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Capitol Reef National Park Travel Guide

Sports and the Outdoors

The main outdoor activity at Capitol Reef is hiking. There are trails for all levels. Remember: Whenever you venture into the desert—that is, wherever you go in Capitol Reef—take, and drink, plenty of water.

Multisport Outfitter

Hondoo Rivers & Trails. With a reputation for high-quality, educational trips into the backcountry of Capitol Reef National Park, these folks pride themselves on delivering a unique, private experience. From April to October, the company offers adventures on horseback, on foot, or via four-wheel-drive vehicle in Capitol Reef and the mountains and deserts surrounding it. Trips are designed to explore the geologic landforms in the area, seek out wildflowers in season, and to encounter free-roaming mustangs, bison, and bighorn sheep when possible. Single or multiday trips can be arranged. 90 E. Main St., Torrey, UT, 84775. 435/425–3519 or 800/332–2696. www.hondoo.com.

Hondoo Rivers & Trails. With a reputation for high-quality, educational trips into the backcountry of Capitol Reef National Park, these folks pride themselves on delivering a unique, private experience. From April to October, the company offers adventures on horseback, on foot, or via four-wheel-drive vehicle in Capitol Reef and the mountains and deserts surrounding it. Trips are designed to explore the geologic landforms in the area, seek out wildflowers in season, and to encounter free-roaming mustangs, bison, and bighorn sheep when possible. Single or multiday trips can be arranged. 90 E. Main St., Torrey, UT, 84775. 435/425–3519 or 800/332–2696. www.hondoo.com.

Bicycling

Bicycles are allowed only on established roads in the park. Highway 24 is a state highway and receives a substantial amount of through traffic, so it's not the best place to pedal. Scenic Drive is better, but the road is narrow, and you have to contend with drivers dazed by the beautiful surroundings. Four-wheel-drive roads are certainly less traveled, but they are often sandy, rocky, and steep. You cannot ride your bicycle in washes or on hiking trails.

Cathedral Valley Scenic Backway. In the remote northern end of the park you can enjoy solitude and a true backcountry ride on this trail. You'll be riding on surfaces that include dirt, sand, bentonite clay, and rock, and you will also ford the Fremont River; you should be prepared to encounter steep hills and switchbacks, wash crossings, and stretches of deep sand. Summer is not a good time to try this ride, as water is very difficult to find and temperatures may exceed 100°F. The entire route is about 58 miles long; during a multiday trip you can camp at the primitive campground with five sites, about midway through the loop. Off Hwy. 24 at Caineville, or at River Ford Rd., 5 mi west of Caineville on Hwy. 24, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

South Draw Road. This is a very strenuous ride that traverses dirt, sand, and rocky surfaces, and crosses several creeks that may be muddy. It's not recommended in winter or spring because of deep snow at higher elevations. If you like fast downhill rides, though, this trip is for you—it will make you feel like you have wings. The route starts at an elevation of 8,500 feet on Boulder Mountain and ends 15 miles later at 5,500 feet in the Pleasant Creek parking area at the end of Scenic Drive. At the junction of Bowns Reservoir Rd. and Hwy. 12, 13 mi south of Torrey, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Fishing

Fishing in Capitol Reef is limited to the Fremont River, but nearby mountains offer some decent high-elevation fly-fishing opportunities.

Four-Wheeling

You can explore Capitol Reef in a 4X4 on a number of exciting backcountry routes. Road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent weather patterns. Spring and summer rains can leave the roads muddy, washed out, and impassable even to four-wheel-drive vehicles. Always check at the park visitor center for current conditions before you set out, and take water, supplies, and a cell phone with you.

Cathedral Valley Scenic Backway. The north end of Capitol Reef, along this backcountry road, is filled with towering monoliths, panoramic vistas, and a stark desert landscape. The area is remote and the road through it unpaved, so do not enter without a high-clearance vehicle, some planning, and a cell phone (although reception is spotty). The drive through the valley is a 58-mile loop that you can begin at River Ford Road off Highway 24. From there, the loop travels northwest, giving you access to Glass Mountain, South Desert, and Gypsum Sinkhole. Turning southeast at the sinkhole, the loop takes you past the side road that accesses the Temples of the Moon and Sun, then becomes Caineville Wash Road before ending at Highway 24, 7 miles east of your starting point. Caineville Wash Road has two water crossings. Including stops, allow a half day for this drive. If your time is limited, you may want to tour only the Caineville Wash Road, which takes about two hours. At the visitor center you can pick up a self-guided auto tour brochure for $2. River Ford Rd., 11.7 mi east of visitor center on Hwy. 24, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Hiking

Many park trails in Capitol Reef include steep climbs, but there are a few easy-to-moderate hikes. A short drive from the visitor center takes you to a dozen trails, and a park ranger can advise you on combining trails or locating additional routes.

