Gifford Homestead barn with horses in Fruita Utah, at Capitol Reef National Park

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The Perfect Itinerary For One Day In Capitol Reef

Nestled in the heart of Utah’s red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is filled with geological wonders and a rich history of the American Southwest. With its towering cliffs, lush orchards, and ancient petroglyphs, a visit to Capitol Reef promises an unforgettable adventure. This comprehensive guide will explore the Park’s history, the best time to visit, where to stay, entrance fees, dining options, and the must-see attractions for a perfect one-day itinerary. During a recent summer visit to this fantastic Park, I created the perfect day in Capitol Reef National Park to share with you.

Park History

The Park’s name pays homage to the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble the United States Capitol building and the rocky ridges that resemble a reef. Initially inhabited by the Fremont people, the area became home to Mormon pioneers in the 19th century. Their legacy remains in the historic Fruita district, where orchards and homesteads still exist. Designated as a national monument in 1937 and later upgraded to national park status in 1971, Capitol Reef preserves a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Hickman Arch with a group of hikers and tourists in the front taking photos.

Planning Your Visit To Capitol Reef

Capitol Reed is one of the least visited parks of the Utah Mighty 5, mainly due to its remoteness. It is often just a stop on a day trip between Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. But take your time between Moab and Bryce, otherwise you will miss a magnificent park. There is a lot more to see here than many people think. 

When to Visit

Capitol Reef National Park welcomes visitors year-round, each season offering unique delights. But spring and fall are the best times to visit, with mild temperatures, blooming wildflowers in the spring, vibrant foliage, and crisp, clear skies in the fall. Summer brings hot temperatures, but it can still be a great time of year to visit. One of the most surprising things about parts of Capitol Reef is the lush green amid a desert landscape. 

Layout Of Capitol Reef Park

The Park itself is over 60 miles long from north to south. Running along what is called the Waterpocket Fold. Route 24 bisects the Park in the northern section. That is where most visitors experience Capitol Reef. This area from Orientation Pullout on the east and Orientation Pullout on the west contains the only paved roads in the Park. 

Where to Stay

Plan your visit by staying nearby, allowing you more time in the Park during your one-day itinerary. While Capitol Reef National Park does not have any lodges within its boundaries, several accommodation options are available in the towns of Torrey and Hanksville. For those seeking a more immersive experience, backcountry camping is permitted in designated areas of the Park. Also, there is a campground in the Fruita Historic District.

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Red Sands

The Red Sands Hotel in Torrey, Utah, is a cozy and conveniently located accommodation option near Capitol Reef National Park. It offers comfortable guest rooms with modern amenities and complimentary Wi-Fi. The hotel features a swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, on-site restaurant, and spa. 

Capitol Reef Resort

Capitol Reef Resort near Torrey, Utah, offers a unique and luxurious lodging experience amidst the stunning landscapes of Capitol Reef National Park. The resort features a variety of accommodations, including guest rooms, luxury cabins, teepees, and Conestoga wagons, all tastefully appointed with modern amenities and rustic charm. Guests can relax and unwind in the resort’s outdoor swimming pool and hot tub and enjoy delicious meals at the on-site restaurant.

Skyview Resort

Skyview Resort near Torrey, Utah, offers a serene retreat nestled amidst the captivating landscapes of Capitol Reef National Park. This new boutique resort (opened in 2023) features luxurious accommodations with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding red rock formations and star-filled skies. Guests can choose from well-appointed guest rooms or spacious suites, each elegantly designed with modern amenities and stylish decor. 

Me standing at the Capitol Reef National Park Entrance sign against a bright blue sky.

Park Entrance Fees: Know Before You Go

The entrance fee for private vehicles is $20 per vehicle, valid for seven consecutive days. If you are visiting Utah and plan to see all 5 National Parks: I recommend getting an America The Beautiful Pass; it will pay for itself if you visit all five parks. An annual pass costs $80 and grants access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites nationwide. And if you are over 62, for a mere $80, you can get a lifetime pass; it’s the best travel bargain around. 

Fees are only collected once you pass Fruita on the Scenic Drive. It is an honor system, and there is no formal pay station. 

