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Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Capitol Reef. Following are the best stops on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef you simply can’t miss! Make sure to check them all out and see which stops are most interesting to you and best for your fitness level. Also, at the end of this post, I am listing my three favorite stops on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef.

If you are going to Canyonlands or Arches National Parks next, then make sure to take Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway UT-24. My favorite stops along the way are Goblin Valley State Park and Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Here are some pots to get you inspired:

16 Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Arches National Park

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands National Park (8 Things You Can’t Miss)

Did you know that right in-between Arches and Canyonlands is Dead Horse Point State Park? It is a narrow mesa with 2,000 feet high cliffs and Green and Colorado Rivers below it. Don’t miss it! The views at this place are off the charts.

How to Spend One Day at Dead Horse State Park, Utah

Lastly, are you thinking of visiting any other Utah National Parks? How about getting inspired by this Epic 7-Day Road Trip Through Utah National Parks?

Things to Know About Capitol Reef National Park Before You Go

  • The name Capitol Reef comes from two things. First, the white stone dunes in the park reminded the settlers of the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Second, the Waterpocket Fold resembled a massive barrier and was often referred to as a reef.
  • The Waterpocket Fold is the defining geologic feature of Capitol Reef National Park. This fold or wrinkle in the earth’s surface runs north-south for almost 100 miles creating the most dramatic landscapes.
  • Fruit orchards, planted by Mormon settlers in the late 1800s are one of the attractions in Capitol Reef National Park. Orchards are open to the public and you can pick fruit and take it home for a small fee.
  • The Fremont River flows year-round despite the desert conditions. It supports the orchards and also animal life. Beavers and yellow-bellied marmots can be found here.
  • Capitol Reef was designated a national park in 1971.
Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

The Waterpocket Fold is the defining geologic feature of Capitol Reef National Park. This fold or wrinkle in the earth’s surface runs north-south for almost 100 miles creating the most dramatic landscapes.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

What You Need to Know About Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

Two paved roads run through the park:

  • Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway UT-24, and
  • Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway UT-24 runs from Moab, UT to Torrey, UT (east to west, or vice versa). There is no fee to drive UT-24. Make sure to read my post 9 Best Stops on Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway UT-24 to find out what are the must-see places along the way.

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is an out and back road that runs north to south through the length of the park. It starts at Fruita District and ends at Capitol Gorge Road. There is an entrance fee of $20. It is valid for 7 consecutive days.

If you are visiting several national parks, then you should buy America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. It costs $80 and covers more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is 21 miles long (round trip, plus the spurs along the way). It takes about 1-1.5 hours just to drive the Scenic Drive. If you plan on stopping along some of the viewpoints, taking short walks, or a few hikes, then you need to reserve one day to really enjoy and be able to explore the sights along Capitol Reef Scenic Drive.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is an out and back road that runs north to south through the length of the park. It starts at Fruita District and ends at Capitol Gorge Road.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

How to Get to Capitol Reef National Park

Most people coming to Capitol Reef National Park fly into these airports and then rent a car:

  • Bryce Canyon Airport (BCE) – 122 miles (2 hours 30 min)
  • Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY) – 129 miles (3 hours)
  • Cedar City Regional Airport (CDC) – 166 miles (3 hours)
  • Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) – 196 miles (3 hours)
  • St. George Regional Airport (SGU) – 222 miles (3 hours 45 min)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) – 228 miles (3 hours 40 min)

My recommendation is to check the prices for all these airports and see which one would be the best for you. From my experience, Salt Lake City International Airport has the most flights and the least expensive tickets. Plus, there are a lot of car rental agencies to choose from.

What to Bring on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

I have seen many people hiking in their flip-flops, without any sun protection, and above all with no water. So, here is a reminder to make sure you are prepared for a visit to Capitol Reef National Park:

1. Appropriate footwear Trail shoes are great; hiking boots are even better since they offer more support. You’ll want sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with solid traction. Don’t forget to break in your shoes before bringing them to Capitol Reef National Park. Also, do not forget merino wool socks. They will keep your feet dry, and protect you from blisters.

2. Plenty of water – without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply cannot perform as well. Consuming too little water will not only make you thirsty but susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness. I have been using Yeti Rumbler 26 oz insulated, stainless steel bottle, and I am highly recommending it!

3. Food – food will help keep up energy and morale. I like RXBAR. It is a high-protein bar, gluten-free, and it is super yummy! Make sure to get a variety pack to keep it interesting.

