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How to Spend One or Two Days in Capital Reef National Park

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Capital Reef National Park is on of the most underrated national parks in Utah.

Believe me…

I hadn’t even heard of it until we happened to be visiting the area and I realised that there was a National Park there.

It is also one of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks. Capital Reef is, in a nutshell, red dirt, natural bridges and colourful red, white and orange rocks with little bits of green shrubbery scattered around the desert landscape.

Photo of girl standing in the middle of the Temple of the Sun along the Cathedral Valley Loop trail

Parts of Capital Reef remind me a little of Zion National Park although Zion is WAY harder to visit these days due to its growing popularity.

This 1-2 Day Capital Reef National Park Itinerary will help you plan an amazing getaway to Capital Reef and includes:

  • How to get to Capital Reef National Park
  • When is the best time to visit Capital Reef
  • Where to stay nearby
  • Do you need a National Parks Pass
  • How many days do you need for Capital Reef
  • Which is better – Bryce Canyon or Capital Reef National Park
  • How to spend one day in Capital Reef National Park
  • How to spend 2 days in Capital Reef National Park
Cathedral Valley Loop Road

What You Need to know about Capital Reef National Park

📍 Where is Capital Reef located

Capital Reef National Park is located in Utah and is about a 3.5-4 hour drive from Salt Lake City.

🌵 Tip: Parts of Capital Reef National Park require a national parks pass. If you are visiting more than one park during the year, purchase an America the Beautiful Pass to save some $$$!

🗺 1 or 2 Days in Capital Reef Map

Click here to open the map in Google Maps!

How to get from Salt Lake City Airport to Capital Reef

Driving

If you are flying into Salt Lake City, I recommend hiring a car using Rentalcars.com to get the best price.

From Salt Lake City, there are two different ways that you can go to get to Capital Reef. You will take the same highway I-15 S/I-80 E from Salt Lake City to Spanish Fork. At Spanish Fork, you can either stay on I-15 S or you can merge onto the US-6 E.

By taking the US-6 E, you will pass through Hanksville on your way to Capital Reef, so if you have some extra time to explore, you could spend some time here.

The other direction on the I-15 S will take you directly to Torrey and is the shorter most direct route out of the two so if you are planning on heading straight to Capital Reef, this is the best route.

girl standing in front of the temple of the sun and the moon at sunrise
Without a car

If you don’t have access to a car, you can still visit Capital Reef National Park on this private tour from Salt Lake City.

Pro Tip: Book this 6 day tour to see not only Capital Reef, but Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Bryce Canyon and more!

Getting from Moab to Capital Reef

If you are planning a Utah road trip and spending some time in Moab (if you aren’t already planning to visit Moab, you should because there is SO MUCH TO SEE IN MOAB). From Moab to Capital Reef National Park, it is a 2 hour 15 minute drive.

You will need to take US Highway 191 and then at Crescent Junction, turn left onto Highway 70.

Take exit 149 for UT-24-W towards Hanksville and drive the rest of the way to Capital Reef National Park.

Road Trip Tip: Plan your road trip from Moab to Monument Valley (there are loads of awesome stops along the way) and then continue on from Monument Valley to Capital Reef National Park.

📆 Best Time to Visit Capital Reef National Park

Summer

Summer in Capital Reef National Park can be extremely hot and also bring the Summer vacation crowds. You will find it especially hard to want to hike in the heat which doesn’t leave much else to do.

Summer is also the wettest season in Capital Reef National Park with a high chance of flash floods and monsoons.

Tempe of the sun and the moon in Cathedral Valley

Winter

The Winters do not get insanely cold but temperatures can get down to as low as -8 degrees C (17.6 degrees F) with a high of around 5 degrees C (41 degrees F) on average. Capital Reef also gets a bit of snow during the Winter.

Spring and Fall

Spring and Fall are the best times of the year to visit Capital Reef National Park as the weather is much milder during these months which is much better for hiking. There is also less chance of flooding during Spring and Fall.

Bentonite Hills Cathedral Valley

🛎 Where to Stay in Capital Reef!

