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With beautiful scenic drives, slot canyons, backcountry roads, historical sites, thrilling hikes, and stunning landscapes, Capitol Reef is an unexpectedly amazing national park. If you are planning your Capitol Reef National Park itinerary, we have lots of information to help you plan your trip.

Capitol Reef is a highly underrated park. The views and the hiking trails easily contend with the other Mighty 5 national parks. Capitol Reef rivals Zion when it comes to hiking, and in Capitol Reef, you will have far fewer crowds to deal with and it is much easier to get around.

For those with just a day or two, I recommend visiting the highlights in the heart of the park. But for those with more time and a sense of adventure, explore the backcountry roads for some of Utah’s coolest travel experiences.

In this guide, I share with you the best things to do in Capitol Reef, from the most popular spots to rugged, remote adventures. Learn how to combine these experiences together to create an incredible Capitol Reef itinerary.

About this Capitol Reef National Park Itinerary

This itinerary can be done all year. The best time to visit Capitol Reef is in the spring and fall months, when the weather is mild. In the summer, expect sweltering temperatures. And in the winter, temperatures can get below freezing and snow is likely.

In this Capitol Reef National Park itinerary, I give you suggestions from one day in the park to much longer. The more time you have, the better, especially if you want to explore the backcountry.

If you plan to venture into the backcountry, at a minimum we recommend having a high-clearance SUV. To visit Cathedral Valley, a high-clearance SUV with 4WD is highly recommended.

Geography Lesson

Capitol Reef is located in southern Utah.

Running in a north – south direction, this park is very long and narrow. The park is 60 miles long north to south but only 6 miles wide (average) east to west.

Capitol Reef National Park preserves the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. Erosion along this fault line has revealed canyons, arches, fossils, and massive domes.

Highway 24 travels east – west through the park. This is where most visitors spend their time, as this is the road you will drive when linking Bryce Canyon to Moab, if you are touring Utah’s Mighty 5. The more remote sections of the park lie to the north and south of Highway 24.

Map of Capitol Reef

Top 10 Things to Do in Capitol Reef

The list of things to do in Capitol Reef is very long. Here are 10 of the best experiences to have in the park.

  • Drive Highway 24
  • Take in the view from Sunset and Panorama Point
  • Drive Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
  • Drive Capitol Gorge Road
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Cassidy Arch
  • Cathedral Valley
  • Loop the Fold
  • Have Pie at the Gifford Homestead
  • See the Petroglyphs

For more information about what to do in Capitol Reef National Park, take a look at our article 14 Amazing Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park.

How Many Days Do You Need in Capitol Reef National Park?

If you want to visit the highlights of Capitol Reef and spend some time venturing into the backcountry, you will need at least three days in Capitol Reef.

With one day in Capitol Reef, you can explore the sights along Highway 24, drive Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, and do one or two hikes.

Each additional day you add gives you more time for hiking, to visit Cathedral Valley, to Loop the Fold, or go backpacking in the remote regions of the park.

Capitol Reef Geology

A view of Highway 24 and the Waterpocket fold.

Capitol Reef National Park Itineraries

Below I list 5 different ways to spend one day in Capitol Reef National Park. You can piece together the days that look and sound the most interesting to you, to create your 2, 3, 4 day (or longer) Capitol Reef National Park itinerary.

The one day itinerary gives you a great overview of the park and it includes the main highlights. I recommend doing this on your first day in the park. The subsequent days can be arranged in any order.

Day 1 in Capitol Reef National Park: The Highlights

There are several different ways to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Most people spend half to a full day in the park, visiting the top sights as they drive from Bryce Canyon to Moab (or vice versa). For the best experience, plan at least one overnight stay near Capitol Reef, as this gives you more time in the park.

Below is a one day itinerary for Capitol Reef that starts and ends in Torrey, but if you have less time (for example, you only have several hours as you are driving through Utah), read our article One Perfect Day in Capitol Reef National Park for information about how to visit Capitol Reef on a quick visit.

Morning: Go Hiking

There are several trails that start along Scenic Drive that we recommend. Take your pick from the list below (or check out our Capitol Reef Hiking Guide). If you aren’t a big fan of hiking, I recommend the Grand Wash Trail.

Cohab Canyon Trail. 3.4 miles, strenuous, 1.5 to 3 hours. The main reason to do this hike is for aerial views over Fruita. This trail starts in historic Fruita and then rapidly climbs up into the sandstone cliffs. It meanders through a canyon (Cohab Canyon) before climbing one final time. Once on top of the mesa, the trail splits to two different viewpoints, the north overlook and the south overlook.

