Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is often overshadowed by it’s showier neighbors, but there are a lot of fun things for families to do here. Last fall, my family returned to Capitol Reef for a multi-generation weekend with my husband’s parents and sister, and her two children. The kids loved playing together, and I enjoyed connecting with our extended family as we explored the unique and beautiful sights of Capitol Reef.
Here are the activities at Capitol Reef National Park we recommend.
Pick your own fruit
Picking our own apples in the historic orchards at Capitol Reef was activity my family enjoyed most on our last trip. It was something new for us, and my kids still talk about how fun it was. We shared the orchard with a small herd of deer, who calmly walked among us eating fruit from the ground.
Capitol Reef National Park maintains over 3,000 cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut trees and visitors can pick their own fruit when it is in season. The fruit season runs from about mid-June through mid-October. Eat all you want in the orchard for free. If you’d like to take some for later, you can purchase the fruit by the pound.
Hiking is the best way to see a national park and Capitol Reef has several family-friendly day hikes. The Capitol Gorge Trail is nearly all flat and includes petroglyphs and the Pioneer Register where early settlers recorded their names in the rock. There is a short climb to natural water pockets at the end.
Hickman Bridge is another excellent hike for families. This is a moderate trail, and everyone in our extended clan managed it. The payoff is a spectacular natural bridge at the end, and several fun spots for kids to climb and play along the way.
The human history preserved by Capitol Reef National Park sets it apart from the other national parks in Utah. Several easily accessible petroglyph panels can be seen just off of Highway 24. Capitol Reef also contains the remnants of the pioneer town of Fruita. Nobody lives there anymore, but several historic structures remain. These include the Gifford House, where you can purchase snacks, pies and preserves, the Fruita schoolhouse and the Behunin home – a one room cabin where a very large family lived for a time.
Just for families
The Ripple Rock Nature Center is full of educational activities for just for children. Here, children learn about nature, ancient cultures, or play pioneer games. We had fun scouring the grounds to check off everything for a scavenger hunt during one visit and participating in a science experiment on the front porch on another. You can borrow a Family Fun Pack with more games and learning activities to use in the park. The Ripple Rock Nature Center is open seasonally.
Capitol Reef also has a Junior Ranger Program and Junior Geologist program for kids ages 5-12. Pick up books from the ranger desk early in your visit, complete the activities, then return to the ranger desk to pass off the requirements and be sworn in as Junior Rangers. Kids will receive a Capitol Reef souvenir ranger badge.
Capitol Reef has one of the loveliest picnic areas of any of the national parks we’ve visited. It’s a short drive beyond the visitor center, along the Scenic Drive. It’s next to the Ripple Rock Nature Center, across from the Gifford House and surrounded by historic orchards and beautiful red cliffs. It has picnic tables and restrooms, and plenty of lawn where families can play.
The skies at Capitol Reef National Park are among the darkest in the United States, so it’s a great place to bring a telescope, introduce your children to the Milky Way and constellations, or just find a quiet spot to look up and contemplate the universe.
Night sky programs are occasionally offered at Capitol Reef by rangers or visiting astronomers during the summer. If you’ll be driving back to your hotel or campsite in the dark, drive carefully! Wildlife are frequently on the roads at night.
Good to Know
Where: South-central Utah, along UT-24. The small town of Torrey is a short drive from the park entrance, and it offers a variety of lodging and dining options.
When: Open year-round, but warm weather months are the most popular. Temperatures are most pleasant in the spring and fall.
How Much: $10 per private vehicle, good for 7 days.
How Long: 1-2 days
Amenities: Visitor Center, camping, snacks, gift shops, Junior Ranger program
Planning a trip to Southern Utah?
You may also enjoy
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Arches National Park
- Zion National Park