Food and Services in the Park: Fueling Your Adventure

While there are no restaurants within Capitol Reef National Park, visitors can still find some food options at the Gifford Homestead Store in the historic Fruita district. Known for its delicious pies, homemade ice cream, and fresh-baked bread, the Gifford Homestead Store is the perfect place to refuel after exploring. The pie is not to be missed; it was such a tremendous old-fashioned experience, and I’m a pie snob!

It’s also worth noting that there are no gas stations within the Park, so be sure to fill up your tank before entering the park boundaries.

Where to Watch Sunrise

Start your day off right with a stunning sunrise at Panorama Point. Located just off Highway 24, this overlook offers sweeping views of the Park’s iconic rock formations bathed in golden morning light. It’s the perfect way to kick off your one-day adventure in Capitol Reef National Park.

The trail heat for Hickman Arch, with the a hiker walking along the river in a canyon.

Best Hikes: Exploring the Wilderness

A visit to Capitol Reef National Park would only be complete with exploring some of its scenic hiking trails. Here are a few of the Park’s must-see hikes for adventurers of all skill levels:

Hiking the Hickman Bridge Trail

Located in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, the Hickman Bridge Trail is a must-do hike for visitors. This moderate 2-mile round trip trail leads to the awe-inspiring Hickman Natural Bridge, an impressive sandstone arch spanning 133 feet. The Hickman Bridge Trail suits hikers of all skill levels, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and glimpses into the Park’s geological history. 

Trailhead Location and Parking:

The trailhead for the Hickman Bridge Trail is conveniently located off Utah State Route 24, approximately 1.5 miles east of the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center. Look for the marked parking area on the south side of the road. 

Trail Description:

The Hickman Bridge Trail begins at the parking area and immediately immerses hikers in the rugged beauty of Capitol Reef National Park. The trail initially follows a wide Freemont River before gradually ascending through a rocky canyon. Along the way, hikers will be treated to sweeping views of the surrounding cliffs and rock formations.

After approximately 1 mile of hiking, hikers will reach the highlight of the trail: Hickman Natural Bridge. This impressive sandstone arch is a testament to the forces of erosion that have shaped the landscape of Capitol Reef over millions of years.

Capitol Gorge Trail 

This trail offers hikers a journey through time as they weave through narrow sandstone canyons once traversed by pioneers in their quest for new beginnings. It follows the only road that passed through the Waterpocket Fold before RT 24.

Trailhead Location and Parking:

The journey begins at the Capitol Gorge Trailhead, at the end of the scenic Capitol Gorge Road. Visitors must travel approximately 2.2 miles down the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road to reach the trailhead, accessible via the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. 

Trail Description:

The Capitol Gorge Trail winds through a narrow canyon carved by the meandering waters of the Fremont River over millions of years. As hikers venture deeper into the gorge, they are enveloped by towering sandstone walls that rise hundreds of feet above, creating a sense of awe and wonder. The trail is relatively flat and easy to navigate, making it accessible to hikers of all skill levels.

One of the highlights of the Capitol Gorge Trail is the opportunity to view pioneer inscriptions etched into the sandstone walls by early settlers passing through the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But don’t be tempted to add your name to the Pioneer Register, it is under survalience and you will recieve a hefty fine!

As hikers continue along the trail, they may encounter ancient petroglyphs etched into the rock surfaces by the indigenous peoples who once inhabited the region. These intricate carvings offer insights into the cultural and spiritual practices of the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan peoples who called Capitol Reef home thousands of years ago. 

The start of the Capitol Gorge Trail in Capitol Reef National Park.
Cohab Canyon Trail

The trail winds through Cohab Canyon, revealing panoramic vistas, fascinating geological features, and glimpses into the Park’s rich natural history. 

Trailhead Location and Parking:

The trailhead for Cohab Canyon is conveniently located near the Fruita Campground, making it easily accessible for visitors staying within the Park. The trailhead is marked, with signage providing information about the trail’s length and difficulty.

Trail Description:

The Cohab Canyon Trail begins with a gradual ascent through a sandy wash. As hikers make their way deeper into the canyon, they are treated to stunning views of the surrounding landscape, with glimpses of the Waterpocket Fold—a 100-mile-long geological monocline—visible in the distance.

Along the trail, hikers will encounter several scenic overlooks offering panoramic vistas of the Park’s rugged terrain. These overlooks provide a great view of the Fruita District. 

Grand Wash Trail

This iconic trail offers hikers a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the Park’s breathtaking landscapes. 

