Man standing the the park sign at the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park

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Drive Moab To Capitol Reef To Bryce Canyon National Park

Take your time with the drive from Moab to Capitol Reef National Park and then onto Bryce Canyon National Park; you will miss so much if you rush it. On a recent drive in southern Utah, I was stunned by what was around each bend (I know there aren’t many bends on Utah’s roads, but it’s an expression). This scenic drive is only part of this adventure. As you travel around the National Parks of Utah, you need to take some time to stop and soak it all in.

This epic road trip can include Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park at the beginning before you leave Moab. And Zion National Park is an easy and beautiful drive from Bryce Canyon. Along the way, you will find great stops such as Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. And those are just a few of the fantastic sights along this Utah scenic byway.

The Perfect Itinerary

The best itinerary for this famous American road trip is to allow yourself three full days to explore. Leave Moab in the early morning; it will take you about an hour to reach Route 24, which is the road that will take you into Capitol Reef. If you are leaving from Salt Lake City, the drive to Torrey, the western gateway to Capitol Reef, is much longer, around 3 hours. On the drive from Moab, once you reach State Route 24 and the town of Hankville, the drive becomes much more enjoyable. If you want to catch an amazing sunrise before you leave Moab, head to Arches National Park and check out one of the locations on my The Best Spots For Sunrise And Sunset In Arches.

Day One Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is a long, narrow national park. On this drive, you will just be crossing the park in the middle and exploring only a tiny section. The park follows what is known as the Waterpocket Fold, which is a south-southeast trending fold in the earth in which the east side is dropped relative to the west side, creating the amazing cliffs and rock formations found at Capitol Reef. It extends for over 100 miles. As you enter the park, you will see a noticeable change in the landscape. This is a valley covered in fruit orchards and green patches. If you continue along Route 24, you can drive through the park without paying an entry fee. But, exploring the Fruita Historic District and the Scenic Drive is worth turning off and paying the park entrance fee.

Tip: If you are exploring the parks of Utah, be sure to get an America The Beautiful pass. It gets you free entry to over 400 national parks and monuments. It will pay for itself in just 3 park visits, which is easy to do in Utah.

A good side trip along the route is the Goblin Valley State Park. An otherworldly landscape filled with “goblins” or hoodoos. Some easy hiking trails take you into this unique landscape and several observation points. It’s worth a side trip; the park entrance is along the highway.

Hickman Bridge at Capitol Reef National Park with bright blue sky
Hickman Bridge
Top 4 Things To Do In Capitol Reef National Park
Gifford House:

The main attraction in the Historic Fruita District is the Gifford House, located 1 mile south of the park’s visitor center. Here, you can have a picnic, observe wildlife, or relax. But my highlight was eating one of Fruita’s famous and delicious fruit pies. The homestead was first occupied in 1908 by Calvin Pendleton and later owned by the Gifford family until it was sold to the National Park Service in 1969. The property includes a home, a barn, a smokehouse, and a garden. It’s a tiny glimpse into life in the Fruita area in the early 1900s. The entire Fruita district, about 200 acres, is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Pick & Eat Some Fruit:

The town of Fruita, inside the park, has more than 2,500 fruit trees, including apples, peaches, and cherries. Although the town is now federally owned, visitors can stroll through the orchards and eat fruit fresh off the trees. You will see a cute orchard as soon as you enter the park, and you can pick fruit from the trees (payment is by the honor system).

Hike The Grand Wash:

This is a very easy and flat hike. The Grand Wash cuts through the upper portion of the Waterpocket Fold. This is a peaceful, flat, and sometimes shady walk. You will travel along a sandy wash with towering canyon walls all around you. Parking is available at either end of the trail. Overall, the Fruita Valley section of the park has around 15 day-hike options; this is one of the flattest and most accessible hikes.

Pick An Arch Hike:

Capitol Reef has two famous arch trails, the Hickman Bridge Trail and the Cassidy Arch Trail. Hickman Bridge is a 1.7-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of about 300 feet. The trail leads to a massive sandstone arch. The Cassidy Arch trail is a bit more challenging. Starting in the same lot as the Grand Wash trail, the hike is about 3 miles round trip and more challenging.

