Capitol Reef National Park definitely earns its rank in Utah’s Big Five National Parks in the US, and you’ll soon find out why. There’s a reason why over one million people visit the park every year. The rugged landscape is full of thrill and adventure for travelers of all ages. From exploring the famous rock formations to the scenic observation points, you’ll have plenty of things to do to fill up a day (or two) in the park.
About Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is one of the Big 5 National Parks in Utah. The vast desert terrain is covered with canyons, monoliths, gorges, and more. You’ll truly be amazed by the colorful scenery – the red and orange rocks showcase layers of erosion that created such an impressive landscape.
When you visit Capitol Reef National Park to witness the natural landmarks, you’ll understand where it gets its name. Several large dome rock formations resemble the Capitol Buildings in the United States. Some of the most famous sights are the Hickman Bridge Arch, the Historic Fruita District, Navajo Dome, and plenty of Capitol Reef scenic overlooks to snap incredible photos.
You can plan out the perfect outdoor adventure. There are plenty of exciting things to do, including hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding, and scenic drives. There are also designated camping sites. Explore the rugged region with trails leading to must-see landmarks and keep an eye out for petroglyphs left behind by Native Americans.
Open all year long with seasonal activities, anytime is a good time to start planning your trip!
Capitol Reef National Park is an excellent alternative to the other parks that make up Utah’s Big Five. It’s a large park, but you can actually accomplish many of the best hikes and viewpoints within a day. Spend a day in Capitol Reef to explore these popular hikes and destinations:
- Hickman Bridge
- Cassidy Arch
- Grand Wash
- Rim Overlook Trail
- Fruita Historic District
- Sunset Point Trail
Many of the routes are short and located nearby to each other, so you can include a few in a day. It’ll be a long day, but you’ll get to see some incredible sights that make it worth it.
Hickman Bridge Trail
The Hickman Bridge Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park. It’s one of the first trails you’ll reach when you enter the park. It’s an easy hike, so it’s a great way to start a park visit. Also, it’s best to do the hike earlier to avoid large crowds during the day.
Hickman Bridge Trail leads to the Hickman Bridge. It’s a natural bridge extending 133-ft long. It’s one of the most impressive arches in the park. You can get views from either side and climb on top of the bridge.
The trail is 0.9-miles in one direction and the same to return. It can take up to a couple of hours to complete depending on how many stops you make along the way and spending time taking photos. The entire route to the bridge is scenic. You’ll pass by cool overlooks, archaeological sites from Fremont people, and see flora and wildlife.
One of the must-see landmarks on the trail is the Capitol dome rock. It’s the namesake rock of the park that resembles the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Cassidy Arch is another famous arch in the national park. It is named after the outlaw Butch Cassidy who hid in the canyon. The large arch is an impressive sight, and you’ll get a chance to walk on top of it for the best views.
The hiking trail to the arch is the perfect day hiking trip. It’s approximately a 3.5-mile round trip to complete the trek with a moderate challenge. The hardest part of the hike is at the beginning when you have to do some climbing, but after, it is relatively easy. It’s a well-marked trail so that you won’t get lost along the way.
The trail is part of the Frying Pan Trail in the beginning. Your first view of the arch is at Cassidy Arch Viewpoint, where you’ll see it in the distance.
The trail ends directly on top of the arch. The 400-ft tall arch has views of the canyon and surrounding landscape. As a tip, stand on the adjacent rocks to take the best photos on top of the arch.
Grand Wash Trail
You can see several unique rock formations while cruising along the Grand Wash Scenic Drive. It passes landmarks like the Moenkopi Formation and the Wingate Sandstone. It stretches for approximately 8-miles. And if you enjoy the drive, you’ll really enjoy the hike. The Grand Wash Trailhead is located at the end of the scenic drive route that takes you down into the canyon to explore.
The Grand Wash Trail is a 4.4-mile hike through the Grand Wash Gorge. It’s a section of the Waterpocket Fold where you’ll walk amongst towering cliffs. It’s a flat hike, so it’s common to see families with kids hiking the trail. If the trail seems a bit crowded, you can opt for the Capitol Gorge Trail which is a few miles drive away but also runs through the Waterpocket Fold.
