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13 Best Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

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There are so many fun things to do in Capitol Reef National Park, from going on scenic drives to enjoy the unique landscape by going on a hike. Capitol Reef National Park is one of Utah’s most overlooked parks but has so much beauty and variety; I promise it deserves some of your time.

We were lucky enough to spend a day in Capitol Reef during our Utah National Parks road trip in the fall of 2021 and truly loved that it was a bit more remote than other parks in the state.

There are plenty of great things to do there, but here’s a list of the BEST things to do in Capitol Reef so you can get right to the really good stuff!

Drive Highway 24

Highway leading through the desert

This scenic drive guides you through the planetary white and red sandstone cliffs, orchards, and the historic buildings of a Utah ghost town!

When driving Highway 24, put on your favorite playlist, relax, and take the long way. I promise you won’t regret it!

This is a great intro to the park, whether you want to drive the whole thing straight or stop at whatever sights catch your eye. 

Find the Petroglyphs

Petroglyph illustrations on the side of a rock

In addition to the immense sandstone structures and deep canyons in Capitol Reef National Park, you can find the remnants of the ancient people who walked the ground we do thousands of years ago.

There are plenty of petroglyphs on canyon walls throughout the entire yet, but the best-preserved panel is located about a mile and a half from the visitor center. The pullout parking lot is well marked, and just a short walk on the boardwalk takes you to the site.

We have no way to tell what these ancient people were trying to tell us, so let your imagination run wild and try to interpret what this intriguing artwork is saying! This is a Capitol Reef must see.

Make sure not to touch any of the panels you find so we can keep them preserved for years to come.

Learn at the Visitor Center

Capitol Reef Visitor Center with people standing in front of it

How much do you really know about how places like Capitol Reef came to be?

Not much? That’s what I thought. I was the same way until I visited the Capitol Reef Visitor Center.

The visitor center has loads of information that will bring you up to speed and prepare you to enjoy your visit to Capitol Reef to the fullest extent.

From rangers for answering all your questions to fascinating exhibits to a bookstore to take some of the info home, you will find everything you need here for your visit.

Hike the Grand Wash Trail

Dirt trail leading through a slot canyon

Grand Wash Trail is one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park for everyone, but it’s a specifically good family-friendly activity.

The hike is short, 2.2 miles one way, 4.4 miles total. If you’d like to expand that trip a little, I’d suggest taking the Frying Pan Trail, which encompasses the Grand Wash Trail.

Grand Wash Trail takes hikers deep into Grand Wash, a chasmic wash surrounded by the immense canyon walls that categorize the park.

The hike can get pretty narrow, but not too narrow that cars couldn’t make it through, which is actually something they used to do. 

Wild, right?

To find the hike, take the scenic road a couple of miles into the park until you see the sign for Grand Wash. Follow the road until you see Cassidy Arch Viewpoint.

Stargaze

Stars in the sky at night

One of the best things about Utah is that a lot of the state is fairly uninhabited, which results in the best night skies for stargazing.

Capitol Reef is actually designated as an International Dark Sky Park, which basically means you’ll be betting on a winning hand if you stargaze here.

So here are some of the best spots in the park to spot constellations.

Slickrock Divide is located 1.8 miles past the fee station, a few miles into the park. This is one of the most secluded parts of the park, so this is a great spot to go if you’re looking to stargaze without interruptions.

At the end of the scenic drive, you’ll find Capitol Gorge Road Picnic Shelter. There are plenty of signs that lead you to the spot, and once there, you’ll find covered tables and toilets that make for a great base camp.

And finally, Cathedral Valley Campground is the hardest spot to get to, but the views of the stars are well worth it. To reach this location, you’ll need an all-wheel-drive and high-clearance vehicle.

Visit Panorama Point

Dirt road winding through a valley in the desert

Panorama Point offers visitors views that are really hard to look away from!