4. Rain gear and extra clothing – the weatherman is not always right. Be prepared for unannounced rain or a cold spell. Dress in layers. It will allow you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat. I have had my North Face Women’s Osito Triclimate Jacket for years, and I love it. Also, I am highly recommending these Patagonia moisture-wicking hiking shirts and Patagonia warm fleece pullovers.

5. First aid kit – prepackaged first-aid kits for hikers are available at any outfitter.

6. Knife – a knife or even better, a multi-purpose tool is always good to have. These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, etc.

7. Protect Yourself from the Sun – if you are visiting Capitol Reef National Park in the summer, keep in mind that all the areas are unshaded, so it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. Sunscreen is essential, however, a lightweight long sleeve shirt is a must! My favorite are sun shirts by Columbia. Also, it is a good idea to wear lightweight long pants to protect yourself from the sun and bugs!

8. Wear sunglasses with UV protection. Sunglasses are an important part of your sun-protective wardrobe. When purchasing sunglasses, always look for lenses that offer UV protection.

9. A wide-brimmed hat is a simple and effective way to cover up your face and neck. When selecting a hat, choose one that has a wide brim, which will protect your ears, as well as your head and neck. Avoid baseball hats or straw hats with holes, as these are not as effective in protecting you outdoors.

10. Apply an effective insect repellentinsect repellent is an important step against mosquitoes and ticks that can spread diseases like West Nile and Lyme.  When selecting an effective insect repellent, do not look at the brand names, but rather, look at the concentration of the active ingredients. Concentrations of DEET at 25 to 30% are the best to keep you protected.

11. Daypack/backpack – you need something you can carry comfortably and has the features designed to keep you hiking smartly. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in. I have Osprey Daylite Daypack and it is perfect for day hiking.

12. Camera!!! – Capitol Reef National Park is a photographer’s dream! If you are like me, you will be taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. The scenery is just breathtaking and constantly changing. I have a Nikon COOLPIX P1000 Super Telephoto Camera that I bought a couple of years ago and I really like it. Make sure to have a spare battery for your camera. I think there is nothing more frustrating than knowing that you still have half a day ahead of you, yet your camera’s battery is gone.

13. Tripod – if you are taking photos during the golden hour (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) when the light is softer, a tripod is essential for long exposure shots. Also, I like a tripod since it gives me more stability when taking close-ups of wildlife. I have Manfrotto Befree Live Carbon Fiber Tripod with Fluid Head. It is only 3.0 pounds and it fits nicely in my backpack.

14. Binoculars! – if your camera does not have a good zoom, then binoculars are a must.

15. Trash Bag – this will make sure that the trail will stay beautiful for generations to come. A zip-lock bag is a great option as well for keeping the trash you pick up along the trail separate from the rest of your gear.

Where to Stay When Visiting Capitol Reef National Park

There are two places that I always stay at whenever I am visiting Capitol Reef National Park. They are nothing fancy, but all of them are clean and conveniently located.

My first choice is Capitol Reef Resort. I stayed at this place a few times and I have no complaints. The rooms are clean and the beds are comfortable. The location is great, right at the entrance to the park. Plus, they have an on-site restaurant, which makes it very convenient after a full day of exploring Capitol Reef.

Another place that is fairly comparable is Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse. Again, good location, right at the entrance to the park. They also have a restaurant on-site and breakfast is included with your stay. The rooms are clean and the beds are comfortable.

Map of Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef with Best Stops

Map of Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Map of Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park. Image Credit: National Park Service

Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

NUMBER 1

Fruita District

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park starts at the Visitor Center. Just past the Visitor Center, the road passes through Fruita District.

What you will see are several fruit orchards planted in the late 1,800s by Mormon pioneers. The orchards are still maintained using the old-time farming techniques.

If you happen to be visiting during the harvest season, then you are welcome to pick fruit in season and take it home for a small fee.

One of the popular stops in Fruita District is a visit to Gifford House to sample some of their baked goods. Hands down, the most popular are their fruit pies!

Gifford House is open from mid-March to mid-October from 8 am till 5 pm.

My recommendation is just to take a few moments and just simply wander around this picturesque place, soak in the views and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Fruita District in Capitol Reef National Park

The entire area is simply picture perfect and it is fun to just walk around and enjoy this place. 

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Intrepid’s Tip:

If you want to learn more about pioneer life in Fruita, then stop at a blacksmith shop. There are a lot of tools and farm machinery on display. Also, you will be able to see Fruita’s first tractor which did not arrive until 1940.

