I’ve visited the National Parks in Utah dozens of times, and I really believe that Capitol Reef is Utah’s hidden gem. It is not very well-known and is so under-visited that you will feel like you have it all to yourself! It is time to put this National Park on your radar and get out here to explore what it has to offer.
Capitol Reef is like a mixture of Arches, Zion, and Canyonlands. It has some of everything. The rock formations and landscapes you will encounter here are so unique and varied, you will fill up your SD card just trying to capture it all….and believe me, the pictures you take will not do it justice. Come along for the ride as I share with you 5 things you need to see and do in Capitol Reef National Park.
1. Take the Secret Hike along Sulphur Creek
I have so much to say about this amazing hike. I can safely put this trail in my list of top 10 trails, it may be number one on my list of the most fun hikes I have ever done. Seriously, I love it THAT much. The great thing is that it is family-friendly and perfect for a miserably hot Southern Utah day. I have devoted a whole post to this awesome trail. You can read all about it here. Really, you do not want to miss this hike.
2. Road Trip Along the Scenic Drive
Well, it’s not much of a road trip because the road is only 10 miles each way, but it felt like one. We had the music on, the sunroof open, and the camera ready as we drove on this amazing stretch of road along the Waterpocket Fold. I felt like I was in an old western movie (or Cars!) and I just loved taking it all in.
What You Need to Know
The Scenic Drive is the only part of Capitol Reef that charges an entrance fee, which is $5 per car. Totally worth it. Drive slowly and enjoy the views!
You don’t want to be driving or hiking in this area at all if there is a chance of flash flooding. Check with the Visitor Center before you go.
From Torrey, take Highway 24 east for 11 miles to the Visitor Center. Turn right toward the Visitor Center and continue along the road past picnic area and campground to the entrance booth at the beginning of the Scenic Drive. Pay your entrance fee and then get ready for a beautiful drive.
3. Stand on Top of the Cassidy Arch
I have hiked to many natural arches in my time, but Cassidy Arch is truly a unique experience that cannot be missed. Not only is this arch high in the cliffs, but you actually get to stand on top of it! A-Maz-Ing.
There is something so romantic about the wild west. In a country where we don’t have much history of our own (compared to Europe and China, etc.), I love the idea of the western frontier and the culture and history it represents for our country. This arch is named after Butch Cassidy, a true American outlaw. Rumor has it that he used this area of Utah as a hideout. I loved looking for good hiding places as I hiked along this trail. I know, it’s a little silly, but I don’t think anyone could find you if you were really trying to hide in Capitol Reef. Genious.
What You Need to Know
This trail is best done in the morning before it gets too hot because most of the time you will be in direct sunlight. The first half mile or so is very strenuous as you climb up the cliffs, but after that it’s not too steep. Be sure to bring plenty of water. Most kids would probably do okay on this hike. There are a few drop-offs, especially at the beginning on the switchbacks and at the end when you reach the arch.
Some climbing up and down the slickrock is required. Also, you will need to follow cairns as you get closer to the arch (more on cairns at the end of the post). This trail is 3.4 miles round trip.
Follow the directions above to get to the Scenic Drive. After 2.2 miles along the Scenic Drive, turn left onto the Grand Wash Road. When you get to the end of this road, you will find the parking area and trailhead. Walk along the wash for 0.3 miles until you see a large sign for the Cassidy Arch Trail on your left.
4. Drive Between the Towering Cliffs of Capitol Gorge
The drive on the Capitol Gorge Road was the surprise of the trip for me. I absolutely loved it. I was shocked at how close our car came to the canyon walls and how high the cliffs were above our heads. We had spectacular views of the Golden Throne and many other unique formations. The scenery was incredible and I am glad that we decided to take this drive.
What You Need to Know
This is a narrow and curvy dirt road, but we didn’t have any problems as we drove it. At the end of the road there are a few picnic tables under a pavilion and a pit toilet. No water is available.
A trail to the Pioneer Register and Water Tanks leaves from the end of the Capitol Gorge road. This trail is 2 miles round trip and takes you past some signatures in the rocks from the early settlers.
Capitol Gorge Road is at the end of the Scenic Drive where the road curves to the left at a parking area with restrooms. Continue down the dirt road for 2.4 miles to reach the end of the road.
5. Take in the Views at the Hickman Bridge
The Hickman Bridge is a stunning 133-foot natural bridge (arch) nestled in a beautiful canyon with stunning views of the Capitol Dome and various interesting rock formations on top of the canyon walls. The vista in front of you as you are hiking is unparalleled and the Bridge at the end is massive. This trail is a definite do not miss if you ask me.
What You Need to Know
This is the only trail we saw wildflowers on (and they were beautiful orange ones)! When you get to Bridge, you have the option to take a loop around it. We got the best pictures as we were looping around the backside of the arch, so I definitely recommend taking the whole loop around.
At the very end of our hike as we were nearing the parking area, we found a great spot on the river that we hung out at and waded our feet in for a little while. It was the perfect place to cool off after hiking in the heat of the day.
From Torrey, travel east on Highway 24 for 11 miles, at which point you will see the Visitor Center. Stay on the highway, passing the turnoff to the Visitor Center. Shortly after passing the Visitor Center, you will see a small parking area for the Fruita Schoolhouse. Pass the turnouts for the Schoolhouse and the Petroglyph Panel. The Hickman Bridge Trailhead is the next turnout on the left.
Have a great time at Capitol Reef!
For additional activities and hiking safety in Capitol Reef, click here.
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