Capitol Reef National Park is the least visited National Park in Utah. However, it arguably offers some of the most spectacular views out of all the National Parks in Utah. In this park, the views of slick rock, canyons, natural bridges and natural arches rival any of the National Parks. Additionally, this park offers quite a few non-hiking activities including harvesting fruit and a historic scenic drive. Capitol Reef National park is a true “hidden” gem within the National Parks system. We recommend spending 1-2 days here. Here is our quick guide on Capitol Reef National Park.
FYI: This post was written based on a trip taken in mid-September
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What to do in Capitol Reef National Park
Hike Cassidy Arch
3.2 miles, 734 feet of elevation gain, out & back
This hike leads you to a giant natural arch that you can walk across. Can you see Natalie in our picture? We saw less than 10 people in total hiking on this trail and had the arch completely to ourselves when we got there. The views looking down into the canyon from this trail are unparalleled. If you can only do one hike in Capitol Reef National Park, do this one!
The hike is very flat for the first ¼ mile but then quickly becomes very steep for the next ¼ mile. The trail then continues to climb up but at a more steady and manageable incline.
Tip: Watch closely for the Cassidy Arch turn/sign to start the climb up the slick rock.
You actually start this hike on the flat Grand Wash Trail and then turn left (if coming from the Grand Wash trailhead) onto the Cassidy Arch Trail after 0.3 miles. There is a large sign indicating where to turn-off onto this trail but it is hidden behind a large rock when coming from the trailhead. We missed the turn off the first time we went by (we thought it would be more obvious) and ended up hiking almost a mile of the Grandwash trail. The Grand Wash trail is beautiful, we would recommend hiking it, but be mindful when hiking so you don’t miss the turn off.
Another helpful navigation tip is that the Cassidy Arch trailhead (which is the same as the Grand Wash trailhead) is at the end of the Grand Wash Road turn-off on the scenic drive, just south of the visitors center.
Hike Hickman Bridge
1.8 miles, 442 feet of elevation gain, out & back
This trail, to our surprise, was one of our favorites. The pictures we had seen online were not very impressive but we hope our pictures give you a better sense of how pretty this hike truly is. The natural bridge the trail leads to is stunningly beautiful. This hike was our second favorite in the park, closely behind Cassidy Arch.
This trail is more popular and busy than Cassidy Arch because it is shorter/less steep so try to get here sooner rather than later during the day. We hiked this around 10am and had no problem parking in the small trailhead parking lot.
Hike Chimney Rock Loop
3.6 miles, 590 feet of elevation gain, loop
The Chimney Rock Loop is a wonderful hike that improves as you continue around the loop. However, if you are only going to hike to Chimney Rock, we do not think going to that alone is worth the initial very steep climb involved in this hike. The views you are afforded on the east side of the hike or furthest end of the loop make that climb completely worth it though. We encourage you to do the whole hike here so that you get all the different pretty panoramic and waterpocket fold cliff views this hike has to offer.
Hike Grand Wash Trail
2.2 miles, 200 feet of elevation gain, out & back
This out and back trail is also the first part of the Cassidy Arch Trail. The deep canyon views on this trail are staggering and you feel very small walking between the cliffs. If you are looking for a less strenuous yet beautiful hike, this is the one to do. We only did part of the trail (by accident as we missed the turn off for the climb to Cassidy Arch at first) but the part we did was gorgeous. If you go further on the trail, there are some narrows as well.
Eat Homemade Pie in Fruita at the Gifford House
This adorable little house, located at the beginning of the scenic drive in Capitol Reef National Park, sells homemade pies made from the fresh fruit grown right in Fruita (part of Capitol Reef National Park). Sam really LOVES pie and, as a self-proclaimed pie-expert, says these pies were quite excellent. The apple and mixed berry pies we enjoyed had a granola crunchy topping that was delectable.
While driving between our Hickman Bridge hike and Cassidy Arch hike, we were planning to eat Cliff Bars but when we saw this place, we opted to have these mini pies instead. What really happened was Sam was driving, saw the sign for “fresh pies”, yelled “PIE!” and made a sharp right turn into the parking lot. Life’s too short not to eat pie for lunch every once and awhile!
Tip: If you have more time in Capitol Reef National Park or have kids (or adults) that may be less keen on hiking there are other activities as well. Look into picking fruit from the orchards, explore the old pioneer town originally inhabited by Mormons and doing the historic scenic drive.
Where to Eat in Torrey
Capitol Reef Cafe
This cafe looks like nothing special from the road but do not be fooled by that. The food we enjoyed here was outstanding. Natalie had Salmon with a house made aioli and Sam had Chicken/Ribs. We would recommend both dishes. We started our meals with their special “Ten Vegetable Salad” that was served with your choice of homemade dressing. Both of our dressings, homemade honey mustard and homemade raspberry vinaigrette, impressed our taste buds.
Where to Stay while visiting Capitol Reef National Park
Stay in Torrey
Torrey is a small town located right outside of Capitol Reef National Park (on the west side). This cute little town has many different lodging options but since it is so small and really the only town close to Capitol Reef National Park. Be mindful that most accomodations fill up months out.
We stayed in a “tuff shed.” This is a basic accommodation (room with bed/desk/tv and shared (very clean) bathrooms). We booked this mainly because we were planning on passing through this town (as we left at 4:30 am the next day to head to Bryce Canyon on our Epic 10 Day Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip).
We hope this quick guide helps you plan your trip to Capitol Reef National Park. Anything you would add to our guide? Please see Epic 10 Day Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip for more details on our trip. Please also visit the Capitol Reef National Park Website for additional details. We would love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
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