The Complete Guide to Capitol Reef National Park (from a local)

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In this guide to Capitol Reef National Park, I’m giving you everything you need to know so you can plan the perfect trip. Other guides are written by travelers who only spent a day or two in the park. This guide is written from my experience living in Utah and visiting the park many times over the years.

The complete guide to Capitol Reef National Park from a Utah local

Capitol Reef is a large park with a lot to see and do, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead.

The question is: what do I need to know to plan my trip and maximize my time? Well, that’s where this guide comes into play.

In this post we’ll cover:

  • Basic Information (hours and fees)
  • Getting to Capitol Reef National Park
  • Best Time to Visit
  • Top Things to See and Do
  • Where to Stay in Capitol Reef
  • Other Things to do Nearby
Hiking in Capitol Reef National Park in the morning

Capitol Reef National Park Basic Information

Operating Hours and Seasons:

Capitol Reef is a 24-hour park! It’s open all day every day.

The visitors center, however, is not. See more below.

Visitors Center:

The Capitol Reef visitor center is at the intersection of UT-24 and the Scenic Drive within the park.

Hours vary by season, and there may be holiday closures.

The standard hours are 8 AM to 4:30 PM.

In the winter, the hours are 9 AM to 4 PM.

You can call 435-425-3791 to get the most current visitor center information and operating hours.

Fees:

$20 for a private vehicle

$15 for motorcycle

Passes are valid for 7 days. You can come and go as often as you want in those 7 days.

The waterpocket fold in Capitol Reef national park in Utah

Alerts:

The latest alerts, conditions, and restrictions can be found here.

Closest Town:

The closest town with lodging, groceries, restaurants, and gas is Torrey, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park map:

A national park map can be really helpful for planning your trip.

  • You can download and/or print the main Capitol Reef map here which shows the entire park.
  • The visitors center, and a lot of the main attractions and hikes, are in the Fruita area of the park. See a close-up of this section on the Fruita area map and guide.

Both of these maps will be helpful to have open as you read below and plan your trip!

Hiking to Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef

Where is Capitol Reef National Park?

Capitol Reef National Park is located in Torrey, Utah.

How to get to capitol reef national park:

Capitol Reef NP is about 3.5 hours driving from Salt Lake City (Utah), 5 hours driving from Las Vegas (Nevada), or 3 hours driving from Grand Junction (Colorado).

The closest major airports are Salt Lake City, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado.

Going on a hike in Capitol Reef national park
Capitol Reef hiking in the Fall months

Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is open year-round.

I’ve visited the park in all the seasons, and each one is beautiful and unique.

The best time for you depends on the activities you want to enjoy.

If I had to choose, I would say that the Fall months are my favorite for hiking and camping.

In the Fall, temperatures during the day are comfortable, and the nights aren’t too cold yet.

The graph above shows the average highs and lows throughout the year to help you decide on the best time for your trip.

Average temperatures for Capitol Reef National Park throughout the year
Hiking through the canyon in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Top Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef Hiking

There are some great day hikes in Capitol Reef national park!

Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park

Below are some of the best hikes in the Fruita area of the park:

  • Hickman Bridge Trail – This trail leads you up to (and under!) a 133-foot natural bridge. There are plenty of beautiful canyon views along the way too. This hike is about 1.8 miles roundtrip.
  • Rim Overlook Trail – This is a 4.6 mile (roundtrip) strenuous hike where you’ll see panoramas of historic Fruita and the Waterpocket Fold.
  • Capitol Gorge Trail – An easy 2.0 mile roundtrip hike in a deep canyon.
  • Grand Wash – This is a 4.4 mile roundtrip easy hike through a narrow deep canyon.
  • Cassidy Arch – This is one of the more popular hikes in the park, but honestly, it’s not my favorite. The hike up to the arch is really beautiful, but the arch itself is a little underwhelming in my opinion. It’s 3.4 miles roundtrip.
  • Cohab Canyon – This is a 3.4 mile roundtrip hike with views of the Fruita area and beautiful canyons. This trail reminded me of Yosemite National Park in California for some reason!

Capitol Reef Backpacking

There’s also some great backpacking in Capitol Reef!

The most popular backcountry hikes in the southern section of the park are:

Backpacking in Halls Creek Narrows in Utah

I haven’t done the Muley Twist Canyons (yet!), but Halls Creek Narrows is one of my favorite backpacking trips in Utah.

A backcountry permit is required for camping outside of established campgrounds.

The permit is free, but it must be obtained in person at the visitor center during normal business hours.

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

There are several scenic drives in Capitol Reef.

The most popular is just called Scenic Drive.

Scenic drive in Capitol Reef national park

The Scenic Drive is a 7.9 mile paved road, suitable for passenger vehicles. It usually takes about an hour and a half roundtrip to make the drive.

There are two dirt roads that spur off of the Scenic Drive: Grand Wash Road and Capitol Gorge Road. These side roads enter canyons and lead to trailheads.

Driving through these canyons is a really cool experience (pictured above), and if you want to stop and do some of the hikes there, then this drive could easily turn into a full-day experience.

