3 Perfect Days in Capitol Reef National Park
How to Get There
Capitol Reef is located in south-central Utah, in the heart of red rock country. If you’re visiting this park on its own (like I did), the closest major airport is Salt Lake City, about 3.5 hrs away. You can also add it to a Zion/Bryce itinerary (Bryce is only 2 hrs away) or an Arches/Canyonlands itinerary (Canyonlands is only 2.5 hrs away). Technically, this is a 3.5 day itinerary. I took a Thursday afternoon off work to make my way to Capitol Reef and returned home on Sunday night.
Where to Stay
The closest town is Torrey, on the west side of the park. I stayed at Red Sands Hotel and I really enjoyed their indoor pool/hot tub and the onsite restaurant. There are several other options in Torrey but the town is small so book in advance.
I like to get my biggest hikes out of the way on the first day. Therefore, I recommend heading to the Hickman Bridge trailhead and completing two of the best hikes in the park – Hickman Bridge and Navajo Knobs. They both start here and share the trail until a junction about 0.5 miles in. The trail to Hickman bridge is about 1.7 miles and easy. Do that first, since it gets really crowded. Return to the junction with Navajo Knobs and go as far as you like. The full distance from the junction to the top is about 4.2 miles one way.
In the evening, I recommend watching the sunset at Sunrise Point. This is a great place to see Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket fold and watch the rocks change color as the sun sets. The transformation is mesmerizing! The parking lot is small and the light show begins well before sunset, so arrive about 90 minutes before.
Day 2 will take you into the park’s interior on the scenic drive. The first hike I recommend is Cassidy Arch, which is only 3.1 miles with about 700 ft of elevation gain. This is one of the few arches in the national park system you can actually stand on!
After the hike, head to the Gifford homestead for one of their famous pies or a cinnamon roll (or both). The trail for Cohab Canyon is right there by the barn. Complete that for another 3 miles. The switchbacks in the beginning will burn off whatever you just ate.
If you have stamina and don’t mind a bit of a drive, head out to Goblin Valley State Park next. It’s only 1 hr away near the town of Hankville. Little Wildhorse Canyon is also nearby. There is an entire 8-mile loop hike that can be done there but you can also just go into one side of the loop and go as far as you want.
This will be your travel day back home se there is only one hike on the schedule. But it’s a good one! Chimney Rock is about 10 minutes away from Torrey and is only about 3 miles. You’ll get great views of the rock formation it’s named for and 180-degree views of Capitol Reef and its Waterpocket fold. Arrive at sunrise or a little before the watch the reverse version of the sunset lightshow from day 1.
Other Hikes and Things to Do
Cassidy Arch and Cohab Canyon can be combined via the Frying Pan trail. It’s 5 miles one way (will need a hiker shuttle/second car) or 10 miles out and back.
Lower Spring Canyon Trail starts at Chimney Rock and spits you out 10 miles later after fording the Fremont river. This should definitely be done with a hiker shuttle/second car due to the distance.
Capitol Reef is an International Dark Sky Park so star-gazing is great to do here. You can book a star-gazing experience with several adventure outfitters in town. I had this booked on my trip but it ended up being cancelled for weather and logistics reasons. I booked with Sleeping Rainbow Adventures and highly recommend them. They kept me up to date on the status of the experience the entire day.
If you are not coming from Zion/Bryce, make some time to drive Hwy 12. This scenic byway connects Torrey to Escalante. Completing the entire drive will take some time as it is 122 miles long and the speed limit is 45 mph. Since I had done a big part of it on one of my Zion trips, I only did the portion between Torrey and Boulder, which took about 2 hours. Start about 90 minutes before sunset for great light.
Finally, don’t miss the burgers at Capitol Food Truck in Torrey!