Sunday, September 5, 2021

Top things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

Explorer Lens

This is one of the unrated and overlooked national parks of USA, but has plethora of surprises.
On similar lines as Death Valley National Park, this park is also known for dramatic terrains which keeps on changing every mile and magnificent mammoth rock formations.

Capitol Reef National Park is among the 5 iconic National Parks of Utah, which are also known as Mighty 5. In our ten days roadtrip to Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, we also planned to cover this national park.

After exploring the beauty of Arches National Park, we were on our way to check out the hidden gems of Capitol Reef National Park.

This park preserves the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the earth crust which is 100 miles long. This is a stunning landscape which looks like an extraterrestrial rift with incredible colors.
It is also home to several scenic drives, dramatic landscapes, gigantic rock formations, slot canyons, historical landmarks and otherworldly rugged terrain which can be reached using a 4 × 4.

There are lot of hidden gems here and miles of remote area to explore.
But, as we were on a road trip, short on time and didn’t knew much about the park, we could only cover few overlook points, scenic drives and some of the remote areas of the park. We definitely plan to visit this national park again in future.

Here is the list of major attractions:

1. Highway 24

Highway 24 is the main road that runs through the park. It is a very scenic road along the Fremont River which has stunning view of the massive red sandstone mountains, cliffs, domes and rock formation.
This part of the park is free and has many major attractions like Panorama Point, Sunset Point and hiking trails.

Distance – 16 miles
Time – 1.5-2 hours


2. Panorama Point

It is located just off the Highway 24 and is really easy to access.
It provides stunning views over the Highway 24 as it meanders through the park and also provides opening views of the Capitol Reef National Park.

There is a sign for Panorama Point where you have to turn and drive on a gravel road to the parking lot.

Distance – 0.3 miles round trip
Time – 15 minutes


3. Sunset Point and Goosenecks Overlook

These two points are located in close vicinity to Panorama Point. If you continue on the gravel road that you took for Panorama Point, the dead end is Sunset Parking lot. There are two trails from here, one goes to Sunset Point and other to Goosenecks Overlook Point.

Sunset Point is the best point in Capitol Reef National Park to view sunset. Goosenecks Overlook Point is not only famous for the gooseneck structure, but you can also listen to your echo by yelling in the canyon.

Distance – 0.8 miles round trip
Time – 1 hour to cover both the points


4. Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Another stunning scenic drive to do here is Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. It is literally one of the best things to do here. The scenic drive starts as Fruita and ends at Capitol Gorge Road.

This one-way road has one of the best views of the park which includes otherworldly sandstone mountains and rock formations. It is a $20 fee for driving this road which can be paid at the self-pay station just past the Fruita Campground.

Distance – 8 miles one way
Time – 1-1.5 hours


5. Capitol Gorge Road

The scenic drive ends at Capitol Gorge Road. Capitol Gorge road is a gravel road which has gigantic canyon walls on both sides and the views are just spectacular.

Distance – 2.2 miles one way
Time – 30-45 minutes


6. Cassidy Arch

It is one of the two famous arches in Capitol Reef National Park. You have to take the Grand Wash Spur road to reach at the parking lot of the trailhead of this arch. The trail is a 3.4 miles moderate hike which features stunning views over Grand Wash and also a chance to stand on the Arch.

Distance – 3.4-miles round trip
Time – 2.5-3 hours

Credit - Here

7. Hickman Bridge

Hickman Bridge is said to be the most famous arch of Capitol Reef National Park. It is 1.8 miles moderate hike to the Hickman Bridge. It is one of the best short hikes to do in Capitol Reef. On the trail, you get to see stunning views of the Route 24 and surrounding Canyons.

Distance – 1.8-miles round trip
Time – 1-1.5 hours


                                                                      Credit - Here

8. Cohab Canyon

It is a popular hike in Capitol Reef National Park and is in vicinity of the Hickman Bridge. You get to hike past the slot canyons and the aerial views of Fruita from the top are amazing.

Distance – 3-miles round trip
Time – 2.5-3 hours


9. Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley is one of the remote areas of Capitol Reef National Park and is known for its otherworldly sandstone monoliths and colorful bentonite hills which are going viral among travelers worldwide.

There are lot of things to do here and it might take a complete day exploring the valley.
Here are the main attractions:

Cathedral Valley Loop – It is a 58-mile scenic drive through a well-maintained gravel road which takes you to all major attractions of Cathedral Valley.

Bentonite Hills – This are those colorful hills of Utah which are taking internet by storm. I have seen so many breathtaking pictures of these hills that I definitely want to visit them in my next trip.

Upper and Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook – These overlooks provide stunning views of the sandstone monoliths and other stunning rock formations in the valley.

Cathedrals Trail – It is a 2.4 miles easy trail which takes you closest to the sandstone monoliths. The best part of the hike is when you walk parallel to them. The trail ends at a small hill which provides scenic view of the Cathedrals.

Temples of Sun and Moon – Temples of Sun and Moon are the most photographed structures of Cathedral Valley. Most visitors visit Cathedral valley to get a close up view of them. Morning time is the best time to photograph them. Just a fact, the Sun Temple is larger than the Moon Temple.


                                                              Credit - Here

10. Strike Valley Overlook

This is the overlook from where you can get the best view of the iconic Waterpocket Fold. There are two ways to visit this overlook, one is with 4 × 4 vehicle where you need to only hike for a mile. The other one is where you will have to do the 6.2 mile trail.

                                                                Credit - Here

11. Navajo Knobs Trail

Navajo Knobs trail is one of the most amazing hikes in Capitol Reef National Park and offers incredible views of the park from the top. This 9.1 mile out and back trail is an extension of the Hickman Bridge Trail and Rim Overlook.

There are lot of other hikes and scenic drives to explore in Capitol Reef National Park and it totally depends on how much time you have to cover them.


Tips from our experience and learning

1. Most of the otherworldly attractions here are located in remote rugged areas which might require a
4 × 4 vehicle, so do keep a note of that while visiting this national park.

2. A lot of scenic drives and attractions are on the gravel road where you have to drive slowly, so make sure to plan your visit accordingly.

3. Cathedral Valley is impassable if it is raining or wet, so check the weather before visiting.

4. Do the Cathedral Valley loop in counter clockwise direction, so that you get to photograph Sun and Moon Temple at the best time of the day.

5. Bring lots of water and food, as there are no cafes or restaurants in Capital Reef National Park or in the vicinity.

6. If you have half day time, cover Highway 24, Panorama Point, Sunset Point and Goosenecks Overlook, Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and Capitol Gorge Road. You can also add a short hike if you start early in the day.

7. If you have one day for the park, do everything mentioned above and two hikes, like Cassidy Arch and Hickman Bridge.

8. If you have two days for the park, do Cathedral Valley loop on the second day.

9. If you have more than 2 days, you can cover most of the attractions listed above.


Explorer Lens / Author & Editor

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