Is Capitol Reef National Park on your list?
We spent Spring Break exploring Capitol Reef, which is one of Utah's “Mighty 5” national parks. This National Park is often overshadowed by Arches and Zion in popularity, but Capitol Reef has a lot to offer, with lighter crowds. We had a wonderful time and are excited to share the family-friendly hikes that we found here.
Capitol Reef has a huge variety of things to see on these hikes including arches, natural bridges, petroglyphs, towering rock walls, and amazing views. Our boys' favorite thing was the little holes carved out of the walls as you hike. Most of our hikes had a few of these holes for the kids to climb in and sit. We have countless pictures of them in little alcoves.
If you want more details on any of these hikes, visit me at Utah's Adventure Family. We detail each hike very specifically.
This isn't really much of a hike, but a short stroll along a boardwalk. The petroglyph panel is found just a short distance from the Visitor Center on Highway 24. Pull into the parking area and then walk the two boardwalks. One of them walks straight out to the main panel where you can see all sorts of artwork all together. The other boardwalk is longer and allows you to see petroglyphs a few different times as you follow the boardwalk. This is a quick stop, but the petroglyphs are worth stopping for.
The Goosenecks is an overlook found at the end of a 1-mile dirt road. It's very well maintained so most vehicles should be fine driving on it. At the end of the dirt road, there are two directions, one is to the Goosenecks and one is to Sunset Point, which is discussed below. The Goosenecks gives a really cool view of Sulphur Creek below as well as the neat rock formations. It's only 0.1 miles to the overlook, so it's a great hike for anyone. The turnoff for the Goosenecks and Sunset Point is found 3.0 miles west of the Capitol Reef Visitor Center on Highway 24.
Sunset Point is found at the same location as the Goosenecks overlook. This is an actual hike. It's 0.8 miles round trip and there is no shade, so be prepared with hats and sunscreen. Someone recommended that we hike this near Sunset, and while we were a few hours before true sunset, we were glad we went in the late afternoon because the lighting was definitely better. There are amazing views of the Henry Mountains in the distance and the amazing Waterpocket Fold. This is an easy hike with little elevation gain, so we recommend it for any age.
Pioneer Register (Capitol Gorge)
The Pioneer Register trail begins at the end of Capitol Gorge Road, so this hike is sometimes called Capitol Gorge Wash. It is simple if you walk through the canyon to see the pioneer names that were carved into the walls. You can add to the difficulty if you decide to climb up to “the tanks,” which are large holes filled with water.
Grand Wash can be hiked from the Cassidy Arch trailhead or from Highway 24. If you hike the entire hike, it is 2.2 miles each way. We decided to start on Highway 24, and we hiked through the narrows section where the canyon walls are tall and close together. Then we turned around after about 1.5 miles and headed back. This hike is completely flat, and we found a lot of fun places to explore such as little caves, arches, holes to climb in, and beautiful rock formations. This was one of our favorite hikes in Capitol Reef.
This is the classic Capitol Reef hike that most families attempt. It was definitely the busiest trail, but it has a great reward for a moderate hike. This hike does have some elevation gain, especially at the beginning, so be prepared. We recommend picking up a trail guide at the beginning. There are number of trail markers along the way that mark certain things to look for or tell the history of places. This helped our boys stay motivated along the trail. And the neatest thing about this hike is that you walk right under Hickman Bridge to make the loop back to the trailhead. We loved walking underneath this amazing natural bridge.
Cassidy Arch was the most difficult hike we hiked in Capitol Reef, but also the most rewarding. There is a very steep climb for the first mile before it levels off to a more steady climb for the entire hike. There are some steep drop-offs, so please watch young children. This hike is probably best for children ages 5 and older.
Once you arrive at Cassidy Arch, enjoy the view, but then walk around so that you can stand right on the arch. It is wider than it looks and you feel on top of the world as you stand on this beautiful arch. And the great thing is that the hike is downhill back to your car. You can find the trailhead for Cassidy Arch at the end of the Grand Wash road off of the scenic drive in Capitol Reef.
Tips for hiking Capitol Reef
If you visit in the summertime, it will get hot. Plan to hike in the morning and evening to avoid the hottest part of the day. Alternatively, visit in the Spring or Fall when the weather is milder, but the park is just as beautiful.
Always take lots of water. We were wearing sweatshirts because it was Springtime and breezy, but we still drank a lot of water.
Watch your kids. Some of these hikes have steep drop-offs. Nothing that we felt was too dangerous for our kids (5 and older), but if you have children who like to run ahead or wander, make sure to watch them closely or skip Cassidy Arch.
Click the button to read Allison's post where she shares her tips for other fun things to do in Capitol Reef National Park.
Good to Know
Where: Capitol Reef is located in Central Utah, off Highway 24.
When: The park is open year-round. Fall and spring usually have the best weather. Winter weather will often be mild enough for hiking, with light crowds, but some services may not be available. Summer is a popular time to visit, but can be very hot.
How much: The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. Click the button to learn more in Allison’s post 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees.
How Long: At least one full day. We spent 2 days exploring and visited all the hikes shared.
Amenities: Visitor Center, gift shop, camping, picnic areas. You can buy snacks and tasty souvenirs at the Gifford Homestead Store, but the park has no restaurants. You'll find hotels and restaurants just outside Capitol Reef in Torrey.
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Hi! I have a question about Capitol Reef. In your “How much:” paragraph it says “The entrance fee is $15 per vehicle for a 7 day pass. This fee is only required if you drive the scenic drive. Other areas of the park are FREE.” What scenic drive are you referring to and how can we avoid paying the fee if we don’t care to do the scenic drive? How do we know where the “scenic drive” is? I would love more info. 🙂 We are planning on doing this on Tuesday! Thanks!
Hi Taryn. Most of what you will want to do inside Capitol Reef is inside the fee area. The “scenic drive” is the road through the park, and most of the popular trailheads and viewpoints are in this area. Since this post was written, the fee has gone up to $20 per car, and it’s good for a full week.
Thanks for checking in! I’ll re-read that paragraph and make sure it’s clear. There may be some parts of the park that you can access without paying the fee, but it’s a good idea for first-time visitors to focus on the fee area where the visitor center, popular stops, and other park highlights can be found.