Things to do in Capitol Reef

View from the Cohab Canyon Trail

Grand Wash. Up to 4.8 miles, easy, 2 hours. The Grand Wash is a very wide canyon, similar to the Narrows in Zion, only without the Virgin River. This is a long hike if you walk the entire length of the canyon, but you can turn around when you are ready. The best part of the hike, where the canyon is the narrowest (called The Narrows), is about one mile from the start, so you can see the best of the Grand Wash if you only hike 2 to 3 miles round trip.

Grand Wash

Grand Wash

Grand Wash + Cassidy Arch. 3.4 miles, moderate difficulty, 2 to 3 hours. The hike to Cassidy Arch is one of the most thrilling trails in Capitol Reef National Park. Easily accessible from Scenic Drive, this short hike features stunning scenery, views over the Grand Wash, and the chance to stand on Cassidy Arch. On this hike, you can view the arch from afar or walk across it for one of the most unique photo ops in Capitol Reef National Park.

Cassidy Arch Capitol Reef National Park itinerary

Cassidy Arch

Midday: Scenic Drive, Capitol Gorge, Gifford Homestead

Spend the middle part of the day driving Scenic Drive. Take it to the end and then drive Capitol Gorge Road. This is a 2.3 mile gravel road that twists and turns through a canyon and you have great views the entire way. It is suitable for vehicles under 27 feet in length. This road ends at Capitol Gorge, where you can walk 1.5 miles round trip to see the Pioneer Register.

Capitol Gorge Road

Capitol Gorge Road

When Mormon settlers passed through this area in the late 18th century and early 19th century, they scrawled their names on the canyon walls. This collection of names is called the Pioneer Register. In this same canyon, you can also see American Indian petroglyphs.

Return to Fruita and have pie at the Gifford Homestead.

Afternoon: Sights Along Highway 24

Finish your day with the sights along Highway 24. See the petroglyph panel, and if you still have energy, hike to Hickman Bridge (1.8 miles round-trip, moderate difficulty, 2 to 3 hours). End with sunset or late-afternoon views from Panorama and Sunset Points. Have dinner in Torrey.

Capitol Reef National Park itinerary

Hickman Bridge

 

Sunset Point Capitol Reef National Park itinerary

Sunset Point

For full details on how to spend one day Capitol Reef National Park, read our article One Perfect Day in Capitol Reef National Park.

Day 2 in Capitol Reef National Park: Cathedral Valley

Driving through Cathedral Valley is one of Utah’s best backcountry experiences.

The Cathedral Valley Loop is a 58-mile scenic drive that is located north of the historic Fruita district. Few people travel out this way, to see this valley and its sandstone monoliths, colorful Bentonite hills, and vast desert scenery. But that’s part of its appeal. If you like the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring the backcountry, the Cathedral Valley Loop is an awesome drive to put on your to-do list.

Temple of the Sun and Moon Capitol Reef National Park itinerary

Temples of the Sun and Moon

 

Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley

 

Utah Photo Capitol Reef National Park itinerary

Bentonite Hills

There are no paved roads on this loop, so you must have a high clearance vehicle, and having a 4×4 is strongly recommended.

The highlights of this drive are seeing the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, overlooking Cathedral Valley and the South Desert, and taking your pick from several short hikes along the loop.

Driving the Cathedral Valley Loop takes an entire day.

You can shorten this drive by only going to the Temples of the Sun and Moon. This takes half of a day. With your additional time, you can go hiking in Capitol Reef.

For full details on how to do this, read our Guide to Cathedral Valley.

Day 3 in Capitol Reef National Park: Loop the Fold

Looping the Fold is similar to Cathedral Valley, as you drive on gravel roads through a remote area of the park. This drive is much less popular than Cathedral Valley, but it is just as scenic, in my opinion. If you like the idea of hiking through short, easy slot canyons, add this day to your Capitol Reef National Park itinerary.

This very scenic drive takes you through the remote, southern section of Capitol Reef. On this drive, you will circle around part the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that stretches for almost 100 miles. Desert vistas, slot canyons, colorful hills made of bentonite and sandstone, and marine fossils are just a few of the things that you will see when you Loop the Fold.

How to Loop the Fold

Burr Trail Switchbacks

Burr Trail Switchbacks

 Hikes in Utah

Entering Surprise Canyon

The highlights of this drive are the Burr Trail Switchbacks, hiking Surprise and Headquarters Canyons, driving through Long Canyon, and taking in the view from Strike Valley Overlook.

This drive will take one full day of your time.

For full details on how to do this, read our Guide to Looping the Fold.

Day 4 in Capitol Reef National Park: Go Hiking

If you are an avid hiker, consider adding on one or more days to go hiking in Capitol Reef National Park. Use this time to hike the trails you did not get to on day one, or take your pick from the list below.

