Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah is one of several geological gems, a red-rock world of canyons, cliffs and stone bridges. It's located in the 100 mile Waterpocket Fold, referred to by the National Park Service as “a wrinkle on the earth,” a 75 million year old warp in the earth's crust. It's also a fabulous park for stargazing, designated by the International Dark-Sky Association as a Gold Tier “International Dark Sky Park”. There's plenty to explore day and night in Capitol Reef, where “half the park is after dark”.
Capitol Reef National Park is a long drive for most visitors, but shouldn't be missed. Even at 4 hours from Salt Lake, 5 from Las Vegas and nearly 7 from Denver, it's still worth the drive. Heck, at 10 hours from Los Angeles and 16 from Seattle, it's still worth it, especially if you're doing the whole Utah national park circuit (which you should!).
Fortunately, Capitol Reef, though popular, isn't quite as famous as nearby Arches National Park 2 hours east, so you might get lucky and experience less crowds. That said, snag a campsite early, as there's only one developed campground at the park, requiring reservations during the busy season of March 1 through October. A few first-come, first-serve sites will remain available, but don't count on it during the busy months. There are also two primitive campgrounds available, but no lodges within the park.
The Gifford House Store and Museum both sell a few grocery items, but we'd suggest stocking up before visiting since it's quite remote.
When there, don't miss these top sites and hikes: Enjoy the view and snap some photos from Panorama Point. Take an easy hike to Hickman Bridge, out to Cassidy Arch, or to the Water Tanks. Not up for hiking? Don't miss the 10-mile scenic drive south of the visitor center. Take a look at our other popular hikes below, or check out the National Park Service's 'things to do' suggestions.
When to Go
Spring and fall are the best times to enjoy a hike, though March through October is the busy season. Getting camping will be easier in November through February when it's less crowded, but it also gets pretty cold. Check out this average weather chart to give yourself a better idea of daily temps.
Entrance fees are required. However, backcountry permits can be obtained for free at the visitor center.
Like most national parks, pets can't be on a leash exceeding 6-feet, and are not permitted in the backcountry or on trails. They are allowed in Fruita Campground, on the Fremont River Trail and along and within 50 feet of roads. Get the full scoop, here.