When you think of visiting Capitol Reef National Park, you probably envision an awe-inspiring desert landscape and views of majestic rock formations. But did you know there are even more activities and natural wonders to explore in this Utah wonderland?
From petroglyphs to hikes to epic views, Capitol Reef National Park is a must-stop for any nature lover. In this guide, we’ll explore 10 of the very best things to do in the park—from admiring its geological features to stargazing in its wide-open, night sky.
So pack your camera and come prepared to experience a memorable journey of exploration.
Get ready to discover the hidden gems of this under-appreciated national park!
The 10 Very Best Things To Do In Capitol Reef National Park
Located in south-central Utah, Capitol Reef National Park provides breathtaking views and unique activities that you can’t experience anywhere else.
From horseback riding through the canyons to exploring the area’s ancient Native American dwellings, there are plenty of ways to experience and enjoy this magnificent park.
Capitol Reef became a national monument in 1937 and a national park in 1971. The park preserves unique geologic features, important archeological evidence, diverse plant and animal communities, and the homesteads and stories of early pioneer settlers.
Entrance fee – $20 per vehicle or if you plan on visiting other National Parks during your trip I highly recommend purchasing the America The Beautiful Pass. This US Park Pass gives you entrance to all of the National Parks for the duration of 12 months. 1 US Park Pass is valid for up to 4 adults in 1 vehicle.
Is Capitol Reef National Park worth visiting?
Hell to the yes! If you love exploring National Parks in the South West USA then Capitol Reef will be right up your alley! Especially considering the fact that it gets a ton less visitors than its neighboring National Parks such as Zion and Arches.
If this already sparked your interest let me add to that by saying that Capitol Reef is also twice the size of every other Utah National Park except Canyonlands.
So to sum it up, there’s a plethora of things to do in Capitol Reef National Park and you don’t need to worry about the insane crowds that Zion and Arches have to deal with. At times it felt like we were the only ones exploring the great outdoors.
From geological wonders, to incredible natural arches and sandstone canyons. Capitol Reef will have you absolutely amazed from start to finish!
The best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park
The best time to visit Capitol Reef is either during spring or fall. March to June and September to October are popular times to visit Capitol Reef, and for good reason.
The weather is often ideal for hiking and backpacking, with less chance of snow or dangerous monsoon rains.
Another pro of visiting during spring is that the Fruita orchards will be in bloom. The white blossoms against the red rocks are a true sight to behold.
During the summer months you can expect sweltering heat and the crowds get a lot bigger. Still, nothing compared to those at Zion or Arches but it can make long hikes that much more tiring.
During the winter months the temperature drops below freezing, especially during the night. Some roads may be covered in snow and not all attractions or hikes will be accessible.
How to reach Capitol Reef National Park
No matter where you are located in the world, Capitol Reef National Park is a destination worth visiting.
To get there, most visitors will start their journey from Las Vegas, Nevada, which is a 5-hour drive from the park.
Alternatively, you can fly to St. George Regional Airport which is located about 200 miles from the park.
If you’re looking to save money, Greyhound and Utah Transit Authority (UTA) offers bus services from cities such as Salt Lake City and St. George.
Once at the park, you can rent a car, bike, or take part in one of the free tours offered by an experienced ranger. No matter how you choose to get there, you’re sure to have an unforgettable trek to Capitol Reef National Park.
Here are the driving distances and times for nearby destinations.
- Salt Lake City: 225 miles, 3.5 hours
- Moab: 144 miles, 2.5 hours
- Goblin Valley State Park: 68 miles, 1.5 hours
- Escalante: 75 miles, 1.75 hours
- Bryce Canyon National Park: 120 miles, 1.25 hours
- Zion National Park: 182 miles, 3.25 hours
- Las Vegas: 330 miles, 5 hours
The 10 best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park
1. Visit the Fruita Historic District
The Fruita Historic District includes the Fruita schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, the Gifford house store and museum, and other buildings and features.