Chimney Rock. 3.6 miles, moderate, 2 to 4 hours. If you are looking for a relatively short hike that isn’t too challenging and offers great views over the park, hike the Chimney Rock loop. The views of Fruita and the waterpocket fold are spectacular.

Rim Overlook. 4.6 miles, moderate, 2 to 3 hours. The main reason for doing this hike are for jaw-dropping views of Fruita and Capitol Reef National Park. It is an incredible view as you get to look right along Scenic Drive and the waterpocket fold.

Rim Overlook

Rim Overlook

Navajo Knobs. 9.5 miles, strenuous, 4 to 7 hours. This hike includes Rim Overlook and then it keeps going. From the Navajo Knobs you have 360° views, arguably one of the best viewpoints in Capitol Reef National Park.

Navajo Knobs

Navajo Knobs

Slot Canyons on Notom-Bullfrog Road. There are three challenging slot canyons on Notom-Bullfrog Road. Burro Wash is 7.5 miles long, Cottonwood Wash is 6 miles long, and Sheets Gulch, at 14 miles, is the longest and most challenging of the bunch.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon. This hike starts near the Strike Valley Overlook on the Looping the Fold drive. It is 9 miles round trip. You will hike through a slot canyon, past several arches, and have views over Strike Valley.

Day 5+ in Capitol Reef National Park: Multi-day Hikes

There a few long distance hikes that are typically done as multi-day backpacking trips. These will add two to four days to your Capitol Reef National Park itinerary.

Lower Muley Twist Canyon is a 23 mile loop that is typically done as an overnight backpacking trip. On this hike you will see caves, canyons, and a cowboy camp.

Halls Creek Narrows is over 20 miles round trip and typically done as a 3 to 4 day backpacking trip. You will hike through a wide slot canyon, similar to the Zion Narrows.

How to Get to Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is located in southern Utah. The closest town is Torrey, which has several hotels, restaurants, and a grocery store.

Most people visit Capitol Reef National Park when road tripping through Utah’s Mighty 5.

The closest major airport is Salt Lake City International Airport. Las Vegas, with its large international airport, is also a good option. Canyonlands Regional Airport, Grand Junction Regional Airport and St. George Regional Airport are a little closer but flight options will be limited.

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

When to Go

The spring and fall months are the best times to visit Capitol Reef National Park. Weather conditions are pleasant and you can avoid the larger crowds that arrive in the summer.

During the summer months, expect sweltering 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.

Tyler Kara Tim Capitol Reef National Park itinerary

Capitol Reef in late December with a light coating of snow.

Where to Stay

Capitol Reef Resort. This is the most luxurious (and the most interesting) place on this list. Located in Torrey, very close to the west entrance of Capitol Reef, this property offers a wide variety of beautifully decorated rooms. You can 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 great food and staff are very friendly.

Cougar Ridge Lodge. This property gets exceptional reviews. Stay in a two-bedroom villa that can accommodate up to seven people, perfect if you are traveling as a family. Each villa has its own patio with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Sunlit Oasis. Located in Notom (just 15 minutes from the park), this ranch-style house offers clean, quiet rooms. It’s located in a rural area, so if you want a quiet spot in the country, this is the place for you.

The Noor Hotel. This is a nice option if you are looking for a budget accommodation. Located in Torrey, this hotel offers rooms that can accommodate up to four people.

Practical Information and Important Links

Park Hours: Capitol Reef is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

Park Fee: $20 per vehicle, valid for 7 days. You will pay this fee to enter Scenic Drive. You do not need to pay this fee if you only visit the sights along Highway 24 or if you drive the Cathedral Valley loop or Loop the Fold.

Get updates on trail closures and park conditions on the National Park Service website as you plan your trip and just before you go.

More Information about Capitol Reef National Park

THINGS TO DO: 14 Amazing Things to Do in Capitol Reef
CAPITOL REEF HIKES: 16 Epic Day Hikes in Capitol Reef
CASSIDY ARCH: Cassidy Arch, An Essential Hike in Capitol Reef
NAVAJO KNOBS: Rim Overlook & Navajo Knobs Trail
CATHEDRAL VALLEY: Complete Guide to Cathedral Valley
LOOPING THE FOLD: How to Loop the Fold in Capitol Reef
ROAD TRIP IDEA: Arches, Canyonlands & Capitol Reef National Parks: 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary
ROAD TRIP IDEA: The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
MIGHTY 5: Utah’s Mighty 5: Travel Guide & Road Trip Itinerary


If you have any questions about how to plan your Capitol Reef National Park itinerary, let us know in the comment section below.

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