Visit Capitol Reef in 24 hours
Lush mountains contrast dramatically with reddish desert landscapes.
Covering an area of almost 100 km2, Capitol Reef is divided into 3 areas: Cathedral Valley in the north, Fruita in the centre, and Strike Valley in the south.
Its main points of interest are located in the Fruita area, which you will spend the day exploring.
Morning in Capitol Reef
#1. TWIN ROCKS
Your first stop is along Highway 24, just after the park entrance.
Standing side by side, these two mushroom-shaped rocks are particularly impressive because of their immense size.
#2. PANORAMA POINT
Drive about 4 km to a small secondary road, which leads to Panorama Point.
This panoramic viewpoint is easily accessible and offers views of the Henry Mountains, as well as the park's two main attractions, Capitol Dome and The Castle.
Capitol Dome is a 1820-metre white sandstone dome, while The Castle is a huge rock formation which, with a little imagination, is shaped like a castle.
#3. GOOSENECKS OVERLOOK
From Panorama Point, a short, easy walk (5 to 10 minutes) leads to an overlook with a dramatic view of the canyon carved out by Sulphur Creek and its meanders.
#4. VISITOR CENTER
Continue along the main road for 4 km to the Visitor Center, also called Fruita Oasis.
This is the park's only visitor centre. Ask for a Scenic Drive guide, which will be useful later in the day.
Here you will find the historic Fruita schoolhouse, built in 1896. The village of Fruita used to be home to a Mormon community.
The schoolhouse has been very well preserved over the years. It is not possible to enter the building, but if you look through the windows, you will see period furniture inside.
Most of the children who attended the school were from farming families. The Fruita area had several orchards and produced a large quantity of fruit known for its excellent quality.
More than 600 fruit trees are still tended by the park's employees. You can pick some fruit for a small contribution.
Several picnic tables have been set up in the area. Take the opportunity to stop for a snack or to eat your lunch out in the open air, because you have a busy afternoon ahead of you!
Distance covered in the morning: 20 km by car | 1 km on foot
Afternoon in Capitol Reef
#5. SCENIC DRIVE
You are now entering the paid section of the park.
Before continuing, you will need to pay the entrance fee of $10 per vehicle, unless you have an America The Beautiful Pass.
This dead-end scenic road is paved, and is suitable for all types of car.
The total driving distance (round-trip) is 26 km.
It traverses magnificent landscapes and leads to several of Capitol Reef's major attractions, including two that you won't want to miss:
This historic farmhouse was converted into an interpretation centre and cultural showcase after the last members of the Gifford family left in 1969.
The Giffords were the third family to live in the original house built in 1908, and the last inhabitants of the village of Fruita.
Capitol Gorge and Pioneer Register
When you reach the end of the paved scenic road, you will see Capitol Gorge Road, a dirt road that winds between the walls of the canyon for about 4 km.
You can drive it in a sedan, but it's better by SUV.
In any case, don't venture out on this road in rainy weather.
Make your way to the parking area, where you'll find the trailhead for Capitol Gorge Trail, an easy 3.2-km round-trip hike.
First, be sure to stop at the Petroglyphs to admire the rock art of the Fremont people, carved into the canyon walls more than 1,000 years ago.
Then continue your walk to the Pioneer Register, where you will see writing carved into the rock by the early pioneers.
Early visitors to the gorge carved their names and sometimes the date as they passed through.
#6. HICKMAN BRIDGE HIKE
Make your way back to Highway 24.
Then, drive 3 km to the parking area for the park's flagship trail.
The trail leads to Hickman Bridge, an impressive rock formation that creates a 40-metre-long natural bridge.
You will follow the Fremont River for a short distance before beginning a moderate 130-metre climb.
Along the way, you will have views of Navajo Dome, Capitol Dome, and Pectol's Pyramid.
Allow about 1.5 hours to complete the 3.2-km loop.
Distance covered in the afternoon: 37 km by car | 6.4 km on foot
Where to eat in Capitol Reef
As with most parks in the American West, the easiest and most enjoyable way to enjoy the park is to pack a picnic lunch, which you can eat at your leisure, right in the heart of nature.
Map of Capitol Reef
And there you go!
At the end of the day, head to your accommodation for a well-deserved night's rest!
What about you: will you visit Capitol Reef National Park during your Western US vacation?