. This historic building served as a schoolhouse back in the late 19th century and early 20th century. It was restored by the National Park Service in the 1960s.
Though visitors can’t go inside, it’s a great spot to visit because you can still look through the windows and peer into an old schoolhouse. This is super unique because most national parks will only have natural landmarks that you can visit!
Goosenecks & Sunset Point
Take a short hike to Goosenecks & Sunset Point when visiting Capitol Reef National Park. It’s only about 2.5 miles long, and it’s kid-friendly. Even though it’s an out and back trail, the views are incredible along the way.
Just like the name says, this is one of the best spots in the entire park to catch the sunset, something you absolutely must do when visiting Capitol Reef! Get there about an hour or two before sunset for the best view possible. The science behind sunsets is super interesting, and it’s awesome to witness it in real-time at this national park.
Be careful and bring a flashlight for the walk back because there are steep ledges that you’ll want to watch out for.
Cassidy Arch Trail
The most popular hike in all of Capitol Reef is the Cassidy Arch Trail. Yes, this park has an arch just like Arches National Park! It’s only about 3 miles long, but there’s an elevation gain of around 650 feet. It’s also an out and back trail, so you’ll be coming back the same way you went out.
Truthfully, the most challenging part of the hike is right at the beginning. It’s super steep when it first starts out and then gets a bit easier as the trail goes on. With that being said, you should still plan on doing this hike if you have experience because it is rated as moderate.
Hickman Bridge Trail
The Hickman Bridge Trail is another excellent trail to hike when visiting Capitol Reef. It’s a kid-friendly trail about 1.5 miles long, with around 400 feet of elevation gain. This one also leads to an arch fondly called the Hickman Bridge.
Even though it’s rated as moderate, this is said to be one of the more relaxing trails within the park. It’s incredibly scenic and passes by many different beautiful outlooks along the way. Be on the lookout for popular spots like Capitol Dome and Nels Johnson Bridge.
Temple of the Moon & Sun
The Temple of the Moon & Sun is one of the most well-known rock formations in Capitol Reef. You can see them in the distance when visiting, but you can also get closer to them by driving a dirt road. Keep in mind that the road to the rock formation may be closed depending on the weather.
One of the best things to do with 1 day in Capitol Reef National Park is to visit the petroglyphs. These ancient drawings are on the rocks throughout the park.
The easiest spot to find these is on Highway 24 near the Visitor Center. There’s a parking lot around 1.5 miles east of the visitor center where you can go to see them. The area is relatively well marked.
Last but not least is Panorama Point! This is one of the easiest hikes in the entire park, at only 0.3 miles long. It’s an out and back trail with barely any elevation gain. It’s kid-friendly and offers a beautiful panoramic view of the park.
There’s even an exhibit that will tell you more about the area!
Suggested Capitol Reef National Park One Day Itinerary
Here’s a suggested itinerary for spending a day in Capitol Reef!
- Start the day early by heading out to the park. Get there early enough to park somewhere and catch the sunrise!
- Hike to Cassidy Arch and take in the view along the way. Do it in the morning to beat the heat.
- Stop by the Visitor Center to learn more about the park. Buy souvenirs, chat with the park rangers, and use the restroom!
- Head over to the Fruita Schoolhouse and look in the window. Then, stop to have lunch.
- After lunch, do the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. Spend the afternoon along the drive, stopping to see petroglyphs, and consider hiking the Grand Wash Trail.
- Head back to Torrey for dinner and eat at one of the local restaurants.
- Make your way back to the park and hike to Sunset Point. Relax here and watch the sunset, and then find a spot to stargaze.
Hopefully, this post has helped you figure out how to spend one day in Capitol Reef National Park! No matter what you do with your day, it’s worth at least spending some time exploring the beauty of this park. Don’t forget to pin this post for later to help other travelers!
Utah is one of the coolest states in the USA. Check out more of our Utah posts below!
- 13 Best Restaurants in Moab, Utah
- 13 Mouth-Watering Spots for Breakfast in Moab
- 9 Amazing Tours of Arches National Park to Book on Your Next Trip to Moab
- 1 Day in Arches National Park: The Perfect Itinerary
- 13 Easy Hikes in Arches National Park
- 11 Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park
- How to Spend One Day in Canyonlands National Park
- 19 Charming Cabins for Rent in Utah
- 14 Breathtaking Slot Canyons in Utah You Can’t Miss