Utah's "Other" National Park: Capitol Reef
Do you know Utah’s least visited National Park is Capitol Reef?
“Capitol Reef? Never heard of it. Waterpocket Fold? No idea.” The common theme among conversations before and after our trip to the Mighty Five. Sure, it sounds like something pertaining to the ocean or the coastline, but in the middle of Utah? Admittedly I only knew the place by name. Overshadowed by four, more well-known siblings, I had to do a little research before our departure. Instantly intrigued, so much so, it became our first stop!
Using the National Parks reservation system, we tent camped in the Fruita campground, literally an oasis in the middle of Utah desert. You find yourself in a valley semi-protected as the Fremont river passes through supplying water to the numerous orchards originally planted by the pioneers. Where else can you say you’ve eaten fruit right off the tree – pears, apples, peaches, apricots, etc. from the visions of a hundred years ago? You will love this little pocket in the middle of the desert.
What can you do in Capitol Reef National Park? It is part of Utah’s “Mighty Five” after all!
The park offers numerous ranger activities including hikes, the Junior Ranger program and a night sky program that is a can’t miss. In fact, the night sky in this part of the country is without description and certified as an International Dark Sky Park. Here you see the stars, the planets, the Milky Way and everything in between. Take full advantage of this beautiful dark canvas because it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
During the day we got on the trails. Definitely recommend the early morning/late afternoon windows if visiting during the summer months. In addition, the rangers have a wealth of information, so be sure to use them as a resource!
Our first hike was to Hickman Bridge – a relatively easy hike if you have some experience. The path is a bit challenging to discern at times, so you’ll want to pay a little extra attention as you progress. The end result is a magnificent 133-foot natural bridge to experience in relative quiet. Part of the allure is the lack of people on the trails and the two-mile hike is great place to get your “feet wet” in the Reef.
The trails in Capitol Reef NP has something for all levels of hikers!
Our second hiking excursion took us through several canyons in the Capital Gorge. This is a mostly level grade and easy to navigate although you may spend most of the time looking up at the rock walls and historical inscriptions. The shade is a blessing especially if you go in the middle of the afternoon. Towards the end, you can scramble up a smallish, switchback trail and end above “The Tanks” – a natural grouping of potholes or waterpockets in the rock, filled with a plethora of tadpoles and other critters. This one was a favorite of our son…I had to convince him we probably shouldn’t climb down into the water. Just a tad green.
During both hikes, not really long or overly-strenuous, I was thankful for a couple things. First, I was glad we all opted for the closed-toed footwear. A few too many hazards to not protect your toes. The second, and this is where I can plug an actual product, was the Platypus hydration backpack. I purchased one before our trip based on the recommendation of a friend. It turned out to be a great investment. The pliable bladder was perfect for our son rather than a ridged bottle rattling around in a backpack. The attached drinking tube made it accessible without stopping our progress. It kept him hydrated during the entire hike, was easy to carry and kept him going. Totally investing in a couple more before our next trip and recommend you do too.
Our last hike, if you could call it a hike, was to Sunset Point. An easy one-mile round trip that gives you a wonderful panorama of the park and a beautiful sunset if you’re lucky. The light dancing over the ridges and of rock formations of the Reef is a beautiful way to end your day and your stay. Peaceful solitude.
Our time in Capitol Reef was short, but if you want to get away, this is a park for you. You can maximize your enjoyment by camping in Fruita, rising early and getting onto the trails. Certainly, a best kept secret and least known of the “Mighty Five”, I would love to get back and spend some serious time exploring and hiking the rest of the collection.
What are other epic day hikes in Capitol Reef National Park?
Cassidy Arch. (Once a hideout for the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy.)
Learn more about our two week Mighty Five road trip in Utah HERE.
Have you ever been to the Reef? Would love to hear your impressions and stories! Be sure to share #Hashtag59 with your tribe as well. Thanks for reading!