What to Expect at Capitol Reef National Park in December

If you’re thinking about a Capitol Reef National Park in December, there are some things you need to know.

Use the tips below and our Capitol Reef National Park guide to plan your December vacation.

Capitol Reef an amazing place to explore and photograph the colorful cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges you’ll see here.

Keep reading to find out what to pack, things to do, and the services available in December.

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WHAT TO PACK FOR A NATIONAL PARK TRIP IN THE WINTER

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK IN DECEMBER

There are fun outdoor adventures and things to do in Capitol Reef National Park any time of year, but December is one of our favorite times to visit.

Yes, December is cold, so if you’re wondering what it’s like to visit at other times of the year, check out this resource of the best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park!

Here’s what you can expect when you take a trip in December.

December Weather

Temperatures: high 40 / lows 21 degrees Farenheit 

The December weather at Capitol Reef will be cold, and you may encounter snow.

We recommend an insulated jacketfleece jacketwarm hat and gloves . Check out our winter clothing guide for outdoor travel and photography.

You’ll want to stay informed on the specific weather conditions and forecasts on the NPS website for the areas of the park you will visit.

Visitors in December

We don’t mind the colder temperatures in December at Capitol Reef.

If you’re dressed for the weather conditions, it’s a great time to enjoy the outdoors in this desert landscape.

In December the weather is cold and there may be snow, and this usually means fewer people visiting the park.

Capitol Reef National Park sign with snow

Things to Do at Capitol Reef in December

Check out all the fun things to do in Capitol Reef National Park!

Here are some tips for visiting Capitol Reef in December:

  • Check road and weather conditions so you’re prepared to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Be flexible with your schedule, especially in the winter as conditions may close parts of the park.

Stop at the Visitor Center

Capitol Reef is open all day, every day.

The visitor center is open daily, but will be closed in December for Christmas. 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 Park Map.

Explore the Gifford Farm

The Fruita area includes the Gifford Homestead, blacksmith shop, barn and orchards.

The one drawback about visiting Capitol Reef in December is that the Gifford house is closed! At other times of the year you’ll find unique handmade items and locally baked fruit pies and homemade ice cream!

One of the favorite activities at Capitol Reef is picking fruit from the orchard. This activity isn’t available in December either. Here’s a harvesting schedule if you want to arrange your vacation around those dates.

Cathedral Valley in the snow

Scenic Drives

In December the Capitol Reef scenic drive is a must-do activity to see and photograph the cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges!

If you’re up for adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley District of Capitol Reef. It’s a remote, rugged region that requires vehicles with high ground clearance. In December you may need four-wheel drive depending on road and weather conditions.

If it rains or snows, the roads can be muddy, washed out, and impassable to the best high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, so check at the visitor center before heading out!!

The Waterpocket District in the southern section of Capitol Reef is fairly remote and rugged, but oh so beautiful! Most passenger cars, pickups, and vans can usually negotiate the roads without difficulty.

BUT again any rain or snow can leave roads slick, muddy, washed out, and impassable to the best high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, so check at the visitor center before taking the drive.

Photography

Photographing the amazing landscape at Capitol Reef is one of our favorite things to do.

In December, we recommend these places to photograph Capitol Reef:

Sunrise photography: we’ve had good success at Panorama Point and Sunset Point.

Sunset photography: we like are Panorama Point, Sunset Point and along the scenic drive to capture the reflected light on the canyon walls.

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!

Take jaw-dropping photos at Capitol Reef

Stargazing

There is a reason why Capitol Reef is internationally recognized as one of the best places to stargaze.

The skies are clear and with the park in a remote location it allows you to get some of the most incredible views of the night sky that you will ever see. 

In December you won’t be able to photograph the milky way, but you can capture amazing starry skies or star trails!

Hiking

There are so many fun Capitol Reef hikes to choose from! There are trails for all levels of hiker.

Some of our favorite hiking trails are: Hickman Bridge, Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge Wash.

Remember the park’s elevation is 5500 feet. If you’re coming from a lower elevation, or from sea level, trails that are considered “easy” might be more difficult for you.

When hiking at Capitol Reef in December it is especially important that you take the proper gear, plenty of water and protein snacks.

You may need hiking traction devices to prevent slipping on the icy trails, sunglasses to protect from the sun’s glare on the snow, emergency locator device and emergency blanket just in case you are delayed by bad weather.

Ranger Led Programs

Ranger-led programs are a great way to learn about Capitol Reef.

The programs available in December are geology talks, evening programs and the Junior Ranger Program for kids!

Other Activities

Places to Stay Near Capitol Reef

Places to Stay at Capitol Reef National Park

  • Capitol Reef Resort – this is where we stay! Make it a unique experience and stay in a teepee or covered wagon!
  • Austin’s Chuckwagon Motel – basic rooms and cabins with a deli and store right on the property which is so convenient!
  • VRBO Vacation Rentals – we like finding a place with a kitchen so we can prepare our own food.
  • RV Share Rentals – enjoy the convenience of having an RV delivered to you at Capitol Reef!

Plan a Capitol Reef Vacation

National Parks packing list for spring summer fall and winter

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