Kenon and I have been to Capitol Reef twice and each time we left saying, “Man, we should have planned more time!” Capitol Reef National Park is usually the park people skip on their tour of the Utah national parks because it seems small, boring, and too far out of the way. While it is small and a little out of the way it is by no means boring!
Here are our favorite things to do at Capitol Reef National Park:
Check out the Petroglyphs
The petroglyphs are part of the heartbeat of Capitol Reef National Park. They speak to the rich history that had shaped this area. The easiest place to see petroglyphs is right off Utah State Route 24 (the main drag through the park), half-way between Capitol Dome and the visitor’s center. There is a pull of on the north side of the road for parking. Walk the easy wooden boardwalk to see some well preserved ancient art.
Hike to Cassidy Arch
Cassidy Arch trail is a 3.4 mile out and back trail with 670 feet of elevation gain. It is marked “strenuous”. Honestly, though, if you’re group has any hiking ability and just a little bit of gumption pretty much anyone can do this hike. The most difficult part is the heights as you hike along the ridge, overlooking drop-offs. We have seen every age on this trail from 7 to 55.
If you have the skills and gear, do the full rappel of Cassidy Arch. Read about it here. This takes at least half, if not more, of the day.
Explore the Orchards
Okay, so we have not actually done this one yet. We usually go in autumn when the orchards are closed for the year. However, we REALLY WANT TO because everyone tells us how great it is. And honestly, a summer trip to Capitol Reef is not complete without a stop in the orchards.
Capitol Reef is the only national park in the U.S. that makes a profit. It is able to do this because of the orchards. The orchards were planted by early settlers and are now preserved as part of the historic landscape of the area. During certain times of year visitors may pick and sample fruit while strolling through the orchards. Visitors may also pick and purchase fruit to take home. Find out more information here.
Watch the sunset at Sunset Point
Look at the picture. Learn about the hike here. Grab blankets because it can get chilly when the sun goes down. Start hiking.
Eat dinner at Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe
So good! There are actually quite a few good restaurants in the Torrey and Bicknell area just outside of Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Inn & Cafe is my favorite for its desert atmosphere, laid back vibe, and excellent home-cooked meals. They have a mouth watering pie selection. It also has gluten free options that are celiac-friendly! Check out the gift shop before you leave for the best in local wares.
We stayed at the Capitol Reef Resort for one trip and the other trip we stayed in the campground.
The campground is obviously the waaaaay cheaper option. You can choose your own adventure here, getting a developed site or a primitive site. We stayed in the developed campground (aka Fruita Campground). Since we were there during the off season we did not have to make a reservation online and were just able to walk in and get a site. It is $20 for the night. I loved staying in Fruita. We went to sleep to the sound of deer wandering the campground and woke up to the sound of wild turkeys all around us.
Capitol Reef Resort is adorable and cozy. Depending on the time of year, you can choose to stay in the hotel, in cabins, or go glamping in the pioneer wagons or teepees. Glamping is not available during the colder, off-season months. The resort also offers night-time gas fire pits where anyone can gather and a heated pool and hot tub. There is a restaurant on site but meals are not included in the price of your stay. Kenon’s mom snapped this awesome picture of the views from the resort.
We stayed in the two bedroom cabins. The cabins have two bedrooms, one full bath and one half bath, a kitchenette/dining room/living room combo with a pull out bed, and a patio with a grill. They are very cozy and have giant sliding glass doors that serve as windows to the spectacular views. I would definitely stay here again!
Other things to know before you go
- There is little to know cell phone reception inside the park.
- Torrey is the closest town driving West out of the park, followed by Bicknell. This stretch of highway does have a gas station, a lot of really good restaurants, and a couple of convenience stories with some last minute food and camping items. However, these are very small towns and shops and I would not count on them providing forgotten and necessary items. Also, just about everything is closed on Sundays.
- There is a lot of backcountry to be explored at Capitol Reef if you REALLY want to get off the beaten path. Check it out here.