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How Much Time Do I Need To Visit Capitol Reef National Park?

View of Capitol Reef

If you’re planning your big Utah national parks road trip – often called “The Mighty Five” – one of the big questions you’re probably asking yourself is how much time you should dedicate to Capitol Reef, the middle and least well-known of the five parks.

We recommend spending about 3/4 of a day in Capitol Reef. This includes doing a scenic drive, strolling through the orchards in Fruita, fitting in a hike on one of the park’s many incredible trails, and watching a famous Capitol Reef sunset! Though Capitol Reef gets overshadowed by its neighboring parks, don’t let that fool you. It’s well worth your time to visit charming Capitol Reef.

However, some of Capitol Reef’s best attractions are located off the main road. This includes hiking and some insanely cool scenic drives. So keep on reading to learn how much time to spend in Capitol Reef National Park!

What To Do in 2 Hours

If all you have is two hours, that’s a shame. But I’ve done the “hurried tourist” thing plenty of times, so I understand!

Drive the Capitol Gorge Road

View from capitol Gorge Rd in Capitol Reef

First, start your visit with a drive along Capitol Gorge Road. This scenic drive is just 2.4 miles long, but it’s packed with stunning views and unique geological features.

You’ll pass through a narrow slot canyon before reaching the end of the road, where you can park and take a short hike to the Tanks, a series of water-filled depressions carved into the sandstone. As you hike, keep an eye out for ancient petroglyphs and historic inscriptions left by early settlers

Grab Some Pie in Fruita

Pies from the Gifford Homestead in Fruita Capitol Reef

After your drive, head to the Fruita Historic District, located in the heart of the park. This district was settled by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800s and features several historic buildings, including a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and a one-room cabin. Take a leisurely stroll through the orchards and pick some fruit if it’s in season.

One of the highlights of Fruita is the Gifford Homestead, which sells delicious pies made from fruit grown right in the orchards. Treat yourself to a slice of pie and enjoy the peaceful surroundings before heading back out to continue your visit.

What To Do in 1/2 a Day

If you have a little more time, explore some ancient history and take a hike!

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs Capitol Reef

After hanging out for a bit in Fruita, drive to the Petroglyphs stop. From here, take a short hike to see some of the park’s most impressive petroglyphs, which were created by Native Americans thousands of years ago. The petroglyphs depict animals, humans, and geometric shapes, and provide a glimpse into the culture and history of the people who once inhabited the area.

Hickman Bridge

Hickman Briddge Capitol Reef

Next, drive to the trailhead for the Hickman Bridge Trail. This popular hike is rated as moderate and takes about 1-2 hours to complete. The trail is 1.8 miles round-trip with a total elevation gain of 400 feet.

The trailhead is located just off Utah State Route 24, about 5 miles east of the Fruita Visitor Center. From the parking lot, the trail follows the Fremont River for about 0.5 miles before beginning a steep climb up a slickrock hill. Along the way, you’ll enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding white rock, as well as the volcanic rock that looks like bowling balls strewn all over.

After the initial climb, the trail levels out and winds its way through a picturesque canyon. Keep an eye out for Fremont cottonwood trees, which provide welcome shade on hot summer days. As you continue along the trail, you’ll pass by interesting rock formations and a small waterfall before reaching Hickman Bridge, the highlight of the hike.

Hickman Bridge is a beautiful natural bridge that spans 133 feet across a deep canyon. You can walk under the bridge for an up-close look at its intricate details and take in the awesome views of the surrounding canyon walls.

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What To Do in a Full Day

If you still have more time, you should definitely add these to your list of things to do.

Ranger Program

Ranger at Capitol Reef

Every day at 3:00 PM, ranger programs are offered in the amphitheater by the campground. We love ranger programs in general, and the Capitol Reef program was one of our favorites! The ranger taught us about the geology of the park, which meant so much more to us because we were looking at the rock layers right behind her as she spoke.