The viewpoint, from where you can see a 360-degree view of Capitol Reef, can be accessed by walking a short distance from the parking area. 

If you’re looking to explore past the overlook area, you’re in luck because the trail extends a little while longer, and you can see some unique rock formations and more beautiful views.

Panorama Point is beautiful any time of day, but seeing the view at sunset is one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef. 

The red hues of the sandstone cliffs become absolutely vivid with the sunset behind them; you won’t want to miss that view!

Snap a photo at Goosenecks Overlook

View of red rocks in Capitol Reef from a high vantage point

As you may have noticed, a lot of the trails in Capitol Reef are pretty short, and the trail to Goosenecks Overlook is no different!

After about a 600-foot hike from the parking area, you’ll reach the viewpoint overlooking the weaving corridors of the sandstone canyons. 

You will see Sulphur Creek snaking between the walls, and because this is a lesser traveled trail, be able to snap some photos without any photo bombers.

This hike has a few rocky steps and one switchback, but totally worth it for the view at the top.

Explore the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Scenic road leading through Capitol Reef

If you’re looking for a more focused drive than just setting off on Highway 24, Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is the better choice for you.

The 7.9-mile stretch of the road follows some of the most iconic views throughout the park, and you can choose to stay on the paved road or branch off and take some of the dirt roads to explore a little deeper.

These roads are generally accessible by all passenger vehicles, including RVs. This can depend on the weather and time of year.

Stop by the historic Fruita Schoolhouse

Historic wooden house by a rocky mountain

One of the most unique things about Capitol Reef National Park is that it comes with its very own deserted village, and one of those buildings includes the historic schoolhouse.

Fruita Schoolhouse was used in the early 1900s by the settlers of Fruita, then called Junction. 

The log cabin stands at the foot of a towering canyon wall. The building originally had a flat dirt roof, but when you visit the Schoolhouse, you’ll see its shingled roof, which was added in 1912 or 1913.

The building is still fully furnished and set up exactly as it would have been a hundred or so years ago, so don’t forget to peek in the window so you can take a trip back in time.

Hike the Cassidy Arch Trail

Red arch surrounded by rocks

Cassidy Arch Trail is one of the best things to do at Capitol Reef National Park.

The three-mile hike leads you to the Cassidy Arch, which you can admire from afar or actually go stand on top of the arch. 

I’m telling you, this is a photo op worth taking. 

Cassidy Arch was named after Butch Cassidy, a bank robber and outlaw who used to have hideouts all over this area. 

Catch the sunset at Sunset Point

Rocky canyon view under a blue sky

Sunset point is an often overlooked trail and viewpoint, even though it is one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef and probably the best place to see the sunset in this part of Utah.

The trail is incredibly short, only 0.4 miles, and the view is stunning. It looks out on a different section of the park than Panorama point does, so I promise it’s worth seeing both.

If you’re planning to stay multiple days in the area, now you have a sunset spot for two days in a row!

Drive the breathtaking Capitol Gorge Road

Dirt road leading through rocks

Capitol Gorge Road picks up where the Scenic Drive ends at the eight-mile mark. From there, the dirt road continues on for another two miles before reaching a parking lot.

The drive itself is out of this world; I mean, how often do you get to drive right in between two narrow canyon walls?

Once you reach the end, turn around if you wish, or continue on foot for some serious exploring into the unearthed trails of the park.

Spend the night at the Fruita Campground

Tents set up in a green space by red rocks

After a full day of exploring and seeing the most unique views Utah has to offer, you’re going to need a place to stay.

Fruita Campground honestly does not look like it should be a part of this unpredictable national park.

Covered with grass and surrounded by orchards that have been around for years, it is a great place to stay if you want to feel like you’ve escaped the desert for the night. 

If you pick a few or all of the things on this list, I promise you won’t be disappointed and will get to experience the best things to do in Capitol Reef.

This vast park has so much beauty to offer; we hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

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