Hiking

Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Guide

With five popular national parks within a relatively short distance of one another in Southern Utah, there is definitely no shortage of amazing outdoor activities in the area. If you throw in the parks and monuments in Southern Colorado and Northern Arizona, this region is one of the premier outdoor adventure regions in North America. If you love outdoor adventure, then you will love all of the activities and sights that are outlined in my Capitol Reef Park Guide. While some of the other national parks in Southern Utah may get more attention on tourist sites, any hardcore national parks enthusiast will tell you that Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden gem in the US National Parks system.

Located in the heart of red rock country in Southern Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is chalk full of natural bridges, domes, and rock cliffs along a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) that extends for roughly 100 miles. This wrinkle in the earth, which is why the park is named “Capitol Reef”, has produced some of the most amazing rock formations that you will find in an area of the United States that is known for amazing rock formations. In addition to some of the most amazing hiking and back-country camping in the Southwest United States, the area is also home to some of the regions best preserved ancient petroglyphs that visitors can see first-hand.

Cathedral Valley Capitol Reef National Park

In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to .  I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip.  In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are.  With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Capitol Reef National Park will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.

How to Get There

Capitol Reef National Park Location Map

Capitol Reef National Park is located in the southern part of the state of Utah in the United States. It is one of five large national parks in the southern part of the state, which makes this area one of the most popular spots in the country for national park enthusiasts. If you are curious as to where this region is located, I have include a map in my Capitol Reef Park Guide above that pinpoints where Capitol Reef National Park is located inside the United States.

CityDistanceDrive Time
Salt Lake City, UT218 miles3hrs 25min
Las Vegas, NV328 miles5hrs 6min
Denver, CO428 miles6hrs 35min
Albuquerque, NM455 miles7hrs 42min
Phoenix, AZ494 miles8hrs 15min
Boise, ID555 miles8hrs 19min
Los Angeles, CA595 miles8hrs 53min
Tucson, AZ608 miles9hrs 50min
San Diego, CA657 miles9hrs 56min
San Francisco, CA828 miles13hrs 5min

If you are looking to travel to see Capitol Reef National Park, the closest cities with major airports to fly into are Salt Lake City, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is only a short drive from these cities to Capitol Reef, which you can use as your base of operations as you explore the park and the other treasures of the Southern Utah area. In case you are curious as to how far Capitol Reef National Park is from other cities in the American West, I have included a chart of driving distances in my Capitol Reef Park Guide above and a regional map below for you to review.

Capitol Reef National Park Regional Map

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Many people who visit Southern Utah will fly into Las Vegas and complete a loop trip thru Southern Utah and Northern Arizona to see all of the areas national parks, monuments, and wonderful points of interest. In addition to the five national parks in Southern Utah and the Grand Canyon National Park in Northern Arizona, the trip will allow you to see such treasures as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, the beautiful Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, the iconic Monument Valley, and of course the Corona Arch hike. If you are interested in exploring an itinerary thru this area starting and ending in Las Vegas, I have included a few itineraries I created in my Capitol Reef Park Guide for you to review below.

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If you would like to understand the layout of the park a little more, I have included a map of the park in my Capitol Reef Park Guide for you to review below. I have also included a link for you to download and save a PDF copy of the map to your phone or tablet. This is the same map that you will be given at the entrance gates or park visitor centers when you visit, so you can get a head start on planning out your hikes and other activities before you visit.

Capitol Reef National Park Map

Download PDF Park Map

Top Things to See and Do

Temple of the Sun Capitol Reef National Park

There is certainly no shortage of amazing things to see and do within Capitol Reef National Park and the surrounding area. The park is located in the heart of the red rock territory that has made Southern Utah so popular amongst travelers and outdoor adventurers. If you are starting to put together the itinerary for your visit and would like some tips on the top things to see and do in the area, I have included a list of my top things to see and do in my Capitol Reef Park Guide for you to review below.

The Hickman Bridge Hike

Hickman Natural Bridge Capitol Reef National Park

The area in-and-around Capitol Reef National Park is famous for its amazing natural bridges and rock formations. One of the most popular of these formations is the Hickman Bridge. The short hike to see this beautiful natural bridge is neither long nor grueling, which makes it the perfect hike for visitors of all experience levels. If you are interested in doing this hike when you visit, I have included a trail map in my Capitol Reef Park Guide for you to review below.

