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Five Reasons Why You Must Visit Capitol Reef in Utah

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Many people consider skipping Capitol Reef National Park, but to me that is a serious mistake. Capitol Reef in Utah is the state’s least visited national park, yet it still packs a punch. The national park features great hikes, interesting history, and geologic features you can’t find at any other parks in Utah. So if you’re on the fence about whether to visit Capitol Reef in Utah, hopefully my five reasons can safely put it in your to do list.

1. Hiking Capitol Reef in Utah

Image of the Grand Wash Trail at Capitol Reef in Utah
Deep into the Grand Wash Trail

Easily the #1 reason to visit Capitol Reef in Utah is the hiking. There is guaranteed to be a trail for every skill level and age group inside the park. Many of the most popular hikes are located in the Fruita District of the park. This area is home to the visitor center, the historic town of Fruita (see #3 below), and most of the parks easily accessible features.

If you’re looking for a fairly easy hike, then I recommend the Grand Wash Trail. This is a nice level wash that cuts through an amazing canyon. Hiking to at least the Narrows is the perfect way to start any day at the park. You can also hike the entire wash and continue onto the awesome Cassidy Arch Trail.

Another fantastic hike is along Sulphur Creek near the visitor center. You have two options for this hike. The easiest is to start near the visitor center and hike back along the creek. You’re less likely to get wet following the creek, however, you’ll have to stop when you reach the first waterfall. Alternatively, you can start at the trailhead about three miles down the road. This longer version of the trail requires some wading, but adds two additional waterfalls to visit!

These two hikes are merely scratching the surface of what is available just in the Fruita District. You’ve got a ton of other possible hikes including Hickman Bridge, Chimney Rock, and the Navajo Knobs. If you enjoy hiking, then Capitol Reef National Park is a must see on your trip to Utah.

2. The Temple of the Sun and Moon

The Temple of the Sun and Moon at Capitol Reef in Utah
Sunrise at the Temple of the Sun and Moon

Located in the remote northern reaches of Capitol Reef National Park, is the Temple of the Sun and Moon is well worth the effort to visit it. Unlike many parts of Capitol Reef in Utah which can be difficult to reach (looking at you #4), there is a convenient road which leads right to it. These stunning rock formations require time and patience with a gravel road, but are definitely one of the top reasons to visit.

In order to reach the temple, you’ll need to head to Caineville on Utah Route 24. Be aware that Caineville is nothing more than the Cathedral Valley Inn and some dirt, so it’s easy to miss. You’ll want to be on the lookout for a dirt road to the north of Route 24. If you’re coming from the visitor center, if you reach the Cathedral Valley Inn you’ve got just a touch too far. Once you’re on the dirt road, known as Caineville Wash Rd, continue until you reach a fork. Take the left fork (Cathedral Rd) and this will lead you all the way back to the temple. Be prepared for about an hour journey along the rough dirt road.

Once you’ve gotten to the Temple, you’ll find two large rock formations and one smaller one. The largest is the Temple of the Sun and it is truly a massive sight. The next largest is the Temple of the Moon, which isn’t quite as impressive as its big sister. Finally, you’ll see Glass Mountain which is more of a giant rock that seems to glitter in the sun. I highly advise coming here in the morning to catch one of the best sunrises in Utah! Plus, that’ll give you plenty of time to explore other parts of Capitol Reef National Park.

3. Human History of Capitol Reef

Petroglyphs on a rock wall at Capitol Reef in Utah
Petroglyphs created by the Fremont culture

The area surrounding Capitol Reef in Utah has been inhabited by people for well over a thousand years. You can find signs of this human habitation throughout the park, but most prominently along the Fremont River and Fruita. If you’re a fan of history, then there will be plenty for you to find at Capitol Reef.

The oldest people who called Capitol Reef home were the Fremont Culture. While not a ton is known about these people, they have left behind signs inside the park. On your drive into the park on Route 24, you’ll find ancient petroglyphs right off the road. These works of art were carved into the sheer rock wall of the canyon hundreds of years ago, yet remain for us to admire today.

Starting in the 1800s, western settlers began to call Capitol Reef and the surrounding area home. Fruita sits in the heart of the park and serves as an excellent example of life as it grew then. There are a number of well preserved old structures that tell the history of these early settlers. There is a really neat little schoolhouse that sits along the Fremont River. You also won’t want to miss the Gifford Homestead that is next to the park campground as well. As an added bonus, the park service maintains the old orchards that were planted here and you can even pick the fruit in season!

4. The Waterpocket Fold

Rugged landscape of the Waterpocket Fold at Capitol Reef in Utah
The stark and beautiful landscape of the Waterpocket Fold

If you’re up for adventure or seeking isolation, the Waterpocket Fold is the place for you. Located in the remote southern portion of Capitol Reef, this area is a breathtaking glimpse into what mother nature can offer. There is a single small primitive campground in the area, so be prepared to spend your nights without many of the comforts of home. Being so far from any major cities, the night skies are full of stars. If you have the chance to even spend one night out here, I highly recommend it.

The Waterpocket Fold district isn’t for the faint of heart, but is going to be a fantastic place for backpackers. Unlike the main portion of the park, the remoteness of this southern portion means even during the busiest seasons you’re not likely to see many people. However, this presents its own challenges and dangers. There is absolutely no cell service this far south. If you’re going to be staying here or hiking, you need to have the experience necessary to take care of yourself. There are a ton of fantastic places to visit, but none of them are worth risking your health.

5. The Scenic Drive of Capitol Reef

The scenic drive in winter at Capitol Reef in Utah
Looking back on the Scenic Drive in the winter

The final reason you’ll need to visit Capitol Reef in Utah is for it’s scenic drive. This mostly paved road leads away from the visitor center and campground and into the heart of the park. Featuring two separate spur dirt roads, the scenic drive is a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours in the park if that is all the time you have. It also is how you’ll reach a few of the great hikes that you can find in the park.

The Grand Wash road off of the Scenic Drive will bring you to the other end of the Grand Wash Trail from earlier. Its the easiest way to reach Cassidy Arch. Further down the Scenic Drive you’ll find the Capitol Gorge spur road. This winding road originally ran through the entirety of the gorge, though today it ends after a couple miles. However, you can hike the rest of the original roadway. Following it just a ways and you’ll find the Pioneer Register where settlers and others carved their names into the rock of the canyon.

The Scenic Drive is a great way to see much of the geology that Capitol Reef has to offer. Whether you choose to only do this, or add it as part of your visit to the rest of the park it’ll be worth your time.

Exploring the Rest of the Mighty Five

Capitol Reef National Park isn’t the only stop on your road trip through Utah for sure. Positioned dead in the center of Utah’s Mighty Five, the park is a must visit and one that is frequently skipped over. Don’t be one of the people to skip over Capitol Reef. From cool history, fantastic hikes, and stunning night skies, you’ll be disappointed if you miss it. If you want to read up more about Utah’s Mighty Five, then stay right here and read a few more of my posts. I’ve got tips for spending a summer day at Arches National Park or what to explore at Canyonlands Island in the Sky. Be on the lookout for future posts about both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks as well!

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