Itinerary for Capitol Reef National Park in One Day

Here’s the best itinerary for Capitol Reef National Park in one day to experience the stunning beauty of this park.

Use this Capitol Reef National Park guide to plan your one day trip: things to see and do, best time to visit, what to pack, and where to stay.

Capitol Reef National Park in One Day - things to do and what to pack

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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!

Things to Know Before Visiting Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is located in south-central Utah between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks where you’ll find stunning landscapes with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges. 

Capitol Reef National Park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, even on holidays! Be sure to check the Capitol Reef website for the most updated information for the visitor center hours and closures when you plan to visit.

A Capitol Reef entrance fee is charged only for the main scenic drive in the park. The self-pay entrance station is located just south of the campground. There is no entrance fee for anyone with the US National Parks pass.

When you visit Capitol Reef National Park it will feel uncrowded compared to the other 4 Utah National Parks which is really nice!

Capitol Reef National Park in the winter

Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park

Determining the best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park depends on what you want to see and do, and the type of weather you prefer.

Most of the year you’ll enjoy fun outdoor things to do in Capitol Reef National Park like scenic drives, hiking, and biking. During the winter, the activities might be a bit more limited due to the cold and snow! If you’re prepared with the right winter clothing and traction devices for hiking, it’s a wonderful time of year to visit!

We’ve put together helpful resources so you know what the Capitol Reef National Park weather is like during all four seasons:

Itinerary for Capitol Reef National Park in One Day

When people ask us “How Many Days Should I Spend in Capitol Reef National Park”, we always recommend at least two days.

But you can still see a lot of Capitol Reef in one full day if you’re willing to get an early start in the morning to see the sunrise and stay out until sunset. Here’s the itinerary we suggest you follow.

Capitol Reef sunrise at Panorama Point

Watch the Sunrise at Panorama Point

Panorama Point is found along Highway 24 between Torrey and Fruita, where you’ll find the Capitol Reef Visitor Center. There is no fee to access all points of interest along Highway 24.

It’s a short walk up a small incline for a stunning view of the Capitol Reef landscape. We love this Capitol Reef National Park photography spot to capture the sun rising over the horizon!

Landscape photography tips:

Enjoy a Morning Hike at Capitol Reef

Here are a few hiking trails to do in the morning to beat the crowds!

When hiking in Capitol Reef, your safety depends on your good judgment, adequate preparation, and constant awareness. Your safety is your responsibility. Carry a Capitol Reef Map when hiking.

Important things to note when hiking at Capitol Reef:

  • Stay on the trail.
  • Stay back from cliff edges.
  • Observe posted warnings.
  • Please watch children.
  • Avoid narrow canyons when storms are threatening.

Before you set out on any Capitol Reef Hikes, be sure you pack the proper gear, plenty of water and healthy snacks.

Capitol Reef Goosenecks Trail overlook

Goosenecks and Sunset Point Trails

From Panorama Point, drive to the Goosenecks along the 1-mile dirt road to the end. The dirt road is suitable for 2WD vehicles in dry conditions. 

Follow the short 0.2 mile roundtrip hike to the Goosenecks Overlook to see the stunning view down to Sulphur Creek.

You’ll also see the trail to Sunset Point in this same parking lot. It’s a great spot for sunset, but we’ll be in another part of the park at this time. If you’re up to it, we suggest you do this short 0.8 mile roundtrip hike now to see an amazing panoramic views of Capitol Reef. 

Hickman Bridge Trail at Capitol Reef National Park

Hickman Bridge Trail

If you’re up to a moderate hike then we suggest hiking to Hickman Natural Bridge right after sunrise. It’s one of the popular hikes in the park that is 2 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 400 feet,

Hickman Bridge trail is one of the more popular Capitol Reef Hikes found along Highway 24. The hike begins with some smaller switchbacks before leveling out a bit. The trail continues along a wash then climbs a little higher with walls starting to tower over you.

When you hit the fork in the trail, we recommend going to the right, but either trail will take you to the bridge since it’s a loop. Soon you will see the view of the bridge.

