Capitol Reef National Park is one of the few national parks I never seem to hear about. It’s relatively close to its more famous siblings; Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, and Bryce National Parks, but despite being a part of Utah’s “Big Five” National Parks, I don’t think I’d ever heard the name before we were rolling into the Visitor’s Center.
This seems to be the case for most travelers- it was by far the least popular of the National Parks we visited on our Southwest roadtrip, and yet quickly became my favorite both for its incredible views and historic significance- though the relative quiet certainly helped. Let’s just keep this post between you and me, shall we?
The Fruita Historic District is one of the more populated areas of the park, and hosts the Visitor’s Center, the Schoolhouse, the Blacksmith Shop, and the campgrounds. I highly recommend stopping by Gifford House for a variety of local crafts and baked good- most specifically their pies! I’m not typically a fan of pies but their cherry pie was excellent. Those lucky enough to be traveling during harvest season are also welcome to pick fruit straight from the historic orchard.
Capitol Reef is home to fifteen trails of varying difficulties, though frankly even the most mild of them require a base level of fitness. I did a little write up of my favorite hikes here, but I’d love to go back in the future and try out some of the more strenuous hikes once I work on my hiking stamina.
Don’t feel limited by the hikes- the aptly named Scenic Drive in this park give a great overview of the geology of the area. We took a little drive down Capitol Gorge Road and it really takes you down into the beautiful and unique gorges of the park. Just make sure you’re comfortable taking your car down a pretty rough unpaved road or else you might not make it to some of my favorite parts of the Capitol Reef.
One of the biggest draws to the park- and easily visible from nearly all areas are these massive rock formations with beautiful and colorful striations from millions of years of development.
While much of Capitol Reef is a dead zone for cell service, there was free wifi at the Visitor Center and we were inexplicably able to find some cell service at the top of Panorama Point. We felt enveloped in nature, but not completely isolated- plus there are small towns on either end of the park with hotels and grocery stores for those who aren’t camping.
Despite appearing arid and rocky, there was actually quite a bit of wildlife in the park. Deer grazed in Fruita in the mornings and dusk, and we spotted a ton of birds and small animals on our hikes. There are even nineteen distinct species of bats in the park- a number that repeats throughout the park. Nineteen species of bats, nineteen orchards in the park, and nineteen rock layers in the big rock formations.
I really enjoyed myself at this park and it easily jumped the ranks of my favorite National Parks. I found there to be an excellent variety of things to do and see- when’s the last time you had pie at a park? It’s an easy addition to any Southwest roadtrip and definitely worth a visit!