Julie United States 4 Comments

If you only have one day in Capitol Reef National Park, what should you do?

There are several different ways that you can spend one day in Capitol Reef. For some people, “one day” might mean a very quick visit, as you tour Capitol Reef while driving between two different locations in Utah. Or, you might have more time, with one or two overnight stays near the park.

In this post, I cover both of those scenarios.

If you have plans to spend some time in Capitol Reef while driving through Utah (for example, on the drive between Moab and Bryce Canyon), I will let you know the best way to spend your time in the park. And if you have a full day in Capitol Reef, from sunrise to sunset, I have an itinerary for that, too.

Capitol Reef is one of the least visited national parks in Utah, but don’t let its “unpopularity” fool you. There is a ton to do in this park and this one day visit may simply be an introduction to what a wonderful place this is. If you are like us, you’ll be dreaming of a trip back to Capitol Reef in the future.

Quick Facts about Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is one of the five national parks that make up Utah’s Mighty 5. This is the fourth most visited park, getting 1.2 million visitors per year. If you plan to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon on this road trip, Capitol Reef will feel delightfully uncrowded compared to those two national parks (Zion gets 4.5 million visitors per year!).

Highway 24 is the main road that cuts across the park. There are several great things to do along this road and you do not have to pay the park fee if you stick to the sights along this road. However, some of the best things to do in Capitol Reef are located along Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, a gorgeous drive that winds along part of the waterpocket fold.

The waterpocket fold is a 100-mile long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. Basically, it’s a long line of mountains that are slowly being eroded, revealing canyons, arches, and massive domes of rock. Capitol Reef preserves a portion of this waterpocket fold.

Driving through Capitol Reef

Looking east along Highway 24, between Torrey and the Capitol Reef Visitor Center.

One Day in Capitol Reef: Best Things to Do

With one day in Capitol Reef, here are the best things to see and do:

  • Drive Highway 24 through the park
  • Take in the view from Panorama Point
  • Visit Sunset Point
  • See the petroglyphs
  • Drive Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
  • Hike to Hickman Bridge and/or Cassidy Arch
  • Stroll through the Grand Wash
  • Have pie at the Gifford Homestead

For a full list of things to do if you only have one day in Capitol Reef, read our article Capitol Reef: Best Things to Do with Limited Time

One Day in Capitol Reef National Park Itinerary

Here are three different ways to plan out your time in Capitol Reef National Park. The itinerary you choose depends on your starting and ending point for the day.

Map of Capitol Reef National Park

Below is a map of Capitol Reef National Park. On this map, I labeled the best things to do if you have one day in Capitol Reef. There are two driving routes. The first route (Driving Route #1) covers things to do and driving directions if you are traveling from Moab to Bryce Canyon. The second route (Driving Route #2) covers things to do and driving directions if you are traveling from Bryce Canyon to Moab. 

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving routes). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

 

One Day in Capitol Reef: Moab to Bryce Canyon

If you plan to visit Capitol Reef on the drive between Moab and Bryce Canyon (or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument), this is how I recommend that you plan your time. The earlier you get started, the more time you will have in the park.

For this itinerary, follow Driving Route #1 on our map of Capitol Reef.

Below is a sample itinerary. The times listed are guidelines for how long you will spend at each location. You could move faster or slower than that what I list here. 

8 am: Drive to Capitol Reef National Park
10:15 am: Arrive in Capitol Reef National Park
10:30 am: Hike to Hickman Bridge
12:30 pm: Petroglyphs
12:45 pm: Pie at the Gifford Homestead
1:30 pm: Cassidy Arch & Grand Wash
5:00 pm: Panorama and Sunset Points
5:45 pm: Dinner in Torrey
6:45 pm: Drive to Your Next Destination

As you can see, this is a long, busy day. The faster you hike, the earlier your day will end. For this itinerary, I used the longer time estimates for both hikes. But if you move fast, you could be driving to your next destination as early as 5:30 pm.

If you want to shorten this itinerary, hike Hickman Bridge OR Cassidy Arch. Eliminating one of these hikes saves you 2 to 3 hours.

