My name is Cass and I work as a Seasonal Ranger. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my guide on Capitol Reef National Park! I grew up in Washington state, first in the Tri-City area and then in Spokane. When I was little, my mother often took me to North Cascades National Park and Mount Rainier to go camping, sometimes with my grandparents also.
I have always loved hiking. I was that kid who wanted to run ahead of everyone else. My mother and I eventually visited Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. When I was in my mid-teens and early twenties, I went with my cousins on summer road trips where we would hit up multiple US parks. That gave me an idea of what longer distance trips could be like.
Adventures at Capitol Reef National Park
I visited Capitol Reef National Park back in June of this year. I have been before, many times in fact, but this was the first time I visited in 2021. The weather was fantastic at this time of the year, very pleasant indeed. I went with a couple of my lady co-workers from Bryce Canyon National Park because we wanted to go out and do a trip somewhere outside the park.
We ended up doing a big loop through Fishlake National Forest to check out the Pando Aspen Clone and came back via Scenic Highway 12. I have to be honest though, I was in a bit of a hurry to get to Capitol Reef specifically for the locally baked pies they sell at the Gifford Homestead.
Strawberry-rhubarb is my jam, but you can’t go wrong with any of the pies there. You can also shop through some other great food items like pickled asparagus and blackberry creamed honey. My trip itineraries are normally a combination of scenic hikes and the delicious foods I can find nearby. I was devastated last year when I came out here and they ran out of pies!
Another attraction at Capitol Reef is the orchards. Apple, peaches, pears, apricots and other trees were planted in the late 1800s into the 1900s and are maintained by park staff to this day. Through their “U-Pick Fruit” program, visitors can collect fruit from the trees in the orchards for a fee.
This hike takes you through Capitol Gorge, past some petroglyphs, to the “Tanks” and a couple of water pockets. It does involve a drive on a dirt road but with careful manoeuvring and a leisurely pace, my small Nissan sedan has made the trip on several occasions. Another of my go-to spots at Capitol Reef is the picnic area by the bridge where I often eat pies.
5 Reasons Why you Should Visit Capitol Reef National Park
- Capitol Reef is just as Amazing as the Mighty 5: Capitol Reef has history, amazing geology, great hikes and the Waterpocket Fold.
- The Waterpocket Fold in Itself is a Defining Feature of the Park: It’s a monocline, a sort of warping or folding of the earth’s crust and it extends for almost 100 miles. This creates all sorts of cliffs, natural bridges, arches and other erosion formations to explore.
- This National Park is a Hidden Gem: I think it gets overlooked because it’s a little “out of the way” compared to some of the other parks in Utah. The Moab area is a hotspot for geological parks, between Arches, Canyonlands, Deadhorse Point, Goblin Valley and other locales. Similarly, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks and Zion are close to one another and accessible from the Las Vegas Airport. Meanwhile, poor old Capitol Reef is the one that gets forgotten. Fortunately, for those who are willing to go the distance, it’s much less crowded than the other places.
- Driving to the Park is Scenic: Getting there, whatever route you come from, is sure to be a beautiful scenic drive. It’s further from the major thoroughfares, so the highways tend to be less crowded, allowing you to more easily take in the vistas of southern Utah’s amazing geology.
- Delicious Locally-Made Pies: That is the main reason!
Favorite Memory from Capitol Reef National Park
I’m a fan of irony so a memory I have from last year was visiting with my mother during wildfire season. We went to one of the overlooks and there was an interpretive sign extolling the clean quality of the air and encouraging visitors to enjoy the expansive views which were impacted by smoke. It was a wonderful trip even so and my mom had a great time!
Where to Stay at the National Park
I have always visited as a day trip because I was either passing through or working at Bryce Canyon a couple of hours away, but I would probably pick up one of the free backcountry camping permits at the Visitor Center and find myself a nice spot away from the trails to enjoy the night sky. For nearby towns, Torrey is close by and I also enjoy stopping in Escalante.
Need to Know Before you Go
I would definitely recommend carpooling with friends, so you are saving on gas versus driving separately. When I travel, I try to stop along the way to break up the drive so it isn’t just a mad dash from point A to point B.
I mentioned Pando Aspen Clone in Fishlake National Forest (the largest clonal organism in the world, as aspens have a shared root system), and I always advocate branching out and not limiting yourself to just parks.
There are incredible National Forests, State Parks, Bureau of Land Management sites (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which you drive through part of on Highway 12, is managed by the BLM), and even some privately-run sites to visit near Capitol Reef National Park.
When at the park, bring a bag and gloves to pick up some trash. This really does a lot to help preserve these places. And as I said, I often incorporate food locales into my trips: giving money to local restaurants vs. chains is good for the economy and will give you a wider range of options.
Check the weather before you go, as thunderstorms can lead to flash floods. See the park website, check their “Plan Your Visit > Basic Information > Things To Know” for a wealth of up-to-date information.
Do your research before you make the trip. Pack your essentials, especially water and sunscreen, as the sun can get quite hot. Definitely get a glossy park map (a unigrid, for those in the know) and take a moment to orient yourself once you arrive at the park. Lastly, just enjoy this beautiful place!