Julie United States 10 Comments

With sandstone cliffs, white domes, arches, and slot canyons, Capitol Reef National Park is a rugged, extraordinary place to explore. This park preserves the Waterpocket Fold, a rippling of the Earth’s crust that is 100 miles long.

Not a big fan of hiking? One of the things that makes Capitol Reef so easy to visit is that you can see quite a bit of it right from your car. With a highway that runs through the center of the park and a scenic drive that tops the list of the best things to do, you can visit some of the most dramatic spots in Capitol Reef without ever stepping out of your car.

Of course, if you want to go hiking, there are lots of options. From easy, one-mile hikes to all day affairs, there is something here for everyone.

If you have one day or less to spend in Capitol Reef, here are the best things to do with your time. This is just a short list of things to do. For a much more extensive list, click here to learn about how to go deeper into the park for some very unique experiences. 

8 Great Things to Do in Capitol Reef

1. Highway 24

Highway 24 is the main road that passes through the park. This road twists and turns along the Fremont River. It’s a beautiful drive, with scenic pull-offs and parking lots with access to short hiking trails.

Capitol Reef in December

Capitol Reef in Winter

There is no fee to drive on Highway 24, so you can tour part of the park without paying an entrance fee. On this list, you can drive Highway 24, see the petroglyphs, hike to Hickman Bridge, and visit Panorama and Sunset Points without paying the entrance fee.

2. Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

One of the best things to do in the park is to drive the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. This paved road is 7.9 miles long (one way) and takes you past some of the most stunning scenery in the park.

Note: Scenic Drive will be closed summer 2024 for a rehabilitation project. Get the full details on the National Park Service website.

Scenic Drive

To drive the Scenic Drive, you will have to pay a $20 fee. You will pay this at a self-pay station just past the Fruita Campground. The pass is valid for 7 days.

3. Grand Wash Trail and Cassidy Arch

While driving down Scenic Drive, you have the option to take the Grand Wash Spur (1.2 miles one way), a gravel road that travels through a long canyon. From the car park at the end of the road, you can hike to Cassidy Arch or hike the Grand Wash Trail.

Cassidy Arch

Grand Wash Hike

4. Capitol Gorge Road and the Pioneer Register

The Scenic Drive dead-ends at Capitol Gorge Road. Capitol Gorge Road is a gravel road that travels 2.2 miles (one way) past enormous canyon walls and is one of the most stunning drives in the park.

Capitol Gorge Road ends at the trailhead for the Capitol Gorge Trail. This 2-mile trail (round-trip) is an easy hike through a narrow gorge. Carved onto the canyon walls is the Pioneer Register, the names of settlers and miners who traveled through this area in the late 1800’s.

Pioneer Register

5. Hickman Bridge

This is one of the best short hikes to do in Capitol Reef. Walk along the Fremont River and then hike up to a spectacular viewpoint where you can look out over Highway 24 and Cohab Canyon. Before reaching Hickman Bridge, you descend down into a canyon and get to see a much smaller arch named Nels Johnson Natural Bridge. The trail ends at Hickman Bridge, a large, natural arch that is tucked away near the back of the canyon.

Hickman Bridge

Capitol Reef Viewpoint

This hike is 1.8 miles round trip, is slightly strenuous, and takes about one hour. Park in the parking lot located on Highway 24. You can do this hike without paying the entrance fee.

6. See the Petroglyphs

You can see rock art figures (petroglyphs) created by ancient Native Americans on the drive along Highway 24. Park in the small parking lot on Highway 24 located between the Hickman Bridge trailhead and Fruita. It’s a very short walk to a viewpoint where you can see these figures carved onto the rock wall.

Petroglyphs Capitol Reef

7. Panorama Point

Panorama Point offers beautiful views over Highway 24 as it cuts its way through the park. This viewpoint is located just off Highway 24 and it is a quick, easy way to get a spectacular view of Capitol Reef Park.

Panorama Point Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park

8. Sunset Point and Goosenecks Overlook

From Panorama Point, continue down the gravel access road until it dead-ends at the parking lot for Goosenecks Overlook.

