Best Guide to Visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Are you planning on visiting Capitol Reef National Park?

Capitol Reef National Park is an extraordinary park in southeast Utah. Most people quickly drive through the Park on their way to Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks via Highway 24. Merely going through on National Scenic Byway 12 (Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon) may lead you to miss many of the Park’s desert gems!

We put together this guide for visiting Capitol Reef National Park along with everything you need to know! Keep reading to find inspiration for all the things you must see in Capitol Reef National Park. I worked as a summer intern for the National Park Service at Capitol Reef years ago. We’re sharing the best things to see and do when you’re passing through.

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Capitol Reef National Park Cathedral Valley

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Where is Capitol Reef National Park?

From Moab, Utah, Capitol Reef is about two hours to the west, southwest. Hanksville is the nearest town to the east, though Torrey is located a few minutes west of the west entrance and considered Capitol Reef’s gateway.

From Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef is about two hours north, northeast.

This national treasure is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, making it an exciting desert location to explore. The towns mentioned above have mostly built up for tourism over the years.

Capitol Reef National Park Map

Here is the NPS map for Capitol Reef National Park.

Can You Drive Through Capitol Reef National Park?

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Road through Capitol Reef National Park

Yes, you can drive through Capitol Reef National Park! Since Scenic Byway 12 (HWY 24) goes right through the Park, people tend to drive straight through and do the main pull-offs along their way sightseeing “Utah’s Mighty Five.” Only road tripping through the Park on Utah Highway 24 and pulling off for a few quick photos takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

However, there is so much more to see! Keep reading, and don’t miss all these things to do in Capitol Reef.

How Much Does It Cost?

The Capitol Reef National Park entrance fee for a private vehicle is $20.

Be sure to purchase the Annual National Park pass, America the Beautiful, if you will be touring multiple National Parks in one year to save some money.  

Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center

The Park does have a visitor center located next to the historic Fruita Orchards. There are restrooms, places to get fresh water, a bookstore and gift shop, along with historical information.

If you plan on doing any backcountry hikes requiring permits, the visitor center is where you’ll meet with Park Rangers to register.

Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

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The Monoliths

Capitol Reef is one of our favorite National Parks in the U.S. In fact, we had our first camping date here, and it has a very special place in our hearts!

Besides driving through on Scenic Byway 12, Capitol Reef has so much to offer. Here are all of our favorite things to do and what to see in Capitol Reef National Park!

Capitol Reef Petroglyphs

While you’re near the Visitor Center, stop and walk over to see the Petroglyphs. You will see a roadside attraction sign. The petroglyphs are on the north side of HWY 24.

Explore Fruita

Check out the Fruita District, orchards, and history. The trees have fruit in the summer!

Go Hiking

Capitol Reef has fifteen day hikes to explore.

There are also epic backpacking routes in the backcountry.

Most of my hiking was in the backcountry when I did a summer internship after my senior year of college, doing plant surveys and biological soil crust surveys. Capitol Reef is insanely beautiful off the beaten path!

Capitol Reef Scenic Drives

Add these epic scenic drives to your Utah road trip! Below are the main three (3):

The Scenic Drive

South of Fruita, drive the paved 21-mile scenic drive (there and back). It will take about an hour to an hour and a half to check out all the shortstops and sights. Visit the Gifford Farmhouse, orchards, take in views of the Freemont River, Historic Fruita School, Grand Wash, Egyptian Temple, and Capitol Gorge.

This scenic drive is one of the leading day trip attractions.

Notam-Bullfrog Road

On the east side of the Park, head south onto Notam-Bullfrog Road. The road is well marked so you can’t miss it! This drive will take you to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Bullfrog Marina. Along the Notam Scenic Drive, you’ll find incredible geology and views of the Waterpocket Fold in Utah.

We used to love driving this road after a weekend camping at Lake Powell – Glen Canyon National Recreation Area!

Cathedral Valley Road

Another personal favorite and where we had our first camping date, explore the north side of Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold and South Desert. You need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to drive from Scenic Route 12 (HWY 24) into Cathedral Valley.