Hickman Bridge Hike Capitol Reef National Park

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The Fremont Petroglyphs

Freemont Petroglyphs Capitol Reef National Park

Many people aren’t aware that the Southwestern United States has been inhabited by human beings for thousands of years. In fact, some of the remaining petroglyphs that you will find in the area have been dated back to 1,500 to 4,000 years ago. Inside Capitol Reef National Park, you will find a lot of petroglyphs that were created by the Fremont Culture that date back to 1000-1200 AD. You will be amazed at how these ancient drawings have survived on the rock faces as long as they have.

The Gifford Barn

Gifford Barn Capitol Reef National Park

One of the best photo opportunities in Capitol Reef National Park is at one of the prettiest buildings that you will find in the national parklands of Southern Utah. The Gifford Barn, along with the Gifford House and the rest of the buildings on this 200 acre Mormon homestead in the Fruita Rural Historical District, were built in the early 1900’s by a Mormon settler named Calvin Pendleton. However, the homestead gets its name from the Gifford Family, who occupied the homestead from 1928 all the way up to 1969. In 1954, the Gifford’s built a small hotel for visitors coming to see Capitol Reef National Park, which was one of the first hotels in the area. If you would like to see some additional photos of the beautiful Gifford Barn, I have included some of my favorites in the Photo Gallery section of my Capitol Reef Park Guide.

Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley Capitol Reef National Park

One of my favorite spots in Capitol Reef National Park is, without any doubt, the breathtakingly beautiful Cathedral Valley. This remote, rugged region of the park is home to some of the most wonderful rock formations that you will find in Capitol Reef. Two of my favorite are the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon. These gigantic rock monoliths can be seen from quite the distance and are spectacular to see up-close-and-personal.

If you are interested in seeing Cathedral Valley, I would recommend bringing a vehicle with high wheel clearance and 4-Wheel Drive with you when you come. 4-Wheel Drive isn’t absolutely necessary when the weather has been dry, but when it rains quite a bit and the road gets muddy, the road can be tough to navigate without it.

The road thru Cathedral Valley is a loop. It is roughly a 17-mile drive on Cathedral Road from the Highway 24 junction to the Temple of the Moon. If you continue on from there, the road loops back on Hartnet Road for a round-trip of roughly 58-miles. The most popular stop on the Hartnet Road is the Lower South Desert Overlook. For a better understanding of the layout of Cathedral Valley, I have included a map in my Capitol Reef Park Guide for you to review below.

Cathedral Valley Loop Map Capitol Reef National Park

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Capitol Gorge Trail

Capitol Gorge Trail

Another great hike that is easy for even novice hikers to complete inside of Capitol Reef National park is the Capitol Gorge Trail. Located in the Waterpocket Fold in the southern section of the park, the Capitol Gorge Trail takes hikers thru narrow ravines, gulches, and washes and past a petroglyph panel, hundreds of historic signatures, a natural arch, and several water-filled potholes. However, the ultimate prize is reaching the Capitol Gorge itself. If you are planning on completing the Capitol Gorge Hike, I have included a map in my Capitol Reef Park Guide for you to review below.

Capitol Gorge Trail Map Capitol Reef National Park

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When to Visit

Capitol Reef National Park

The area in Southern Utah where Capitol Reef National Park is located is considered a high desert. Even though the park is well south of the Rocky Mountains that can be found in the northern part of Utah, the highest point of elevation inside Capitol Reef National Park is at 8,960-feet (or 2,731-meters). That is a higher elevation than Machu Picchu in Peru. The fact that the park is located in a desert environment at high altitude has an effect on the weather, which is something you need to consider when planning your trip.

If you are in the process of planning your trip to to the park and would like to know more about what the park is like throughout the year, including how busy the park can get, then you will want to review the information on average temperature, average precipitation levels, and the average number of visitors that I have included in my Capitol Reef Park Guide for you to review below.