NUMBER 2

Cohab Canyon Trail

Right next to the campground in Fruita is a trailhead to Cohab Canyon Trail. It is a great hike with awesome views of Fruita, hidden canyons, and great panoramas of Capitol Reef.

  • Distance – 3.4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation – 440 feet
  • Time – 1.5-2 hours
  • Difficulty – moderate

My recommendation is to add it to your list and save it for later. There are more hikes coming up on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef that are covered in this post.

Cohab Canyon Trail

Cohab Canyon Trail is a great hike with awesome views of Capitol Reef National Park. 

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Cohab Canyon Trail in Capitol Reef

Interesting rock formations on Cohab Trail in Capitol Reef. 

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

More unique rock formations on Cohab Canyon Trail in Capitol Reef. 

NUMBER 3

Fremont River Trail

I need to mention that there is another trail that also starts in Fruita. It is Fremont River Trail.

It is no doubt one of my favorite trails in Capitol Reef, especially in the fall when the leaves start changing their color, this hike is very picturesque.

Fremont River Trail starts off as an easy hike along Fremont River, and then there is a sharp incline and a pretty strenuous hike to great panoramas.

Fremont River Trail in Capitol Reef

Fremont River Trail starts off as an easy hike along Fremont River, and then there is a sharp incline and a pretty strenuous hike to great panoramas.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Now, you do not have to do the second part of the trail with the steep climb if you are not up to it. You can keep it at a leisurely pace and stroll along the river which could be just perfect for the entire family.

  • Distance – 2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation – 480 feet
  • Time – 1-1.5 hours
  • Difficulty – moderate
Fremont River Trail in Capitol Reef

This trail is especially beautiful in the fall when the leaves start changing colors. 

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Fremont River Trail in Capitol Reef

You can go at a leisurely pace along the river. 

Fremont River Trail in Capitol Reef

Beautiful views along the Fremont River. 

Intrepid’s Tip:

After exploring Fruita and maybe doing one hike, it is time to hop back into your vehicle and head south on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef.

On your way, you will pass the Fee Station.

Now, it will be about 1.8 miles from the Fee Station and about 3.5 miles from the Visitor Center before you reach Grand Wash Road. Make a left turn into Grand Wash Road and continue for about 1.3 miles until you reach a parking lot.

Grand Wash Road is a maintained gravel road and it is ok for passenger cars. The drive on Grand Wash Road is very picturesque with sheer rock walls rising above the road.

Cassidy Arch Trail and the Grand Wash Trail are located on Grand Wash Road.

NUMBER 4

Cassidy Arch Trail

Cassidy Arch Trail needs to be on your list if you are visiting Capitol Reef National Park. The trail will take you to a famous rock formation, known as Cassidy Arch.

The trail to Cassidy Arch starts right off the Grand Wash Road, a little less than a mile from the parking area.

Cassidy Arch Trail

The trail to Cassidy Arch starts right off the Grand Wash Road, a little less than a mile from the parking area.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Cassidy Arch Trail is a pretty strenuous hike with an elevation change of 550 feet in 0.5 miles. So, make sure you are up to it.

There are cairns along the way and stairs carved out in a rock to help you stay on the trail.

I know it is a strenuous hike but it is all worth it! You will get to a viewpoint overlooking the arch in no time!

Cassidy Arch Trail

I know it is a strenuous hike but it is all worth it! You will get to a viewpoint overlooking the arch in no time!

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Did you know that you can hike over the arch? So, if you are brave enough, then this is a perfect spot to get some awesome pictures!

The arch is named after the infamous Butch Cassidy, who used to be here with his companion Sundance Kid.

Cassidy Arch Trail

Did you know that you can hike over the arch? So, if you are brave enough, then this is a perfect spot to get some awesome pictures!

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

NUMBER 5

The Grand Wash Trail

Another trail that you cannot miss on this Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef is the Grand Wash Trail!

The good news is that it is an easy trail with little elevation change which makes it suitable for the entire family. The even better news is that it is an absolutely beautiful and stunning trail.

For most of the hike, you will follow the gravel wash bed that will take you deep into a sandstone canyon. At its narrowest, the walls of the canyon are just 15 feet apart, which reminded me of Zion Narrows in Zion National Park (minus the water).

Grand Wash Trail

For most of the hike, you will follow the gravel wash bed that will take you deep into a sandstone canyon.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

After you are done exploring Grand Wash, get back to the parking lot and hop back into your car.

Next, get back to Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and continue south. The next stop is SlickRock Divide Turn-out.