Also, I highly recommend packing a picnic lunch. The only “restaurant” in the park is the Gifford House, which just serves pie. Sure, you can have pie for lunch, and you will be here midday, so the timing works well, but if you want sandwiches or something healthier than pie, make sure you bring that with you.

The Gifford Homestead is open from 8 am to 4:30 pm daily from March 14 to October 31. Hours can vary by season so get updates before you go on the national park service website.

Morning: Drive from Moab to Capitol Reef

Driving Distance and Time: 140 miles, 2 hours and 15 minutes

It takes just over two hours to get to the east entrance of Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way, you will pass Goblin Valley State Park and Little Wild Horse Canyon. You won’t have time for them today, but I am mentioning them because they are great spots to visit on a future visit to Utah.

The east entrance of Capitol Reef National Park is marked with this sign. On Google, this spot is labeled as “Orientation Pullout.”

Capitol Reef in Winter

Capitol Reef in December

The drive along Highway 24 is beautiful. The road weaves between massive slabs of red and white sandstone rock, following alongside the Fremont River. It’s a beautiful introduction to the park.

Mid-Morning: Hike to Hickman Bridge

The hike to Hickman Bridge is a classic hike if this is your first visit to Capitol Reef National Park. It is just under 2 miles round trip and takes 1 to 2 hours. Along the hike, you will have great views of Highway 24. The hike ends at the back of a canyon, where you get to see Hickman Bridge.

One Day in Capitol Reef Hickman Bridge

Note: On this itinerary, you will also Cassidy Arch later in the day. If you only have the time and energy for one hike, I recommend Cassidy Arch. It’s a bit longer but it’s a very unique experience, since you can have your photo taken on top of the arch.

The parking area for Hickman Bridge is located on Highway 24, 7 miles west of the east entrance park sign. There are restrooms here.

Midday: Petroglyphs

Once you are finished the hike, hop back in your car and continue down Highway 24. It’s less than a mile to the next parking lot to see the petroglyph panel.

Petroglyphs One Day in Capitol Reef

Midday: Pie at the Gifford Homestead

From Highway 24, turn onto Camp Ground Road. You are now in the historic Fruita district. The Gifford House is one of the last remaining historic buildings. Stop in for a slice of locally baked pie.

Fruita Utah

Historic Fruita

Early-Afternoon: Cassidy Arch & Grand Wash

From Fruita, drive south on Scenic Drive. Just south of Fruita there will be a fee station. Stop here to pay your park entrance fee ($20). If you have an America the Beautiful Pass you do not have to stop here.

Driving along Scenic Drive is one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park. This paved road is 8 miles long (one-way) and it is beautiful the entire way.

Things to do in Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Turn onto Grand Wash Road (it will be your first left turn) and take this to the end. This puts you at the trailhead for Cassidy Arch and the Grand Wash.

Important Note: If you have no plans to hike Cassidy Arch or Grand Wash, skip the drive the drive down Grand Wash Road. Instead, continue to the end of Scenic Drive and turn onto Capitol Gorge Road, a gravel road that winds through a canyon. Then, return to Fruita.

Cassidy Arch

The hike to Cassidy Arch is one of the most thrilling in Capitol Reef. As you hike through Grand Wash and up into the sandstone hills, you will have stunning views. The trail ends at Cassidy Arch, one of the best photo spots in the park. This hike is 3.4 miles round trip, moderately difficult, and takes 2 to 3 hours.

Grand Wash to Cassidy Arch

Hiking through Grand Wash to get to the Cassidy Arch trailhead

 

Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch

Grand Wash

You can also add on the Grand Wash. You hike a small portion of the Grand Wash to get to the Cassidy Arch trail, but if you go a bit further, it is a very cool experience, as the canyon walls close in around you. In some ways, it’s like hiking the Zion Narrows, but it is a dry wash so you will not get wet.

Depending on how far you walk down the Grand Wash, your total hiking distance with Cassidy Arch will range from 4 to 6 miles.

