Our family made it a goal to visit all five of the Mighty Five National Parks in Utah. The last on our list, and possibly one of the least well known of the Mighty Five, was Capitol Reef. This is one of Utah's best kept secrets with smaller crowds and just as much beauty as the other National Parks.
Capitol Reef is named for the white rock domes that look like the U.S. Capitol. The Reef part comes from a barrier that cannot be crossed.
This is a National Park that should definitely be added to your bucket list if you have never visited. It is located in south-central Utah with tons to see including domes, bridges, arches, and more created in the Waterpocket Fold.
Here is why we LOVE Capitol Reef and the top 8 things you must do while there, most of which can be accomplished in a day or two:
1. Hickman Bridge Hike
Located just 2 miles east of the visitor center turn off. Hickman Bridge is a perfect family friendly hike at just 2 miles round trip.
(Trail to Hickman Bridge)
This is a fairly easy hike up to a large natural arch spanning 133 feet wide and 125 feet tall. The trail isn't too steep with a fairly gradual climb. There is not a lot of shade throughout the hike, so bring plenty of water. You can also pass underneath the arch and head to the bluff overlooking the Fremont River.
2. Fremont Petroglyphs
My kids thought it was especially cool to see pictures etched in the walls by the Fremont people from nearly 1,000 years ago. Plus, it was especially nice that these petroglyphs are just right off of Highway 24. No hiking required, just a few steps onto a boardwalk and you can view these amazing pictures. There are even a couple of viewers that you can use to get a closer look. These are just a few petroglyphs in the park that are easily accessible, there are even more scattered through backcountry areas.
3. Gifford House
Travel 1-mile south of the visitor center along the scenic drive and be sure to make a stop at the Gifford House. The house depicts a typical Utah farm house of the early 1900s. In addition to the farmhouse, there is a barn, smokehouse, and pasture.
You cannot go to Capitol Reef without stopping at the Gifford House to get a fresh baked fruit pie. These personal size pies melt in your mouth with perfectly flaky crusts. While we were there, we had our pick of apple, berry, or peach pie.
You will also find other unique handmade items from rag dolls to soap. Plus, as you wander through the small house, you can view various antiques and historical items on display.
4. Have A Picnic In The Orchards
Early settlers planted a bunch of orchards that are located a mile or two from the visitor center. The orchards have about 3,100 trees including cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut.
You will also find many picnic tables near the orchards, which makes for a beautiful place to stop for a picnic. You will also most likely see deer near this area, We saw deer every time we picnicked or drove by.
We were there during the Spring, which was beautiful with many orchards blossoming, but sadly we were unable to sample any fruit. You are welcome to pick fruit once it is ripe and the orchards have an open for picking sign. Fruit taken home from the orchards must be paid for and there is a list of prices near the entrance.
5. Hike Cassidy Arch
Cassidy Arch is off the Scenic Drive within the walls of the Grand Wash. This is a slightly more strenuous hike with steep inclines at 3 miles round trip. You also get an amazing view from the top at an elevation of 6,350 ft.
(Trail to Cassidy Arch)
Once again, there is not much shade throughout the hike. We hiked on an overcast day, which was perfect, but you'll want to bring plenty of water. It's still fairly kid friendly as each of my kids did just fine.
(Top of Cassidy Arch)
This was my kids' favorite hike of the trip. It may have been because it's the only arch they have ever stood on top of or it could be because they were intrigued by Butch Cassidy, who it's named after. We had a nice little history lesson about Butch Cassidy after the hike.
6. Drive the Scenic Drive
This drive winds right through the heart of Capitol Reef with some of the most amazing views in the entire park. At one point, the road turns into a dirt road and you drive right through the canyon with magnificent sheer cliff walls on either side.
There is a $10 park entry fee to take this drive. It is definitely worth seeing!
7. Hike Tanks & Pioneer Register
This hike is located near the end of the Scenic Drive off a dirt path. This is an easy hike through narrow canyons that offer shade depending upon the time of day. At one point on the hike, you will find the Pioneer Register, where pioneers etched their names and dates in the wall. It's a pretty cool piece of Mormon pioneer history.
(Trail to Pioneer Register & Tanks)
It is about 0.6 miles to the Pioneer Register. You can then continue on to the Tanks which is about an additional 0.2 miles.
(Natural bridge near the Tanks & Tank)
The Tanks are large collections of water in the rock that support micro-environments full of tadpoles, fairy shrimp, mosses and more.
8. Places to Eat
This isn't actually located in Capitol Reef, but if you gotta eat, you'll want to check out some of these places just outside of Capitol Reef in the town of Torrey. Torrey is a pretty small town and there are just a few shops and restaurants, but these were our favorites:
Slacker's Burger Joint – This was one of the most economical restaurants where you can get a good size burger and fries for a decent price. We actually went for ice cream sundaes and a banana split, which really hits the spot after a hot day full of hiking. You can check out their reviews on Yelp.
Cafe Diablo – This is a pricier option for fine dining with a great view. They won OpenTable's 2015 Diners' Choice award. See their ratings on Yelp, where favorites include rattlesnake and pumpkin ravioli.
If you plan on camping at Capitol Reef, the camp ground located in the Fruita area is ranked as one of our top 15 camping destinations in Utah. You cannot go wrong with this camping area. Check it out on our list here>>