Capitol Reef National Park Activities

If you love the outdoors, you’ll find a variety of Capitol Reef National Park activities to enjoy year-round! This Capitol Reef National Park guide will help you plan a trip you won’t forget: things to do, what to pack, where to stay, and more!

Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden gem tucked away within Utah’s mesmerizing red rock landscape. You’ll find endless opportunities for adventures and things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef Activities

With its rich cultural history and unique geology, Capitol Reef offers an unforgettable journey for all who venture here: nature lover, a history buff, or an adventure enthusiast!

Living only a few hours away, we’ve had the opportunity to visit Capitol Reef National Park many times. The tips we share are based on our experiences visiting the area throughout the years during all four seasons!

Here are some done-for-you Capitol Reef National Park itineraries that include the best activities to do based on the time you have to spend at the park:

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A Photo Tour of Capitol Reef National Park

Take a visual tour through Capitol Reef National Park to see the stunning landscape and wildlife you’ll find in the park!

Visiting Capitol Reef National Park: The Basics

Located in south-central Utah, you’ll see a landscape filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges when visiting Capitol Reef National Park.

There are a variety of passes available to visit Capitol Reef. You won’t need a US National Park pass to drive along Highway 24 or through the Fruita area, but you will need one to access the Scenic Drive just past the Fruita Campground.

The park and campgrounds are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Visitor Center is open daily except for major holidays. The Gifford House Store and Museum is usually open from March 14 (Pi Day) to the end of October. Check the website for the most updated information.

The best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park is during the most temperate seasons in the spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October). The spring and fall daytime highs average 60º to 80º F and lows average 30º to 50º F.

Do your research to know what the Capitol Reef National Park weather will be at various times of year so you can decide which season and month is best for you to plan your vacation to this stunning park!

Capitol Reef National Park Activities

You’ll find fun things to do in Capitol Reef National Park as you enjoy the stunning landscape and explore Capitol Reef National Park Landmarks.

This list is also what we recommend for Capitol Reef National Park winter activities with a few slight adjustments we note below.

There are fun ways to get the family excited before, during and after the trip with National Park activities:

Visitor Center and Ranger-Led Programs at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is open all day, every day. The visitor center is open daily, but is closed on holidays. Hours in the winter vary so call 435-425-3791 and follow the prompts for current visitor center information.

Stop by the visitor center for current information about road conditions. camping, ranger-led programs and to pick up a copy of the Capitol Reef Park Map.

If you’re visiting Capitol Reef National Park with kids, we recommend your first stop be the Visitor Center! Tell the on-duty ranger what activities you are interested in doing at the park. The rangers can give you tips for the best things to do with kids.

A great way to learn about the park is participating in Capitol Reef Ranger-led programs: geology talks, evening programs, and the Junior Ranger Program for kids!

Kids, and adults, will enjoy collecting stamps in their National Park Passport book! Passport booklets and stamp sets are “usually” available at the park visitor centers, but we recommend you get the passport book before the trip, just in case!! We’ve seen sad kiddos when a visitor center is out of passport books. Rangers can stamp a piece of paper, but it’s not just the same experience!

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Scenic Drives in Capitol Reef

The main Capitol Reef scenic drive is 7.9 miles long. Exploring the Capitol Reef scenic drive, with the spur roads, usually takes 1.5 hours. The paved road is suitable for passenger vehicles. Since it’s not a loop road, you’ll drive back the way you came.

There are two dirt spur roads off the scenic drive: Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. Passenger cars and RVs up to 27 feet in length are fine to drive the road. At the end of the Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge spur roads you’ll find a trailhead to two of the most amazing Capitol Reef hikes!

The Scenic Drive, Grand Wash, and Capitol Gorge roads can be closed due to snow, ice, mud, and flash floods.

We recommend the Capitol Reef GuideAlong App to hear fun behind-the-scenes stories and local tips that play automatically as you drive, based on your GPS location.

Fruita Barn at Capitol Reef
Fruita Barn at Capitol Reef

Fruita Area at Capitol Reef

The Fruita valley includes the Gifford Homestead, blacksmith shop, barn and orchards. The Gifford house sells unique handmade items by local artisans like quilts, aprons, woven rugs, soap, crockery, candles and toys. We love to get the homemade pies!! 

One of the favorite activities at Capitol Reef is picking fruit from the orchard in the fall. Check the website for the Capitol Reef harvesting times for each type of fruit.

Grand Wash Narrows
Grand Wash Narrows

Hiking at Capitol Reef

Exploring the Capitol Reef hikes is one of the best ways to experience the park. The trailheads can be found in Fruita, along Utah Highway 24 and the Scenic Drive. 

There are easy, moderate and strenuous best day hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. Each trail is well-marked, so you never have to worry about getting lost along the way. Be sure you know where your pet can join you on the trail!

Backpacking trails at Capitol Reef include the Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons and Halls Creek. If you plan to overnight in the backcountry, you’ll need to get a free permit at the Visitor Center.