Drive The Scenic Drive:

This is a fantastic drive through the park’s heart. The stunning drive offers you a way to see the park without hiking. There are numerous pull-outs and observation points that offer great photo opportunities. At only 8 miles one way, the drive will take you less than an hour, depending on how many stops you make along the way.

There are several other sections of the park to explore, but that won’t fit into this short itinerary. But if you have a few extra days, check out the northern section of the park called the Cathedral Valley or the southern section of the Waterpocket Fold. The park also has an area of incredible slot canyons, including Burro, Cottonwood, and Sheets Gulch, all for experienced canyon-country hikers.

Barn at Gifford House in Fruita with horses and rock formation in background
Gifford Barn
Where To Spend The Night

Once you have explored Capitol Reef, continue on Route 24 to exit the park. You will first encounter the town of Torrey. This is the most popular place to stay when visiting Capitol Reef. There are several restaurants and accommodations.

The Top Choices For Lodging in Torrey

Capitol Reef Resort: This property offers Glamping options and a more traditional hotel. Just outside the park’s western entrance, in the town of Torrey. This is the largest and most talked about accommodation in the area. From guestrooms and luxury cabins to Conestoga wagons and teepees, this is a unique place to spend the night. Onsite, you will find The Pioneer Kitchen, offering excellent comfort food with a view. The restaurant is open to guests and non-guests, so even if you aren’t staying here, it could be a perfect place to stop for a meal after a long day of exploring.

Red Sands Hotel & Spa: A traditional hotel concept with an onsite spa. The Rock Garden Eatery & Bar is the onsite dining option. Rooms are modern and up-to-date, and the location is just outside Torrey.

Casitas At Capitol Reef: This tiny little property offers 3 casitas and a newly renovated motel. If you are traveling with a group, check out the Capitol Casita; it sleeps 7.

Alternative Accommodations

I recommend continuing on to Escalante and spending the night there. Not only is it closer to more activities for the next day, but there is also a fantastic place to stay. Drive out of Torrey on Route 12 towards Boulder. You will climb through the mountains of the Dixie National Forest, and the views and changes in the landscape are breathtaking. On my recent summer drive, we left the valley’s heat, temperatures around 96°, and reached the peaks of the Dixie National Forest; the temperature had dropped 16 degrees.

Lookout point in Dixie National Forest Utah
Dixie National Forest

The vast national forest covers over 2 million acres. In fact, as you drive from Torrey to Bryce, you will drive in and out of the park around a dozen times. The hills are covered in dense Ponderosa Pine forests, plateaus, and alpine lakes; other sections are desert canyon gorges of red rock. There are hiking trails throughout the park; if you have the time, it is worth exploring.

But your ultimate destination on this ride is Yonder Escalante. It is a quirky, fun, inviting place to spend the next two nights. You will find accommodations that suit you with a mix of airstream trailers, a campground, tiny cabins, and deluxe cabins. A food truck, pool, fun public gathering space, and a vintage drive-in movie theater make this a fun and comfortable place to spend a few nights. The town of Escalante also offers several dining options to round things out. My favorite was the 4th West Pub, one of the best BBQ Bacon Burgers I have ever had!

Read all about my stay at Yonder Escalante in this post!

Day 2 Explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

The town of Escalante is the perfect place from which to explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This area is a mixture of sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons. Remote and filled with picturesque washes and abandoned old Western movie sets, there is much to explore. One of the newest National Monuments, it was established in 1996.

This area is known primarily for its unique and very narrow slot canyons. One of the most famous is the Zebra Slot Canyon. This is a 5.2-mile out-and-back hike with a slight elevation gain. The hard part is the tight spaces. If you try it, be prepared for some water crossings; your feet will probably get wet.

Lower Calf Creek Falls

I highly recommend doing the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail. It’s a long but relatively easy hike to the most impressive falls. In the summer, the best time to do this hike is early or late in the day to take advantage of the canyon shade. You will be rewarded with a stunning waterfall at the end. In fact, the falls are around 130 feet tall, with an excellent pool for swimming at the bottom. It is a long walk at approximately 6.5 miles out and back, but the elevation gain is only about 800 feet.

Waterfall with water pooled at bottom against bright blue sky
Lower Calf Creek Falls

Check out the Anasazi State Park Museum; it’s just a short drive from the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail in Boulder. It’s a great place to learn more about the indigenous people who have inhabited this area for centuries. It’s a fascinating brief stop if you are interested in history.

