15 Best Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park
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Located in the southern central desert of Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is a popular tourist destination.

For thousands of years, humans have lived in the Capitol Reef region. In the canyons, prehistoric hunter-gatherers and gatherers traveled.

On August 2, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Capitol Reef a national monument, but it wasn't until 1950 that the park opened to the public.

Of Utah's "Mighty 5" national parks, Capitol Reef is the least popular.

Even though Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches attract more visitors, Capitol Reef is worth stopping by in any Utah road trip.

This national park in southern Utah offers a rare combination of historical sites and breathtaking scenery.

It has a golden sandstone, canyons, and spectacular rock formations surrounding the Waterpocket Fold, a long crease in the earth.

To help you plan out your getaway to this park, here are the 15 best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah:

Hike the Hickman Bridge Trail

View of Hickman Bridge Trail
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The Hickman Bridge area of Capitol Reef National Park is a great place to go hiking if you're looking for a short-distance trek with the bonus of taking in some breathtaking canyon vistas along the way.

Located close to Torrey City, this out-and-back path is quite popular with hikers and bikers.

Its peak season is from March to November, although it is open all year if you plan to travel to Capitol Reef National Park during the winter months.

View of Hickman Bridge Trail
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If you hike this moderate walk during the spring and summer months, you will see a plethora of wildflowers and stunning vistas!

If you come during the winter, remember that it might be snowy and chilly, resulting in slippery conditions.

View of Hickman Bridge Trail
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Tour the Fruita Museum

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In addition to the Fruita Schoolhouse, another must-see attraction in Capitol Reef National Park is the Fruita Museum, featuring everything except rock formations, canyons, or anything else of that nature.

Established in 1896 with money contributed by Elijah Cutler Behunin, the schoolhouse is still in use today.

Initially, the neighborhood was known as Junction, and only eight families were living in the area, although those families were rather substantial by today's standards.

Renovated in 1964, it still exists in its exact location even though Utah Highway 24 passes through today's school grounds.

Take Photos at Cassidy Arch

View of Cassidy Arch
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Located in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, Cassidy Arch took its name after the legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy, who lived here in the 1800s. It's just next to the Scenic Drive, which is convenient.

The view from the top of the arch is breathtaking, and you can get some pretty amazing shots from within.

It towers over the Scenic Drive and the Grand Wash Trail, rising 400 feet above the road. The ascent is not particularly steep, and the track is around a 3-mile round trip in length.

View of Cassidy Arch
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If you're visiting Capitol Reef National Park during the winter, keep in mind that this walk might become a little tricky due to the ice and snow.

The trek to Cassidy Arch is quite strenuous, and it is best utilized from March to November when the weather is warm.

Drive Along Highway 24

View of Highway 24
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Several routes through Capitol Reef National Park are available because the landscape is spectacular, particularly along Highway 24, the major road through the park.

All types of vehicles may travel on Highway 24, which is well-maintained and asphalt.

Driving around the park's area begins at the Visitor Center, where you may plan your itinerary from there.

View of Highway 24
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There are 7.9 miles of scenic drive on this route, referred to as the 'Scenic Drive.'

Two dirt offshoot roads on the route, the Capitol Gorge and Grand Wash, are worth exploring.

Use them if you plan to visit the trailheads affiliated with either of them.

See the Petroglyphs

Boardwalk at Petroglyphs in  in Capitol Reef National Park
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For thousands of years, before the first Europeans settled in Fruita, the park was a refuge to Native Americans who preserved and cared for the pristine areas that you now see.

Among the most compelling methods to get insight into early human existence in this region is the study of petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs are ancient rock art sculptures that chronicle the history of the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan peoples who lived thousands of years ago in North America.

View of Petroglyphs in  in Capitol Reef National Park
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You may see a beautiful panel of petroglyphs along Highway 24 between Hickman Bridge and Fruita, halfway between the two towns.

Take a short stroll to the lookout, and your eyes will feast on a spectacular vista.

Admire the View of Capitol Reef at Panorama Point

Scenic view from Panorama Point
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If you want to enjoy a panoramic vista of the whole national park, make sure to stop by Panorama Point.

It is one of the must-do activities in Capitol Reef National Park, and you won't want to miss it!

The trail stretches over 100 yards leading up to the summit of Panorama Point, but you may continue hiking for a few more yards to reach the plateau's southernmost reaches.

Hiking there is regarded to be acceptable for children and adults and has a moderate difficulty level.

You can visit all year-round, and trailhead access has no limits.

Chase the Scenic Sunset at Sunset Point

View of Sunset Point
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It is evident from the name that this section is all about sunsets!

Due to its length of around 0.4 miles, this trek is the shortest available in Capitol Reef.

It is possible to walk on two pathways, with the shorter one beginning at a different location and leading to a view of goosenecks.

View of Sunset Point
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It is not a challenging trek, and it is open to guests all year long.

On the climb up and at the top, the views are truly breathtaking.

Don't miss out on what is likely to be one of the most spectacular sunsets you will ever see in your life!

Go Biking at Cathedral Valley

A challenging yet rewarding experience, riding into Cathedral Valley may be a great way to start your day.

One of the park's more secluded locations, it is an excellent place to camp.

Finding water is extremely difficult, and temperatures may rise beyond 100°F (37°C) in the summer.

View of Cathedral Valley
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The ideal time to go biking is during the spring or fall.

Sharp slopes and switchbacks, wash crossings, areas of deep sand, and a river ford that is usually 1 to 1.5 feet deep are all part of the experience.

