Are you planning to visit the National Parks in Utah? Rumor has it that some people skip Capitol Reef ?!? Let me tell you that Capitol Reef National Park is fantastic! There are so many things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.
However, Capitol Reef is over-shadowed by it’s “neighbors.” I’m looking at you Arches and Bryce!
If you are traveling to Utah to experience the incredible National Parks, make sure you don’t skip Capitol Reef National Park. I realize that you may not have a lot of time to devote to this area and you may be in a rental car.
Your choices of places to go and things to do will be limited. Therefore, I have broken down the five things you must see on your first visit.
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Fun Things To Do In Capitol Reef National Park
1. Hickman Bridge Trail
If you only have time for one good hike, be sure to put this on your list. This is one of the most popular Capitol Reef hikes and is a moderate hike at 0.9 miles one way (this is an out and back hike) with a 400 ft elevation gain.
The trail begins along the Fremont River and quickly gains elevation which provides spectacular views. Along the trail, you will have views of the Fremont River, Capitol Dome, and of course Hickman Bridge.
Be sure to bring plenty of water and take your time, as there is very little shade along the trail.
Therefore you should start early in the morning to avoid the mid-day heat. Expect to spend approximately 2 hrs to enjoy and take your time on this hike.
2. Capitol Reef Petroglyphs
In my opinion, this is a non-negotiable when visiting Capitol Reef. Native Americans carved the petroglyphs in the sandstone around 700-1400 years ago. The creativity and diversity in the panels are astonishing.
Only a mile or so west of the Hickman Bridge trail is the boardwalk to view the Capitol Reef Petroglyph Panel.
There are quite a few different carvings along the boardwalk, so be sure to slow down and take your time to find them all.
3. The Orchards
Did you know that Capitol Reef National Park is home to thousands of fruit-bearing trees? Pretty cool, right?
Mormon pioneers initially planted the fruit trees. Throughout every summer (generally mid-June through mid-October), ripe fruit is available in various orchards.
While we visited in September, apples were in season, but at other times you can pick cherries, apricots, peaches, and pears. Find out more about the Capitol Reef orchards.
You can sample and eat all the fruit you would like (provided the orchard is open and in season) while in the grove, and you can self-pay at the gate for any fruit you take with you.
4. The Gifford Homestead
Approximately a mile beyond the visitor center on the scenic drive is the Gifford Homestead. The Mormon settlers built the historic buildings in 1908.
Now, Capitol Reef National Park and the Capitol Reef Natural History associated jointly run the Gifford House. Inside you can find a museum featuring the Mormon settlement in the Fruita area and a store selling locally baked pies, old-fashioned ice cream, and bread (among other items).
There are picnic tables outside where you can enjoy the delicious treats, or you can take them with you to enjoy later (probably not the ice cream though).
Find a detailed map for the greater Fruita area on the NPS website here.
5. Scenic Driving
Immediately beyond the visitor center the 7 miles paved (one-way) Capitol Reef scenic drive begins and runs south past the Gifford House and ends near Capitol Gorge.
This drive runs along the western side of the Waterpocket Fold, which is the primary geological feature defining Capitol Reef National Park. Find out more about the Waterpocket Fold and geological features of the park here.
Highway 24 is the main road east to west through the park. This is the road that will take you through Fruita. There are quite a few gorgeous roadside views on this drive.
There are so many interesting things to do in Capitol Reef National Park that this list just barely scratched the surface. Let me know what you love about this often overlooked national park.