From the parking lot, it is just a short uphill walk to a viewpoint over the Goosenecks. This is where the Sulphur Creek carved out a canyon, its curving path resembling that of a gooseneck.

Goosenecks Overlook Capitol Reef


Walk back to the parking lot and then take the trail to Sunset Point. This is a short, fun trail to a gorgeous overlook in Capitol Reef (we liked Sunset Point more than the Gooseneck Overlook, but both are worth it).

Sunset Point Trail Capitol Reef

Hiking Capitol Reef

Kara Rivenbark

One Day in Capitol Reef

This trail is 0.8 miles round trip and takes about a half an hour. Sunset Point gets its name because it is one of the best spots in Capitol Reef to watch the sunset.

Capitol Reef Travel Guide

How to Plan Your Time

Here is a sample itinerary if you have plans for a quick visit to Capitol Reef National Park. This works well if you are driving through the park on a road trip, for example, if you plan to visit Capitol Reef while driving from Bryce Canyon to Moab or Salt Lake City (or vice versa).

If you are coming from Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, or Salt Lake City, you will enter Capitol Reef from the west.

Drive into the park, turn right onto Scenic Drive, pay your park fee, and spend the next few hours on this scenic drive. Along the way, you have the option to drive Grand Wash Road and hike Cassidy Arch and/or the Grand Wash or drive Capitol Gorge Road and hike out to the Pioneer Register. Once back on Highway 24, hike to Hickman Bridge and see the petroglyphs. End with sunset views from Panorama Point and Sunset Point. If your next destination is Moab (Arches and Canyonlands National Parks), you will head east out of Capitol Reef.

If you enter Capitol Reef from the east, hike Hickman Bridge, see the petroglyphs, drive Scenic Drive, hike to Cassidy Arch, and end with Panorama and Sunset Point.

Driving Distances from Nearby Destinations

Here are the driving distances and times for nearby destinations in Utah.

  • Moab: 144 miles, 2.5 hours
  • Bryce Canyon National Park: 120 miles, 1.25 hours
  • Zion National Park: 182 miles, 3.25 hours
  • Goblin Valley State Park: 68 miles, 1.5 hours
  • Salt Lake City: 225 miles, 3.5 hours
  • Escalante: 75 miles, 1.75 hours

Know Before You Go

Best Time to Go to Capitol Reef: The spring and fall months are the best times to visit. Weather conditions are pleasant and you can avoid the larger crowds that arrive in the summer. During the summer months, expect soaring temperatures and large crowds (although Capitol Reef does not get the legendary crowds like Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Zion). During the winter months, the park is less crowded, but temperatures get below freezing and snow is likely. Snow can close the roads and make hiking more difficult. Check the status of the roads on the official National Park Service website.

Entrance Fees: It costs $20 per vehicle to drive the Scenic Drive and this is good for seven days. You can also purchase an annual National Parks pass (called the America the Beautiful Pass) for $80. With this pass you can visit over 2,000 federal recreation sites. This is worth it if you also plan to visit more of Utah’s Mighty 5, including Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, or any other US National Park or National Monument within the year.

Where to Stay near Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef Resort. Located in Torrey, very close to the west entrance of Capitol Reef, this property offers a wide variety of rooms. You can sleep in a standard hotel room or even sleep in a teepee or a Conestoga Wagon. We spent five nights here and had a great experience. The rooms were clean and quiet. The convenient onsite restaurant, The Pioneer Kitchen, serves decent food and staff are very friendly.

Skyview Hotel. On our next visit to Capitol Reef National Park, this is where we would stay. This 3-star hotel offers standard hotel rooms with amazing views as well as different style tents. Check out the premium tent with skylight…this is one of most unique and highly rated properties in Torrey.

SkyRidge Inn. Located in Torrey, this beautiful property offers standard hotel rooms as well as deluxe suites and even a 3 bedroom villa that is perfect for families or small groups.

