National Park Guide: Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

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Capitol Reef National Park, located in Surrey, Utah, opened as a National Monument in 1937 and officially became a National Park in 1971. The entire state of Utah was once a sand dune (200 million years ago) and overtime, various geological feats created the park. The geology of the park is quite complex (attend a ranger talk to learn more!), but the headline involves various rock layers that, through tectonic plate activity, raised the Colorado Rocky Mountains and Colorado Plateau, which caused a fault line running through the area to develop into the park. Over time, the western part of the park raised over 7,000 feet higher than the eastern part of the park. Today, the Visitor Center sits 5,500 feet above sea level.

Capitol Reef has one of the largest orchards in the park system, with over 2,000 trees featuring apples, peaches, pears, apricots, cherries, and plums and guests are welcome to pick fruit in designated orchards during the season. The popular Fruita area of the park was established by the Mormons in the 1880s; the community built the irrigation systems that watered the orchards and pastures. There are fifteen day hiking trails (more information on trails here) in the area, ranging from quarter mile walks along level ground to 10 mile hiking trails near cliff edges. According to the park website “ All trails are well-marked with signs at the trailhead and at trail junctions and by cairns (stacks of rocks) along the way. Some trails have self-guiding brochures which are available, for a nominal fee, at the trailhead or at the visitor center.” A great list of suggested itineraries can be found here. We spent a full day at the park and enjoyed a few, shorter hikes. We think one to two days is the perfect amount of time to explore the park with kids, more time will be needed if you are serious hikers.

Note: We visited during the summer of 2021, when many pandemic restrictions were still in place and limited a few of the activities available to visitors.

Transportation and Parking Tips: There is no entrance fee to the park since the main road (Route 24) is a state road. However, the park does ask for a $20 fee to drive the Scenic Drive Parkway (based on the honor system). Most major trail heads and the Visitor Center have parking lots for 20-25 cars. There are designated pull over spots for scenic views, and some trail heads have curbside parallel parking. Be sure to follow all signs for prohibitive areas. More information on directions here.

Restrooms: Restrooms with running water are located in the Visitor Center and at the picnic area on the Scenic Drive. Vault restrooms are located many of the trail heads including Chimney Rock, Hickman Bridge, Grand Wash on the Scenic Drive side, and along the Scenic Drive Parkway.

Things to Do at the Visitor Center: The Visitor Center has a small gift shop, bookstore, and park rangers, who offer advice on trails and activities. A small auditorium shows a 18 minute video overview of the park’s history. Grab a Junior Ranger booklet and return it for a badge. The Visitor Center closes each day from 12pm-1pm.
Note: Most exhibits were under renovation in 2021.

Eating in the Park: The only spot to eat in the park is at the Gifford House, which sells premade ice cream treats and pie. The Gifford House is famous for homemade pies, which are made daily and usually sell out by early afternoon. The Visitor Center also sells prepackaged snacks. There are several spots to picnic throughout the park, including near the Visitor Center, Ripple Rock Nature Center, Gifford Homestead, and along the Scenic Drive.

Helpful maps: Map of the park, map of the Fruita area, and area map. Information on nearby facilities & services.

Six Family Friendly Activities at Capitol Reef:

1. Walk Gooseneck Point, which is very short (.2 miles round trip) path to beautiful canyon views. This is very close to the entrance to park and the path is mainly rock and sand.

2. Hike the Hickman Bridge Trail, the most popular trail in the park. The full trail is two miles round trip and offers stunning views of an arch. There are some steep sections of the hike with sharp drop offs and most of the trail is covered in rocks hikers. This is considered a moderate trail, but it is very rough on knees.

3. Hike the Grand Wash Trail. The full trail is over four miles round trip and offers a fairly flat (and sandy!) path through the deep canyon and narrows of the Waterpocket Fold in the park. The trail connects the Scenic Road (past Cassidy Arch) to Route 24 (Spring Canyon). There are parking areas on both sides of the Trail.

4. Walk the Fremont Petroglyphs, a raised wooden path that provides a close look at the sandstone carved images of people and bighorn sheep. No need for strollers (and they’ll take up the whole path)- it’s an easy, less than one mile out and back walk. There is a small parking lot for about 15 cars.

5. Buy pie at the Gifford Homestead (try and get there before they close for lunch to guarantee you’ll be able to purchase pies). The Gifford Homestead also has a small museum showcasing the Mormon pioneer history, as well as a gift shop selling books and locally hand crafted items. The Gifford Homestead is open from March 14 through the end of October- more information here.

6. Attend a ranger led talk on the geology of the park, offered each day throughout the year. Seasonal programs include evening programs and star talks, guided hikes, and Junior Ranger programs. More information on ranger led programs here. Our kids also completed the Junior Ranger booklet and earned their 3rd Junior Ranger badge of the trip.

Other Things to Do:

  • The Ripple Rock Nature Center was closed in 2021, but typically offers indoor and outdoor exhibits related to the nature of the park.

  • Pick fruit from one of the many orchards. Check here for the anticipated schedule for fruit including apricots, plums, peaches, cherries, pears, apples, and quants. Guests may consume any fruit they pick on site for free. Guests who want to take fruit out of the park must pay for it.

  • Drive the eight mile scenic drive, which takes approximately 90 minutes. The road is mainly paved, and guests drive to the end, and drive back, looking at gigantic rock walls and gorges. There is a $20 per vehicle fee. Descriptions of all 11 stops can be found here.

  • Camp at the 71 site Fruita Campground, open from March through the end of October- more information here– or primitive campgrounds (for experiences campers)- more information here.