The entire hike is very scenic, where you’ll get up close to the rock formations. One of the highlight sections of the hike is the Narrows, a short stretch between narrow cliffs. It’s one of the best ways to see the colorful rocks in the park.
If the landscape seems otherworldly, you’re correct because it’s frequently used in movie sets for other planets.
It takes a few hours to complete the hike, and you’ll be back at your car to drive to the next location.
Rim Overlook Trail
Most of the hikes in Capitol Reef National Park wind through the canyon and reach the floor. For a different perspective, hike the Rim Overlook Trail for a viewpoint above to see the entire canyon landscape. It’s one of the longest hiking trails in the park and one of the most difficult.
Rim Overlook Trail follows the canyon rim to offer fantastic views below. The trail is 4.9-miles long total, where you’ll pass several observation points and rock formations. The biggest challenge of the hike is the early elevation gain of 1,600-ft to reach the rim. Don’t worry if you feel slightly out of breath when hiking – it’s normal due to the elevation.
The trail leads to the Rim Overlook, where you’ll have a 360-degree view of the entire Capitol Reef National Park. You can see the Fruita Historical District below and the Navajo Knobs. Stop at the other observation points for a different perspective of the scenery.
It’s best to do the rim hike early in the morning or in the evening. You won’t have a lot of shade during the mid-day, so be sure to bring lots of water.
Fruita Historic District
Many early pioneers cross the region now recognized as the Capitol Reef National Park. One group of pioneers decided to settle in the area and created a community called Fruita. Located in the Fremont River Valley, the Fruita Historic District is a popular place to check out in the park to see historical buildings, picking fruit, and to grab some delicious treats.
Fruita was founded by early Mormon settlers. One of the first things they did was plant thousands of trees for food resources. It’s where the community gets its name and remains a central part of the experience today.
There are several historical buildings built as early as 1895. The Fruita School House, homes, and the Ranger Station are a few places to see. The historic Gifford House was converted to a shop that is famous for its homemade pie. During the harvest season, visitors can enter the orchard and pick fruits.
Many trails lead from the village. It’s a great place to grab a snack before heading back into nature.
Sunset Point Trail
To end the day at Capitol Reef National Park, hike the Sunset Point trail for one of the best sunset views over the red rocks. It’s a short hike, so you can easily reach the Panorama Point for a view you don’t want to miss.
There is some seating to watch the sunset as you catch your breathe from the hike.
Tips for Visiting Capitol Reef National Park
By now, I bet you’re excited to explore the attractions in Capitol Reef National Park, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you visit.
Stop by the visitor center. Take advantage of the Fruita visitor center for updated park information. The staff helps direct you to trails, if any unexpected closures, and more. There are also maps to help you navigate the area.
Be sure to have your permits. The park requires permits for specific activities like backpacking, rock climbing, and canyoneering. You’ll need a permit in advance before you arrive, so check into the requirements if you’re planning to do any of these activities.
No shade. Many of the hikes have little to no shade, so bring along a hat, sunscreen, glasses, and plenty of water. Try to avoid strenuous hikes in the mid-day when the weather is the hottest. You can find many of these items in the park’s visitor center.
Visit the orchard in the right season. The Fruita campground is known for the large orchards planted with several types of fruit trees. They are open to the public to pick fresh fruit from – the available fruit depends on the season. It’s one of the favorite leisure activities in the park.
How Long to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park?
Capitol Reef National Park is always considered the hidden gem of the Big Five parks. Most people drive past it en route to one of the other parks like Arches National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park. But once you step foot in the park, you’ll be glad you decided to visit!
Most people spend just one day in the park. One day is plenty of time to complete a couple of hikes and taking some time to enjoy the overlooks. However, if you have time to spare, stay at least one extra day and experience the campgrounds.
If you’re ready to book your trip, check out the resources below. Make sure to shop around between the different platform to compare prices and find the deal
- Airbnb – I’ve always had a great experience with airbnb. Make sure to check the reviews and the final price before booking.