Half Day/Auto Touring Itinerary
If you come in from Hwy 24, stop by the visitor center to learn about current park conditions, weather, and to check out the exhibits and park history.
Next, consider setting off one or two driving tours. The park offers many scenic roads in each of its three districts, the Scenic Drive District, Cathedral District, and Waterpocket District.
Any of these three drives are recommended:
Scenic Drive; located in the Scenic Drive District, next to the Visitor Center.
- Scenic Drive is a 2WD paved road that begins at the park’s visitor center and continues for 7.9 miles. Dirt roads intersect this drive that lead to various washes and canyons, such as Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. In good weather, these roads have been able to accommodate 2WD. After the drive, travelers must drive back on the same road.
- $10/vehicle is charged for driving the Scenic Drive, at a self-pay station just south of the campground.
Cathedral Valley Loop or Hartnet Road/Cathedral Road Loop; located in the Cathedral District, in the northern part of the park.
- This is a 4WD unpaved loop that may even require high-clearance to cross the fremont river at the start of Hartnet Road. Make sure you begin the loop starting with Hartnet Road, if you are unsure of your vehicle’s ability to cross safely.
- Hartnet road begins 11.7 miles east of the park’s visitor center, off Hwy 24. It travels 27.8 miles to the junction, where you will take a sharp right, continue on this road to the next junction (5 miles), where you will continue straight on Cathedral Road. It provides views Lower South Desert Overlook, Upper South Desert Overlook, and Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook.
- Cathedral Road intersects Hwy 24 18.5 east of the visitor center. It runs about 26 miles to the junction. Along the way, it provides views of Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon.
- Travelers who wish not to cross the river, or are shorter on time, can choose to just travel Cathedral Road to the Temple of the Sun and Moon, and return on the same road.
Burr Trail Road; located in the Waterpocket District in the south part of the park.
- The Burr Trail Road extends from Boulder, UT (on Hwy 12, southwest of the main part of the park), through Capitol Reef National Park, and continues south with Notom-Bullfrog Road until Bullfrog Marina in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. From Boulder to the park, the road is paved, but inside the park and east of the park, the road is unpaved.
- Inside the park, the road runs for just over 8 miles and includes a spectacular set of switchbacks (4WD vehicles).
- Half-day travelers may have the time to drive from Boulder to the the switchbacks in the park, and back again.
Full Day Itinerary
Spending a full day in Capitol Reef National Park will ensure that you can add a little hiking to your tour of the park. Here is a recommended itinerary for one day in the park:
- Drive the Scenic Drive road ($10 fee) for about 8 miles.
- This paved road is picturesque and presents wonderful views of the park.
- At the end of the Scenic Drive, hike the easy Capitol Gorge trail, 2 miles round-trip.
- Return north on Scenic Drive, towards the visitor center, and turn east on Hwy 24.
- In 1 or 2 miles, stop at the trailhead for Hickman Bridge. This trail is almost 2 miles round-trip, moderately easy, and provides views of the 133-foot natural bridge, and excellent canyon views.
- Next, continue east on Hwy 24
- If you have 4WD: continue to Hartnet Road (on the left, north), an unpaved road about 11.7 miles past the visitor center. Only take this road if you have a 4WD vehicle that can cross the river. If so, you can continue this approximately 55 mile loop, called Cathedral Loop, with spectacular overlooks.
- If you have 2WD (or are short on time): drive about 7 more miles past Hartnet Road to the next unpaved road on your left, Cathedral Road.
- Drive this road for about 17 miles to the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon overlooks, then return the same way.
Two Day Itinerary
During the first day in Capitol Reef, complete the itinerary listed above for a full day. Adding a second day will mean travelers can experience some more hiking and views of the park.
Consider choosing 2 strenuous hikes, 3 or 4 short, easy hikes, or a combination of any. All are located in the central part of the park, close to the visitor center.
- Chimney Rock Loop: this 7.2 mile (round-trip), strenuous trail offers panoramas of the iconic Waterpocket Fold cliffs, and brilliant sunsets.
- Golden Throne: this 4 mile (round-trip), strenuous trail offers views of the iconic Golden Throne and of Capitol Gorge.
- Cassidy Arch: this 3.4 (round-trip), strenuous trail leads up slickrock to the arch and provides great canyon views.
- Cohab Canyon: this 3.4 (round-trip), moderate trail provides views of Fruita, hidden canyons, and panoramic scenes.
- Sunset Point: this .8 mile (round-trip), easy trail provides brilliant sunsets and spanning views.
- Grand Wash: this 4.4 mile (round-trip), easy trail runs along a deep, narrow canyon.
- Goosenecks: this .2 mile (round-trip), easy trail offers incredible views of the canyons.
Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Additionally, campers are only allowed 3 nights in the same camp.
Here are three options for backcountry hiking, all located off the Notom-Bullfrog Road:
- Cottonwood Wash: 3.4 miles of rugged slot canyon. Often comprises hikers climbing over stuck boulders in the canyon, through water, or possibly even swimming through the canyon.
- Burro Wash: 3.3 miles of slot canyon, similar to Cottonwood Wash.
- Sheets Gulch: 6.7 miles of canyon. Though longer than the other two hikes, this trail is easier to explore, as there are only a few drop-offs and shallower pools to wade through. A natural arch and petrified wood are some perks of this hike.