If you want to explore some Capitol Reef National Park winter hikes, we recommend you check with the Rangers for the updated trail conditions. Some trails may require traction devices.

Sunrise at Capitol Reef National Park
Sunrise at Capitol Reef National Park

Photography at Capitol Reef

The landscape is perfect for Capitol Reef National Park photography. The park has an iconic barn with an incredible backdrop, quaint wooden pioneer structures, colorful rocks walls and deer roaming the fruit orchards!

Here’s a list of all the amazing photo spots in Capitol Reef National Park:

  • Panorama Point – sunrise and sunset
  • Sunset Point – sunrise and sunset
  • Chimney Rock
  • Gifford Homestead
  • Fruita Orchards – and the deer that frequent the area
  • Fruita Barn – and the horses!
  • Fruita Schoolhouse
  • Fremont River and petroglyphs
  • Hickman Bridge Hike
  • Scenic Drive
  • Cathedral Valley
  • Burr Trail

Grab our Capitol Reef Photography Guide that will tell you when and where to get the best sunrise, morning, sunset and nighttime pictures at the park!

Burr Trail overlook Capitol Reef
Burr Trail Overlook

Waterpocket District at Capitol Reef

The Waterpocket District is a remote and rugged area in Capitol Reef, but it’s so amazing! There’s nothing else like it! The area is open year-round and accessible by most passenger cars, pickups, and vans. Many of the roads are unpaved, and are often rough, sandy, and corrugated.

Road conditions can change depending on recent weather conditions. Check the Capitol Reef weather forecast before your visit. Spring and summer rains and winter snows can sometimes leave roads slick, muddy, washed out, and impassable even to the best high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle.

We recommend the Capitol Reef Burr Trail Loop (or Loop-the-Fold) to the southern part of the park. The loop is 124 miles and takes about 4-6 hours to complete.

  • Start at the visitor center and follow Highway 24 east to the Notom-Bullfrog Road.
  • Turn right on the Notom-Bullfrog Road and drive south to the Burr Trail Road junction.
  • Turn right on the Burr Trail Road and drive west to Boulder, UT.
  • Turn right (north) on Highway 12 to Torrey.
  • Turn right (east) on Hwy 24 back to the visitor center.
Temples of the Sun and Moon Cathedral Valley
Temples of the Sun and Moon Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley District at Capitol Reef

Like the Waterpocket District, the Cathedral Valley District is also a remote and rugged area on the north side of Capitol Reef National Park.

For travelers to reach this area safely and comfortably, high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles are required. Road conditions can change depending on recent weather conditions. Check the weather forecast for Cathedral Valley before your visit.

The Capitol Reef Cathedral Valley Loop is about 57 miles and takes about 7 to 8 hours to complete. Another option is to drive from Highway 24 to Temple of Moon and Temple of the Sun, massive monoliths that rise from the desert floor, then return the way you came.

Some of the most interesting geological formations are found in Cathedral Valley, making it a perfect place for photography lovers. 

Check out this private Capitol Reef Tour that take you through Cathedral Valley if you don’t have a 4×4 vehicle!

Capitol Reef Guided Tours

One fun way to experience the park is booking one of the many Capitol Reef National Park tours offered! You can explore all the amazing sights the park has to offer and make sure you don’t miss anything.

There are half-day or full-day excursions to fit your interests: guided hikes, llama and horse rides, photography, and Jeeping!

milky way near Eph Hanks Tower at Capitol Reef
Milky way near Eph Hanks Tower

Stargazing at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is home to dark night skies, and has been designated an International Dark Sky Park. We recommend you take one night to “enjoy the park after dark”!

Check the park’s website for updated information on Capitol Reef stargazing and ranger-led astronomy programs: stargazing parties and night hikes.

We’ve found it to be a fun place to photograph the milky way! We like Chimney Rock, the Fruita barn, Eph Hanks Tower along the scenic drive, and the Temples of the Sun and Moon in Cathedral Valley.

Don’t forget to have a headlamp with red light when taking photos at night.

Fruita Campground at Capitol Reef
Fruita Campground at Capitol Reef

Camping at Capitol Reef

If you’re interested in Capitol Reef National Park camping, there’s a large developed campground in the Fruita area.

The Fruita Campground is adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic structures and orchards. It’s open year-round, and is the only developed campground in the park.

Campsites can be reserved from March 1 – October 31, and can be made 6 months ahead of time at From November 1 – February 28, all campsites are first come, first served.

There are two primitive campgrounds in Capitol Reef: Cathedral Valley and Cedar Mesa.

If you can’t find a campsite in the park, check out the RV parks near Capitol Reef National Park where you can camp.

You’ll also find fun and unique options for Glamping Near Capitol Reef National Park in tipis, covered wagons, luxury tents, and rustic cabins!

capitol reef guides and map

Things To Do Near Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef Packing List

It’s important to have the right clothing, hydration, food, personal items and hiking gear for your trip to Capitol Reef!

To help you know what to pack any time of year, check out our Capitol Reef National Park packing list! Click the graphic below to get your free checklist!

get the free capitol reef national park packing lists

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