Besides the beauty, Capitol Reef National Park has a lot of history to be told. Initially inhabited by the native people of the Fremont Culture, then later by Mormon pioneers, it’s like a journey back in time when visiting.

Officially becoming a national park in 1971, this helped protect the fascinating scenery and intriguing past.

You can spend one day in Capitol Reef National Park and be left wanting more. That’s why I have put together a list of things to help make it easier to plan your one-day itinerary and ensure you get the most out of your trip.

Andrew and Ashley in front of the Capitol Reef National Park entrance sign
Andrew and Ashley at the Capitol Reef National Park entrance sign

Things to Know Before You Go

It’s normal to have questions before heading out on an adventure. Make sure to do your research, so you are up to date on all park rules and regulations. Here are some common questions that get asked about Capitol Reef National Park:

Can I bring my pet to Capitol Reef National Park?

Leashed pets are only allowed on public roadways, campgrounds, and the trail from the visitor center to the campground. They are not permitted on other trails, backcountry routes, or buildings.

When is the busiest time to visit Capitol Reef National Park?

Spring (March to June) and Fall (September to October) are the busiest months to visit Capitol Reef National Park, primarily because of the ideal temperatures and less chance of dangerous monsoon rains.

Spring is also a perfect time to see fruit trees blooming and fall has colorful changing leaves. However, summer can still be busy, it is just much hotter, which deters some visitors.

What do I do if I see wildlife?

Stay at least 30 feet away, keep your pets on a leash (when in designated areas), and please don’t feed or harass the wildlife.

Can I take home a souvenir when I am out on a trail?

Please do not remove any rocks, minerals, plants, fossils or artifacts. You can purchase keepsakes at the Visitor Center. Check their hours, as they vary from season to season.

If you are unfamiliar with the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, here is a quick breakdown – Plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impact, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others.

What are cairns when it pertains to hiking?

Cairns are stacked rocks used as navigational tools. When there is no other way to mark a trail, they are put in place to help keep you on track. Please do not build new cairns or take the existing ones down.

How much water should I bring with me on a hike?

Carrying one gallon of water per person per day is recommended. If you know you are going on a longer, more strenuous hike – you should consider more.

Beautiful scenery at the end of the scenic byway in Capitol Reef

Things to Do in Capitol Reef NP

Go For a Hike

Capitol Reef National Park has 15 easy, moderate, and strenuous trails. It is up to you to choose the hiking trail that suits you best, as everyone has different time constraints and physical capabilities. I’ve highlighted a couple of Capitol Reef hikes to help you along the way.

Sunset Point Trail is a great family-friendly trail, as it is relatively flat, not too rocky, and easy to follow. Benches are along the hike for anyone needing to take a breather or to look out at the beautiful landscape.

Make sure to protect yourself from the sun during the summer months since there isn’t much shade along the way. Another great option to beat the heat is if you plan the timing of this hike right, it’s a great way to watch the sunset.

Cassidy Arch Trail initially starts as Grand Wash Trail, but about 0.2 miles in, you will see the large sign and turn off for Cassidy Arch on the left. Most of the steep climbing is done in the first half mile of the hike, but the occasional overlooks are your reward.

Cassidy Arch trail sign in Capitol Reef NP
Cassidy Arch Trail has a steep climb right off the bat

The Cassidy Arch trail splits a little after a mile in, and you will want to take another left. You can potentially start losing the trail if not observant. Since you are on slickrock, there isn’t a path to follow, but cairns are marking your way as you go.

A small amount of rock scrambling is required before you reach the top to see Cassidy Arch. From here you can explore the arch for a bit before you head back.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the trail is named after Butch Cassidy – a famous bank robber? He would hide in the canyons and hills in the area that is now Cassidy Arch Trail.

Explore the Fruita Historic District in Capitol Reef National Park

Petroglyph Panel

Just off Highway 24, at the Petroglyph Panel, you can see carvings in the sandstone by native people of the Fremont Culture, dating back to 600 to 1300 Common Era. There are many stories told on these walls… some could be maps, calendars, or even a specific journey.

