- Elaine Sison
The most memorable activities of Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park may seem like a huge detour on Google Maps, but you would regret missing it. I must admit Capitol Reef National Park gets fewer crowds overall compared to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, or Arches National Park because of the detour, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The park is so massive, that some trails require a 4x4 drive if you want extra thrills beyond the main trails.
We were lucky to get weather around 70 degrees with mild winds in mid-October 2020. We arrived at the park around 11 a.m. to find the park with low traffic in the late Fall. I focused my visit around a one-day itinerary with the extra time the following day to drive through the scenic route that connected us to the next destination. Here are the most memorable activities from visiting Capitol Reef National Park:
Panorama Point is the perfect introduction to the park to begin your journey. The parking is on location with the vista point just a few yards away with no hiking necessary.
At the beginning of the hike, you'll see gravitating views of the river on the right as you ascend a brief incline. The trek starts with switchbacks that are manageable compared to my prior experiences with other switchbacks. The end of the trek leads you to Capitol Reef’s most popular natural bridge.
Difficulty rating: easy
Parking: A small lot is available on Highway 24 next to the trail.
Going to Cassidy Arch was the highlight of the visit. I recommend getting in shape for this hike because there are a lot of stairs and the elevation gain would make it more difficult. You’ll start the hike on Grand Wash Trail, so be sure to look out for the Cassidy Arch sign on your left after ¾ of a mile from the parking lot. We missed the sign and kept walking on the wrong trail so pay close attention to the left side to avoid missing the sign. The hike was amazing with mountain edge views. Just be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and plenty of water because the hike is completely unshaded.
Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty rating: Moderate
Parking: You’ll be driving on an unpaved road for at least .25 miles until you reach the parking lot. I was able to drive the road in 2WD just fine, but you may have an issue if your car is too low.
The Gifford House
The Gifford House is the only store in the entire park that offers baked goods, snacks, ice cream, fresh pie, and keepsakes. The pies seem to be a best seller because it was sold out by the time we got there around 1 p.m. The Gifford House is an adorable petite house, so don’t expect to get a full-service restaurant here.
Capitol Reef National Park has two distinct scenic routes: Highway 24 and the Scenic Drive. We chose to drive Highway 24 because it was along the way to Canyonlands National Park. There are many areas along the route to pull over and enjoy the scenery driving through the park if you plan on making pitstops. It was such a delight to drive!
How much time do you need to visit?
You can see all the activities I’ve listed above in one day. The park offers additional activities, camping, and trails requiring a 4x4 drive if you have time to stay longer.
Before you go:
Download offline maps of the area before you visit. Internet and reception are rare in the park.
Bring plenty of water. Some of the hikes are unshaded.
Bring plenty of snacks and your food. Gifford House is the only store in the entire park and they sell out of food early.
Bring a park map or take a picture of it.
Get sturdy hiking shoes. Your casual sneakers will not cut it here.
Places to eat
Depending on where your accommodations are, there few places to eat near Capitol Reef National Park as it is pretty far from large cities. We packed some food to prepare at the Airbnb to reduce expenses and to avoid driving far to get food. However, we did stop at a couple of eateries that we enjoyed:
Curry Pizza: If you happen to pass by the city of Bicknell, this small pizza joint serves delicious Indian fusion on classic pizza. Don't be fooled by the hole-in-the-wall vibes. Their sister restaurant was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. They also serve traditionally flavored pizzas too which are equally delicious.
Castlerock Coffee: This is a great spot to get some coffee and fuel up on gas as it's next to a gas station right before you head towards Capitol Reef National Park. There are also other neighboring sandwich and brunch spots like Paizlees in this small plaza if you want something to eat too.
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