These two spur roads are usually suitable for passenger cars and RV’s up to 27 ft in length.

Note: The Scenic Drive, Grand Wash, and Capitol Gorge roads can be closed due to snow, ice, mud, and flash floods.

Driving in Capitol Reef national park

Other Scenic Drives:

Other much more remote and longer unpaved scenic drives in the park are in Cathedral Valley, Notom-Bullfrog Road, and the Burr Trail Switchbacks along the Burr Trail Road.

You’ll need high clearance vehicles and at least a full day to fully explore these roads.

Make sure you pack plenty of water, food, gas, adequate clothing, a shovel, and emergency supplies. There’s no cell service or gas stations on these roads.

Points of Interest

  • Panorama Point – This is a really cool photo spot for sunrise or sunset. It’s also a great place to bring binoculars or a telescope for some incredible star-gazing on a dark night.
Petroglyph panel in Capitol Reef national park
  • Petroglyph Panel – The petroglyph panel is so cool. Bring some binoculars if you have them because the petroglyphs can be hard to spot!
  • Gifford House – You can buy the most delicious mini fruit pies at this historic homestead!
Mini pie from the Gifford House in Fruita
Strawberry pie in Capitol Reef national park
  • Fruit Orchards – The fruit orchards have apple, peach, cherry, pear, plum, apricot, and almond trees! You may pick and eat fruit while in the orchards when they’re open. There’s a small fee to take fruit with you out of the orchards. Harvest times will vary. Check with the visitors center to find out what’s in season during your visit.
  • Temple of the Sun and Moon – These incredible features are in the remote Cathedral Valley section of the park. See more about Cathedral Valley below.

Gear Spotlight:

Binoculars to take on your trip

I love bringing binoculars on all my trips!

As I mentioned above, binoculars are great for stargazing at Panorama Point, seeing more details in the Petroglyph panel, and noticing more of the incredible scenery in the park.

Cathedral Valley District

Cathedral Valley is a remote section of the park that’s only accessed via rough desert roads.

Vehicles with high clearance can usually drive the roads without difficulty, however, road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent weather conditions.

Temple of the Moon in Cathedral Valley in Utah

Spring and summer rains and winter snows can leave the roads muddy, washed out, and impassable even to high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Check at the visitor center for road conditions before traveling.

Make sure you carry plenty of water, food, gas, adequate clothing, a shovel, and emergency supplies. There is no, or very poor, cell service at best.

No water is available in Cathedral Valley. There’s one primitive campground that has a pit toilet.

There are some great hikes and overlooks in this area of the park too. You can easily spend days exploring just this section of the park.

Traveling to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Where to Stay in Capitol Reef

Camping in the Park

There are no lodges or restaurants in the park, however, there is camping.

Fruita Campground: Campsites are reservable from March 1 – October 31.

Reservations can be made here and are accepted 6 months ahead of time. From November 1 – February 28, all campsites are first-come, first-served. The cost is $20 per night.

Primitive Campgrounds: Capitol Reef also has 2 primitive campgrounds – Cathedral Valley Campground and Cedar Mesa Campground. These campgrounds are free.

They have a pit toilet and no running water.

Check road conditions at the visitor’s center. Depending on the weather, the roads to these campgrounds might not be open.

These campgrounds are first-come, first-served. No reservations.

Capitol Reef np at sunrise

Camping on Public Land Nearby

There’s also some BLM land and national forest land outside of the national park where you can find free camping.

Lodging in Torrey, Utah

Torrey, Utah is the closest town to Capitol Reef that has lodging, gas, and food.

Torrey is just 11 miles west of the visitors center.

There are plenty of hotels in Torrey, Utah with beautiful views and easy access to the park.

It’s important to note that many local businesses are closed during the winter and on Sundays.

Water in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Nearby Attractions

There are so many other interesting and beautiful places to explore nearby Capitol Reef National Park.

1) Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley is a small Utah state park in the middle of the desert.

This is another remote area, but it’s easy to access along a paved road.

There’s some cool hiking and camping in the park that will make you feel like you’re on another planet.

In fact, scenes from the movie Galaxy Quest were filmed in Goblin Valley. Give it a watch before you go!

2) Fish Lake

Fish Lake is a large and beautiful lake. There’s camping, fishing, hiking, ATV roads, and boating.

You’ll also get to see the Pando Aspen Forest which is believed to be the largest, most dense organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds!

3) Utah National Parks Road Trip

You can take one epic road trip to visit all 5 of Utah’s national parks.

All 5 of the parks are very different from one another, and they’re all beautiful.

I have a full Utah national parks road trip guide that goes over all the details!

4) Highway 12 Scenic Drive

Highway 12 from Torrey through Escalante is such an incredible drive.

There are many beautiful stopping points and hikes along the way.

Halls Creek overlook in Capitol Reef national park

Now I’d love to hear from you – are you planning a trip to Capitol Reef?

Comment below with the places you’re most excited to see!

If you have any questions as you’re planning, feel free to ask me below.

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