capitol reef national park

Situated in between Bryce Canyon and Moab, Capitol Reef is a must-stop on any Utah National Parks trip. We knew just about nothing about Capitol Reef prior to arriving and were blown away by the canyon walls and the vistas. We know you will be too! That’s why we put together this Capitol Reef 1 Day guide to tackle what active adventurers should do to make the most out of their chance to visit!

Disclaimer: This is not your typical relaxing, I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world travel guide. Ya it would be awesome to spend 2-3 days in each Utah National Park, but let’s be honest, no American traveler has the time to do that and see them all! So this guide and all our National Park Travel Guides are written to the frugal and practical American traveler who has squeezed this adventure into a long weekend or around a holiday. It will be short on park descriptions (you’ll learn all the same fun facts about the park while you’re there) and heavy on the hiking and efficient time planning. Little to no time is set aside for restaurants. It is assumed you’ll make one stop at a grocery store to pick up everything you need to eat on the trail or at your campsite. Our goal is to help you pack as many (usually free) fun-filled things into your cherished vacation time and make the most of potentially a once in a lifetime visit to these spectacular places. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, their are plenty of other awesome travel guides out there for you!

capitol gorge capitol reef
Get ready to explore some canyons!

Itinerary Notes

We’re just going to dive right into it. This itinerary assumes you have 1 full day to spend at Capitol Reef. It assumes you’re driving in from either Bryce Canyon or Moab in the morning (both are 2-2.5 hours away but in opposite directions) and then continuing on the next day. Be sure to grab a park map at the entrance and get ready to explore!

Your Day

  • Wake up shortly after sunrise and drive to the park.
  • Stop by the Visitor Center to see if you can grab a campsite inside the park for the night. If none are available, you will find a campsite outside the park once you’ve hiked it!
  • Drive down the road aptly named Scenic Drive to get to Capitol Gorge. Hike out to the Water Tanks. It’s a short, mostly flat out and back hike that’s only about 2 hours total. You’re here more for the views of the canyon walls than the hike itself.
  • On your way back up Scenic Drive, stop at the Grand Wash area to hike Cassidy Arch. This hike is a steep, roughly 5 mile roundtrip hike that includes a spectacular viewpoint. Bring your lunch and enjoy it at the top!
  • Grab an ice cream from the Gifford Homestead shop within the park and relax to give the legs a quick break.
  • Drive over to the Chimney Rock trailhead. This a 4-5 mile roundtrip hike with gorgeous views of the many different rock formations at Capitol Reef. We recommend hiking this last as it has great views for sunset!

Total Miles: ~12miles

The weather can change quickly at Capitol Reef and if there is rain in the forecast, you will probably not be able to visit Cassidy Arch or Capitol Gorge since they are in flash flood areas. If it might rain, stop by the Visitor Center to get the most up to date information regarding flash flooding and adjust your itinerary as needed.

cassidy arch capitol reef
The view down and through Cassidy Arch from the top of your hike!

How to Get There

The entrance to Capitol Reef is about 2 hours from Bryce Canyon and 2.5 hours from Moab (home to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks). You can rent a small, fuel efficient sedan and be just fine. The roads to the Cassidy Arch and Capitol Gorge Water Tanks trailheads are dirt/gravel but are well enough maintained.

Where To Stay

There are camping options inside or just outside Capitol Reef National Park.

In Capitol Reef

There are a decent amount of first come, first serve campsites in Capitol Reef, however due to the increased popularity of Utah parks in recent years, getting a spot is not a guarantee (we showed up at 10AM on a Tuesday and didn’t get one). Campsites in Capitol Reef National Park cost $20/night.

If you’re lucky enough to get a spot, swing by the on-site bakery/gift shop called Gifford Homestead and get a pie and/or cinnamon rolls right when the shop opens at 8AM (double check the time before arrival). We stopped by in the afternoon and we were told that they usually sell out within 10-15 minutes of opening so get there early!

capitol reef vista
One of many views you’ll find in the Capitol Gorge area!

Around Capitol Reef

There are campgrounds on both side of the park depending which way your headed. On the way to Bryce Canyon, you can camp for free on federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. It’s just past the park entrance/exit sign on your right. The entrance is hard to see so we drove right past it. You can also ask the park rangers at the Visitor Center and they’ll provide you with a vaguely outlined federal campground map.

You can also continue on a little ways (20-30 minutes) down HWY-12 towards Bryce Canyon and camp for free in the Fishlake / Dixie National Forest. These free, informal campsites (basically any side road with enough flat space for your car and a tent) will not have any amenities, so no shower, no running water. Bring that water cube!

If you’re in desperate need of a shower or laundry, you can stop by Austin’s Chuck Wagon in the small town of Torrey. The showers are hot and clean. Each shower will cost you ~$7. Austin’s Chuck Wagon also has on-site laundry and single use detergent. All in, laundry will cost you about $5 and take 1.5 hours.

capitol reef 1 day
Isn’t Utah just the coolest?!

Where To Go Next

The Other Utah National Parks

You’re in luck, we’ve also put together adventure-packed 1 Day American Traveler Itineraries for Canyonlands – The Needles, Canyonlands – Island in the Sky, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park.

If you’re looking to plan a week long trip to Utah to see them all, then be sure to check out our epic 10 Day Utah National Park American Traveler Guide!

Helpful Apps

Maps.Me

Probably our favorite travel app ever made. It has all the hiking trails and walking paths clearly marked and has easy to download offline maps. Whether we are in Colombia or Glacier National park, we know we’ll never be lost with Maps.me. Plus, it’s completely free!

Be sure to open the app and download the map when you have WiFi. You download regional maps by zooming in on a certain area. There’s nothing worse than opening up  Maps.Me once you’re on trail and realizing you forgot to download your map!

AllTrails

An app that gives you trail distances and recent reviews for hiking trails. It’s worth checking AllTrails a day or two before you do a longer hike as it is updated frequently for hikers. It’s basically Yelp for hiking. Plus, it’s free too!

water tanks
Maybe you’ll have more luck finding the water tanks than I did! They were supposed to be right here!!

Conclusion

You’re good to go for Capitol Reef. You’ve got an itinerary broken down into a power-packed yet manageable day. Plus you’ve got all our lessons learned!

So there you have it, our Capitol Reef 1 Day travel guide! From us to you, happy adventuring!

chimney rock hike
Gotta go! Looks like Michelle needs help with this rock!

Notes

All prices and information is current as of September 2020.

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