Capitol Reef National Park Family Guide

Utah has five gorgeous National Parks. Only Alaska and California have more than Utah. Probably the least known park in Utah is Capitol Reef National Park. The park was established to protect the water pocket fold, a unique geological feature created when the Pacific plate crashed into California and pushed and folded the continent all the way over in Utah.

***Note for 2024: The Scenic Route will be closed from April to October. The parking area at the Visitor Center and Chimney Rock Loop will also undergo construction. Check the Capitol Reef website for updates.

There are a lot of fun things to do in the park, and you can actually drive “through” the park for FREE on Highway 24, but if you plan to stop and recreate on any trails, there is an entrance fee that can be purchase online or at the Visitor Center. Of course your National Parks pass works here, too. We enjoy any time that we get to spend in Capitol Reef, so we are going to share our favorite things to do on a visit to Capitol Reef National Park.

Visitor Center

The Visitor Center at Capitol Reef is small. There is one small display about the geology formations and a map of the park. There is a also a small gift shop. You can watch the movie, pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for your children, grab a map, and ask the rangers any questions. We always stop to ask about current conditions and get recommendations from the rangers. If there are no ranger programs happening while we are there, we watch the movie because that is a requirement for the Junior Ranger program.

We encourage everyone to participate in the Junior Ranger program at any state or National park.


Right along Highway 24 is a pull out for some petroglyph panels. There are two little boardwalks and both lead to different petroglyph spots. We love to stop and walk along the walks and talk about the history of Utah. So add this to your list of stops.

Near this spot we also saw two big horn sheep. They are pretty rare, and you may not be so lucky, but this was quite a treat for our boys.

The longer boardwalk heads east to some smaller panels of petroglyphs.
These are the petroglyphs at the end of the longer boardwalk. There are a few along the way, too.
The shorter boardwalk has viewing scopes so that you can get a closer look at the petroglyphs.
We love the figures in this panel.
Our boys really love the alien guy.


We think that the picnic area in the middle of Capitol Reef is the absolute best. There are big shade trees, grass to run around on, a bridge over a small stream, and deer. Always deer. We have never been here when there aren’t deer wandering around. So pack your lunch or dinner, and plan to take a break from exploring in the picnic area.

Look at the picnic area in the Fall. 😍
Make sure to walk over to the bridge and explore by the little river.
Keep an eye out for deer!

Gifford House Pie

Just down the road from the picnic area is a small historic Pioneer home. The Gifford House is famous for its fruit pies made from the orchards planted there by the Pioneers. We LOVED the peach pie and our kids were grateful for some cool ice cream. The pies do go quickly, so plan to stop here earlier in the day than later. They also sell other treats and pioneer knick knacks. This is a must stop when visiting Capitol Reef National Park.

Stop in the Gifford House for some treats.
We love wandering around looking at what’s for sale.
The views are nice here, too.
We tried every pie flavor last time!

Ranger Programs

We love participating in the Junior Ranger program, so make sure to grab a booklet in the Visitor Center. But Capitol Reef also has a daily ranger program. In the summer, there are even more options including night sky gazing. We love learning more about the parks we are visiting, so if you have time, make sure to ask at the Visitor Center about the programs for the days you are in Capitol Reef National Park. You can find a little more information here: Ranger Programs.

Scenic Drives

We also took the main scenic drive. The scenic drive is about 8 miles each way on a paved road. It begins after you pass the Fruita Campground. There are also two shorter drives that branch off from the main scenic drive. They are both dirt roads, but passable by a 2WD vehicle in good weather.

First branch is The Grand Wash drive and it has some beautiful rock formations. It is a short drive, and ends at the trailhead for Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash Trail. We also had two chukars fly over our car, which is exciting if you are into birdwatching (which we are!).

The Grand Wash drive is short, but pretty.
We love driving up close to the steep towering walls.

The other branch off road along the scenic drive is Capitol Gorge. This wash is similar to Grand Wash and ends at a trailhead as well. Here you can hike to the Pioneer Register and Tanks.

The Capitol Gorge road is at the end of the scenic drive.
We love the beautiful scenery at Capitol Reef.

Temple of the Sun & Moon

There is another scenic drive that we enjoyed that takes you out to the Temple of the Sun & Moon, as well as Glass Mountain. If you have four wheel drive, you should definitely drive the entire Cathedral Valley road. We travel in a van, so we couldn’t make the full loop, but we drove from Caineville out to the Temple of the Sun and it was stunning. The road is dirt, and there are a few sketchy parts, but our van made it just fine. We only drove to the Temple of the Sun area and then back to avoid the 4WD required areas. Read full directions on our post about this drive.

The Temple of the Sun with the Temple of the Moon in the background.


Our favorite thing to do in Capitol Reef National Park is hike. We will warn you that it gets vey hot in the summer. So please be careful and hike in cooler parts of the day such as the morning, or evening. Drink lots of water, and wear hats and sunscreen.

There are some amazing hikes in this park. We have written about our favorite trails for families on our Capitol Reef Kid Hikes post. Each hike has lots of details and tips. Our favorite hike was Cassidy Arch, but this was done when our youngest was 5, and is not for all families since there are some big climbs and steep drop-offs.. Walking on top of this massive arch was truly amazing!

Cassidy Arch is worth the steepness.

We also love Sulphur Creek. This trail quickly became a favorite because there are a dozen or more creek crossings, and our boys thought walking in the water was amazing!

Hikes we recommend for families:

Hickman Bridge is probably the most famous hike at Capitol Reef.

There is a lot to learn at Capitol Reef National Park. We learned about geology, history, and nature and had a great day in the park. We also have a big list of things to do nearby. Check out our list of things to do near Capitol Reef, too, to fill in a full weekend of adventure.


Capitol Reef is located in Wayne County in the middle of Utah. It lies along Highway 24. The closest town is Torrey, UT. For more info, visit the National Park website.





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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Harsh Mepani

    Loved reading your post about Capitol Reef. We are planning to do a Moab trip later this month and we would greatly appreciate if you could let us know what van did you guys use to do this trip, particularly the Temple of the Sun part via Caineville Wash Road?
    We will be driving a RAM 1500 ProMaster and wanted to know if this was doable by going slowly (10-15mph) over the washroads.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Natalie Ockey

      We drove a Hyundai Entourage van, and your van should have more clearance than ours. It does depend on the weather and condition of the road, especially in winter. We went in April, so if possible, I might ask a ranger what the road currently looks like.

  2. Connie

    where did you stay when you went to Capitol Reef?

    1. Natalie Ockey

      We stayed in the Yurts at Goblin Valley State Park (see our entry). It was about an hour to Capitol Reef from there, and made a really nice day trip to Capitol Reef.

      We love cabins and yurts in the state parks. They are around $60 and are right between camping and a hotel.

    2. Connie

      Thanks Natalie! I love your blog!!! It reminds me what a wonderful state we live in!!