Get the full details on hiking Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash: Cassidy Arch, An Essential Hike in Capitol Reef

The Narrows Capitol Reef

“The Narrows” in Grand Wash

Late Afternoon: Panorama and Sunset Points

Drive back to Highway 24 and turn left, so you are heading towards Torrey.

Turn left at the sign marking Panorama Point and Sunset Point.

Panorama Point is a very quick visit…just pop out of your car and take in the view.

Panorama Point

Panorama Point

Continue to the end of the road and park. There are two trails that lead to two different viewpoints. To get to Sunset Point it is a 0.8 mile round trip walk to a stunning overlook. From the same parking lot, you can also walk the 0.2 mile round-trip trail to the Goosenecks Overlook.

Sunset Point Capitol Reef

Sunset Point

 

Goosenecks Overlook

Goosenecks Overlook

Evening: Dinner in Torrey

Continue the drive west on Highway 24. Get dinner in Torrey before driving south to your next destination. Our favorite spot for dinner is the Pioneer Kitchen, which is located inside of the Capitol Reef Resort. The Rim Rock Restaurant, Red Cliff, and the Rim Rock Patio also get good reviews.

Once finished dinner, continue the drive to your next destination. If you are headed to Bryce Canyon National Park, it is a 2 hour drive.

One Day in Capitol Reef: Bryce Canyon to Moab

If you plan to visit Capitol Reef on the drive between Bryce Canyon (or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument) and Moab, this is how I recommend that you plan your time. This itinerary is just the reverse of the one above (so refer to that one for photos and full details about each stop along the way).

For this itinerary, follow Driving Route #2 on our map of Capitol Reef.

8 am: Drive to Capitol Reef National Park
10:15 am: Arrive in Capitol Reef National Park
10:45 am: Cassidy Arch & Grand Wash
1:45 pm: Pie at the Gifford Homestead
2:30 pm: Petroglyphs
2:45 pm: Hike to Hickman Bridge
4:45 pm: Panorama and Sunset Points
5:30 pm: Dinner in Torrey
6:30 pm: Drive to Moab

Morning: Drive to Capitol Reef

Driving Distance and Time: 111 miles, 2 hours and 15 minutes

From the town of Bryce, which sits just outside of Bryce Canyon, it takes 2 hours to drive to the west entrance of Capitol Reef National Park. Take a picture at the park sign and continue on Highway 24.

Capitol Reef Sign

Mid-Morning: Scenic Drive and Cassidy Arch

Make your way to Fruita and then continue south on Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. Hike to Cassidy Arch and, if you want to go farther, add on part of Grand Wash to your hike.

Early Afternoon: Pie at the Gifford Homestead

Return to Fruita and have pie at the Gifford Homestead. 

Mid-Afternoon: Petroglyphs

See the petroglyph panel that is located on Highway 24.

Mid-Afternoon: Hickman Bridge

Hike to Hickman Bridge. This hike is just under 2 miles round trip and takes 1 to 2 hours.

Late Afternoon: Panorama and Sunset Points

Make the quick stop at Panorama and Sunset Points to for some of the best views of the day. Depending on the time of year that you are doing this, your timing could be perfect for sunset.

Evening: Dinner

Torrey is the only place in the area where you can get dinner. So, you will have to backtrack a little bit to get food. There is nothing between Capitol Reef and Moab, unless you want gas station food. You can either grab food to go in Torrey or sit down to dinner.

Then, drive to Moab. From Torrey, it is a 156 mile drive that takes just over 2 and a half hours.

One Day in Capitol Reef: Start & End in Torrey

If you are staying in Torrey, or in a location near Capitol Reef National Park, you will save yourself a lot of driving (at least today). In the itineraries above, there is roughly 5 hours of driving to get to and from Capitol Reef. By staying in Torrey, you can use that extra time to either do more in the park or you can move at a more leisurely pace.

If you are a hiker, you have the time to hike one of the longer trails in the park. If you want big views over Capitol Reef, I recommend the Cohab Canyon Trail (3.4 miles round trip, strenuous) or Rim Overlook (4.6 miles, moderate). The hike to Navajo Knobs is a big day hike (9.5 miles, strenuous) and won’t leave you with much time or energy for anything else today, but it makes a nice option for those who want to hike a trail with some of the best views in the park.

