Capitol Reef National Park in A Day (Scenic Drives, Hiking, & History)

After our time in Goblin Valley State Park, our next stop on our Desert Southwest Road Trip was Capitol Reef National Park. I’d been to this park once before but there was so much snow on the ground the scenic drive was not accessible. That made this trip so much more fun since I was able to see new parts of the park I hadn’t been to before.

The Visitor Center

Stopping at the Visitor Center first and pick up a map and get a lay of the area. There’s different more detailed hiking maps and auto route maps with specific stops that are available for a few dollars as well.

Scenic Drive

The scenic drive is an 8 mile paved road with two additional spur dirt roads. This was one of our favorite things to do in the park when you don’t have a lot of time. You can leave right out of the visitor center and head back the route through the historic orchard area onto the scenic drive.

Take the Grand Wash dirt spur on your left off the scenic drive to the trailhead for the Cassidy Arch. Initially you may think you’re driving somewhere you shouldn’t be since you’re driving through various places that the water would cross through the wash, but during dry season as long as there’s not flash flooding, it’s an adventure to do this. We saw both SUV and cars make it through just fine.


We only had a few hours in the park before heading to our hotel for the night that was a few hours away so we didn’t get to do any hiking in the park which we were disappointed about. We honestly didn’t think this park was going to be as cool as it was, so we already listed the hikes we plan to do next time we visit.

Cassidy Arch – If you take a look in the above photo, follow the dirt road with your eye and then look straight up to the top of the red rocks. It’s incredibly hard to tell in this photo, but Cassidy Arch is at the top of those rocks. The arch gets it’s name from the outlaw, Butch Cassidy, who used this area as a hideout. The hike to get there is about 3 miles roundtrip with around 660 feet of elevation gain. You park behind where this photo is taken and hike up through the rocks to the top for the hike. We saw so many people parked at the trailhead and we could see them along the rock ledges like little ants getting toward the top.

Hickman Bridge – This trail is accessible from the highway near the Visitor Center and you don’t have to go on the Scenic Drive to get here. It’s 1.7 miles in length and about 444 feet of elevation gain. The views from along the trail and at the top look beautiful so a must do next time we visit.


The historic district of the park includes a Schoolhouse, a panel of petroglyphs on a rock wall in the area, as well as the Gifford Homestead. Inside the house on the Gifford Homestead, you will find a store including pioneer tools, locally made items like quilts and tools, as well as freshly baked pies which you can order and eat in the orchards. We were too early for pies during our visit as they open after Pi Day on March 14 through October 31. This is a must stop next time we visit.

I shared earlier that this was a National Park we didn’t really expect much from but just the scenic drive itself was so impressive we know we will be back. The suggestions above are just in the central area of the park by Fruita. There’s also a very northern district called the Cathedral Valley and a southern district called the Waterpocket District. These are both incredibly more remote where high clearance vehicles are recommended.

Overall we loved our time in Capital Reef and absolutely plan to be back, specifically to hike to Hickman Bridge, hike to Cassidy arch, try the pies in Fruita, and explore some more of the small pull offs on the scenic road.

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