Average Temperature (°F)

If you are visiting the park to spend a lot of time hiking and exploring the back-country, then you are going to want to pay extra close attention to the average temperatures in the park throughout the year. During the summer months of June thru August, the average high temperatures can reach into the 100’s Fahrenheit. When I visited not long ago, it got up to 116 degrees in Cathedral Valley. On the other hand, the winter months of December thru February can see average low temperatures that drop to well below freezing. The most comfortable temperatures can be found in the late spring month of May and early autumn month of September. If you can, I would target these months if temperatures are an important factor for you.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

Just like with the average temperature, the average amount of precipitation throughout the year can play a big factor in how much fun your trip is if you are planning on spending quite a bit of time hiking and exploring the more remote reaches of the park. The driest months of the year in Capitol Reef National Park tend to be in the late autumn thru the early spring. Between November and March, the park sees much less rainfall than it does during the late spring thru early autumn portion of the year. I have included a chart below on the average amount of precipitation throughout the year for you to review for more details.

Average Visitors (Visitors Per Day)

A part from the weather, the most important factor that you will want to consider when planning your trip to Capitol Reef National Park is how crowded the park will be when you visit. Depending on the amount of other visitors in the park when you visit, it could have a big impact on how crowded the trails are, how congested the viewpoints are, and how many back-country permits and campground spots are available. Capitol Reef National Park tends to be the busiest in late Spring, with May typically being the most busy month inside the park. The number of visitors will tail off during mid-summer as temperatures rise, then start to come back up in early autumn. The second busiest month of the year tends to be September. If you can avoid these months, you will most likely have an easier time avoiding crowds inside the park and finding campgrounds and permits if you plan to explore the backcountry.

Other Things to See in the Area

The beauty of Southern Utah is legendary, and you won’t want to miss out on seeing any of it. In addition to the beauty of Capitol Reef National Park, there are also a number of other national parks, national monuments, and natural landmarks that I would recommend adding to your trip itinerary. If you would like to read some more about these other wonderful places, I have included guides to some of my top recommendations for you to review below.

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Where to Stay

Campgrounds

When visiting the national parks and monuments of the United States, it is a really neat experience to camp out during your visit.  Some of the best campgrounds in America can be found inside the country’s national parks and monuments and the surrounding areas.  If you are interested in camping out during your visit, I have included a map and list of some recommended campgrounds for you to review below.

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Singletree Campground
Rosebud ATV Campground and Rec Site
Pleasant Creek Campground
Oak Creek Campground
Cedar Mesa Campground
Scenic Byway 12 Campsite
Blue Spruce Campground
Posey Lake Campground
Deer Creek Campground
Calf Creek Campground
Pine Lake Campground

Hotels

If camping is not your speed, you need not work as there are a variety of good hotels for you to choose from in the area as well.  If you are in the process of planning your trip to Capitol Reef National Park and are looking for recommendations on hotels in the area, I have included a map and list of recommended hotels and different price points for you to review below.

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Days Inn by Wyndham Torrey Capital Reef ($$)
Rodeway Inn Capitol Reef ($$)
Rim Rock Inn ($$)
Red Sands Hotel ($$)
Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse ($$$)
SkyRidge Inn Bed & Breakfast ($$$)
Noor Hotel of Capitol Reef ($$$)
Motel Torrey ($$$)
Capitol Reef Resort ($$$$)
Cougar Ridge ($$$$$)

Park Resources

Capitol Reef National Park

When planning any trip, you can never have too many resources at your disposal.  In addition to the information I have provided you in this guide, I have linked to a number of other official resources from the US National Parks Service below for you to use to plan your trip as well.

Activities in the Area

Canyonlands Hot Air Balloon

In addition to the beautiful landmarks, rock formations, and native history that you can see within Capitol Reef National Park, there are also a number of great activities for you to enjoy in the area as well. If you are looking for some fun things to do on your trip to fill out your itinerary, I have included links to some activities for you to consider in my Capitol Reef Park Guide below.

Outdoor Activities
Nature and Wildlife
4WD Tours
Hiking Trails
Multi-Day Tours
Cultural and Theme Tours

Photo Gallery

There are a lot of very pretty spots inside Capitol Reef National Park to take photographs, so make sure you bring your camera with you when you visit. If you would like to see some of the stunning shots I was able to take in my many visits, I have included some of my favorites in a gallery in my Capitol Reef Park Guide below for you to review.

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4 replies »

  1. I really appreciate how much detail you put into your posts, I know how much time that takes. Thank you! I spent 1 day at Capitol Reef about 10 years ago and definitely a return trip is warranted; bookmarking this for when that day comes!

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