Capitol Reef National Park offers stunning scenery without the congestion of the area’s more famous destinations.
But this overlooked gem isn’t hidden at all. In fact, it’s in a region dense with national parks.
If you want to enjoy the best of Utah without the crowds, you’ll want to know about Capitol Reef.
Let’s hit it!
About Capitol Reef National Park
Visitors flock to Zion National Park in droves to see its breathtaking land formations. But if you don’t want to battle the crowds, an equally stunning destination is just a few hours away.
Capitol Reef National Park consists of three distinct districts. In the northernmost part of the park, Cathedral Valley features massive rock formations, like the Temple of the Sun and Moon. This is the ultimate place to explore, especially if your vehicle can go off-road.
The Fruita Historic District, just south of Cathedral Valley, is aptly named for the fruit trees planted by Mormon settlers. The Fremont River flows year-round and helps these groves thrive in an otherwise arid desert. You’ll find plenty of attractions in this section of the park, such as hikes, scenic drives, and the visitor center.
The Waterpocket Fold separates these two regions. This geological formation stretches nearly 60 miles south and six miles wide, forming the heart of the park. The Fold is a massive, impassable barrier that resembles the Grand Canyon.
Where Is Capitol Reef National Park?
Located in southern Utah, Capitol Reef is one of five national parks in the region. With Zion and Bryce Canyon to the west and Arches and Canyonland to the northeast, it’s central to some of the state’s most stunning landscapes.
The closest town is Torrey, Utah, a tiny village of less than 200 people. Torrey is so remote that it’s an International Dark Sky Community. You can enjoy stargazing without the light pollution of more populated areas.
Best Time of the Year to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
Summer weather can be unpredictable in this part of the country. You may have high temperatures interrupted by dangerous monsoons. In winter, heavy snowfall can make parts of the park inaccessible.
Spring and fall are peak seasons for visitors. This is when the temperature is comfortable, and you won’t risk overheating or being stranded due to bad weather.
However, the park does get heavy crowds around this time. In March and November, you’ll still have decent weather but also more space for yourself.
Planning to hit more national parks while you’re in the state? Check out The Utah National Parks Ranked Best To Worst.
Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
Hiking is one of the main reasons folks come to Capitol Reef National Park. You’ll have access to unbeatable scenery. And even if you visit during the busy season, the trails still won’t be as crowded as the ones at Zion.
Grand Wash Trail
If you want to explore the canyon floor, check out the Grand Wash Trail. This out-and-back hike is five miles round-trip and takes about two hours to complete.
It’s moderately strenuous, but you can take it at your own pace. And if you have access to two vehicles, you can park one at each access point and cut your trek in half.
You’ll pass beneath towering sandstone cliffs dating back millions of years, and the incredible landscape will be worth the effort. Just keep a close eye on the weather, as the narrow slots can become dangerous when it rains.
Hickman Bridge Trail
The Hickman Bridge Trail is an easy hike with unparalleled views of Capitol Reef National Park. Two miles of relatively level ground will take you to the Hickman Bridge, a natural arch carved into towering stone. You’ll also pass the Nels Johnson Natural Bridge, a smaller but similar structure.
The ruins of a Fremont pit house and granary provide a look into the ancient history of this area. Long before European settlers moved westward, these indigenous people made their home here.
Love ghost towns? Here are 5 Spooky Ghost Towns in Utah (and Awesome Nearby Campsites).
Best Places to Stay Near Capitol Reef National Park
Despite Capitol Reef’s remote location, there are plenty of great places to stay in the area. Whether you’re looking to camp or pamper yourself, you’ll find it nearby.
Beas Lewis Flat Dispersed Camping
For a primitive campsite with unbeatable night sky views, you’ll want to head to Beas Lewis Flat. This dispersed camping area is on BLM land, so you won’t have to pay. Just don’t expect any amenities aside from a couple of picnic tables.
Dirt sites can accommodate everything from tents to big rigs. It’s pet friendly, and no one will hassle you for having a campfire. Just check the weather before heading to your spot. Washouts aren’t uncommon, and you won’t want a dangerous obstacle to deal with.
Wonderland RV Park
If you want to camp closer to civilization, Wonderland RV Park offers many amenities and easy access to local attractions. You’ll have large campsites with full hookups and free WiFi. In addition, the cooling comfort of trees provides shade you won’t find at Beas Lewis Flat.
They offer bathrooms with clean showers, laundry facilities, and trash service. There’s even a dog run and a horse corral if you’re traveling with larger creatures. Even better, Wonderland is ADA-accessible, making it an easy campground to get around.
Capitol Reef Resort
Capitol Reef Resort offers something for everyone. You can book a luxurious Conestoga wagon or teepee for an unrivaled glamping experience. Access to private bathrooms and TVs means you won’t go without creature comforts.
The hotel’s suites come with toiletries and coffee makers. And for a little more privacy, you can upgrade to a cabin.
This 58-acre property features a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center. There’s also a llama corral and horse stables. But the views are the best part of this resort! Most accommodations look out over the striking red cliffs.
Plan your trip with help from the Capitol Reef National Park: The Complete Hiking and Touring Guide.
Is a Road Trip to Capitol Reef National Park Worth It?
Whether you’re already planning a trip to Zion or looking for an alternative, Capitol Reef National Park is a destination you won’t want to miss. And its prime location means you don’t have to choose. If you give yourself enough time, you can even hit all five of southern Utah’s parks.
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