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Capitol Reef National Park Guide – 10 Activities to Do with Kids Plus 12 Tips for Visiting and Maps

    Capitol Reef National Park offers magnificent views of red rock cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges. The star of the park is the Waterpocket Fold. This 100-mile-long buckle in the earth’s surface reveals multiple rock layers and creates deep narrow canyons and formations.

    As the lesser-known of Utah’s 5 National Parks, Capitol Reef only receives 1.2 million visitors a year. The smaller crowds will make your visit to the park more enjoyable. Although many visitors will just complete the Scenic Drive and leave, there is much more to the park. Use our list of activities, hikes, and itineraries to help you plan a visit your family will enjoy.

    Visit this park as part of an 8-day Utah Mighty 5 National Park road trip. 

    Where is Capitol Reef National Park?

    The park is located in south-central Utah off UT-24.

    • Distance from Salt Lake City 3.5 hours
    • From Moab or Bryce Canyon to the park is about a 2-hour drive

    10 Activities with Kids at Capitol Reef

    1. Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

    The 8-mile-long Scenic Drive has great views of the park including the Waterpocket Fold. Plan on two hours to cover the drive with 11 stops at pullouts and pullovers to enjoy the surroundings.

    2. Explore the Fruita Historic District

    Mormons settled in the area around 1880. During the next several decades, about 10 families lived in Fruita. Visit the schoolhouse which was built in 1896, it was restored when it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1964. Explore the blacksmith’s shop and Gifford family home.

    3. Eat Pie at the Gifford House

    The Gifford House is part of the historical farmstead that includes a barn, smokehouse, garden, and pasture. Today the house is a gift shop and bakery where you can buy pies or cinnamon rolls.

    4. Pick and Eat Fruit at the Orchards

    The orchard has over 3000 trees including cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, almonds, and apples. Some of the orchards are original to the time of the Mormon settlers. You can pick and eat fruit for free while in the orchards. A nominal fee is charged to take fruit with you.

    5. Read the Petroglyph Panel

    Check out the Fremont Culture Petroglyphs. Look for warriors and bighorn sheep and have the kids make up their own stories from what they see.

    6. Become a Junior Ranger at the Visitor Center

    Kids can complete Junior Ranger booklets to earn their badges. Watch the orientation movie and buy any forgotten essentials like sunscreen and water. Join a Ranger Program to learn more about the park.

    7. Visit Ripple Rock Nature Center

    Visit the center in the Fruita district for interactive exhibits, games, activities, and free educational programs.

    8. Explore Dirt Roads with Your High Clearance 4WD Vehicle

    If you’re interested in discovering more of the park, consider exploring one of the below dirt roads. While not all of them require a 4WD vehicle, you’ll be rewarded with fabulous landscapes not seen from the main area of the park. Know your vehicle’s limits as a tow would be a long wait and costly.

    • Cathedral Valley Loop – In the North, this 57.6-mile driving loop takes about 6-8 hours to complete.
    • Notom-Bullfrog Road – Paved for the first 15 miles, the next 17 is a maintained dirt road. Runs along the eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold.
    • Burr Trail Road – Much of the 66.2-mile road lies outside the boundary of Capitol Reef and traverses the Circle Cliffs, Long Canyon, and The Gulch.
    • Hartnet Road – Southern half of the Cathedral Valley Loop.
    • South Draw Road – Non-maintained 4WD road from Pleasant Creek to the park boundary near Tantalus Flats.

    9. Fish in the Fremont River

    You can rent fishing gear from Fremont River Guides in Torrey and will need a valid Utah fishing license.

    10. Hike!

    Best Capitol Reef Hikes with Kids

    The park has 15 day hikes you can complete with your family. We recommend any of the hikes designated as easy and the popular Hickman Bridge and Cassidy Arch hikes.

    Easy Hikes

    • Capitol Gorge, 2.0 miles RT. A short climb to waterpockets and historic inscriptions.
    • Goosenecks, 0.2 miles RT. Dramatic canyon views.
    • Sunset Point, 0.8 miles RT. Enjoy panorama views, good for sunset.
    • Grand Wash, 4.4 miles RT. Deep canyon, narrows.

    Moderate Hikes

    • Hickman Bridge is 1.8 miles round trip. The trailhead for this popular hike is located off UT-24 and leads to the 133-foot natural bridge.
    • Fremont River, 2.0 miles RT. Easy walk along the river but a steep climb to the panoramas.
    • Cohab Canyon, 3.4 miles RT. Hidden canyons, views of Fruita.

