Located between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park to the west and Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park to the east; Capitol Reef National Park is often overlooked. This relatively unknown national park in south-central Utah is much less known than its more famous neighbors, but should by no means be skipped. Here’s why.
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Capitol Reef National Park
Although Zion and Bryce Canyon, and to a certain extend Arches as well, draw in most of Utah’s national park visitors, Capitol Reef remains a “passing-through park”. Highway 24 runs through the park’s northern section and doesn’t require any entrance fee, which is why many people choose to simply drive through.
I beg you to do the park justice and spend at least a day there. Unlike Zion and Bryce Canyon, this is a quiet park. Capitol Reef National Park allows you to explore imposing canyons, rock-strewn landscapes and interesting historic sites at your own pace, without having to navigate huge crowds.
The park encompasses the so-called Waterpocket Fold; a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust that was basically impassable to early settlers. Somewhat like a reef provides serious challenges to seafarers. The other half of the park’s name comes from a rock formation that resembles the dome of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.—appropriately named Capitol Dome.
Hiking Trails, Historic Village, and Museum
If you want to hike in solitude, this is where you should go. The park is home to several excellent hiking trails, from easy canyon strolls to strenuous ascents up to cliff edges. I recommend hiking the Hickman Bridge Trail, the Grand Wash Trail, the Cohab Canyon Trail and, for great sunset views, the Chimney Rock Loop.
Human history is also very much present in the park. In the north of the park, just off Highway 24, lies Fruita. This is a historic Mormon village characterized by farmlands and several orchards. Its name is more than appropriate. Make sure to explore the remainders of this once-thriving village. The Gifford House is a museum/country store selling everything from pickled vegetables, honey and jams to freshly baked bread, cinnamon rolls and pies. The pies are to die for!
Long story short; don’t just drive through Capitol Reef National Park, but take your time to explore its mesmerizing canyon landscapes and learn about its human history.
To prove that this park has a lot to offer, I’ve included some of my favorite Capitol Reef National Park photos below. Take a look and be convinced!
Capitol Reef National Park Photos