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Capitol Reef National Park is probably the least known of all Utah national parks, which is a shame because this park is stunning.
Made up of towering rock formations, canyons, cliffs, fruit orchards, and so much more – it’s an adventurer’s dream.
I fell in love with Capitol Reef from the moment I set eyes on it, and I think you will too! Because most people visit the park as part of a larger, Utah national park’s road trip, I’ve put together a straightforward one day itinerary.
While I wish I’d spent way more than one day in Capitol Reef, the full Capitol Reef National Park 1 day itinerary below still made me feel like I got to enjoy and see the park.
- Location: South Central Utah, halfway between Arches and Bryce Canyon
- Entrance Fee: $20 per vehicle for access to the Scenic Drive, valid for 7 days
Capitol Reef National Park 1 Day Itinerary
Capitol Reef is a surprisingly large park! There’s 3 main districts of the park, the Fruita District, Cathedral Valley, and the Waterpocket Fold.
To make the most of this Capitol Reef National Park itinerary, we’ll focus on the most popular and accessible areas of the park, the Fruita District.
After the itinerary, I have included some basic information if you’d like to plan a longer visit and see the Cathedral Valley area, or the Waterpocket Fold.
Hike the Grand Wash Trail
- Length: 4.4 miles roundtrip (out and back)
- Difficulty: easy
There’s no better way to start your one day in Capitol Reef than with a hike, and this park has trails that will definitely make you glad you woke up early!
A relatively easy, but rewarding hike to start your day with is the Grand Wash Trail. This hike is about 4.4 miles roundtrip, and will take you through a deep, reddish canyon with narrows, and pretty views all around.
Even though it’s a bit on the long side, the trail is mostly flat making this hike beginner friendly!
You have two options for where to start this hike.
- Option A: take the scenic drive road and make a left into Grand Wash Road, a 1.3 mile long dirt road to the trailhead. There’s a parking lot and bathrooms here.
- Option B: from the visitor center, take Highway 24 east for about 4.5 miles and park on the right side of the road. The sandy wash you on your right is the beginning of the trail.
For a longer hike: tack on the Cassidy Arch hike to Grand Wash trail. If you park along Highway 24, the Cassidy Arch trail will begin at the end of the Grand Wash trail. If you park off Grand Wash road, it’ll be near the beginning of the trail.
See the Petroglyphs
After you finish hiking the Grand Wash trail, head back west along Highway 24 towards the visitor center.
3.4 miles along the way you’ll come to a small parking lot on your right for the petroglyphs – this is your stop!
The petroglyphs here are actually pretty cool. To see them, you’ll walk toward the rock structure in front of you and LOOK UP.
You’ll see carvings of ancient people, as well as some animals! There’s a couple of binocular stations set up for you to get a better view at the petroglyphs, and a short bridge trail takes you away from the crowds to see even more petroglyphs!
- Length: 7.9 miles one way
Once you’re done with the petroglyphs, turn into Capitol Reef towards the visitor center, to start the scenic drive.
While not technically part of the scenic drive, you’ll immediately notice just how green this part of Capitol Reef is. There’s plenty of fresh grass, large trees, and deer wandering around.
This is one of the things that made me fall in love with Capitol Reef – there’s such beauty in the contrast of this lush landscape with the starkness of the desert.
You’ll drive past the Gifford House and the gorgeous, rustic barn and horses, past the entrance to the campground.
Eventually you’ll see a self-pay station to pay the $20 entry fee for this portion of the park. It goes by the honor system, so please don’t abuse it!
The scenic drive starts right here, and will you give stunning vistas of gorgeous, multi colored rocks, and Capitol Reef’s geology. Make sure you check out the park’s guide to the Scenic Drive, this is definitely one of the best ways to see Capitol Reef National Park in one day!
Hike the Capitol Gorge Trail
- Length: 2.0 miles roundtrip (out and back)
- Difficulty: easy
At the end of the Scenic Drive you’ll come across a dirt road on our left, the Capitol Gorge Road.
This a rough, 2.4 mile long dirt road that’s absolutely stunning! You’ll take this road all the way to the end where you’ll get to a dirt parking lot for the Capitol Gorge Trail.