Another stop closer to Escalante is the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. This park is worth a quick stop, featuring petrified wood that is kaleidoscopic in color. The Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, offering boating, canoeing, and fishing.

After your hike and museum visit, a nice treat is a stop at the Kiva Coffeehouse between Boulder and Escalante. They have a great view, and it’s a nice place to take a break. Then, return to Escalante for a second night.

Day 3 Off To Bryce Canyon National Park

It’s a short drive from Escalante to Bryce Canyon National Park, at just under an hour. So get an early start and beat some of the crowds. Bryce is a bustling park. But it is also very manageable to visit in one very full day.

Bryce offers so much for visitors to do. With over 65 miles of hiking trails, numerous Interpretive Ranger Programs, an extensive bike trail network, camping, and a historic lodge. The park also offers a free shuttle service, making it easy to get around.

View from lower in canyon up to rim of Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Best Hikes In Bryce Canyon

Make Sunrise Point your first stop. Here, you can choose from a number of hikes/walks.

  • Rim Trail: If you want to stay above the rim but want to explore, check out the rim trail. Starting at Sunrise Point, you can easily do a short hike to Sunset Point. This is an easy 1-mile walk on a paved path. Still, it has stunning views of the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater and its famous hoodoos below. You can hike to Inspiration Point and even onto Bryce Point.
  • Queen’s Garden Trail: The Queen’s Garden Trail is the least difficult of the trails descending below the canyon’s rim. This is a must-do hike if you can. One option is to hike the trail out and back to the Queen Victoria hoodoo. During the trek, you are surrounded by the splendor of the hoodoos. This trail can easily be combined with the Navajo Loop to create a 2.9-mile round-trip trail starting at Sunrise Point and finishing at Sunset Point.
  • Navajo Loop Trail: This trail begins and ends at Sunset Point. This is the trail with the famous switchbacks winding between narrow walls and towering Douglas-fir trees. It also passes the park’s most renowned hoodoo: Thor’s Hammer. The loop has two sides: Two Bridges and Wall Street (remember that Wall Street is closed during the winter).
  • The Peekaboo Loop: A more strenuous hike, it descends 670 feet (204 meters) from Bryce Point to this hoodoo-filled loop trail before ascending back to Bryce Point. But the trek along this trail is stunning.
Hiking Tip:

Tip: If you are up for a longer hike, combine all three trails above. Start at Sunrise Point and hike the Queen’s Garden Trail to the bottom; you will come to an intersection where the Navajo Loop Trail and Peekaboo Loop Trail intersect; follow the signs to the Peekaboo Loop Trail and make that loop (it’s best to go clock-wise on this section of the hike but don’t go up to Bryce Point, continue on the loop). When you return to the Navajo Loop Trail, pick either Two Bridges or Wall Street. Both are stunning and about the same distance, and climb to Sunset Point. It’s long, around 6.5 miles, and has a lot of climbing, but it is worth it. You get to experience all of the highlights of Bryce on this hike.

Photo of rock formation that looks like Queen Victoria
Queen’s Garden
Food In The Park

Many of the National Parks in Utah don’t have food options within the park. Bryce has several. You can visit the Lodge dining room for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (check for seasonal closures). The Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop is an excellent casual option, offering pizza, salads, beer, and coffee drinks.

The road trip from Moab to Capitol Reef to Bryce is filled with adventure. Take the time to enjoy the fantastic sights along the way. And from Bryce, it’s an easy drive to Zion National Park, Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City.

Below are links and resources to help you plan The perfect trip

Travel Resources

  • HOTELS
    Booking.com and Expedia.com are great resources for accommodations around the world. Book almost any hotel directly from these links.
  • TOURS
    The best places to book tours and activities are Viator or Get Your Guide . From great food tours to guided hiking adventures to local walking tours, you will find great experiences to add to your travels here.
  • FOOD EXPERIENCES
    EatWith is a great resource for authentic culinary experiences with passionate locals worldwide. Connecting travelers with hosts in over 130 countries, providing unique, intimate, and immersive experiences in private homes and exclusive venues.
  • TRAINS
    Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with over 210 rail and coach companies to help their customers travel to thousands of destinations across 45 countries. 

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