Anthropomorphs petroglyph panel
Carvings in a petroglyph panel dating back to 600 to 1300 Common Era

Once you arrive at the panel, you will see petroglyphs in a few different areas along the boardwalk. The most distinct carvings are by the informational signs. You will see bighorn sheep and anthropomorphs, which are figures in ancient art similar to human beings.

Fruita Schoolhouse

The Fruita Schoolhouse is a historic building over 100 years old and was initially built for large farming families. Did you know the first school teacher was only 12 years old? Today you can see the one-room school laid out like it was back in the 1930s.

Fruita Schoolhouse from over 100 years ago
The Fruita Schoolhouse in Capitol Reef National Park

Fruit Orchards

Back in the late 1890s and early 1900s, Latter-Day Saint pioneers settled in the Fruita area and planted thousands of fruit trees to provide income for their families. Today, over 1900 fruit trees still exist and are protected.

Park staff continue to maintain these trees using heritage techniques. You can pick ripe fruit labeled with “U-Pick Fruit” signs.

Any fruit you take from the orchard must be paid for at the pay station. There is a self-pay station, scale, and pricing… make sure to bring cash so you can enjoy these fruits days after your visit.

Some of the orchard fruit varieties are apple, peaches, plums, apricots, pear, and cherry. Remember that harvest times vary, so if you have a favorite fruit, plan accordingly.

Gifford House

The Gifford House is open from March 14 (Pi Day) to the end of October, you can visit this homestead not only to gain historical knowledge of the Mormon settlers who called this site their home but also to buy baked goods, jams, and items handmade by local craftsmen.

The front of Gifford Homestead from the early 1900s
The Gifford House now offers many local and handmade items for sale

The Capitol Reef Natural History Associate renovated and furnished the farm home to replicate living in the 1900s. So be sure to drop in for one of their famous pies!

Take a Drive on Capitol Reef Scenic Byway

As you leave the Capitol Reef National Park visitor center and head south, you can take in the beauty from the comfort of your vehicle. The scenic drive is 16-miles roundtrip and can take around 2 hours.

Scenic byway in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

The fee station is soon after you exit the Fruita Historic District on your right, so don’t forget to stop!

As you drive along, there are a few viewpoints for better photo opportunities, like Danish Hill and Slickrock Divide. You can have a picnic at the end of the 8-mile drive or even continue on the dirt road (make sure your vehicle is up for the challenge).

Where to Stay While Visiting Capitol Reef National Park

If you are looking for a place to stay either the night before you visit Capitol Reef or the night after, you have a few options for both campers and motel seekers.

Fruita Campground

Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park. There are 71 spaces (for a fee) with restrooms featuring running water and flushing toilets, but no showers.

You must make reservations from March 1 through October 31, and it’s first come, first serve from November 1 to February 28. There are other developed campgrounds outside of the park.

Primitive Campgrounds

Capitol Reef National Park also has two primitive campground options (no fee), Cathedral Valley Campground and Cedar Mesa Campground.

Cathedral Valley Campground has six sites with a pit toilet but no running water. You usually need a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle to access this campground.

Cedar Mesa Campground has five sites with a pit toilet but no running water. Both campgrounds are open year-round and are on a first come, first serve basis.

Make sure to check current road conditions by calling 435-425-3791.

Hotels, Motels and Inns Near Capitol Reef National Park

Torrey, Utah, has the most selection of hotels near Capitol Reef, with about a 15-minute drive to the Visitor Center.

A few places to look into, all with 4-star Google ratings or higher, are – Capitol Reef Resort, Red Sands Hotel and Spa, and Rim Rock Inn (we never stayed at any of these locations). Torrey also has the most food options for the area, so fuel up before you leave or make sure to grab something on the go.

Wrapping It Up…

Well, there you have it! What more do you need in a day at Capitol Reef National Park? You will have fun hiking with beautiful scenery, learn Utah history, and most likely taste delicious fruits!

Check out our Google Web Story – 7 Fun Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

How to spend a day in Capitol Reef National Park - HelloTrail.com

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