National Parks are great destinations for large families. They are fun, educational, scenic, and a bargain to boot. Most national parks charge one entry fee per car, so large families pay less per person. Furthermore, the fee is good for seven days, giving families plenty of time to enjoy all a national park has to offer.
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is an especially good deal, with an entrance fee of only $5 per car. At Capitol Reef, visitors will find history, science, natural beauty, and kids’ activities that other national parks don’t offer.
Here are our favorite family activities in Capitol Reef National Park:
Hiking is the best way to see a national park and Capitol Reef has several family-friendly day hikes. On our last visit, we hiked the Capitol Gorge trail to the water pockets. This hike is nearly all flat and includes petroglyphs and the Pioneer Register where early settlers recorded their names in the rock. Hickman Bridge is another excellent short hike for families. Here, hikers are treated to Fremont ruins, two natural bridges, and spectacular scenery.
Especially for kids
The Ripple Rock Nature Center is full of educational activities for just for kids. Here, children learn about nature, ancient cultures, or play pioneer games. We had fun scouring the grounds to check off everything on the center’s scavenger hunt. The Ripple Rock Nature Center is open seasonally.
Capitol Reef also has a Junior Ranger Program year-round. My kids love collecting Junior Ranger badges and we have one from this park.
Capitol Reef has one of the most pleasant picnic areas I’ve seen in a national park. Not only are there tables, but grass as well. We found a fire pit across the street from the main picnic area and cooked hot dogs and s’mores for our dinner one evening. Bring your own wood if you’d like to do this. This picnic area is a short walk from both the Ripple Rock Nature Center and the Gifford House.
Capitol Reef National Park maintains what’s left of the town of Fruita. The remaining historic structures include the Gifford House, which is a good place to buy snacks and souvenirs, and a one-room schoolhouse. The most memorable structure for me is the Behunin Cabin. During the 1890’s, Elijah Behunin and his wife lived in (and around) a small one-room cabin with 11 of their 13 children. And you thought your family was big!
Capitol Reef is also a good place to find the art and dwellings of the Fremont people who lived here hundreds of years ago. I love a good petroglyph, and this park has several.
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. Fruit consumed in the orchard is free. Fruit taken out of the orchard must be purchased.
The geologic “wrinkle” that created Capitol Reef also contains some of the oldest pre-historic tracks in North America. Our family took a ranger-led hike to see some of these tracks. Fossils can also be found in the Ripple Rock Nature Center.
Extend your vacation
Here are two state parks located within an hour of Capitol Reef.
Goblin Valley is located about an hour’s drive northeast of Capitol Reef and ought to be a mandatory side trip for any Capitol Reef vacation. This remote and other-worldly park is a a fun place for kids and kids-at-heart to explore, climb and imagine among the rock “goblins.” Samp overnight to try one of my favorite childhood memories: Goblin Valley flashlight tag.
- $7 per car.
This park protects one of the largest remaining Anasazi ruins west of the Colorado River. The park includes a museum and several interpretive trails where visitors can explore some of the dwellings. More than 100 structures and thousands of artifacts have been found here.
- $10 per family
Lodging and Dining
Torrey is the town nearest to Capitol Reef National Park. Though small, it offers travelers a good selection of familiar lodging options. Camping is also available inside Capitol Reef National Park.
Don’t expect to find many familiar restaurant chains, but being a resort town, Torrey has attracted several good restaurants. We have enjoyed hamburgers at Slackers and Mexican fare at La Cueva.
Capitol Reef may not be as popular as Utah’s other national parks, but it is still an excellent vacation destination, especially for families on a budget. Our family has visited this park several times and we look forward to visiting again before long.
Allison Laypath is a family travel writer at tipsforfamilytrips.com, based in Salt Lake City, Utah She and her husband took their first child on a two-week road trip at four-weeks-old and they have been traveling as a family ever since. Allison loves all types of travel, but especially road trips, national parks and travel within her home state of Utah.