Capitol Reef in One Day

The view from the Cohab Canyon Trail

8 am: Arrive in Capitol Reef National Park
8:30 am: Go Hiking
12:30 pm: Scenic Drive
1:00 pm: Capitol Gorge Road & the Pioneer Register
2:30 pm: Pie at the Gifford Homestead
3:15 pm: Petroglyphs
3:30 pm: Hike to Hickman Bridge
5:30 pm: Panorama and Sunset Points
6:30 pm: Dinner in Torrey

For this itinerary, follow driving route #3 on our map. This driving route starts in Fruita, after your morning hike.

Morning: Hike Your Favorite Trail

Start off the day by hiking one of the trails in Capitol Reef. This can be Hickman Bridge or Cassidy Arch, as mentioned on the above itineraries, but if another hike on our hiking list caught your eye, you can do that one instead. Just make sure it is a hike that is located along Highway 24 and Scenic Drive. There are fabulous hikes to do in the backcountry, but with only one day in Capitol Reef, I recommend saving the backcountry experiences for a longer visit.

Rim Overlook

Rim Overlook

Midday: Scenic Drive and Fruita

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. Basically, it is historic graffiti. In this same canyon, you can also see American Indian petroglyphs.

Pioneer Register

Pioneer Register

Return to Fruita and have pie at the Gifford House. 

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. End with sunset or late-afternoon views from Panorama and Sunset Points. Have dinner in Torrey.

Things to Know Before You Go

The only restaurant inside of Capitol Reef National Park is the Gifford House. They only serve pie and a few other treats, so plan on packing a picnic lunch.

Toilets are located at the busiest trailheads: Hickman Bridge, Cassidy Arch, and Capitol Gorge. You can also use the bathroom at the visitor center, which is located in Fruita.

Take note of sunset times before you do this itinerary. If you plan to visit Utah in the winter months, the sun sets between 5 and 6 pm. You will have to adjust what you do so that you finish in the daylight. Most likely, this means either starting earlier or only doing one of the hikes that we list in these itineraries. You can check sunrise and sunset times here. 

While in Capitol Reef National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trails, pack out what you bring to the hiking trails, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

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 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.

We have been here in November and December. Most of the photos in this article are from our visit in early November. 

Capitol Reef in November

Capitol Reef in November. This photo was taken on the trail to Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs.

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 is located in Torrey and 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.

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.

Practical Information

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

The entrance fee is $20 and is valid for 7 days. You only need to pay the entrance fee if you visit the sights along Capitol Reef Scenic Drive.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Check for trail closures, road closures, and get important updates before your visit on the official National Park website.

More Information about Capitol Reef and Utah


If you have any questions about how to spend one day in Capitol Reef, let us know in the comment section below.

We have TONS more information about places to go and things to do in Utah in our Utah Travel Guide.

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Capitol Reef One Day Itinerary

 

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Comments 4

  1. Hi! We are going to visit the Mighty 5 in summer. We have a 32 feet Motorhome. I wonder if its doable to drive across Capitol Reef with a big rig? Or should we rent a car? We are camping at Moab and plan to hit Arches and Capitol reef . Love all you tips by the way. I am taking a lot notes, this will be our first time to visit Utah’s National Park and I want to make sure we don’t miss the parks highlights. Thank you!

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      Author

      Hello Jeanie. Yes, you can drive through Capitol Reef on the main highway (Highway 24). I recommend checking the Capitol Reef NP website to see if there are vehicle restrictions for Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. If so, you will have to stick to the sites around Highway 24 and Fruita, which will give you plenty to do. What you miss out on, if you can’t drive Scenic Drive, are the Scenic Drive views, Grand Wash, and Cassidy Arch. I know that you won’t be able to drive Capitol Gorge, because there is a limit on vehicle length for this road and your vehicle will surpass it. So, it’s up to you if you should rent a car. Just for Capitol Reef, your options might be limited since Torrey is such a small town. I hope you have a great road trip through the Mighty 5…it’s such an awesome place! Cheers, Julie

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