Guide to Capital Reef National Park – Gear.com

Utah’s Hidden Treasure

Located in Utah’s south-central desert is the lesser known Capitol Reef National Park.  With over 240,000 acres, the park surrounds a long geological wrinkle on the planet known as the Waterpocket Fold.  This wrinkle was formed millions of years ago creating a rocky coral-like landscape that inspired the “reef” portion of the park’s name and is responsible for the park’s unique landscape of golden sandstone domes, deep canyons and fiery red rock cliffs. 

The fact that this hidden gem is unknown to many makes it a great park to visit if you are looking for a little solitude and the quiet call of the wild.

HOURS & ENTRANCE FEES

Hours

Capitol Reef National Park and its campgrounds are open all day, every day throughout the year.  However, some roads and trails may be periodically closed due to weather conditions.  To check road and weather conditions, call (435) 425-3791 or visit https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/hours.htm.

The Visitor Center is open daily except major holidays including New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Washington’s Birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The Gifford House Store and Museum is open daily from March 14th through October 31st.

Entrance Fees

Park entrance fees are required for traveling the park’s Scenic Drive beyond the Fruita Campground as follows:

  • Bicyclists and pedestrians – $10
  • Private vehicles – $20
  • Motorcycles – $15

Park passes are valid for 7 days.  You can purchase digital passes in advance at recreation.gov but be sure to download them or print them in advance as internet connectivity and cell service are limited within the park. 

You can also get into the park for free with an America the Beautiful annual pass.

You can also get into the park for free with an America the Beautiful annual pass.  

TIPS FOR VISITING

  • The best time to visit is in the spring and fall when temperatures are mild.  Winter temperatures can get below freezing and snow is likely, while summers can be pretty hot.
  • Internet and cell service are limited within the park so be sure to bring paper maps or download them in advance.  I highly recommend downloading the NPS park app which allows you to create a trip planner and save the park and its maps to your phone for offline use.
  • If you are looking to explore the scenic stops along Highway 24 and only get in a couple of short hikes than one day is plenty of time to visit Capitol Reef as it is pretty compact making it easy to see a lot in a short period of time. However, plan on spending at least 3 days if you want to visit all of the park’s highlights and explore part of the backcountry.
  • If you want to explore more of the surrounding area, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument lies just southwest of the park. It is also about 1-1/2 hours away from Goblin Valley State Park.

PETS

Pets are allowed on leashes (6 feet or less) in the developed areas of the park including the following:

  • Trail from Visitor’s Center to Fruita Campground
  • Fremont River Trail from campground at south end of Hattie’s Field
  • Unfenced and/or unlocked orchards
  • Chestnut and Doc Inglesby picnic area
  • Campgrounds
  • Within 50 feet of center line paved or dirt roads open to public vehicle traffic
  • Public parking areas

CAMPING

Capitol Reef has one developed campground and two primitive campgrounds as well as backcountry camping. 

  • Fruita Campground – Developed campground adjacent to the Fremont River surrounded by orchards with 71 sites and one group site.   Reservations are available March 1st through October 31st through www.recreation.gov, and are first-come, first-serve the rest of the year.
  • Cathedral Valley Campground – Primitive campground located halfway down Cathedral Valley Loop Road.  Access typically requires high clearance, four-wheel drive.  There are 6 fee-free sites with picnic tables, fire gates and pit toilets. There is no water available.
  • Cedar Mesa Campground – Primitive campground located 23 miles south of Highway 24 on Notom-Bullfrog Road.  Access sometimes requires high clearance but not usually four-wheel drive.  There are 5 fee-free sites with picnic tables, fire gates and pit toilets. There is no water available.
  • Backpacking – A free backcountry permit (available at the Visitor’s Center) is required for all overnight trips when camping outside established campgrounds.  You must camp at least ½ mile from roads and trailheads.  Fuel burning stoves are allowed but you are not allowed to gather wood or build fires.

THINGS TO SEE & DO

Hickman Bridge Arch – A natural sandstone arch that rises over 130 feet tall.  It can be accessed on a moderate mile long trail with beautiful canyon views.

Chimney Rock Pillar Hike – An easy to moderate 3.5-mile round-trip hike with a 580-foot elevation gain.  The scenic hike climbs a mesa above Mummy Cliffs to an overlook with views of an incredibly unique sandstone rock formation that resembles a giant chimney.   

Petroglyphs – Impressive petroglyphs on several rock panels are found just east of the Visitor’s Center along a sheer cliff that parallels Highway 24.  There is a road sign identifying the area with a parking turn out.

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive – A 7.9-mile paved road that provides the most popular way to see the park as it passes many of the major points of interest with numerous turnouts.  The road begins at the Visitor’s Center and ends at Capitol Gorge. Plan on spending at least 1-1/2 hours so you can explore the area and make several stops along the way.

Goosenecks Overlook – A 5-10-minute walk on a trail that is less than 600 feet long to a view of Sulphur Creek as it snakes its way through the rugged landscape far down below.

Sunset Point Trail – A short half mile trail on the north rim of Sulphur Creek that leads to stunning panoramic views.  As the name implies, it’s a great spot to catch the light at sunset.

Notom-Bullfrog Road – A road that follows the Eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold for 10 miles. After that, the road continues, but it is unpaved.  This is a great area for primitive camping and scenic hiking.

Cathedral Road – An unpaved road that is not heavily traveled and requires four-wheel drive. This finals section of the park offers stunning sights including monoliths rising thousands of feet above the desert floor.

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