Capitol Reef National Park with Kids: A Complete Guide
Utah is known for it’s national parks, with Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion National Park being the most popular. Utah’s fifth and lesser known national park-Capitol Reef National Park, is one that should not be overlooked. Fewer crowds and plentiful hiking options makes visiting Capitol Reef National Park with kids a great family getaway!
Capitol Reef sees less crowds than the more popular parks, but this does not mean it doesn’t share the same beauty! While the visitor center and campgrounds area was pretty packed with visitors, the scenic drive and overlook areas were far less crowded than one would expect with more opportunity to go at your own pace and enjoy the scenery!
Capitol Reef National Park is located in Wayne County, Utah. The closest nearby town is Torrey, Utah.
About the Park
Capitol Reef National Park is one of the five national parks in Utah and is found in South-Central Utah. Capitol Reef National Park is smaller than most national parks, being only 60 miles long and about 6 mile wide. Capitol Reef features rock formations with layers of golden sandstones, layered rock formations, and monoliths. A majority of the Waterpocket Fold is found within Capitol Reef National Park. The Waterpocket Fold is the largest monocline in North America that contains new and old layers of Earth folded over each other.
Capitol Reef National Park is open year round, 24 hours a day.
The visitor center is open daily from 8am to 4:30pm
Entrance to parts of the park are free of charge. If you choose to do the scenic hike, the fee is $20 per vehicle. The America the Beautiful Annual Pass is accepted at this park.
How Long Do You Need?
Capitol Reef National Park is smaller than some of the other national park, requiring less time to really get a feel for the park. While the optimal amount of time would be 3-4 days, especially if you planning on doing some of the longer hiking trails, if all you have is one day you will be able to see most if not all of the park via the scenic drive and will still have time to fit a hike or two in.
Top Family Friendly Activities
Capitol Reef National Park is a very family friendly park, from the scenic drive to the many hiking options and interesting petroglyphs for viewing! You can’t go wrong when visiting Capitol Reef National Park with kids!
Take the Scenic Drive
When visiting Capitol Reef National Park with kids the scenic drive is a must do! The scenic drive is a 7.9 paved road (one way) that takes you past many look out points. You will also pass (and be able to drive) two dirt spur roads-Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. Along the drive you will find plenty of places to stop for sight seeing and photo ops.
If you have younger children who you don’t feel will be able to handle the hikes at Capitol Reef (or if you would prefer not to hike) you can still get stunning views and see a great portion of the park along the scenic drive.
Go For a Hike
In practically any national park in the country you can find plenty of options for hiking, making it one of the best things to do with or without kids in Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef National Park is home to 27 hiking trails. The trails range from 1.8 to 71.2 miles. (Continue reading for some of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park with kids).
View the Petroglyphs
The Petroglyphs are very interesting to see and if your child is anything like my daughter, who loves drawing, they will find these cool! I likened them to her drawings, but explained to her the process of carving the images into the rocks and their meaning, and she was very fascinated!
Located right off of Highway 24 near a small parking area you will find the boardwalk that brings you right up to the petroglyphs. There are two boardwalks. The first one is located right off the parking area and brings you to the main petroglyph panel (pictured below). The second extends along the rocks and will bring you past a couple smaller sections of petroglyphs.
While this is not a year round activity, if you happen to visit in season (Mid-June through Mid-October) you may stumble upon trees full of fresh fruit. Capitol Reef National Park is home to over 3,000 cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut trees. Visitors can enjoy sampling the fruit while in the park and if you wish can purchase by the pound to take with you.
Visit the Remains of Fruita
The town of Fruita, now considered a ghost town, was one of the settlements within Capitol Reef National Park. Today, only three buildings remain standing, including the Gifford House, the Fruita Schoolhouse, and Behunin House. Today you can view the inside of the schoolhouse and purchase pies and other snacks at the Gifford House.
Visit the Ripple Rock Nature Center
The Ripple Rock Nature Center is a small nature center featuring educational activities and games for kids. Families can participate in activities at the nature center or grab a family fun pack to use throughout the park.
Participate in the Junior Ranger Program
Before heading out to explore the park be sure to stop in the visitors center and grab a junior ranger program book. You can take this with you throughout the park, complete the activities, and then return it to the ranger desk for a small prize and Junior Ranger Badge.
Enjoy a Picnic
While the park does not offer any real food services, you can find plenty of places to sit down and have a picnic lunch while enjoying the stunning scenery that will surround you. Don’t forget to grab a pie or other snack from the Gifford House to complement your meal!
The Hickman Bridge Trail
The Hickman Bridge Trail is a moderately difficult 1.8 mile hike. The trail begins as a walk along the Fremont River, followed by a moderate incline, followed by a hike through a scenic valley, and finally ends at the Hickman Bridge, a 113 foot natural stone bridge. The portion of the trail that goes through the scenic valley contains many small and large caves, the perfect opportunity for the kids to run and play.