Trailhead Location and Parking:

The Grand Wash Trailhead parking is in the same lot as the Cassidy Arch Trailhead. From the parking area, hikers can access the trailhead via a short, paved path leading to the beginning of the trail.

Trail Description:

As hikers venture deeper into the canyon, they are enveloped by the cool shade of the narrow walls. The trail follows the sandy wash of the canyon floor, meandering through twists and turns as it winds its way deeper into the heart of Capitol Reef.

One of the highlights of the Grand Wash Trail is the Narrows section, where the canyon walls narrow to just a few feet wide, creating a dramatic and immersive hiking experience. As hikers navigate this narrow corridor, they are treated to stunning views of the sculpted sandstone walls rising high above, with occasional glimpses of sunlight filtering through the narrow openings above. 

Trail Difficulty and Considerations:

The Grand Wash Trail is easy, with relatively flat terrain and minimal elevation gain. It is a long trail and can be completed as an out-and-back trail or, if you have someone pick you up, a one-way excursion.

Towering walls of the canyon rise around the Grand Wash trail in Capitol Reef.
Cassidy Arch Trail

Named after the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy, who allegedly used the area as a hideout, this iconic trail offers hikers a unique opportunity to explore one of the Park’s most iconic natural features. 

Trailhead Location and Parking:

The Cassidy Arch Trailhead is conveniently located off the scenic Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, approximately 3.5 miles east of the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center. From the parking area, hikers can access the trailhead via a short, sandy path leading to the beginning of the trail.

Trail Description:

The Cassidy Arch Trail begins with a gradual ascent through a picturesque desert landscape. As hikers walk along the trail, they are treated to stunning views of the surrounding canyons and distant mountain ranges.

The highlight of the Cassidy Arch Trail is, of course, the Cassidy Arch itself—a stunning natural sandstone arch that spans approximately 104 feet across. As hikers approach the arch, they are greeted by its towering presence, rising above the surrounding canyon floor. 

Trail Difficulty and Considerations:

The Cassidy Arch Trail is moderately strenuous, with rocky sections and elevation gain along the route. 

Which Trail(s) to Choose?

You will only have time for some of these hikes during a one-day visit. So, if you are trying to narrow down what hikes to tackle, the best approach is to select one arch trail, either Hickman or Cassidy, and one wash trail, either Grand Wash or Capitol Gorge. Hickman is slightly easier to complete compared to Cassidy. And of the two wash trails, I personally liked Grand Wash best. Doing two hikes will take you 4-5 hours total.

The famous pie from the Gifford House in Capitol Reef, sitting on a picnic table with ice cream and red rocks in the back ground,

Explore The Fruita Historic District

The Fruita District in Capitol Reef National Park is a charming and historic area rich in cultural heritage. Here are some of the top things to do in Fruita for visitors looking to explore this corner of the Park:

Explore the Historic Orchards:

Fruita is renowned for its historic fruit orchards, initially planted by Mormon settlers in the late 19th century. Visitors can wander among the orchards, which still produce apples, peaches, pears, cherries, and apricots. Depending on the season, you can pick and enjoy fresh fruit straight from the trees.

Visit the Gifford Homestead:

Step back in time at the Gifford Homestead, a historic farmhouse built in the early 1900s. Today, the homestead serves as a museum and store, where visitors can learn about pioneer life in Fruita. You can also purchase homemade goods such as fresh-baked pies. Don’t miss the chance to sample the famous pies made from fruit grown right in the orchards. Again, coming from a pie lover, the pies are delicious. Creating a little picnic in the incredible setting is also so much fun.

Picnic in the Park:

The Fruita District offers several scenic picnic areas where visitors can relax and enjoy a meal surrounded by the Park’s natural beauty. Pack a picnic basket with local goodies from the nearby town of Torrey. Popular picnic spots include the picnic area near the Gifford Homestead and the picnic tables along the Fremont River.

Attend Ranger Programs and Workshops:

Capitol Reef National Park offers a variety of ranger-led programs and workshops throughout the year, providing visitors with opportunities to learn about the Park’s natural and cultural history. Check the Park’s website or visitor center for information on upcoming programs, including guided hikes, stargazing events, and educational workshops for all ages.