This trail is a pretty easy 1 mile one way hike along a sandy wash through a deep canyon that will give you some pretty scenery.
One of the highlights of this hike is seeing both petroglyphs and the Pioneer Register pretty early on in the hike. I think this is one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef and highly recommend it.
The Pioneer Register is particularly cool: as pioneers passed through this exact same canyon as early as the 1800’s, many of them carved their names into the rock face, and it’s still preserved to date.
The trail ends with a short but steep climb that will give you some great views of the canyon below, as well as leading you to two large cracks in the rock that collect water (the “tanks”).
Have Pies at the Gifford House
After finishing up the Capitol Gorge trail, do the scenic drive back and stop at the Gifford House for yummy pies!
The Gifford House (or Homestead) is a historic structure that was built in the early 1900s to house a family of Mormon pioneers.
The grounds of the house include the barn which houses several horses to this day (and makes for picturesque views), as well as a picnic area.
Today, the house serves up delicious fresh baked fruit pies, bread, and other goodies. The Capitol Reef Natural History Association runs the sales, as well as a couple of small museum exhibits in the house – definitely worth checking out.
Note: It’s not uncommon for the pies to sell out, especially in the busy summer months. To avoid missing out, you could stop here before you do the scenic drive!
Explore the Orchards
You’ll notice the lush greenery of the Fruita district, but did you know that some of that is due to the Capitol Reef fruit orchards?
One of the most surprising parts about this national park to me was that there’s actual fruit orchards you can wander throughout and pick fresh fruit from. How cool is that?
There are 19 fruit orchards in the park growing apples, cherries, apricots, pears, peaches and more!
Fenced orchards are generally open from 9am to 5pm, and unfenced orchards from dawn to dusk. While sampling fruit in the orchards is free, there’s a self pay station for any fruit you want to take out with you.
Depending on the time of year you visit, the orchards might not have any ripe fruit for you to pick. Call the Fruit hotline ahead of time so you know what to expect, and check out Capitol Reef’s guide to the orchards for a map of where all the orchards are located.
Capitol Reef fruit hotline: call 435-425-3791, press #1 for visitor info, then press #5 for the fruit hotline.
Grab a Late Lunch in Torrey
If you didn’t pack a picnic lunch, head on over to the town of Torrey to grab a late lunch.
Torrey is located a short 15 minute drive west of Capitol Reef, and has a general store, and a couple of small restaurants that serve up hearty lunches.
- Slackers serves up yummy homemade style burgers. They have plenty of outdoor seating and the burgers were super filling. Note they’re not on yelp, but their sister pizza and deli restaurant is.
- Capitol Burger is a burger food truck that has amazing reviews.
- Paizlees serves up decent, but giant chili dogs and other meats. Not the best one of the bunch, but you’re limited in restaurants here.
Check out the Views at Panorama Point
After a late lunch, head back toward Capitol Reef. Along the way on Highway 24 you’ll come across signs for Panorama Point.
Stop at the parking lot and walk up the rocks to get panoramic views of the area. If you turn to face the road, you’ll get towering red rock formations directly across from you.
Looking around, you’ll be surrounded by sweeping vistas and stunning views.
You’ll notice a dirt road that meanders through the vistas – that same road will take you to some even more incredible views!
Admire Nature at Gooseneck Overlook
Once you’ve taken photos at Panorama point, take the dirt road for about a quarter mile to the end of the road until you come for signs for Gooseneck Overlook.
You’ll do a short walk up to the viewpoint and be met with a railing and viewing area overlooking the cliffs.
The views here are pretty cool: you get to see the way that the rivers have cut into the deep canyon below, creating twists and turns, called goosenecks.
This is a super easy walk with rewarding views!
Watch the Sunset at Sunset Point
- Length: 0.8 miles roundtrip (out and back)
- Difficulty: easy
Right next to the Goosenecks Overlook you’ll find a trail for Sunset Point. This super short trail is less than a half mile long one way, and ends up at a large rocky viewing area.