There is a six-site rustic campground at Cathedral Valley located around halfway along the loop.

The campsite is open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis and is entirely free of charge.

Spot the Gooseneck Formation at Gooseneck Overlook

Gooseneck Formation at Gooseneck Overlook
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You don't need a reasonable degree of fitness to head to Goosenecks Overlook at Capitol Reef.

The walk is relatively short and straightforward, making it acceptable for hikers of virtually any skill level to reach the viewpoint.

The route is just around 600 feet in length, and you can complete it in 10-20 minutes on a round-trip basis.

You can observe the beautiful Goosenecks from the Capitol Reef route, which has a single switchback and leads to a viewpoint known as Sulphur Creek Canyon.

Enjoy a Pie at Gifford Homestead

View of  Gifford Homestead
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Gifford Homestead will take your breath away with its lush greenery, especially after taking in all of the crimson colors from the canyons!

This farm lies in the Fruita Valley area of California.

The Capitol Reef Natural History Association, in collaboration with the National Park Service, refurbished the home, which had previously belonged to the Giffords.

The house reflects the usual character and architecture of rural Utah farm residences built in the early 1900s.

There is a farmhouse on the property and barns, smoking sheds, a garden, a pasture, and rock walls. The Gifford Homestead is a working farmstead.

View of  Gifford Homestead
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The best spot to pick up a souvenir to take back home with you is right here.

They have anything from locally sourced, handcrafted products manufactured by artists to blankets, aprons, and many more.

Don't forget to try their pies and fresh ice cream when visiting!

They are well-known for these pies made with seasonal fruits.

Admire the Stone Formations at the Waterpocket Fold

Stone Formations at the Waterpocket Fold
Murray Foubister, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Waterpocket Fold is often regarded as the park's most important attraction. This warp in the earth's crust is approximately 100 miles long, and it is a typical monocline, or a step-up in the rock strata, in the geologic record.

In the Laramide Orogeny, a huge mountain-building 'period' in western North America that occurred around 50 to 70 million years ago, the land was shaped and sculpted.

It wasn't until the Colorado Plateau was developed which led to further erosion and the formation of "water pockets."

This phenomenon and temple-like Entrada sandstone monoliths of the Capitol Reef National Monument are evident in the most beautiful portion of the site.

As a result of the Waterpocket Fold's historical significance and breathtaking beauty, it is far preferable to visit the site more than once in a lifetime rather than hearing about it several times.

Check Out the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon

View of Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon
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Cathedral Valley joins Highway 24 at Hartnet Road and the Caineville Wash Road, a popular tourist destination.

This location has drawn people's attention for years because of its distinctive landscape.

The valley took its name from its aesthetic resemblance to Egyptian temples and multiple cathedrals with designs evocative Gothic architectural components in their designs.

View of Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon
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At Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, you can see two massive rock formations from the Upper Cathedral Valley Trail, which are the most popular stop on this route.

The Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon are the most popular stop on this route.

To cross the Fremont River, you will need a proper vehicle.

Discover Flora and Fauna at Fremont River

Located in an otherwise arid terrain of desert scrub and Slickrock, the Fremont River is a verdant paradise with a diverse array of plants and animals.

Cottonwoods, willows, and tamarisks coexist and compete with one another.

The spadefoot toad appears to be getting more enjoyment out of life than the average toad.

Flora and Fauna at Fremont River
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It is also home to other creatures that come to feed and drink from this transient, watery population.

The ringtail cat, the fox, and the coyote emerge in quest of food and water, especially around dusk and dawn.

During the day, it is typical to observe lizards, deer, chipmunks, and squirrels, among other creatures.

Mule deer feed on orchard grass in the Fremont River Valley, attracting the attention of a cougar that is around but rarely seen.

Visit the Behunin Cabin

View of  Behunin Cabin
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During the winter of 1883-1884, the Elijah Cutler Behunin family constructed this cabin in an area now part of Capitol Reef National Park.

They only stayed for a year before relocating to Fruita because flooding threatened the house and its surrounding crops.

The one-story sandstone construction spans 13ft by 16.5ft and has a single chamber, according to the architect.

Elijah and his wife, as well as their 13 children, all resided in the same house. Sandstone walls are coated with a plaster-cement washing to give them a rustic appearance.

View of  Behunin Cabin
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The roof structure is made of wood and has insulation.

In the 1960s, the National Park Service refurbished the cabin, the most intact example of a settler home in Capitol Reef National Park, and is the most visited attraction in the park.

The Behunin cabin was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 13, 1999, after the National Park Service acquired it.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Camp at Cedar Mesa

View of Cedar Mesa
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Backpacking and hiking are popular activities in the Cedar Mesa region.

Visitors to the region may expect to observe ancient Puebloan cliff houses, rock inscriptions in a natural environment, and various fauna.

The mesa is cut through by a series of beautiful canyons that stretch for kilometers.

The Bureau of Acreage Management, in charge of the majority of the land in the area, manages Cedar Mesa.

View of Cedar Mesa
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This area is part of the Shash Jáa section of Bears Ears National Monument, which is part of the Bears Ears National Monument.

You might need the necessary permits before camping.

Stocking the canyons also necessitates the use of a permit or pass.

Final Thoughts

It's not hard to see why this park is one of Utah's best-kept secrets.

Although it is not as well-known as Arches or Zion, Capitol Reef National Park is Utah's most diversified national park.

It boasts natural beauty, unusual geological characteristics, human history, and prehistoric fossils, among its many attractions.

Try backpacking in Capitol Reef National Park and see for yourself!