The closest towns to Capital Reef National Park are Hanksville and Torrey. Torrey is closer to the park with only a 10 minute drive from the town to the Capital Reef National Park’s Visitors Centre and Hanksville is more like a 40 minute drive.

🚗 How Many Days do you need for Capital Reef?

You could easily spend anywhere from 1-3 days in Capital Reef National Park. There are lots of hikes that you can do inside the park and there is also a really scenic drive called the Cathedral Valley Loop which is an all day adventure that takes you through sections of Capital Reef.

This Capital Reef Itinerary is based off spending 1 to 2 days in the park to enable you to have enough time to do a couple of the best hikes in Capital Reef and also see the best photo spots along the Cathedral Valley Loop Drive.

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🎫 National Parks Pass

Parts of Capital Reef National Park require a national parks pass. You can get a pass for 1 day at the gates to the park or if you are planning on visiting more than just Capital Reef in a year, you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful pass here for just $80.

America the Beautiful National Parks Pass

🎒 Capital Reef Packing List

In Capital Reef, the days can be quite hot whilst the nights can get really cold so it’s a good idea to pack a bit of everything.

I also recommend checking the weather for the weekend you are planning to visit to help with your packing list.

🍴 Where to eat near Capital Reef

The closes restaurants to Capital Reef National are located in the town of Torrey. Some of the good ones are:

  • The Rim Rock Restaurant – homemade, locally grown western cuisine such as pan seared trout, fruit wood smoked ribs and hand cut steaks with infused demi-glaces. This is the place to go if you feel like something a little bit fancier than your average pub food.
  • Torrey Grill and BBQ – This is a dining experience set around a fire pit at Thousand Lakes RV Park. The food is a delicious slow smoked, char-grilled BBQ.
  • Hunt and Gather Restaurant – French / American Cuisine

🌲 Leave No Trace

The 7 Leave No Trace principles are important to be aware of to help keep places like the Utah National and State Parks beautiful.

To remind yourself of the 7 Leave No Trace principles, check out the LNT website.

🏜 Bryce Canyon Vs Capital Reef

If you are trying to choose between visiting Bryce Canyon or Capital Reef National Park, here are some differences between the two.

  1. Bryce Canyon has more Hoodoos than Capital Reef
  2. Capital Reef has more natural arches, similar to Arches National Park and is a larger park.
Girl on the Cassidy Arch Trail looking up at the red and orange rocks

Capital Reef 1-2 Day Itinerary

This 1-2 day Capital Reef National Park Itinerary includes a heathy mix of hiking trails, great views and scenic drives and is the perfect additional to your Utah National Park’s road trip and can be done all year-round. Make sure you check the weather before you head out on the hiking trails and are prepared for the conditions including snow in the Winter.

Itinerary for Capital Reef National Park

Best 1 Day in Capital Reef Itinerary

On day 1, you will be doing 1 of the best hikes in Capital Reef National Park along with a drive to see some of the scenic sights along Highway 24.

I recommend making a packed lunch to go after shopping at the Chuck Wagon General Store in Torrey. This will save you time and enable to to see as much as possible! Don’t worry, there will be time to enjoy dinner out at one of the delicious restaurants in the evening.

view of the cassidy arch from the trail

Alternatively, for lunch, you could pop into Gifford Homestead for a pie. Gifford Homestead is the only eatery located in the park itself.

Don’t miss these pies like we did!

They are said to be delicious!

Breakfast in Torrey or at your hotel

On your first day in Capital Reef National Park, you are going to be hiking and exploring for the entire day so I recommend having a good breakfast. If you don’t have breakfast included in your hotel stay, there are a couple of great breakfast spots in Torrey.

  • The Wild Rabbit Café – serves a variety of hot breakfasts and avocado on toast
  • The Rock Garden Eatery and Bar – serves hot breakfasts and sweet breakfasts such as waffles, pancakes and yoghurt parfait.

