A Weekend at Capitol Reef National Park

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Most travelers through Utah’s red rock spend less than a day at this oasis in the desert. It only serves as a quick one-off between Arches and Bryce for tourists hitting the Big Five. To be honest, I’m completely okay with that but if you do decide to linger, here are a few spots worth hitting.

Friday Evening

If you’re like me and your adventure can’t start until after you get off early on a Friday, hit the Chimney Rock Loop for an amazing sunset. The full loop is 3.5 miles with most of the climbing at the start. If you don’t get off work early enough for the entire hike, go counterclockwise or right at the fork. The best views of the sunset are just up the mesa.

The sunset from Chimney Rock Loop.

Like a lot of small towns in southern Utah, there are a surprising amount of good eateries in town. On one trip we had a great time staying at the Thousand Lakes RV Park (not-so-aptly named). They have a delicious chuck-wagon dinner for a reasonable price.

Saturday Morning

I hope you slept well last night because you’re in for a big day today. Climb out of your sleeping bag in the cool dark morning while the stars are still twinkling. Cassidy Arch is probably the second most popular hike of the park and well worth the sunrise climb. With no shade across the desert rock, this 3-mile hike is best done in the morning if visiting in the summer. But, honestly, most hikes are best done in the morning or evening if visiting in the summer.

It’s not a long hike to your first glimpse of this magnificent arch.
As amazing as that first glimpse is, nothing compares to experiencing it up close. Fun fact: the tree on the left serves as the first tie for rappellers descending into the depths below.

If hiking before dawn isn’t enough to draw you out of a comfy sleeping bag, I have an even better reason. After your hike, head as fast as you can to the Gifford Homestead. These old farm buildings are the remnants of the pioneer settlers who established the tiny town of Fruita (aptly named). They established several fruit-ladden orchards along the Fremont River.

These orchards still produce today, providing the homestead with local fruit for the best homemade pies you’ll ever get in a national park. If you get there early enough, this individual sized pies will come out warm. Do yourself a favor and get the little servings of ice cream to go along with.

The Gifford Homestead. The pies, along with several other delectable treats, can be found in the old farmhouse.

Saturday Afternoon

As I mentioned before, trails and shade in Capitol Reef don’t go hand in hand. There are a few trails where the water cut through the high rocks, making some shadier canyons. The Capitol Gorge Trail carries you through one these canyons down what once was a roadway. You can still see some old power lines and names of the pioneers carved in the rock.

Saturday Evening

Tired yet? That’s alright because your last hike of the day to Hickman Bridge is an easy one and the most popular in the park. This 1.7 mile hike takes you right under and through this awesome bridge.

Sunday Morning

Bighorn ram

I’d encourage you to once again pull yourself out of that cozy sleeping bag for another dawn hike (and pies). While the views on the Golden Throne trail aren’t quite Cassidy’s Arch equal, they are still jaw-dropping. Going early in the morning also gives you the best opportunity to spot the Bighorn sheep herds that frequent the park.

Starting up the Golden Throne trail at dawn.

Camping at Capitol Reef

This park has one of the most beautiful and welcoming campgrounds in the state, but it’s definitely hard to get into during peak seasons (March through October). There are some BLM spots outside the park and a few RV parks in town if necessary.

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