***Tip: Although the park was much less crowded than other national parks we have visited, the Hickman Bridge Trail was quite crowded, perhaps the most crowded area in the park on the day of our visit.
The Chimney Rock Loop Trail
Chimney Rock is one of the most popular sites in Capitol Reef National Park. It is easily visible from Highway 24 (the main highway running through park of the park), but can also be seen through a hike to a nearby mesa. At the end of the hike you will be rewarded with views of Chimney Rock from above and the surrounding areas. The trail is a 3.6 mile loop trail with plenty of uphill hiking. It can be done by younger kids, but you should expect to allow extra time for the little legs to rest and be sure to bring plenty of water!
The Grand Wash Trailhead can be found near the Cassidy Arch trailhead off of Highway 24. The Grand Wash Hike is mostly flat and along the trail you will find small caves, arches, and stunning rock formations as you pass through the tall and narrow walls of the canyon. The total distance out and back is 4.4 miles (2.2 miles one way).
Goosenecks & Sunset Point
The Sunset Point Trail is one of the shortest trails in the park at only 0.4 miles, making it one of the best hikes when visiting Capitol Reef National Park with kids. The trail follows the rim of the Sulphur Creek canyon that comes to a small summit area with beautiful views of Capitol Reef National Park. Sunset Point is one of the most popular spots in the park for viewing the sunset. The Gooseneck trail is just as short, but will give you views of a different section of the park.
Best Time to Visit
The answer to this question depends on what you are looking to see! Any time of the year can be perfect for visiting Capitol Reef. Spring and fall will see milder temperatures and less crowds, while summer may bring warmer weather (sometimes up to 100 degrees). The winter months in Capitol Reef National Park will bring snow, but will also bring opportunity for winter activities such as snowshoeing and skiing.
Our visit in the early spring was quite lovely with temperatures that were warm enough to go without a coat, but not enough to make a hike intolerable due to the heat.
What to Bring
A visit to Capitol Reef National Park can get hot, so be prepared!
- Plenty of Water
- Hats or an umbrella (to provide some shade)
- A small garbage bag (carry out your trash!)
- A picnic lunch
- Your camera!
Where To Stay Near Capitol Reef National Park
Aquarius Inn (Bicknell, Utah)
Located only a 15 minute drive from the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, Aquarius Inn is a great stay for the price. The rooms are simple, but very large. The hotel also has a hot tub and indoor pool. The location is remote, Bicknell is a small town without much else to do, but if you’re main reason for staying is being in close proximity to Capitol Reef National Park, you can’t go wrong.
Costs: Prices start at $75 per night
Capitol Reef Resort (Torrey, Utah)
The Capitol Reef Resort is a bit more expensive than Aquarius Inn, but it is well worth the extra costs! The Resort gives you great views of the rocky formations while offering some unique accommodations. At Capitol Reef Resort you can find traditional rooms, cabins, teepees, and Conestoga Wagons. The resort also offers horseback riding, hiking with llamas, and safari jeep tours through the park.
Costs: Prices range from $200-$400/night
The Rim Rock Inn
The Rim Rock Inn is a rustic inn that sits just outside of Capitol Reef National Park, offering stunning views of the rock formations found within the park. The Rim Rock Inn features an indoor and outdoor dining area. The inn offers both traditional rooms and cabins.
Costs: Prices range from $100-200/night
Camping in the Park
Being a national park it is not surprising that there are camping opportunities available in the park. The park contains the Fruita Campgrounds, a 71 site campground and two primitive campgrounds. You can also enjoy backpacking in the park with a free backpacking permit.
Where To Eat In/Near Capitol Reef National Park
The Gifford Homestead
The Gifford Homestead is one of the three remaining buildings of the early Fruita settlement. Today the Gifford Homestead offers jams, jellies, and locally baked pies as well as ice cream. You can also find other unique items, such as quilts, rugs, and soaps made by local artisans. While you won’t find a complete meal here, it is a great place to stop for a snack!
Slackers Pizza & Deli
Slacker’s Pizza & Deli is a small pizzeria located just outside Capitol Reef National Park in Torrey that serves pizza, cold and hot sandwiches, salads, wraps, and appetizers. If you are traveling with picky eaters, Slacker’s Pizza & Deli is a great option.
Rim Rock Restaurant
The Rim Rock Restaurant is a fine dining restaurant located at the Rim Rock Inn featuring a selection of salads, pasta dishes, steaks, burgers, chicken, sides, and ice cream. The patio restaurant menu features a wide variety of pizza.
Things to Consider
- When planning your hikes through Capitol Reef National Park it is important to consider the elevation height in regards to the difficulty of the hike. The park’s elevation is at 5500 ft. If you are used to lower elevations, it may make the hikes a little more difficult.
- There is little to no cell service within the park, so be prepared for that.
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