bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Capitol Reef National Park

We first visited Capitol Reef NP in April 2016 during Big Trip #1, again in November 2018 during Big Trip #2, and again in October 2020 during Big Trip #3.

capitol reef airstream view
Can you spot our Airstream?

Had you heard of Capitol Reef National Park? We hadn’t until we started researching our first Big Trip, and much like another National Park we didn’t know, it was a treat.

The park is named for a white domed rock that resembles the a capitol building, and because the rocky cliffs were once a barrier to travel like coral reefs. Those cliffs house canyons, arches, bridges, and views of the crumpled geology along the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that exposes millions of years of sedimentary rock layers.

Over two days on Big Trip #1 and a quick stop on Big Trip #2, and a couple more days on Big Trip #3, we hiked several trails (NPS descriptions here):

  • Cohab Canyon (3.4-mile out-and-back featuring crazy geology and beautiful views)
  • Rim Overlook (4.6-mile out-and-back along the canyon rim with views across the valley and of Hickman Bridge–and you’ll meet fewer people on this trail than on the shorter Hickman Bridge trail)
  • Cassidy Arch (3.4-mile out-and-back to the big arch; one of the more crowded hikes in the park)
  • Chimney Rock Loop (3.6-mile lollipop climbing up to sweeping views at the top)
  • Fremont Gorge Overlook (4.3-mile out-and-back to an overlook into Fremont Gorge; a ranger recommended this for sunset; we didn’t try that but it was lovely even without sunset)
  • Grand Wash (easy, flat 4.4 out-and-back through a tall canyon)
  • Spring Canyon (ten miles if you have a shuttle and don’t mind fording a river; or as far as you want as an out-and-back–but at least six miles because it’s three miles from the Chimney Rock trailhead to the Spring Canyon junction. This hike was our favorite! We had the cool canyon, interesting formations, even a little slotty obstacle all to ourselves. Someday we want to start from the lower end of the canyon and hike up. This is not an official NPS trail; be sure to read up on it if you’re tackling it.)

As is the case in most national parks, dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails. Bugsy did go for a scenic drive with us, and enjoyed a brunch picnic in the back of the truck at Slickrock Divide.

Capitol Reef is lovely, and much less busy than its fellow Utah national parks–perhaps because it’s a bit off the beaten path, at the far eastern end of Route 12. If you’re visiting Bryce Canyon National Park, you should carve out a couple days to swing over the Hogback (stopping at Hell’s Backbone Grill on the way) to Torrey and hike around Capitol Reef.

capitol reef national park
capitol reef national park
capitol reef national park
capitol reef national park
capitol reef national park
capitol reef national park
capitol reef national park
capitol reef national park


3 responses to “Capitol Reef National Park”

  1. […] Basin, Grand Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Joshua Tree, Saguaro, Big Bend, and Hot […]

  2. […] for breakfast at Hell’s Backbone Grill of course), continued down Scenic Byway 12 to Capitol Reef National Park for a short hike, and ended up at Dead Horse Point State Park for a one-night stay. Dead Horse was […]

  3. […] fueling up with a delicious breakfast outside Escalante, we zipped down the road to Capitol Reef National Park. We’d been to Capitol Reef before, and based ourselves in the little town of Torrey, just […]

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