Capital Reef Visitor’s Centre

On your way to the Cassidy Arch Trail head, stop by the visitor’s centre to use the bathrooms and fill up your drink bottles. At the Visitor’s Centre, there is also a gift shop and you can check with the park rangers at the information desks on the road conditions.

This is especially useful for day 2, when you are driving the Cathedral Valley Loop road as the road can sometimes become impassable if there has been rain.

Hike the Cassidy Arch Trail

Distance: 5km / 3.1 miles | Elevation Gain: 203m / 666 ft | Time: 2-3 hours | Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Couple walking on Cassidy Arch in Utah

After breakfast, it’s time to head over to your first hike in Capital Reef National Park, the Cassidy Arch Trail. The trailhead is about a 15 minute drive from the Capital Reef Visitor’s Centre.

Along the way, you will see the pay station to purchase a parks pass. If you already have an America the Beautiful pass, you can use this here at Capital Reef.

Girl standing at viewpoint along the Cassidy Arch Trail

This is one of the best hikes in Capital Reef National Park and the scenery will blow you away! The hike is easy to moderate in difficulty and takes you up from the trailhead to views overlooking the valley below. Along the way, you will see petroglyphs and eventually end your hike at Cassidy Arch, a huge natural bridge next to a deep hole.

You can even get a cool photo standing on the arch like we did!

Capital Reef Scenic Drive

Once you are done hiking, you will probably want to rest your feet for a bit so this will be the perfect time to do the Capital Reef Scenic Drive which is the road that the Cassidy Arch trailhead is located just off from.

The Scenic Drive is one of the best things to do in Capital Reef National Park. It is 7.9 mile (12.7km) long and will take you about 1.5 hours starting from the Visitor Centre.

This is the most driven road in the park and will take you right through the centre of Capital Reef, giving you incredible views of the tall rock faces covering the park.

The Scenic Drive road is mostly paved except for 2 side roads that you can take that are dirt roads and becomes impassable after heavy rain. If the conditions are good, these roads are worth exploring!

Stops along the Scenic Drive

The stops along the Scenic Drive include:

  • Moenkopi Formation
  • Waterpocket Fold
  • Grand Wash
  • Wingate Sandstone
  • Entrances to the Oyler Mines 
  • Capitol Gorge
  • Petroglyphs in Capital Gorge
  • The Tanks

Viewpoints along Highway 24 and Sunset at Sunset Point

Next on your Capital Reef adventure, drive over to Sunset Point to get some amazing sunset photos but make sure to stop off at the following viewpoints along the way. The drive from the Visitor’s Centre to Sunset point is only about 8 minutes.

The Fluted Wall

The Fluted Wall is an easy viewpoint stop located on Highway 24 which is an incredible red and orange rock wall. The stop here should take you about 5 minutes.

Panorama Point

Panorama Point is located just off Highway 24 on Goosenecks Road. It gives you an incredible view from an overlook of the park. It is another quick 5 minute stop.

Goosenecks Overlook and Sunset Point

Perfectly named, Sunset Point is the best place to watch the sunset in Capital Reef National Park. First, you will need to drive to Goosenecks Overlook and park.

From here, you can first walk a super short 0.1 miles to Goosenecks Overlook. Then when you are ready, walk the 0.3 miles trail to Sunset Point. From the viewpoint, you will be able to see Chimney Rock, Ferns Nipple, the Water Pocket Fold, Boulder Mountain, and Mount Ellen!

The sunset from this spot is AWESOME!

Don’t forget: Your Camera and a headlamp for the way back to your car.

Day 2 in Capital Reef National Park

On day 2 in Capital Reef, you will get to rest your feet and experience the wonders of the Cathedral Valley Loop Drive. Please note that for this drive, you will need a high clearance vehicle.

Cathedral Valley Loop Road

😉 Pro Tip: If you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, you could join this 4×4 tour to see Cathedral Valley.

Breakfast in Torrey (if you don’t want to get up for sunrise)

Start your day with a delicious breakfast at one of the breakfast spots in Torrey. Alternatively, you could have breakfast at the hotel you are staying at if it is included.