NUMBER 6

Slick Rock Divide Turn-out

The next stop is Slickrock Divide.

Once on the Slickrock Divide Turnout,  you will get great views of Capitol Reef’s beautiful sedimentary rock layers.

Past Slickrock Divide, the colors deepen and the rocks turn into spires that resemble statuary.

Slickrock Divide in Capitol Reef

Once on the Slickrock Divide Turnout,  you will get great views of Capitol Reef’s beautiful sedimentary rock layers.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Intrepid’s Tip:

After stopping at Slickrock Divide hop back again into your vehicle and head down south to Capitol Gorge Road.

Once you reach Capitol Gorge Road turn left and continue for 2.4 miles until you reach a good size parking lot. Capitol Gorge Road is an unpaved road, however, it is well maintained and it is suitable for 2wd vehicles.

NUMBER 7

Capitol Gorge Trail

Hands down! Capitol Gorge Trail in Capitol Reef National Park is my favorite hike! The trailhead is located right next to the parking lot and the trail joins the streambed and follows it through the canyon.

What you need to know is that it is an easy trail with little elevation change that everyone can enjoy.

  • Distance – 2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation – 80 feet
  • Time – 1 hour
  • Difficulty – easy
Capitol Gorge Trail in Capitol Reef

Capitol Gorge Trail is an easy trail with little elevation change that everyone can enjoy.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Capitol Gorge Trail in Capitol Reef

The trailhead is located right next to the parking lot and the trail joins the streambed and follows it through the canyon.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Along the way, you will come across a cave. It is a perfect spot to take some cool photos. 

First, you will reach the Pioneer Register. It is a panel with several hundred historic signatures etched in the rock. And, some names are carved 20 or more feet above the streambed. You can see the names of Eph Hanks and Cass Hite, famous settlers in the area. But, there are plenty of other names that might look familiar to you.

The Pioneer Register is located in the most narrow and highest part of the canyon.

Pioneer Register on Capitol Gorge Trail

First, you will reach the Pioneer Register. It is a panel with several hundred historic signatures etched in the rock.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Some names are carved 20 or more feet above the streambed.

Next, you will get to The Tanks, a sequence of water-retaining potholes.

Along the way, you will come across a short spur trail that climbs about 100 feet to a viewpoint. If you are up to it, then give it a try.

Capitol Gorge Trail

The Tanks on Capitol Gorge Trail. This section contains a sequence of water-retaining potholes.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

The Tanks on Capitol Gorge Trail.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

The Tanks on Capitol Gorge Trail. 

Intrepid’s Tip:

Believe it or not! Capitol Gorge was the route from the south to central Utah for 80 years. It was used until 1962 when UT-24 was opened.

As you are hiking through the canyon, be on the lookout for the desert bighorn sheep.

NUMBER 8

Golden Throne Trail

As you are retracing your steps back to the parking lot, on your right, you will find a trailhead for Golden Throne Trail. It is a short but strenuous trail (730 feet elevation change) that will take you to an overlook with great views of Capitol Gorge and Golden Throne.

  • Distance – 4 miles round trip
  • Elevation – 730 feet
  • Time – 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty – strenuous
Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Golden Throne Trail is a short but strenuous trail (730 feet elevation change) that will take you to an overlook with great views of Capitol Gorge and Golden Throne.

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

This completes Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef. Don’t forget that there is Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway UT-24 that runs through Capitol Reef National Park as well. There are lots of great viewpoints and hikes along that section of the road.

Make sure to read my post Moab to Capitol Reef: 9 Best Stops on Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway UT-24. My recommendation is to hike to Hickman Bridge and watch the sunset at Panorama Point.

Intrepid Scout's Tips for Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

That is quite a list, right? What if you only have time to stop at a couple of locations? No problem! Here are my absolute 4 must-see places on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park:

  • Fruita District
  • Cassidy Arch Trail
  • Grand Wash Trail
  • Capitol Gorge Trail

Above all, be safe!  Always use the designated turnouts to pull over and take photos. Do not stop in the middle of the road. If you finish your drive late in the evening and end up driving in the darkness, be very cautious driving. Drive slow and be on the lookout for animals crossing the road or jumping on the road.

A trip to Capitol Reef National Park is perfectly paired with a side trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, Canyonlands, Zion National Park, or Mesa Verde National Park. So, where are you going next? Here are some ideas:

10 Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Bryce Canyon National Park

11 Best Hikes in Bryce Canyon (Maps+Photos+Tips)

13 Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Zion National Park

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