Canyon Country Lodge. This highly rated property offers large rooms that can accommodate up to four people. This lodge is located in Escalante, so this property works well if you are looking for a place to stay on the drive between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon or Grand Staircase-Escalante.

About Our Visit

Our first visit to Capitol Reef National Park was at the very end of December 2018 during the government shutdown. The park was open, however, a recent snowstorm closed Scenic Drive, cutting our visit short.

We returned to Capitol Reef in November 2020, spending four wonderful days here. The longer we were here, the more we wondered why this park is so overlooked. The scenic drives, the hiking trails, and the backcountry experiences are amazing. 

Since our second visit, I wrote a more in-depth article about Capitol Reef. Click here for a bigger list of things to do, with more ideas on how to plan your time. 

Where to Go Next

Here are links to more of Utah’s Mighty 5, plus, links to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is located very close to Capitol Reef National Park.

UTAH: To read all of our articles about Utah, check out our Utah Travel Guide.

UTAH’S MIGHTY 5: Utah’s Mighty 5 is a collection of five national parks in Utah. Learn more about the parks and how to plan your visit in our Guide to Utah’s Mighty 5.

ARCHES AND CANYONLANDS: If you have limited time, learn how to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in one day.

ZION NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Zion National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.

ZION SHUTTLE: If you are in Zion for a quick visit, or you don’t want to be bothered with the shuttle, here are 11 things to do without riding the Zion shuttle.


Are you planning a trip to the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.


Capitol Reef Travel Guide


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Comments 10

  1. Avatar for Greg Warren
    Greg Warren

    Thanks for your comments on these trips. We moved to Utah 5 years ago and finally made it to Moab. We used your guide to visit Canyonlands in May. We went directly to Grand View where we found a nice parking space with a picnic table and bbq. We hiked the 1.8 mile hike out to an awesome vast viewpoint. Hardly anyone was on that path. Good for older people or minor knee/hip problems. We entered the park at around 10 am. We are using you guide as well for our day trip to Capital Reef tomorrow. We are staying in a luxury cabin at the Capital Reef Resort. Can we drive those gravel road with a minivan? Tia Greg & Fran, 2 seniors

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      There are 2 gravel roads in Capitol Reef that are well graded and suitable for most vehicles, including minivans: Capitol Gorge Drive and Grand Wash Road. Most likely these are what you are referring to. However, there is a loop, called Looping the Fold, that might be suitable for your minivan but it depends on recent weather conditions and I recommend checking with the rangers in the visitor center before doing this drive. Have a great time in Capitol Reef! Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for de Cossy Forsyth Annie
    de Cossy Forsyth Annie

    Capital Reef Resort does not take pets. We have a wonderful 12 year old golden retriever who is road tested. After 2 months in Breckenridge renting a house we are headed to Capital Reef for 2 nights . Any recommendations on a special place to stay? Disappointed that CRR isn’t pet friendly as it looks like what we are looking for.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  3. Avatar for Darla
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  4. Avatar for Jesse
    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Navajo Knobs is our favorite but it is 10 miles round trip and takes 5 to 7 hours. You could do the first half of this hike, going to the Rim Overlook, which is 5 miles and takes 2 to 3 hours. Cassidy Arch is a lot of fun and it’s relatively short and this would be my second pick. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for LAUREN SCHLUSSER

    Hi! I just want to say that I find your blog posts incredibly helpful! I’m currently planning a cross country trip and your posts are helping me plan what to see in a limited amount of time. I’m covering a lot of ground and traveling with a young puppy, and your insights are making the planning process so much easier. I also love that a lot of your “Best of” posts for the Mighty 5 feature late fall and winter visits. This gives me peace of mind because I’ll be traveling in November. Thank you so much!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      You’re welcome! We will also be in Capitol Reef in November this year. Tim and I are doing a 10 day road trip through Utah to update our content and go into the backcountry of several of the national parks. Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon are near Capitol Reef and they are worth looking in to for your visit. We haven’t been yet, but they are also places we will be visiting. Have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

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