There are two ways to access this area or the road loops. The first access point requires crossing the Freemont River (only recommended if you have a four-wheel-drive high clearance vehicle and weather conditions permit). The second access point is via Cathedral Road and it may not be marked. It is about 28 miles to the Cathedral Valley primitive campground, and Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook from Highway 24.

This northern area of Capitol Reef is a magical place where the Thousand Lake Mountains meet the desert. In Cathedral Valley, visit Capitol Reef’s famed desert monoliths Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon along with the Gypsum Sinkhole.

Only go if you have a reliable vehicle and are comfortable and experienced in the backcountry.

What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Capitol Reef?

Cathedral Valley Gypsum Sinkhole

The best time for visiting Capitol Reef National Park is in the spring or fall. Summers can be in the triple digits and get pretty hot if you plan to hike. If you don’t plan on hiking or getting off the beaten path, you can really enjoy the Park year-round.

Keep weather and soil moisture in mind… I know that is a weird comment, but the soils have a lot of clay, and when clay gets wet, it is not very fun to hike or drive-in, especially if you are backcountry and off the beaten path.

How to Avoid the Crowds in Capitol Reef?

To avoid the crowds in Capitol Reef, visit during the middle of the week. Early spring and late fall have fewer crowds too. The winter is also quiet and tranquil.

Where to Stay When Visiting Capitol Reef

Camping at Capitol Reef

Places to stay near Capitol Reef National Park include camping at Cedar Mesa or Cathedral Valley Campground.

Hotels Near Capitol Reef

Visitors can also find lodging in Torrey, Utah. All of the hotels near Capitol Reef National Park are going to be in Torrey. Hanksville is really small and you basically just drive through.

Tips Visiting Capitol Reef

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Capitol Reef geology

We have spent so much time in Capitol Reef! Along with our adventures, I worked here for a summer internship. It is one of our favorite national parks in the USA.

Below are some of our tips for having a great time visiting Capitol Reef National Park!

Purchase the Annual National Park Pass

The pass is $80 and good for the year if you plan to visit at least four to five National Parks in a year.

Summers Can be Scorching

Wear light wicking layers to protect your skin from the desert sun. The elevation of Capitol Reef National Park is around 5,000 feet, which means more sun exposure.

There are Gnats

In the late spring and summer, on less windy days, while hiking, brace yourself for potential gnats.

Don’t worry, though; just get this desert gold sun salve and smear it where gnats like to bite (ears, corner of the eyes, sides of the mouth), and they won’t bite you in those places!

Don’t let this comment discourage you! We are just setting you up for epic success while hiking! If you are doing a long backcountry hike, you might even want to get a bug net for your head.

How Many Days Do You Need in Capitol Reef National Park?

You can spend as little as an afternoon or as much as three days.

Spend an afternoon cruising the scenic drive, checking out Fruita as well as the roadside petroglyphs.

Or spend a few days camping, exploring the extended scenic, more backcountry drives, along with day hikes.

What to Pack for Capitol Reef?

When visiting Capitol, pack lots of layers! Being in the intermountain desert means it could be cold in the morning, hot and sunny during the day, then rain (or snow) out of nowhere, especially in the spring. We recommend planning for all types of weather.

Here is a checklist of what we pack in our road trip waterproof duffle bags:

  • Light down jacket
  • Rain and windproof jacket
  • Synthetic long sleeve sun shirt or base layer
  • Short sleeve shirt
  • Long pants for cooler nights
  • Long thin pants for hiking in the sun
  • Shorts
  • Wool socks
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking sandals – depending on what you plan on doing
  • Brimmed hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Sun salve – for the gnats!
  • Water – at least one gallon per person per day
  • Food
  • Camera
  • Hiking bag
  • Personal toilet tries
  • Undergarments
  • Yeti road trip cooler

If you plan on camping and are curious about what to pack, check out our other post on what to bring for tent camping.

Capitol Reef is such an underrated National Park in Utah. It has so many desert gems tucked away off the beaten path! We hope this post inspires you to spend some quality time there!