Here you’ll get pretty views of the colorful, steep cliffs that make up this area of the park.
This hike is super easy, and makes for a great place to watch the sunset and end your day in awe of the beauty in front of you.
Tip: bring a headlamp or flashlight of hiking this around sunset so you have plenty of light on your return. Also, don’t forget to bring a cozy sweater, as temperatures immediately start to drop once the sun goes down.
More Time? Do the Best Hikes in Capitol Reef
The above Capitol Reef National Park 1 day itinerary is only a TINY sampling of everything that there is to do in Capitol Reef.
There’s a ton of hikes in the Fruita district that make up some of the most easily accessible, best hikes in Capitol Reef. Hiking is one the best things to do in Capitol Reef, especially if you’re looking for memorable adventures.
If you have more time, check out some of the following hikes in Capitol Reef!
- Cassidy Arch: a 3.7 mile round trip hike that takes you to a natural arch formation where it’s rumored that the outlaw Butch Cassidy used to keep a hideout. This trail is considered strenuous, with over 600 feet in elevation gain.
- Hickman Bridge: a 1.8 mile round trip hike that takes you to a 133 feet long natural bridge and gives you really pretty canyon views. The hike is considered moderate, and is easily accessed from Highway 24.
- Fremont River: a 2.0 mile round trip hike that takes you along the rushing Fremont River, and is considered moderate. The first part of the hike is an easy stroll along the river, but ends up with some steep elevation gain and pretty views.
- Grand Wash Trail: 4.4 miles round trip along a deep canyon with stunning views. HIghly recommend this easy hike – plus you can combine it with the Cassidy Arch hike for a longer half day hike that’ll surely be one to remember.
- Capitol Gorge: 2.0 miles round trip and super easy and flat. This is the hike you’ll want to do to see petroglyphs up close, as well as the Pioneer Register.
To help you plan in advance, check out Capitol Reef’s guide to hiking in the Fruita district.
Bonus #1: Explore Cathedral Valley
If you have multiple days to spend in Capitol Reef, you’ll definitely want to explore Cathedral Valley. Located on the north end of the park, this area is extremely isolated and rugged, which lends to its beauty.
In Cathedral Valley you’ll find huge rock formations towering above you, resembling ornate gothic cathedrals. The most famous of these are the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, huge monolithic structures.
Getting to Cathedral Valley is an adventure in and of itself. You need a high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicle, and you’ll need to ford the Fremont River.
Once that obstacle is out of the way, the main road is a 57.6 mile loop called the Cathedral Valley Driving Loop tour that’ll take anywhere from 6-8 hours to complete.
Because visiting Cathedral Valley requires you to be highly prepared, I don’t recommend you do this at the end of your one day in Capitol Reef. This section of the park demands time and planning, but the sheer beauty of it makes it worth the trek.
If you’re planning to visit Cathedral Valley, I highly recommend you start here. If you’d like to visit but don’t want to make the trip alone, take a guided tour. This one or this one are good, albeit expensive, options.
Bonus: Explore the Waterpocket Fold
A bit more accessible than Cathedral Valley, the Waterpocket Fold makes up the southern part of Capitol Reef National Park.
This part of the park is home to stunning slot canyons and amazing backcountry Capitol Reef hikes.
Getting here is a bit easier than Cathedral Valley: there’s a combination of paved and unpaved roads that even some passenger cars can navigate easily.
In the Waterpocket District you’ll be able to see amazing geology, including Strike Valley, where you can see colorful rock layers that have eroded at different rates.
Tips for Visiting Capitol Reef National Park
- Capitol Reef is located in a pretty remote part of Utah. Cell service throughout the park is practically nonexistent. I recommend you download or print maps of the park ahead of time so you can orient yourself.
- Bring PLENTY of water whenever you’re hiking here. Whenever I visit the desert or any arid environment I bring along a large water jug to keep in my car in case of emergencies, you never know what could go wrong.
- It can get super COLD here. Depending on the time year, roads (including the scenic drive) might close due to snow. Even if you visit during the summer, plan for cooler weather at night by bringing a cozy sweater with you.