Continue on under the bridge and you’ll be greeted with one of the best views in the park where you can see the desert and cliffs below.

Map of Capitol Reef Points of Interest

Use this Google map of the Capitol Reef photograph spots we love to navigate through the park.

Capitol Reef map of photo spots and points of interest

Explore the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

The Capitol Reef scenic drive accessed through Fruita is the best way to experience this park. Yes, you can stop at the various pullouts, and even access some hikes along Highway 24 that don’t require paying the park entrance fee. But we highly recommend taking the time for the scenic drive!

It will take about a 2 hours roundtrip to explore the scenic drive, including the two dirt spur roads (Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge). If you plan to do any of the hikes along the scenic drive (Cassidy Arch Trail, Grand Wash Trail, or Capitol Gorge Trail), be sure to add more time to your itinerary.

The 7.9 mile paved main road is suitable for passenger vehicles. The two dirt spur roads enter canyons with narrow sections, and are usually suitable for passenger cars and RVs up to 27 feet in length. The Scenic Drive, Grand Wash, and Capitol Gorge roads can be closed due to snow, ice, mud, and flash floods so always be aware or weather and road conditions!

You will need a National Park pass to enter the scenic drive beyond the Fruita campground at Capitol Reef. The annual park pass can be purchased online or at the Capitol Reef visitor center. If you purchase a digital pass be sure to print or save it on your mobile device since connectivity is limited in the park.

Capitol Reef Fruita Area 

The scenic drive begins at the Capitol Reef Fruita Historic District. Here you’ll find most of the Capitol Reef services like the Visitor Center, ranger programs, restrooms, and large picnic area near the river and the campground.

Fun things to see and photograph in Fruita:

  • Fruita barn
  • Blacksmith shop
  • Fruita schoolhouse
  • Gifford House (museum and yummy food)
  • Fruit orchards (pick fresh fruit in season)

The Fruita district is the best place to photograph animals! The horses at the Gifford Barn are fun to watch. And deer frequent the orchards and picnic areas as well.

Just past the Fruita campground, you’ll find a self-pay station to purchase your pass to drive the scenic road, or be sure to display your park pass at this point.

Grand Wash Road

The Capitol Reef Grand Wash is a spur dirt road that leads into a narrow, steep-walled canyon that is extremely vulnerable to bad weather conditions.

PAY ATTENTION to the weather because you don’t want to get caught in the narrow canyon during a flash flood!

At the end of the road is the small parking lot for the Grand Wash trail. Here you’ll turn around and return the way you came back to the paved scenic drive road.

Capitol Gorge Road

At the end of the scenic drive you’ll find the unpaved road to Capitol Gorge. There’s a large parking area with picnic tables and pit toilets here. Eph Hanks Tower seen from the parking lot is a terrific location for sunset and night photography.

This is also where the dirt road spur trail begins to take you to the Capitol Gorge trail. The drive down the spur road is worth it if you have the time, even if you won’t do the hike.

You might consider taking the short easy hike into the gorge to see the “Pioneer Register”, which are carved signatures of pioneers on the canyon wall.

pioneer register at Capitol Reef

PAY ATTENTION to the weather because you don’t want to get caught in the narrow canyon during a flash flood!

Keep your eye out for Big Horn Sheep on this trail too! We were lucky to spend over an hour watching a family with no one else around!

three big horn sheep at Capitol Reef

At this point, you’ll return back the way you came.

Photograph Sunset at Capitol Reef

There are a few sunset photo spots we recommend. You won’t see the sun actually setting, but you’ll capture the golden light on the rock formations and walls at these locations:

  • Eph Hanks Tower
  • Scenic Drive Road
  • Fruita Barn
Eph Hanks Tower at Capitol Reef at Sunset

Check out these resources for taking sunset photos:

With only one day at Capitol Reef, you won’t have time to explore the other sections of the park.

The Cathedral Valley is an incredibly scenic road that shows off the rock layers found in the area. Along the Burr Trail you’ll view the heart of red rock country and the waterpocket fold.

The Capitol Reef landscape and geology is simply stunning and fascinating!

Things to Do Near Capitol Reef

capitol reef guides and map

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