  • A great list of other outdoor adventures within a five hour drive of Capitol Reef National Park can be found here.

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Capitol Reef Resort, which is located just outside the entrance to the park and spread out throughout 58 acres. The resort has over 50 guest rooms, over 20 cabins (some of which have multiple bedrooms), and 9 teepees(!!!) which have separate, but private bathrooms. The Pioneer Kitchen restaurant offers breakfast and dinner (we had a great dinner there). The resort also offers a heated pool and hot tub, seasonal camp fires, and llama and horseback excursions. The rooms were well appointed and offered beautiful views. We would highly recommend staying at the Capitol Reef Resort.

More information on the Capitol Reef area and Surrey, Utah here.

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36 Comments

  1. I’ve never been to Utah, but I’ve always wanted to visit. It offers a different kind of beauty than we have here in the South! The Capitol Reed area looks fantastic. Thanks for a comprehensive post!

  2. I’ve never been to Utah, but I’ve always wanted to visit. It offers a different kind of beauty than we have here in the South! The Capitol Reed area looks fantastic. Thanks for a comprehensive post!

  3. I’ve never been to Utah, but I’ve always wanted to visit. It offers a different kind of beauty than we have here in the South! The Capitol Reed area looks fantastic. Thanks for a comprehensive post!

  4. This looks like an amazing trip! My parents visited here a few years ago and loved it! Thanks for taking us along with you on your adventure!

  5. This looks like an amazing trip! My parents visited here a few years ago and loved it! Thanks for taking us along with you on your adventure!

  6. This looks like an amazing trip! My parents visited here a few years ago and loved it! Thanks for taking us along with you on your adventure!

  7. My boyfriend has a goal to visit all the national parks, and I can’t believe I still haven’t made it to Utah after living in Arizona for over two years! I need to go knock out all the Utah parks soon!

  8. My boyfriend has a goal to visit all the national parks, and I can’t believe I still haven’t made it to Utah after living in Arizona for over two years! I need to go knock out all the Utah parks soon!

  9. My boyfriend has a goal to visit all the national parks, and I can’t believe I still haven’t made it to Utah after living in Arizona for over two years! I need to go knock out all the Utah parks soon!

  10. Omg this post is honestly ideal, I’m looking to go to Utah next year and needed a national park guide! Thank you for this!!

  11. Omg this post is honestly ideal, I’m looking to go to Utah next year and needed a national park guide! Thank you for this!!

  12. Omg this post is honestly ideal, I’m looking to go to Utah next year and needed a national park guide! Thank you for this!!

  13. Wow-what a beautiful national park! I also love this family activity, what beautiful memories you have from it. This guide is super comprehensive and really well put together. Excellent!

  14. Wow-what a beautiful national park! I also love this family activity, what beautiful memories you have from it. This guide is super comprehensive and really well put together. Excellent!

  15. Wow-what a beautiful national park! I also love this family activity, what beautiful memories you have from it. This guide is super comprehensive and really well put together. Excellent!

  16. This looks so lovely, and the family photos at various tourist attractions really make the post so cute and personable! Can’t wait to travel this summer, thank you for sharing x

  17. This looks so lovely, and the family photos at various tourist attractions really make the post so cute and personable! Can’t wait to travel this summer, thank you for sharing x

  18. This looks so lovely, and the family photos at various tourist attractions really make the post so cute and personable! Can’t wait to travel this summer, thank you for sharing x

  19. We’ve done 2 parks in Utah so far and have been planning to do the other 3 next summer. This post has been great in helping me plan for Capitol Reef park. I especially love the teepes. Thank you for all your recommendations.

    • Mama Pinot, Winetravelkids
  20. We’ve done 2 parks in Utah so far and have been planning to do the other 3 next summer. This post has been great in helping me plan for Capitol Reef park. I especially love the teepes. Thank you for all your recommendations.

    • Mama Pinot, Winetravelkids
  21. We’ve done 2 parks in Utah so far and have been planning to do the other 3 next summer. This post has been great in helping me plan for Capitol Reef park. I especially love the teepes. Thank you for all your recommendations.

    • Mama Pinot, Winetravelkids
  22. I know it’s the only spot to eat i nthe park but I must say ice cream and pie would make it the best in my book even if there were others!

  23. This is such a detailed guide! We haven’t done Capitol Reef park yet so we’re due for another trip to Utah soon. And the pies look so delicious! Such a good tip to get one before lunch time and we’ll definitely do that! Thanks for sharing.

  24. This is such a detailed guide! We haven’t done Capitol Reef park yet so we’re due for another trip to Utah soon. And the pies look so delicious! Such a good tip to get one before lunch time and we’ll definitely do that! Thanks for sharing.

  25. This is such a detailed guide! We haven’t done Capitol Reef park yet so we’re due for another trip to Utah soon. And the pies look so delicious! Such a good tip to get one before lunch time and we’ll definitely do that! Thanks for sharing.

  26. I loved seeing all of your photos! My husband and I had one of our first camping dates back in the day at Cathedral Valley Campground. I also worked here during one summer as an intern! It is one of my favorite National Parks!

  27. I loved seeing all of your photos! My husband and I had one of our first camping dates back in the day at Cathedral Valley Campground. I also worked here during one summer as an intern! It is one of my favorite National Parks!

  28. I loved seeing all of your photos! My husband and I had one of our first camping dates back in the day at Cathedral Valley Campground. I also worked here during one summer as an intern! It is one of my favorite National Parks!

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