Capitol Reef National Park offers a variety of ranger-led programs that are both educational and entertaining. These programs are led by knowledgeable rangers who share their expertise and love of the park with visitors. Programs vary depending on the season and include guided hikes, stargazing sessions, and history talks.

Watch a Sunset

Sunset at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park is known for its stunning sunsets, and there are several spots in the park where you can watch the sun go down over the beautiful red rock formations.

One of the best places to catch a sunset is at Sunset Point (unsurprisingly). From here, you’ll have a panoramic view of the surrounding cliffs and canyons, which are bathed in a warm glow as the sun sets.

Another great spot for sunset watching is at Panorama Point. As its name implies, this provides panoramic views of the main canyon walls in Capitol Reef, which are so much more dramatic when they are lit up by the sun.

Be sure to bring your camera and capture the magic of the moment.

What To Do in 2 Days

Honestly, with only one day in the park, you’re barely touching the surface of Capitol Reef. With a second day, you can get to the most famous formations in the park and do more hiking on one of the many gorgeous trails in the park.

Temples of the Sun & Moon

Temple of the Sun formation in Capitol Reef

The park’s most iconic features are located off the beaten path. The Temples of the Sun and Moon were first encountered by John C. Fremont as he explored this area after the Civil War.

They are really cool formations! We loved walking around these Temples and viewing them from different angles.

The drive to get there is mostly on a rough dirt road. It doesn’t require four-wheel drive, but you should have a higher clearance vehicle.

Note that you should always check with a ranger to see what the road conditions are like before driving on the road.

More Hiking

Cassidy Arch Fruita Capitol Reef

Cassidy Arch is a natural arch located near Fruita that offers incredible views of the surrounding cliffs and canyons. The trail to the arch is 3.3 miles round-trip and is rated as moderate. After an initial steep climb, the trail levels out.

The trailhead is located off the scenic drive and provides access to the Grand Wash trail as well.

Chimney Rock Capitol Reef

Chimney Rock is a towering rock formation that is visible from many areas of the park. The trail to the rock is short and uneventful, but continuing on the full trail will provide spectacular views of the valley below, massive boulders, and quintessential desert scenery (which we love so much!).

The hike is 3.6 miles round-trip and is rated as moderate. The trailhead is located on Highway 24 which cuts right through the park.

Cohab Canyon Capitol Reef

Cohab Canyon is a 2.2-mile round-trip hike that takes you through a narrow canyon with towering walls and beautiful rock formations. This hike is rated as moderate due to the switchbacks in the beginning, but most of it is level.

The best part about the hike is the overlook of the town of Fruita, the orchards, and the Fremont River below.

The trailhead is conveniently located in the Fruita historic district.

What To Do in 3 Days

If you have a third day, you’re really in for a treat! You’ll get to go on one of our favorite drives of all time!

Loop the Fold Drive

Loop the Fold Drive Capitol Reef

This scenic drive will take you on a massive loop around the Waterpocket Fold – the geological feature that is the reason for Capitol Reef being protected as a national park. It will take up much of your day, around 5-6 hours.

The Loop the Fold Drive is a scenic drive that takes visitors on a journey through Capitol Reef National Park’s stunning landscape. This 124-mile round-trip drive showcases some of the park’s most impressive geological features, including towering cliffs, colorful canyons, and unique rock formations.

The drive winds through Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Boulder, Utah, and the Dixie National Forest.

Most of the drive is on paved roads, but there are some graded dirt sections that are fine for cars. The drive offers a wonderful variety of things to see, such as petrified oysters (this area was once under the sea), Strike Valley, Long Canyon, and Singing Canyon.

Burr Trail switchbacks on the Loop the Fold Drive in capitol reef

One of the highlights of the drive is the Burr Trail Switchbacks, a section where you’ll climb over the Waterpocket Fold.

We absolutely loved this drive!

Need Help With This?

If you want a step-by-step plan to do all these things and more, you’re in luck! All you need to do is download our Capitol Reef Itinerary, and it will walk you through how to see all of these things!

Resources

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