Have fun exploring the scenic routes and roads less traveled.

Always practice Leave No Trace.

Have a great trip.

Ashlee & Pablo


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We want to hear from you!

Are you planning on visiting Capitol Reef National Park? Feel free to ask us any questions. It is one of our favorite places.

Have you been to Capitol Reef? What was your favorite part?

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About The Author

Ashlee Fechino

I’m a travel and outdoor recreation writer with dreams to inspire happiness through an outdoorsy lifestyle. I want to help people live their best life by sharing free adventure guides. The USA has been my backyard most of my life, and it’s the place where you’ll find most of our escapades! I’m married to an expat Argentine, chihuahua Mom, and am passionate about the environment. I hold a BS degree in Biology and MS in Environmental Policy & Sustainability. We camp in our Aliner often, love road trips, hiking, and SUP’ing!

22 COMMENTS

  1. Cristina Sala | 16th Feb 21

    Ashlee quede encantada con el Parque Capitol Reef, las vistas , descrpciones que haces son muy buenas.
    Indudablemente esta muy bueno las indicaciones que das para su recorrido.
    Es una guia perfecta tu relato.

    • Ashlee Fechino | 19th Feb 21

      ¡Hola Cristina! Gracias por leer. El Parque Nacional Capitol Reef es uno de nuestros parques nacionales favoritos en los EE. UU. Abrazos

  2. Bozena | 20th Feb 21

    very nice post! beautiful photos and lots of useful information! great!

  3. Charlotte | 20th Feb 21

    I’m gutted I missed this place when I was in Utah it looks incredible! Hopefully I can see it again soon!

    • Ashlee Fechino | 21st Feb 21

      Hi Charlotte! Yes, you’ll have to visit Capitol Reef next time 🙂

  4. Hannah | 20th Feb 21

    Wow, I’d love to drive through Capitol Reef National Park and take in those stunning views! The landscape looks breath-taking! What an incredible place to go hiking! I hope I get an opportunity to visit! Thanks for the great guide!

    • Ashlee Fechino | 21st Feb 21

      Hi Hannah – thanks for reading. You’d love visiting Capitol Reef National Park!

  5. Catherine | 20th Feb 21

    I often prefer to hang out in the less popular parks, so Capitol Reef NP looks right up my alley. The desert hikes look gorgeous! Can’t wait to visit.

    • Ashlee Fechino | 21st Feb 21

      Hi Catherine – we do too! That is part of what makes Capitol Reef so special. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Megan | 20th Feb 21

    I haven’t been to Capitol Reef but it looks amazing! And that is so sweet that it was your first camp-date together. Perhaps that’s why it’s become your favorite 😉

    • Ashlee Fechino | 21st Feb 21

      Hi Megan! Awww.. haha, probably… so many great memories!

  7. Nora | 20th Feb 21

    I missed this when planning a road trip a couple of years ago. I would love to go back and drive through Capitol Reef National Park, it looks amazing!

    • Ashlee Fechino | 21st Feb 21

      Hi Nora – I hope you can visit Capitol Reef someday. It is amazing!

  8. Krista | 21st Feb 21

    I haven’t heard of this national park before but it looks amazing with its unique landscape. Definitely one for my bucket list now.

    • Ashlee Fechino | 21st Feb 21

      Hi Krista! Awesome on adding Capitol Reef National Park to your bucket list!

  9. Tiffany | 21st Feb 21

    I can’t wait to start exploring out west! Such beautiful hikes. Thanks for the tips! I love knowing how long I should plan for a park so I don’t miss anything! LOL

    • Ashlee Fechino | 21st Feb 21

      Hi Tiffany!! You will love exploring the West. Message me before you go for tips! We used to live in Western Colorado near the Utah border.

  10. Jamie Sharpe | 21st Feb 21

    This is great, I’m looking for things to do while international travel is shut down.

  11. Burt Randall | 28th Feb 21

    Capitol Reef National Park sounds fun !! Reminds me of trips to the Grand Canyon !!

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