If you enjoy the outdoors and seeing fantastic landscape scenes, then plan a Capitol Reef National Park vacation!
Cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges are some of the hidden gems you’ll find at the park. One of the best ways to experience it all is by taking the Capitol Reef scenic drive.
Use this guide to navigate the stops along the scenic drive to see and photograph the points of interest at Capitol Reef!
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GEAR FOR CAPITOL REEF HIKES
DOWNLOAD our US National Park checklists to make it easy to pack what you need for your next trip!
1. US National Parks Pass: You can order passes online or get them at any of these Federal Recreation Areas.
→ BUY THE PASS AT REI and they will donate 10% of sales to the National Park Foundation.
2. Hiking Shoes: → Check out our FAVORITE hiking shoes/boots!
3. Hiking Socks: → Check out the BEST SOCKS EVER!
4. Clothing for Hiking (Layers)
- WATER: → We carry water bottles or hydration backpacks
- FOOD: → Check out our favorite healthy snacks
- Flashlight: → Check out the headlamps we like
- National Park maps
- Lip protection with sunscreen
- Polarized sunglasses
- Insect repellant
- Hand lotion
- Female urination device
- Toilet paper (carry out in a bag – do not bury)
- Hand sanitizer
- First aid kit
- Bags to pack out trash
- Walking stick or trekking poles
- Cell phone
- Portable charger
- Guide books
- DOWNLOAD OUR Camera Gear Checklist
- Photography gear for hiking
How Long is the Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef?
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.
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 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?
Capitol Reef Scenic Drive Points of Interest
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
You’ll return to the Scenic Drive the way you came.
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.
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.