Drive the Cathedral Valley Loop

The Cathedral Valley Loop drive will take you an entire day as it is 73 miles long. It is a raw natural beauty and some of the spots that you see along the drive will leave you speechless.

Couple looking out at the Temple of the Sun at sunrise in Utah
Sunrise at the Temple of the Sun and the Moon

If you can, I recommend bringing along a packed breakfast and aiming to reach your first stop, the Temple of the Sun and the Moon, along the drive for sunrise. The Temple of the Sun and the Moon was our favourite stop because of how beautiful it was with the morning light.

Remainder of the Cathedral Valley Loop

The remainder of the Cathedral Valley Loop Drive consists of a mix of viewpoint stops with no hiking required and some stops where hiking is required.

Additional Things to Do in Capital Reef National Park

Have more time to spare? Here are some extra activities that you could do and sights to see in Capital Reef National Park.

See Moonscape Overlook and Factory Butte

Moonscape Overlook and Factory Butte are two insanely crazy places that you should definitely NOT miss out on if you have the time!

girl standing on overlook at Moonscape Overlook
Moonscape Overlook

This 4-5 hour tour takes you to not only Moonscape Overlook and Factory Butte, but also the Bentonite Hills along the Cathedral Valley Loop Drive, so if you were worried about crossing the Fremont River to get to the Bentonite Hills before, now is your chance!

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Hickman Natural Bridge Hike

Distance: 2.7km / 1.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 127m / 416 ft | Time: 1 hour | Difficulty: Moderate

If you liked the Cassidy Arch Trail, you will love the Hickman Natural Bridge hike too! This hike is even more popular than Cassidy Arch because it is shorter and will only take you about 1 hour.

Star Gazing

Capital Reef National Park is an awesome place to see the stars and what better way than to join a professional astro photographer on a star gazing tour! You will even get your own professional photo with the milky way as a backdrop to take home with you!

Commonly Asked Questions

Is Capital Reef Worth Visiting?

Capital Reef is a truly amazing place to see for yourself. With places to see such as the Temple of the Sun and the Moon, I would say that yes, Capital Reef National Park is 100% worth visiting!

It also depends what sort of landscapes you like best. Personally, I love the enormous canyons in Canyonlands National Park more than the natural bridges of Arches National Park and Capital Reef, but that’s just me.

What is Capital Reef Famous for?

Capital Reef National Park is famous for its crazy rock formations which include natural bridges, sandstone cliffs and huge monoliths!

It is Utah’s second largest natural park, with the largest national park being Canyonlands.

Are dogs allowed in Capital Reef?

Dogs are not allowed on the actual hiking trails, but they are allowed to accompany you on any roadway open to public vehicle travel in Capitol Reef National Park which also includes the Cathedral Valley Loop Drive. Dogs should also stay within 50 ft of the road and be kept on a leash.

Do I need to watch out for snakes?

Capital Reef is home to 6 species of snakes. The only venomous of the 6 species is the Midget Faded Rattlesnake.

You can read more on the different species of snakes in Capital Reef National Park here.

Is one day enough time in Capital Reef?

One day in Capital Reef would give you enough time to see the very best of Capital Reef. I would recommend splitting your time between a hike and driving to the Temple of the Sun and the Moon and back to make the most of your 1 day in Capital Reef.

Can you do Capital Reef in half a day?

If you are passing through Capital Reef and only have a few hours there, it’s still worth stopping and doing a hike. You wouldn’t be able to see everything in half a day, but you could choose one of the best hikes in Capital Reef to do such as the Cassidy Arch Trail and make the most of the scenery along the trail.

💭 Our Thoughts

We didn’t know about Capital Reef National Park until we decided to visit Hanksville to visit and explore some of the unique rock formations around the area.

When we realised that Capital Reef was close by, we decided to do a hike in the park and also the Cathedral Valley Scenic Drive which were both 100% worth it!

In my opinion, Capital Reef is extremely underrated and is easy to miss when you are planning a trip to Utah because everyone always talks about Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon National Park but there are less people talking about Capital Reef National Park.

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