- The risk of flash floods are very real here. Don’t hike down canyons if there’s even a small chance of rain, canyon washes can turn to rivers in an instant. The risk of flash floods is greater between July to September, but always look at the weather forecast or check with a park ranger before you head out.
Where to Stay Near Capitol Reef
If you’re spending the night near Capitol Reef, you have a couple of options, from camping to unique hotels and Airbnb’s in the town of Torrey.
- Fruita Campground: the only campground in the Fruita district of Capitol Reef, this is by far the best campground that I’ve ever stayed at. The camping spots are in a park-like setting, with soft green grass, and the sound of the nearby Fremont River lulling you to sleep. Campsites are reservable from March 1 – October 31, cost $20/night, and book up fast in advance. Check availability and book here.
Free campsites can be found at Cathedral Valley and in the Waterpocket Fold at the Cedar Mesa campground. Both are primitive, remote, and first come first served, but make a good base if you plan to explore their respective districts.
- For a more comfortable stay, check out this stunning Airbnb offering sweeping views of the breathtaking landscape that surrounds Capitol Reef. Plus, you’ll only be a short 10-15 minute drive to the park!
- For a luxe stay or glamping experience, nothing quite beats the Capitol Reef Resort. This hotel is super close to the park, and offers you the ability to sleep in a Conestoga wagon or a teepee, in addition to cabins and guest rooms. Plus, they have a pool, hot tub, and offer tons of extras, like guided horseback riding tours, llama tours, and much more. Book your stay here!
Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
The weather in Capitol Reef is mostly pleasant year-round, with summer temperatures hovering in the high 80’s (F), low 90’s (F), and occasionally reaching past 100 degrees fahrenheit.
Winter usually brings snow, and it’s not uncommon for park roads to close.
I prefer cooler weather for hiking, so I’d recommend visiting Capitol Reef National Park in the late spring or early fall, when temperatures are likely to be in the high 60’s (F), low 70’s (F).
As for crowds, this park doesn’t get very many, even in the busiest, peak summer months.
How to Get to Capitol Reef National Park
You’ll need a car in order to get to Capitol Reef. If you plan to visit the remote Cathedral Valley district, you’ll want a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Capitol Reef is located a little over 5 hours away by car from Las Vegas, and about a 3.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City.
If you’re coming from Arches or Canyonlands, it’ll take you about 2.5 hours to get to Capitol Reef. If you’re coming from Bryce Canyon, you’ll want to budget about an hour and a half to drive Utah’s scenic Highway 12.
What to Pack for Capitol Reef National Park
If you’re only planning to spend one day in Capitol Reef, you don’t need a ton of stuff with you, but there are some things that you won’t want to forget!
- Hiking boots: you need a good pair of hiking boots if you want to hit the trails and explore Capitol Reef. These are the boots that got me through 10 days in Utah, and these are another great option.
- Hiking socks: probably the most underrated of all things to bring, but absolute worth the investment. These are my favorite, they helped prevent blisters while getting my feet wet hiking in Zion!
- Sweater: Once the sun goes down, the weather can get really cold. This super cute sweater is so cozy and affordable, you might want one in every color!
- Sunscreen: yeah I know – boring! BUT you need it, and if you’re like me, you need the reminder! I love this brand, it smells like coconuts,
- Reusable water bottle: you need to drink plenty of water while in Capitol Reef, especially if you’re hiking. This is my go to water bottle, and this one is also great if you prefer to keep your water icy-cold.
- Hiking hat: another thing I always bring with me! There’s not a ton of shade in Utah, so create your own. Get a cute, affordable hat. You won’t regret it.
- Lip balm: I learned just how much the Utah sun can mess up your lips the hard way, and bought lip balm in Utah the first chance I got. Learn from my mistakes! Get some lip balm with SPF while you’re at it to protect your lips.
Other Posts You’ll Love
- Looking to visit all of Utah’s National Parks in one epic road trip? This Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary will help you plan a perfect trip!
- Have a day to spare? Don’t forget to visit Bryce Canyon National Park or Arches National Park for an amazing adventure you won’t forget!