This is a guide on how to have an epic adventure at Capitol Reef National Park.This guide is meant for people of all abilities. When I say people of all abilities I mean those with disabilities, those with physical or mental limitations, and those who don’t have any limitations at all. I like to find hikes and activities that accommodate everyone.
When to visit
Spring and Fall are the best times to visit this beautiful park, but the peak of the season when most people visit is in the summertime. I would not recommend going to this park in June, July or August. It does get very hot but also it just gets very crowded. In the spring I recommend going after March 14 because of the orchards and delicious pies in Fruita which is located right in the middle of the park.
The off season starts at the end of October until about March. I’ve been to Capitol Reef at the beginning of March and the beginning of September. It was still a little cold at night to go camping during March because it can be so unpredictable in Utah, but it was in the 50s during the day and the sunshine made it a perfect day. I would always be prepared for any kind of weather when visiting in spring and fall because it is Utah.
What to bring
Along with our regular traveling gear these were a few things that we were happy that we brought along.
Extra pair of shoes – You may want to bring waterproof shoes depending on if you will be going on a trail that has water. In the summers when it is hot it is really fun to walk around a trail called Sulfur Creek that goes along the river and at parts it’s great to play in the water to cool off. Kids love this trail since there is a small waterfall at the end that they can play under.
Water – Okay okay, you should always be bringing water and extra water, but I feel like this is one that I just have to include for this park. Most of this park is dry desert and temperatures can reach into the 100s. You must stay hydrated so bring lots of water! It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Bug spray – If you are planning on visiting during the summer and hiking along the water then it’s especially important to bring bug spray. We didn’t notice any bugs in March but in September the bugs and flies were pretty bad, especially around the Gifford House in Fruita.
Where to visit
This is the breakdown of my favorite things to do and places to see at Capitol Reef National Park. There are trails ranging from easy to hard with some being accessible to wheelchairs and some not. Remember that only you know your abilities. I recommend using a trail app and checking the reviews and conditions of these trails before you go to help navigate which ones you would like to explore. Warning: Capitol Reef is susceptible to flash floods so definitely check with the ranger station to see which trails you should avoid if rain is in the forecast or threatening because flash floods are no joke.
Grand Wash Trail
This trail is perfect for families. It’s also an easy trail that you can enjoy views on even from the very beginning. My recommendation: do this trail. It’s very wide which makes it very easy for kids to explore around on the rocks. We only went about a mile in on our last trip but the views were still amazing. The trail goes for about 2.2 miles and there are a few turnoffs where you can branch off to some other trails like Casidy Arch. If you have littles or those that struggle with elevation I would highly recommend the Grand Wash Trail. This trail is very flat and each turn elicits a lot of oohs and aahs. Do not take this trail when there is a chance of rain since you’re basically walking along a dry riverbed and the rain causes the flash flood mentioned above.
While visiting this beautiful park you definitely can not miss the Fruita area. You can visit the farmhouse with the horses and see the beautiful orchards in season. During the harvest season you can pick fruit and eat it right off the tree. You are not allowed to take fruit with you but you can pick some there and eat it. I haven’t had this opportunity yet because of the times that I’ve gone but I’m sure it’s delicious. Comment below if this is something you have done and enjoyed! I would love to hear more about it. Close to the Gifford farmhouse is the Gifford museum and store. It is a tiny store where you can get pies and other pioneer foods like jams and such. Read more about the yummy food below.
Capitol Reef Petroglyph Trail
This trail is 0.3 miles long with 49ft elevation gain. It is also wheelchair accessible and available for all ability levels. You can view the petroglyphs from straight ahead of you or you can go to the right and view them from the side. This is a great adventure if you just want to get out of your car for a bit and stretch after the scenic drive and also great if you are worried about how to keep your little ones on trail. It is short and sweet and is essentially a little wooden boardwalk for 0.3 miles.
My husband and I highly recommend taking your time and learning about these petroglyphs and exploring them. They are often looked over fast but they have some really beautiful and interesting history to them.
Well we missed the sunset last time around because the time was off on our weather app for when the sun was actually supposed to set. Or maybe it just wasn’t the best place to see the sunset haha which is weird because it is called Sunset Point. I was told that the Gooseneck Trail that is right next to it is better to view sunset this time of year. It is definitely where I will be checking out the sunset next time. It was well worth the hike even though we missed the sunset. It was a little rocky but still fun. My toddler loved it especially in her new hiking shoes she got this month. It was about 0.4 miles with only 50 ft elevation change. It has great panoramic views and is a perfect place to take a quick family photo.
I love visiting the visitor centers in all the National Parks to get a stamp in my National Park Passport Book. I also love checking out the information it has about the park and it’s the perfect time to talk to a ranger about trail conditions, where to go if you are on a time constraint, or any cool info you want to learn about the park. In most of the National Parks the visitor centers have an area like a museum that has information about the park, when it was designated a National Park, the history of the park, and (my personal favorite) the wildlife of the park. A few other gems of the visitor centers are the short films they show and the junior ranger programs.
Our daughter is just 2 so her attention span, well you know, is like a two year old: very short but the ranger was very kind in giving us a junior ranger book that had a lot of fun activities for kids. The ranger also gave her a junior ranger pin for when she completed something in the book. We read some of the book to her and let her color in it while watching the short film at the visitor center. She loved looking at all the animals and putting on her little pin. What is cool about this visitor center is that you can see what they call the castle just right outside the visitor center. You can definitely drive to view it closer but honestly you don’t even need to; you can see it right there.
