Known for its incredible red-rock formations and its fruit orchard, Capitol Reef National Park is a fantastic place to spend a day or more exploring. In addition to its natural beauty, it’s not as well known as its sister parks to the south, Bryce and Zion, making it less crowded and easy to sightsee. Here are our favorite things to do in Capitol Reef, if you only have 24 hours to visit this hidden gem.
Start off with Breakfast
Fuel up at the Broken Spur Inn's breakfast buffet. It's just five minutes from the park's entrance in Torrey, Utah. Breakfast includes freshly baked pastries from their own Branding Iron Bakery. If you want breakfast to go, stop by the bakery's outlet, The Sweet Saloon down the hill from the hotel.
Hike to Hickman Bridge
Start the morning off with a 1.8-mile moderate hike to the stunning Hickman Bridge, a natural bridge that spans 133 feet. Along the way, take in the great canyon views. This is a good family hike as the elevation gain is not too dramatic - 400 feet total. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes as the trail can be rocky at times.
Pick Fruit at Historic Orchards in Fruita
Just a mile or two from the visitor station are historic orchards full of cherry, walnut, almond, pear, plum, mulberry, apricot, apple and peach trees that were originally planted beginning in 1880s when Mormons settled the area. From March through early May, you can see various trees in blossom, beginning with cherry trees at the end of March and ending with apples by early May. Harvest season begins in June and runs through early fall, depending on the tree. Visitors can pick fruit in season and pay for their fruit at self-pay stations.
To find out more about blossom and harvest times, call the park’s main number at (435) 425-3791. After the introduction, press #1 for visitor information and then press #5 for the fruit hotline.
Visit the Gifford House Store and Museum
Travel back in time when you visit the Gifford Homestead located in the Fruita valley, an area notable enough for famous Western writer Wallace Stegner to describe it in his book co-authored with Page Stegner, American Places. Built in 1908 by a Mormon polygamist, the restored farmhouse and its barn, smokehouse and garden, give visitors an idea of what Mormon life was like in the early 1900s.
Today, you can buy reproductions of household items used by Mormon pioneers in the farmhouse. Made by local artisans, the items include flour sifters, soap, candle and toys. While you are there, purchase a locally baked fruit pie and enjoy it after you eat lunch in the picnic tables under the shade trees of the property.
Reach the homestead by driving 1 mile south of the visitor center on Scenic Drive. It’s open spring through fall 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check with the visitor center or the park's news releases for exact hours and opening and closing dates since they vary seasonally.
Get a Lesson in Geology
When it starts to get hot, head to your car, turn on the air conditioning and take the Scenic Drive. Pullover at its 11 stops to see how the area around you formed over millions of years. Most rock at Capitol Reef is sedimentary, which means it was formed in layers by mud, sand and other loose materials. Stop One enables you to see the 225 million-year-old rock called the Moenkopi Formation, which developed during a time when the area’s climate was tropical and humid. It’s hard to believe that the dry, desert landscape you see today could ever be described as tropical, which makes this geological tour through the ages so fascinating.
Watch the Sunset at Sunset Point
Before the sun starts to sink, head to Sunset Point to take in incredible views of the sun setting over the desert. (Down the trail from Panorama Point and Goosenecks Overlook.) As amazing as it is to watch the sun actually set, watching the sandstone rocks around you with the setting sun is equally as beautiful. This easy hike is only .9 miles round trip.
Discover the Back Story of Capitol Reef at an Evening Ranger Talk
Wind down the evening by attending a ranger program at the campground amphitheater held at 7:30 p.m. seasonally. Rangers also present special programs like night sky tours, full-moon hikes and astronomy programs, so check with the visitor center when you arrive to find out what’s on the schedule, or call the information number (435) 425-3791.