Embarking on Capitol Reef’s 8-Mile Scenic Drive

Nestled within the captivating landscapes of Capitol Reef National Park lies the renowned 8-mile Scenic Drive, a mesmerizing journey through towering cliffs, colorful rock formations, and ancient geological wonders. This iconic drive offers visitors a tantalizing glimpse into the Park’s rich natural and cultural heritage, with opportunities for stunning vistas, scenic overlooks, and memorable encounters with the desert wilderness.

The 8-mile Scenic Drive begins near the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center, where visitors can obtain maps and information before setting out on their journey. The drive is accessible to all vehicles, including RVs and trailers. 

As the drive begins, visitors are treated to sweeping views of the Fruita District, a historic area known for its lush fruit orchards, historic homesteads, and scenic picnic spots. Highlights of the Fruita District include the Gifford Homestead, where visitors can sample homemade pies and preserves, and the Fruita Schoolhouse, which offers insights into the area’s pioneer history.

Pick your own fruit signs in an orchard in Capitol Reef National Park.
Panoramic Vistas and Scenic Overlooks:

Throughout the drive, visitors will encounter several scenic overlooks and panoramic vistas offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. These overlooks provide the perfect opportunity to pause and take in the natural beauty of Capitol Reef, with expansive vistas of colorful rock formations, towering cliffs, and deep canyons. 

The 8-mile Scenic Drive is open year-round, weather permitting, and can be enjoyed in all seasons. Be sure you bring plenty of water and food, since services are limited along the route. 

Lookout Points: Spectacular Vistas

Capitol Reef National Park is home to countless lookout points offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Don’t miss these scenic viewpoints:

Goosenecks Overlook: Named for its resemblance to the winding meanders of a river. Goosenecks Overlook offers panoramic views of the Capitol Reef Waterpocket Fold. Watch as the layers of rock unfold before your eyes, revealing millions of years of geological history.

Sunset Point: As the day draws to a close, make your way to Sunset Point for a memorable sunset experience. Watch as the fading light casts a warm glow over the landscape, painting the cliffs and canyons in shades of pink. It’s the perfect way to conclude your one-day Capitol Reef National Park adventure.

Me sitting on a wall at the end of the Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef.

Exploring the Remote Wilderness of Capitol Reef National Park

If you have more than one day to explore the Park and are adventurous, you may want to take to the more remote parts. Venturing into its more remote sections promises a deeper connection with the rugged wilderness and a chance to discover hidden gems far from the crowds. 

Cathedral Valley:

Located in northern Capitol Reef, Cathedral Valley is a remote and stunning area known for its towering monoliths and towering sandstone formations. Visitors must traverse a rough and unpaved road to reach Cathedral Valley, making it inaccessible to most vehicles. You must have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle for this rugged journey. Once there, highlights include the towering Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon and the “Glass Mountain.” 

The Waterpocket Fold

Stretching for nearly 100 miles across the heart of Capitol Reef, the Waterpocket Fold is a geological wonderland of colorful cliffs, deep canyons, and hidden slot canyons. While some sections of the Waterpocket Fold are accessible via paved roads and popular trails, much of it remains wild and remote. 

Upper Muley Twist Canyon:

Tucked away in the southern reaches of Capitol Reef, Upper Muley Twist Canyon offers a challenging yet rewarding backcountry experience for adventurous hikers. The trailhead is accessible via a rough, remote dirt road requiring a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. From there, the trail winds through a narrow canyon, past towering cliffs and ancient petroglyphs, before reaching the breathtaking vistas. This remote area offers unparalleled solitude and the opportunity to immerse oneself in the untamed beauty of Capitol Reef.

Practical Considerations:

Before you venture into the more remote sections of Capitol Reef, it’s essential to be prepared. Ensure your vehicle is equipped for rough roads and remote travel, with a full gas tank and spare tire. Bring plenty of water, food, and supplies, as services are limited in these areas. Let someone know your plans and expected return time, and always check weather conditions and road closures before setting out.

Capitol Reef Can Be Experiences In One Perfect Day!

With its stunning landscapes, rich history, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure, Capitol Reef National Park offers a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors of all ages. Whether embarking on a scenic drive, hiking through rugged canyons, or simply soaking in the natural beauty, a one-day visit to Capitol Reef will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. So pack your bags, hit the road, and get ready to explore the wonders of Capitol Reef National Park.

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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One Comment

  1. You’ve been busy!! I enjoyed reading this. Clear. Checks all the boxes for traveler info. Might not get there but would like to sink my teeth into some of that pie!

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