This is a wheelchair accessible spot that is a very short stop on your journey to the petroglyphs. It is a historic building that is very pretty in front of the red rock. It was a very fun short spot to read about some of the history of the people that used to live in Fruita.
Scenic drive to Capitol Gorge Road
I feel like if you are visiting Capitol Reef then this is a must see of the park. Not only is it totally accessible but it has amazing views! The first part of the scenic drive is a completely paved road. It does get a little narrow but it is great. I even saw a huge RV driving down this road. When you get to the end there is a gate which is the true Capitol Gorge Road. It is open based on the weather. If the gate is open and the weather is nice then do it! It is gorgeous and something you will not regret seeing. Roll down your windows, stick out your head and soak it all in. I always take this scenic drive at least once and sometimes even twice when I visit the park. You don’t need 4 wheel drive for this road but it is nice to have a high clearance car (love my Outback). If you don’t then don’t worry, just take it slow and enjoy.
Popular gorgeous trails
These are a few trails that I was not able to do myself because of my energy level having a disability and since my physical therapist told me to stick to short trails since I’m still recovering from my pelvic fracture but I will definitely be coming back to do them when I can:
Hickman Bridge Trail – This trail is rated as moderate. It is 1.7 miles round trip with 400 ft elevation gain. I’ve seen pictures of it and it looks gorgeous. It is a trail I would definitely love to try on future trips. Check it out and remember to always check weather conditions before going to stay safe out there.
Cassidy Arch Trail – Yes you read it right: not just Arches National Park has arches. This park has a very beautiful one as well. The trail is 3.1 miles long with 666 ft elevation gain. This trail is also listed as moderate but one that is so pretty and I don’t think you would want to miss it if it’s within your ability level. Don’t forget to listen to your body. Challenging yourself is so important but remember to be safe.
Sulphur Creek Waterfall Trail – This is a very small waterfall but still a waterfall. Many people love waterfalls so if you are one of those people – do this trail. It is also a great trail that follows a creek so if you need something to cool off then do this one. I will be checking this one out on my next trip to Capitol Reef.
Gooseneck Trail – This is a very short walk from the car but one that we ran out of time to see and when I mean time I mostly mean daylight. We were planning on doing this but the sun went down and we didn’t think this would be something we would want to attempt in the dark.
If you have four wheel drive then this is a must see. Just be aware that this is something that will take the whole day to see. My husband and I are planning a weekend trip here for later this year to rent a 4 wheel drive Jeep that we’d pick up in nearby Torrey. We have our Subaru Outback and I’ve heard from some people that we’d be able to make the drive in it. However, I also read a few articles online that had pictures of Outbacks stuck in the sand. We’d rather be safe than sorry, which is why we’re going with the Jeep. We’ll let you know how it goes when we get back!
Scenic drive to Boulder
This is not in the park but if you drive right outside of the park to the little town of Torrey and turn on this scenic drive to Boulder it will definitely be worth your time. We’ve done this drive twice now and it’s been beautiful each time, especially in the fall. A few overlooks to check out are Larb Hollow Overlook, Steep Creek Overlook, and Homestead Overlook If you decide to take this drive, look at the review I have below of the Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm. It is a great restaurant to try if you want to treat yourself and are there in the spring, summer, and early fall.
Where to stay
Are you a camper? Glamper? Lodger? I am usually a camper but try to treat myself to lodging and glamping on occasion. We stayed at one of those tiny cabins that almost look like sheds that just have two small beds in it but it was perfect and saved us a lot of money and spared us from the cold. Next time we visit we would love to stay at the Fruita campground in the middle of Capitol Reef especially during picking season. It gets so green there. We had friends stay there with their RV and they said it was beautiful and that one of the greatest parts were the deer coming through their campsite multiple mornings.
Where to Eat
When visiting Capitol Reef National Park as I stated on activities you MUST check out the pies from the Gifford home in Fruita but don’t forget (as we have before) that it closes sometime in October and does not open up till March 14 (Pi Day). If you want updates on the changes of dates for the Gifford house check out Capitol Reef on NPS.com. This is also a popular spot for the cinnamon which apparently sells out very fast, especially during peak season. We have not tried the cinnamon yet but on our next visit we definitely will.
Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm
If you decide to take the scenic drive outside the park to Boulder then I highly recommend this restaurant. It has such great drinks and food. When we went in September it was quite a wait but it was totally worth it. The restaurant has won multiple James Beard awards and is at least in the running for top restaurant in the US each year. It has a beautiful outdoor dining setting that I loved; it was so pretty. If you check out Google it has almost 5 stars from so many customers that are raving about it. Do not forget to check before going if it is open. I do believe it has an on and off season. I checked online and this year it opens up on April 8th.
On most of our trips to this park we have brought our own food and grilled it up on our mini portable stove. I will attach the link to my stove I got for Christmas on Amazon. I am not paid to show this but I just wanted to share it so that you can make your adventures more affordable too. Eating out costs a lot, especially nowadays with things being more expensive and gas prices up, why not bring your own food to cook up on an afternoon picnic?
I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Capitol Reef National Park and I’d love to hear about it in your comments. Feel free to DM me on Instagram for any questions you have as well. I would love to help you plan your fun National Park adventure.
One last tip I have for you when planning your National Park trip is to always check out the National Park Service website for updates on the park you’re visiting and don’t be afraid to chat with the rangers at the visitor center. They know their stuff and are always happy to help.