The visitor center is open daily from 8am to 4.30pm.
The historic Gifford House store and museum is open spring through fall. Exhibits on pioneer history are on display. Fresh-baked pies and breads, books, and a variety of locally hand-crafted items are for sale. All proceeds support park-specific projects.
Capitol reef also maintains one of the largest groups of historic orchards in the National Park Service, some of which are currently being replanted. With about 2000 trees, fruits incude apples, peach, pear, apricot, cherry, and plum.
Flowering typically occurs from March into May, and harvest generally occurs June through October. Fruit is free to sample while in orchards. A small fee is charged for fruit taken out of the orchards.
2. Hike to Cassidy Arch – A must do in Capitol Reef National Park
Named after the famous Butch Cassidy, Cassidy Arch is located in the central portion of Capitol Reef National Park, specifically just within the western walls of Grand Wash, beside the Scenic Drive.
The hike to Cassidy Arch was one of my favorite hikes in Capitol Reef due to its variety and scenic views that you’ll encounter along the way.
Total hiking distance – 3.4 miles (5.6km)
Elevation gain – 670 ft (204m)
Duration – 2 to 3 hours
You can reach the trailhead by driving along the Scenic Drive and turning into the Grand Wash Road. Simply drive towards the end and you’ll find a small parking lot. There are a couple of restrooms here as well.
The first part of the hike is definitely the hardest cause here you’ll conquer most of the elevation due to a lot of switchbacks. But the views that you get in return are simply magnificent.
Towards the end you can already spot the giant natural arch and when up close you can also choose to walk across it for one of the coolest photography spots in Capitol Reef.
3. Hike through Capitol Gorge – One of the best hikes in Capitol Reef
The Capitol Gorge hike in Capitol Reef National Park offers a stunningly unique experience for any outdoor enthusiast.
From the towering sandstone cliffs to the vibrant desert flowers, Capitol Gorge is a feast for the eyes that cannot be found anywhere else. With an abundance of wildlife, a variety of trails, and awe-inspiring views, it’s no wonder that so many travelers come to experience the beauty of Capitol Gorge.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, the rewards of the Capitol Gorge trail are sure to stick with you long after the hike is over.
Total hiking distance – 2 miles (3.2km)
Elevation – 80ft (24m)
Duration – 1 hour
In the course of just one mile, the Capitol Gorge Trail passes a petroglyph panel, several hundred historic signatures (the Pioneer Register), a small natural arch and a sequence of water-filled potholes (the Tanks), and a narrow, rocky side canyon that also has potholes, and dryfalls.
💡 TIP – You can compare this hike a bit to The Narrows hike in Zion National Park. Except here you don’t have to go through water and the hike is much shorter.
4. Drive the Scenic Road
The Scenic Drive is a 7.9 mile (12.7 km) paved road, suitable for passenger vehicles. It takes about an hour and half roundtrip to drive the Scenic Drive and the two dirt spur roads, Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.
5. Watch the sunset from Sunset Point
While a lot of times a dedicated Sunset Point isn’t always the best (take the one at Bryce Canyon National Park for instance). In this case you’ll be treated to an epic sunset over one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Capitol Reef National Park.
The parking lot for Sunset Point is the same one as that for Goosenecks Overlook ( more on that later) and the trailhead starts at the left side of the parking lot.
The hike to Sunset Point is an easy 0.4 miles (0.6km) but do know that you won’t be the only ones there. The entire time in Capitol Reef we had the feeling like we were the only ones there. Until we reached Sunset Point.
Luckily we were there on time and were able to score ourselves a nice spot to take photos. But it wasn’t a peaceful experience at all.
On our way back to the car we actually bumped into a much nicer viewpoint (photo on the right below), where we could enjoy the pastel colored sky on our own.
6. Visit the Goosenecks Overlook – One of the easiest things to do in Capitol Reef
The hike to Goosenecks Overlook in Capitol Reef National Park is not much of a hike at all, and the round trip can be completed in as little as 5-10 minutes.