Easy

Goosenecks Trail. This nice little walk gives you a good introduction to the land surrounding Capitol Reef. Enjoy the dizzying views from the overlook. It's only 0.3 miles round-trip. Easy. Trailhead at Hwy. 24, about 3 mi west of the visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Grand Wash Trail. At the end of unpaved Grand Wash Road you can continue on foot through the canyon to its end at the Fremont River. You're bound to love the trip. This flat hike takes you through a wide wash between canyon walls. It's an excellent place to study the geology up close. The round-trip hike is 4½ miles; allow two to three hours for your walk. Check at the ranger station for flash-flood warnings before entering the wash. Easy. Trailhead at Hwy. 24, east of Hickman Bridge parking lot, or at end of Grand Wash Rd., off Scenic Dr. about 5 mi from visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Sunset Point Trail. The trail starts from the same parking lot as the Goosenecks Trail. Benches along this easy, 0.7-mile round-trip invite you to sit and meditate surrounded by the colorful desert. At the trail's end, you will be rewarded with broad vistas into the park; it's even better at sunset. Easy. Trailhead at Hwy. 24, about 3 mi west of visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Moderate

Capitol Gorge Trail and the Tanks. Starting at the Pioneer Register, about a mile from the Capitol Gorge parking lot, is a trail that climbs to the Tanks, two holes in the sandstone, formed by erosion, that hold water after it rains. After a scramble up about 0.2 miles of steep trail with cliff drop-offs, you can look down into the Tanks and can also see a natural bridge below the lower tank. Including the walk to the Pioneer Register, allow an hour or two for this interesting hike, one of the park's most popular. Moderate. Trailhead at end of Scenic Dr., 9 mi south of visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Cohab Canyon Trail. Children particularly love this trail for the geological features and native creatures, such as rock wrens and Western pipistrelles (canyon bats), that you see along the way. One end of the trail is directly across from the Fruita Campground on Scenic Drive, and the other is across from the Hickman Bridge parking lot. The first ¼ mile from Fruita is pretty strenuous, but then the walk becomes easy except for turnoffs to the overlooks, which are strenuous but short. Along the way you'll find miniature arches, skinny side canyons, and honeycombed patterns on canyon walls where the wrens make nests. The trail is 3.2 miles round-trip to the Hickman Bridge parking lot. The Overlook Trail adds 2 miles to the journey. Allow one to two hours to overlooks and back; allow two to three hours to Hickman Bridge parking lot and back. Moderate. About 1 mi south of visitor center on Scenic Dr., or about 2 mi east of visitor center on Hwy. 24, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Fremont River Trail. What starts as a quiet little stroll beside the river turns into an adventure. The first ½ mile of the trail is wheelchair accessible as you wander past the orchards next to the Fremont River. After you pass through a narrow gate, the trail changes personality and you're in for a steep climb on an exposed ledge with drop-offs. The views at the top of the 770-foot ascent are worth it as you look down into the Fruita Historic District. The trail is 2½ miles round-trip; allow two hours. Moderate. Trailhead near amphitheater off Loop C of Fruita Campground, about 1 mi from visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Golden Throne Trail. As you hike to the base of the Golden Throne, you may be fortunate enough to see one of the park's elusive desert bighorn sheep. You're more likely, however, to spot their small, split-hoof tracks in the sand. The trail itself is 2 miles of gradual elevation gain with some steps and drop-offs. The Golden Throne is hidden until you near the end of the trail, then suddenly you find yourself looking at a huge sandstone monolith. If you hike near sundown the throne burns gold, salmon, and platinum. The round-trip hike is 4 miles and you should allow two to three hours. Moderate. Trailhead at end of Capitol Gorge Rd., at Capitol Gorge trailhead, 9 mi south of visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Hickman Bridge Trail. This trail is a perfect introduction to the park. It leads to a natural bridge of Kayenta sandstone, which has a 135-foot opening carved by intermittent flash floods. Early on, the route climbs a set of steps along the Fremont River, and as the trail tops out onto a bench, you'll find a slight depression in the earth. This is what remains of an ancient Fremont pit house, a kind of home that was dug into the ground and covered with brush. The trail splits, leading along the right-hand branch to a strenuous uphill climb to the Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs. Stay to your left to see the bridge, and you'll encounter a moderate up-and-down trail. As you continue up the wash on your way to the bridge, you'll notice a Fremont granary on the right side of the small canyon. Allow about 1½ hours to walk the 2-mile round-trip. The walk to the bridge is one of the most popular trails in the park, so expect lots of company along the way. Moderate. Hwy. 24, 2 mi east of visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Difficult

Chimney Rock Trail. You're almost sure to see ravens drifting on thermal winds around the deep red Mummy Cliff that rings the base of this trail. This loop trail begins with a steep climb to a rim above Chimney Rock. The trail is 3½ miles round-trip, with a 600-foot elevation change. Allow three to four hours. Difficult. Hwy. 24, about 3 mi west of visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

Horseback Riding

Many areas in the park are closed to horses and pack animals, so it's a good idea to check with the visitor center before you set out with your animals. Day use does not require a permit, but you need to get one for overnight camping with horses and pack animals.

Hondoo Rivers & Trails runs horseback tours into the national park. Unless you ride with a park-licensed outfitter, you have to bring your own horse, as no rentals are available.

Old Wagon Trail. For spectacular views of Waterpocket Fold, try this popular horse trail. The 3.5-mile loop gradually climbs along the long rampart of Miners Mountain, merging for a short distance with an old route that goes beyond into Boulder Mountain. There's very little shade on this trail. Allow two to three hours. Difficult. On Scenic Dr., about 6 mi south of visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

South Draw. This 12- to 15-mile route gives you access to Tantalus Flats and Boulder Mountain or a return via Pleasant Creek. Difficult. At the end of Scenic Dr., 9 mi south of the visitor center, Capitol Reef National Park, UT, 84775.

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