Capitol Reef Scenic Drive: Things to See, Do and Photograph

One of the best ways to experience this Utah National Park is by taking the Capitol Reef scenic drive. This drive takes you through some of the park’s most iconic sites, offering breathtaking views as you traverse its winding roads.

Use this Capitol Reef National Park guide that includes the best things to see, and photograph as you explore the scenic drive!

Capitol Reef scenic drive

We detail all the stops and points of interest along the scenic drive in Capitol Reef with tips for hiking and taking photos.

Make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting any time of year. 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!

Exploring the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

The scenic drive in Capitol Reef is 7.9 miles long. 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.

How Much Time Do You Need to Drive the Road in Capitol Reef?

Exploring the Capitol Reef scenic drive, with the spur roads, usually takes 1.5 hours.

If you’re anything like us, you’ll take time at each Capitol Reef scenic drive stop to photograph the amazing landscapes in the park which may add to the time you spend.

If you want to explore the hiking trails, or drive the Pleasant Creek Road (read more below), that will also increase the time you’ll need here.

Is There a Fee for the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive?

A Capitol Reef entrance fee is charged for the scenic drive. 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.

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive Points of Interest

The Capitol Reef Scenic Drive offers plenty of points of interest along its route that will leave you awe-struck! From panoramic vistas to petroglyphs carved on canyon walls, there’s something for everyone who visits the park.

This list of stops is in order as you drive from the Visitor Center:

Fruita area of Capitol Reef
Fruita area

1. Fruita 

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

Fun things to see and do in Fruita:

  • Fruita barn
  • Blacksmith shop
  • Fruita schoolhouse
  • Gifford House (museum and they sell amazing pies!)
  • Orchards where you can pick 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.

Grand Wash road at Capitol Reef National Park
Grand Wash road

2. Grand Wash

As the scenic drive continues beyond Fruita, 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 spur road is the parking lot for the Grand Wash hike. Here you’ll turn around and return the way you came back to the paved scenic drive road.

Capitol Gorge

3. Capitol Gorge

At the end of the scenic drive you’ll find Capitol Gorge. There’s a large parking lot with picnic tables and pit toilets here.

This is also where the dirt road spur trail begins to take you to the Capitol Gorge hiking trail.

The drive down the spur road is worth it if you have the time, even if you won’t do the hike.

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

pioneer register at Capitol Reef
Pioneer Register

Farther down the trail you’ll find the Tanks Trail, a rocky and rugged hike that climbs 100 feet in 1/4 mile. During the spring and rainy times you’ll see cool potholes full of water!

Tanks Trail at Capitol Reef
The Tanks Hike

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
Big Horned Sheep

You’ll return to the Scenic Drive the way you came.

Pleasant Creek Road at Capitol Reef
Pleasant Creek Road

4. Pleasant Creek Road

The Pleasant Creek Road begins near the Capitol Gorge parking lot. It’s an unpaved road that’s usually passable to 2WD vehicles.

It follows along the west-facing cliffs for 2.8 miles before ending at Pleasant Creek.

There are remnant buildings and fences of a ranch before the end of the road. Near the creek there’s a pit toilet. Turn around and head back the way you cam.

Remnant buildings along Pleasant Creek Road
Remnant buildings along Pleasant Creek Road

4WD ROAD: Anyone with a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle can cross the creek and travel the rough and tedious South Draw Road that connects with Highway 12.  

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!

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.

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