The majesty of Zion, the splendor of Arches, and the dramatic vistas of Bryce often overshadow this quieter park, which is what makes spending one day in Capitol Reef National Park so spectacular. Compared to the other National Parks in Utah, Capitol Reef is often overlooked. If you’re looking for things to do in Capitol Reef National Park, you will find suggestions on the best time to visit, where to stay, and of course the best best capitol reef hikes.
This one day Capitol Reef itinerary is great for anyone and can be personalized with the list of 10 amazing things to do at Capitol Reef.
Looking for more places to exploring in Utah? Check out:
Quick Snapshot of Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is a 100 mile long fold in the earth called a geologic monocline. This fold is full of domes, canyons, and even orchards to explore. Since it is tucked in the center of Utah, it receives less visitors than some of the neighboring National Parks giving the entire park a different feel. We almost skipped this park on our last trip to Utah and we’re so glad we didn’t!
Is One Day in Capitol Reef National Park Enough?
The quick answer is – yes and no. There is so much to see in Capitol Reef that if you are trying to see everything in Capitol Reef National Park in one day, you will definitely miss some things. On the other hand, you can easily spend a night and a day exploring and get a sense of the park. Since there are less people, you won’t face some of the crowds you’ll find and since there is no shuttle you don’t need to worry about timing your trip with a shuttle bus or timed entry.
Best Time to visit Capitol Reef National Park
Like many of the other Utah National Parks, the best time to visit Capitol Reef is during the spring and fall months. Summer months are the hottest and can still be a great time to visit, but you will want to plan early morning and late day activities to avoid the heat. Winter temperatures can get cold and you are likely to get freezing temperatures and snow. This can be a beautiful but limiting time to visit the park.
What to do in Capitol Reef National Park: 10 Amazing Activities
Below you can find suggestions of 10 activities to try if you’re spending one day in Capital Reef National Park.
Best Hikes Capitol Reef: Hickman Bridge
If you only have one day in Capitol Reef, this is a great hike to add to your list since it’s short and you won’t need to commit an entire day to hiking. The hike starts easy and then ascends in a moderate grade up to an overlook over route 24. This is a great place to start or end your day.
Best Hike in Capitol Reef: Grand Wash
We loved this hike and did it right around sunset on our first night in the park. You walk up into this canyon with towering walls on every side. While it never gets as narrow as a slot canyon, you can see the power of the water that carved this canyon from the surrounding rocks. In many ways, Grand Wash is similar to hiking the Zion Narrows although the hike itself is dry and you aren’t hiking in water.
The hike is 4.8 miles and is an easy hike and great to do with kids and teens and since it’s an out and back you can adjust the hiking distance as needed.
Best Hikes Capitol Reef National Park: Cassidy Arch
This 3.4 mile trail is beautiful with excellent views and a little challenge. If you’re visit Capitol Reef with kids (particularly older kids), this is a great option. Younger kids might enjoy the Grand Wash listed above.
Best Hikes Capitol Reef: Navajo Knobs
This is a great longer hike and an excellent choice if you’re hiking with teens, adults or older kids. The hike start off with the trail to the Rim overlook and then continues until your have amazing views of the park. The trail is 9.5 miles and is strenuous.
Capitol Reef National Park is a stargazers paradise. Whether you are looking to try some astrophotography or just want to gaze at the milky way, the combination of dark skies and dramatic mountains makes an amazing backdrop. The park itself is an International Dark Sky Park which makes it excellent to stargaze. Try to come when the moon is new or at the very least not full and enjoy your time looking at the stars.
Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and Route 24
Driving through Capitol Reef is a great way to see this National Park, and if you are trying to put together a Capitol Reef National Park one day itinerary, this will be the fastest way to see some of the views. If you are driving route 24, you don’t need to pay the park fee to enter the park, but the Capitol Reef Scenic drive is within the park itself so you need to pay a fee which you can do in Fruita. Both drives are worth it.
This less visited part of the park in the North feels really remote and you can get away from any crowds by heading out to Cathedral Valley. If you only have 1 day in Capitol Reef, you likely won’t have time to get out here, but this is a great options if you have more than one day in the park.
See the Petroglyphs
Capitol Reef in known for its petroglyphs, partly because they are clear to see and easy to get to. You can find the petroglyph right along the sheer wall bordering route 24. The figures are very clear to see and definitely worth the stop.
Fruita is a truly amazing spot within Capitol Reef NP. As you drive through the red rocks, suddenly you come across this green oasis complete with trees and grass. Originally settled by the mormons, who grew fruits trees among other crops, this area feels like a mini paradise. The main campground of the park is located in Fruita, but even if you aren’t staying here, it’s worth a visit and you can also find ranger programs here as well.
Snap Some Photos at the Scenic Overlooks
If you are a photographer or even just interested in seeing the park from the best viewpoints, add these overlooks to your list of places to visit: Gooseneck’s Overlook, Rim Overlook, Strike Valley Overlook, and Upper South Desert Overlook. If you are looking for amazing photos, you can start or end your one day at Capitol Reef National Park with a scenic drive and stop at some of these viewpoints.
Capitol Reef in One Day
If you’re spending one day in Capitol Reef, you should plan to stay somewhere local the night before. You can see some suggestions on places to stay below. Especially in the summer, this gives you an early start in the park. To start your day, drive into the park, and start the morning with a hike at Grand Wash.
Hop in the car and drive the Capitol Reef scenic road, check out the petroglyphs and scenic overlooks. Stop off at Fruita to see the orchards, and finish your day with a hike to Hickman Bridge or one of the other hikes listed above.
If you have additional days, you can break it up a bit and do a few more of the hikes listed. You can also look into some of the local tours such as:
Places to stay near Capitol Reef National Park
Fruita Campground: We loved this campground located right in the park. Unlike the rest of the park, Fruit feels like an oasis with green grass and trees. Opened year round, this is a well run and beautiful campground among the rocks of Capitol Reef. Book in advance through the National Park Service.
Capitol Reef Resort: This is a fun and nice place to stay. There are several options of lodging including staying in a teepee and you can also eat right on the property at the Pioneer Kitchen
Cougar Ridge Lodge: This is a beautiful hotel about 16 miles from Capitol Reef National Park. It has good lodging options for couples and families. You can also find a hot tub, sauna and fitness center.
The Noor Hotel: This is more of a budget option and is a great hotel located close to Capitol Reef. You can find several excellent options for family rooms.
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