    Strenuous Hikes

    • Cassidy Arch, 3.4 miles round trip. After traversing the switchbacks at the beginning, the trail levels out. The trail includes walking up and down Slickrock and following the cairns marking the path.
    • Chimney Rock, 3.6 miles RT. Views of Waterpocket Fold cliffs, good for sunset.
    • Rim Overlook, 4.6 miles RT. Panoramas of Fruita and Waterpocket Fold.
    • Old Wagon Trail, 3.8 miles RT. Views of cliffs and Henry mountains.
    • Golden Throne, 4.0 miles RT. Views of Capitol Gorge and Golden Throne.
    • Fremont Gorge Overlook, 4.6 miles RT. Climb to the open mesa top.
    • Frying Pan, 5.8 miles RT. Connects Cohab Canyon and Cassidy Arch trails.
    • Navajo Knobs, 9.4 miles RT. 360-degree mountaintop panorama.

    How Many Days Do You Need at Capitol Reef National Park?

    You can visit Capitol Reef in half a day if you don’t hike. If you add a couple of short hikes, you can extend your time to a day. Exploration of the North (Cathedral Valley) District of the park will add another day to your visit.

    One Day Itinerary

    • Stop at the Visitor Center to get a map and check the conditions
    • Drive back to UT-24 to hike to either Hickman Bridge or Cassidy Arch. If you started early, you might get both of these done before lunch.
    • Eat lunch in the picnic area.
    • Drive the Scenic Drive in the heat of the day.
    • View the Petroglyphs
    • Explore the Fruita Historic District
    • Visit Gooseneck Overlook and Sunset Point

    Day Two Itinerary

    After you’ve completed the day one activities, add one or more of the following for your second day.

    • Drive straight to the end of the Scenic Drive and hike Capitol Gorge
    • Explore one of the dirt roads
    • Adventurous families can hike Sulfur Creek. Although not an official hike, the 5.8+ mile hike includes waterfalls, wading through water, and scrambling down 8-12 foot slick rock.

    Entrance Fees for Capitol Reef National Park

    We highly recommend buying an America the Beautiful pass for $80. The pass is good for one calendar year and is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Having a pass will allow you to pop in for a few hours in the evening and again the next morning.

    If you have a 4th grader, check out the FREE Annual 4th Grade pass which is good for the duration of the school year through the following summer (September-August).

    Current U.S. military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members, qualify for a free annual pass.

    Can You see Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon in One Day?

    If you don’t do any hiking and only complete the scenic drives, you might be able to do both parks in one day. However, we recommend driving Scenic Byway 12 between the parks which offers many places to stop and enjoy the scenic views.

    Best Time to Visit

    We visited in mid-May and found the crowds to be light. March to June and September to October offer great weather for visiting but are busy months.

    12 Tips for Visiting Capitol Reef with Kids

    1. When visiting the park, remember to explore UT-24 outside the park too. Several hikes start from UT-24 and the highway offers its own pullouts and scenic views.
    2. There isn’t a lot of shade in the park. Pack hats and sunblock!
    3. Hike in the morning before the heat of the day.
    4. Buy your pie from the Gifford House early before they sell out.
    5. If you’re traveling from Moab, stock up on groceries before heading to Capitol Reef. While the town of Torrey isn’t far away, you’ll appreciate having your own snacks and lunch readily on hand.
    6. Remember the desert climate and pack plenty of water for everyone.
    7. Visit at night to enjoy the dark sky and all the stars.
    8. Look for wayside exhibit signs at viewpoints, trailheads, and orientation pullouts throughout the park to help you learn more about the area.
    9. During busy months, trailhead parking lots often fill up by 10 am. Visit the park early or later in the day.
    10. Flush toilets are available at the campground (year-round), visitor center (open only during business hours), and Doc Inglesby Picnic Area (seasonally). Pit toilets are available at most trailheads.
    11. Bring a map on the trail to help navigate your hike.
    12. Know your limits when hiking. Take into consideration the higher elevation and desert conditions. Take breaks often and take your time. Enjoy your surroundings!

    Where to Stay

    Hotels for Big Families

    See our big family friendly listings near Capitol Reef. Unfortunately, the area doesn’t offer many choices.

    Camping and RV

    • Fruita – 71 spaces with picnic tables, fire grates/grills, restrooms, water, and an RV dump station. First come, first served. Fee.
    • Cathedral Valley and Cedar Mesa – Primitive site with picnic tables, fire grates/grills, pit toilets, and no water. No fee. First come, first served.
    • Backcountry Camping – Permit required, available at the visitor center.

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    Theresa Jorgensen

    Theresa Jorgensen

    Theresa Jorgensen is a mother to four children including twins. She recognized the necessity for a comprehensive resource of hotels that cater to big families with rooms and suites for 5, 6, 7, or 8 people in a single room while traveling with her own family. In 2008, she established SixSuitcaseTravel to compile a database of such hotels. Over time, the website has grown to include travel advice, itineraries, road trip suggestions, national park guides, and more. Theresa takes pleasure in assisting other big families in creating unforgettable travel experiences.