Taking a trip to Capitol Reef National Park in the winter is a great time to go because you’ll avoid the crowds! Located in the heart of Utah’s red rock country, Capitol Reef is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and natural bridges.
Use this Capitol Reef National Park guide to plan a winter trip: what to pack, where to stay, things to do, and more! It’s important to know the services available, weather, and road conditions to expect during the winter months at Capitol Reef.
Living only a few hours away, we’ve had the opportunity to visit Capitol Reef National Park many times. In this article you’ll find helpful resources to plan your winter vacation to Capitol Reef National Park based on our experiences visiting the area throughout the years.
Our number one tip is to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting Capitol Reef during the winter months. Grab your free printable Capitol Reef National Park packing list by clicking the image below!
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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!
Capitol Reef National Park in the Winter
In the winter many of the Capitol Reef services have changed hours or have closed for the season. Check the website for specific Capitol Reef operating hours.
Winter is the offseason for all five Utah National Parks so you’ll enjoy the park with no crowds. But the weather can be unpredictable with snow and the temperatures will be cold.
Here’s what you can expect during each of the winter months:
If you’re wondering what it’s like to visit at other times of the year, check out this resource of the best times to visit Capitol Reef National Park! It tells you what to expect when visiting the park during any season, or any month of the year.
Capitol Reef National Park Fees
There are a variety of passes available to visit Capitol Reef. Check the website for the most current fee prices and information.
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.
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.
Winter Weather at Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef National Park weather in the winter can be unpredictable with rain or snow. Here are the average temperatures you can expect at Capitol Reef in the winter:
- December: highs 39 / lows 19 degrees F
- January: highs 39 / lows 18 degrees F
- February: highs 45 / lows 23 degrees F
During the winter it is especially important to dress in layers:
- Fleece jacket
- Insulated jacket
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Warm hat
- Refillable water bottle
- Hydration pack
Capitol Reef AUDIO TOUR
“Download the app to your phone – no cell or wifi service needed. Based on your GPS location, the app takes you on a guided tour of the park and points out all the interesting features and stops. It’s like having a park ranger in the car with you.”
Things to Do at Capitol Reef in the Winter
Check out all the fun Capitol Reef National Park winter activities you can do during the winter months!
There are fun ways to get the family excited before, during and after the trip with National Park activities:
- Capitol Reef National Park Facts
- National Park Activity Pack (FREE PRINTABLE)
- National Park Activity Books for Kids
Capitol Reef Visitor Center in the Winter
At the Capitol Reef Visitor Center you’ll find exhibits, bookstore, general information, toilets, and park rangers on duty.
The visitor center is open daily, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Hours is the winter are usually 9am to 4pm. You can get drinking water inside (during open hours) or outside (24 hours a day).
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.
Capitol Reef Ranger-led Programs are a great way to learn about the park. The year-round programs available are Geology talks 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 Fruita Area in the Winter
The Fruita valley includes the Gifford Homestead, blacksmith shop, barn and orchards. The Gifford house is closed during the winter. When it’s open you can find unique handmade items to buy and homemade treats to eat!
One of the favorite activities at Capitol Reef is picking fruit from the orchard. Unfortunately, there is no fruit to pick during the winter. Here’s a Capitol Reef orchard harvesting schedule if you want to arrange your vacation around those dates.
Scenic Drives in the Winter at Capitol Reef
The Capitol Reef scenic drive is a great winter activity to see the cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in the park!
If you’re up for adventure, drive the Capitol Reef Cathedral Valley loop. It’s a remote, rugged region that requires vehicles with high ground clearance. In the winter 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!!
Book a Cathedral Valley 4×4 tour if you want to see this part of Capitol Reef, but you don’t have the right vehicle.
The Capitol Reef Burr Trail Loop is a fun way to explore the Waterpocket District in the southern section of the park. It’s 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.
Winter Photography at Capitol Reef
You’ll find amazing photo spots in Capitol Reef National Park to capture the spectacular landscape you’ll see there! Here’s a list of our favorite places to photograph Capitol Reef:
- Capitol Reef Sunrise Photo Spots: Panorama Point and Sunset Point.
- Capitol Reef Sunset Photo Spots: 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!
Be sure you have winter photography gear that can handle the cold and wet weather. And YOU as the photographer need to be dressed in winter clothing so you’ll want to get outside to take pictures. We love photographer gloves and rechargeable hand warmers!
Stargazing in the Winter at Capitol Reef
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 the winter months you won’t be able to photograph the milky way, but you can capture amazing starry skies or star trails!
Hiking in the Winter at Capitol Reef
There are a variety of Capitol Reef winter hikes to explore! There are trails for families, casual visitors who want to explore, and then the avid hikers that want a real adventure.
Some of our favorite hiking trails are: Hickman Bridge, Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge Wash.
Keep in mind 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 the winter it is especially important that you take the proper gear, plenty of water and healthy snacks.
During the winter you may need hiking traction devices for icy trails. Check with the visitor center for trail conditions before you head out!
Capitol Reef Tours in the Winter
One fun way to experience the park is booking one of the many Capitol Reef National Park tours like guided hikes, llama and horse rides, photography, and Jeeping!
Winter is the offseason so tour options could be limited. Be sure to check ahead to find out what tours are available for the dates you’ll be visiting the park.
Camping in the Winter at Capitol Reef
If you’re interested in Capitol Reef National Park winter camping, 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.
During the winter from November 1 – February 28, all campsites are first come, first served. It has 71 sites, and each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above ground grill, but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups.
There is an RV dump and potable water fill station. Restrooms have running water and flush toilets, but no showers. Accessible sites are located next to the restrooms. You can also check out the RV Parks near Capitol Reef National Park.
You’ll also find Capitol Reef primitive campgrounds in the remote parts of the park in Cathedral Valley and along the Notom-Bullfrog Road.
Things to Do Near Capitol Reef in the Winter
- Bryce Canyon in the Winter
- Visiting Goblin Valley State Park
- Best Stops Along Scenic Byway 12
- Anasazi State Park
- Lower Calf Creek Falls Hiking Guide
- Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
- Kodachrome Basin State Park
Capitol Reef National Park Itineraries
Check out these done-for-you itineraries for Capitol Reef based on the time you have to spend exploring the park!
- Capitol Reef National Park in one day
- Two days in Capitol Reef National Park
- Three days in Capitol Reef National Park
Grab our travel bundle with printable 1, 2 and 3-day itineraries to easily plan your vacation! Simply click the graphic below to get the free itinerary pack! Click on the links below to see detailed itineraries based on the time you have to spend at the park.