But this short trail does lead to an incredible viewpoint where you can see Sulphur Creek as it snakes its way through a rugged canyon 800 feet below.
7. Visit the Temple of the Sun and Moon in Cathedral Valley – One of the best things to do in Capitol Reef
The Temple of the Sun and Moon, located within the grounds of the Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, are two incredible monuments that have been standing for centuries.
Despite the passing of time, their vibrance and awe inspiring beauty remain as captivating as ever. If you’re looking for a truly unique adventure, the Temple of the Sun and Moon should be at the top of your list!
Simply drive into the direction of Caineville and right before you arrive take a left onto Cathedral Road. The driving distance from the Highway 24 junction to the Temple of the Moon is 17.1 miles (27.5 km) and it takes about 1 hour to reach it.
The two best times to photograph the Temple of the Sun and Moon are at both sunset and sunrise.
8. Visit Factory Butte – An incredible place right outside of Capitol Reef
Factory Butte is the most recognizable feature of a large area of stark, barren land either side of the Fremont River known as the Upper Blue Hills, bordered by Capitol Reef National Park.
And if you’ve visited the Moonscape Overlook you will actually drive by Factory Butte on your way there or back.
If you drive a 4×4 or a dirt bike, and you’ve ever dreamed of drifting on the Moon, be sure to go make a few turns and skids in Swing Arm City, an off-roading terrain located next to the road’s entrance.
💡 TIP – After a morning of exploring grab breakfast at Duke’s Slickrock Grill in Hanksville.
9. Betonite Hills – The most unique place to visit near Capitol Reef
The Betonite Hills in Utah is one of those places that you have to see for yourself to actually believe this place exists for real.
The Betonite Hills can be found in several places in Utah but my favorite spot to admire them is located right next to Capitol Reef National Park and close to the Mars Desert Research Station. Do know that the road leading to the Betonite Hills isn’t a paved road so it’s best to with a 4×4 to ensure you won’t get stuck on your way there.
Entrance fee – The Betonite Hills that I am referring to are located on BLM and are free to visit.
Best time to visit – You can visit the Betonite Hills year round (I would skip winter though) but the absolute best time during the day is blue hour during either sunrise or sunset. During this short time period there will be enough light hitting the rainbow colored hills and you can also see the vibrant blues. Once the sun is up the blue color will fade and the hills will turn a more orange/red tone.
10. Moonscape Overlook – One of the best things to do in Capitol Reef
The Moonscape Overlook viewpoint is only 30 minutes driving from Betonite Hills and the perfect stop after watching the sunrise there. From thinking that you’ve set foot on Mars to actually landing on the moon. This is another spectacular place in Utah that you absolutely have to see for yourself.
It’s also more off the beaten path which makes a bit of a hidden gem in Utah.
Do be careful when taking photos here because the drop off is very steep. You can also see us sitting on the pinnacle because once we were there both of us were like nope, it’s too risky to stand up.
Then again everyone is different so if you feel sure footed and comfortable enough doing so by all means go for it! Just be careful :).
Where to stay near Capitol Reef National Park
3 ⭐️ RATING
Located at the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park, this Torrey, Utah hotel features an outdoor pool and hot tub. All of the spacious guest rooms include free WiFi. BBQ facilities are available.
And I mean, look at that view from your bedroom window!
Rules for Capitol Reef National Park
The following activities are PROHIBITED
- Collecting, possessing, destroying, or removing rocks, plants, animals, artifacts, firewood or other park resources.
- Leaving graffiti or rock piles, or any other actions that deface or damage park resources.
- Off-road vehicular travel and all UTV and ATV use
- Use of firearms
- Use of drones
- Feeding, approaching, or harassing wildlife
Please obey the following regulations
- Yield to wildlife and pedestrians and obey speed limits. Use caution on narrow roads.
- Camp only in designated campgrounds. Permits are required for backcountry camping.
- Make campgrounds only in a campground fire grill.
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.