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While it has a ton of awesome hikes, there are so many cool things to do that involve little to no hiking. Whether you can’t hike or just don’t like it, you should still visit Capitol Reef. You’ll still be able to see plenty of the park.
If you’re planning a Southern Utah road trip and visiting the other parks, I have a guide for not hiking in Arches and one for Zion as well. I’ll be doing them for Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands as well, so stay tuned.
Any walking included in this will be less than a mile, most are less than half a mile, and easy. You can find the rest of my “things to do that aren’t hiking” posts here.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a National Park journal for all of the NPS sites (400+!) to keep track of your travels!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
What to bring to Capitol Reef National Park
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen. I like the Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch a lot AND it’s reef safe! If you’re sensitive to fragrance though, it’s not a good choice. I also like the same one but specifically for your face.
Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.
Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking, just in case.
Kammok hammock – I have a Roo single that I love. It’s the color of mac and cheese and pretty light weight. I don’t think as light as Eno if that matters though. But it’s perfect for just regular camping.
RTIC cooler – We have one of those giant coffin sized Yetis, which is great, but this 20 can soft RTIC cooler is a lot more convenient for small trips with easy access to a fridge and ice.
REI Passage 2 Tent – Our tent isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. We’ve used it quite a few times and it’s been great. It’s good for two people, but can be a little cramped if you move around too much.
NEMO Viola sleeping bag – Mine isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. It’s very good in cold weather, not freezing, but in the 40s with leggings on, I was totally fine. It has zipper vent things on the top that are supposed to help it cool down when it’s hot. I don’t know if it really did that. When we camped in south Florida, I was still pretty warm with them open and it was probably in the 60s.
LuminAID lantern – I love this lantern. It’s great for getting around your campsite in the dark, lighting up campground bathrooms at night, and even during power outages at home. You can plug it in to charge it or just let the sun do the work.
REI Ruckpack 18 – This is the daypack I have and it’s awesome. It’s lightweight, has water bottle pockets that my 40-ounce Hydro Flask fits in, and it comes in nice colors.
REI Camp Wrap – This is totally unnecessary, but I love it. It’s basically a blanket poncho and it doubles as a good blanket for sleeping in warmer weather. I used it two nights in south Florida and it was perfect for when my sleeping bag was too hot.
Pillow – If you’re just driving, I’d just bring a regular pillow, but if you’re flying then renting a car, you might want a smaller pillow. This is a good non-inflatible option. Here is a good inflatable option.
Dramamine – this is a must if you get carsick.
Stop and see the Goosenecks
While you can walk the bottom of the Goosenecks on the Sulphur Creek Trail, you can still enjoy them from above on this short walk up to the Goosenecks Overlook.
The walk is 0.1 miles with less than 50 feet of elevation gain. You’ll get views of the Goosenecks below in the huge canyon with mountains in the distance.
The Goosenecks Overlook is on Highway 24 running through Capitol Reef. It’s the part you don’t need a pass to see, so even if you’re just passing through, you can stop and see this.
The road up to it is dirt, but you don’t need anything special to get to it. It is washboard-y though. And I don’t believe RVs can go on it, but any car is fine.
While this isn’t a huge thing to do at Capitol Reef, it is one of the best views in the park and deserves a stop for that alone.
Do the scenic drive
While you can drive through a lot of the park on Highway 24, there is a lot more to do and see on the scenic drive, too. If it’s been really rainy recently, the drive may be closed because a lot of washes go over the road.
If you do plan on doing any hiking here, Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash are two great hikes along the scenic drive. Capitol Gorge at the end is great as well.
You can find a couple orchards down here along with the campground, Gifford Home, visitor center, Capitol Gorge, and all kinds of cool rock formations. This part does require a fee, but the national park pass will cover it if you have one. If not, it is $20 per vehicle.
Get pie, cinnamon rolls, and ice cream at the Gifford Homestead
This is a must-do in Capitol Reef, no matter how much time you have. The historic Gifford Homestead was built in 1908 by polygamist Calvin Pendleton where he lived with his family for eight years. The Jorgensons lived in there next for 12 years followed by the Giffords for 41.
Now it is a small store that sells homemade pie, ice cream, cinnamon rolls, salsa, pickled vegetables, and some textile things. We stop here every time we visit to get ice cream and salsa.
If you want pie and cinnamon rolls, go earlier in the day because occasionally the do run out if it’s busy. This is a must-do in Capitol Reef.
Check out the Petroglyphs
This is an easy 0.2-mile boardwalk along highway 24 taking you to quite a few petroglyph sites. The first one is pretty high up on the wall, but they have one of those big binocular things so you can see them closer up.
If you keep going, the rest are lower on the wall, but you have to keep an eye out for them. Some are hard to spot, but you can usually tell where they are because there will be people standing around them.
I really like this stop and it’s great if you want to be in the shade for a bit. If you’re visiting Moab too, there are tons of awesome petroglyphs there.
Watch the sunset at Sunset Point
If you’re in the park all day, or getting there later in the day, make sure you go watch the sunset at Sunset Point. I haven’t done this yet (these pictures are from the North Fruita Overlook) but from what I’ve seen on Google, it looks wonderful. This is at the same parking area as the Goosenecks Overlook.
It is a 0.4-mile, easy walk to panoramic views of Capitol Reef. There are less than 50 feet of elevation gain, so it should be a nice, easy walk, and totally worth it at the end.
Sign up to my email list here to get an email about Sunset Point (and all my other awesome emails after that very occasionally!)
If you’re visiting later in the summer or fall you can pick fruit in the orchards! This is one of my favorite things to do in Capitol Reef, for sure. There are quite a few scattered around the Fruita District.
You can tell which ones are open because they’ll have a U-PICK FRUIT sign out by the road. There will also be a sandwich board telling you what you can pick in that orchard.
While you’re in the orchard you can pick and eat as much as you want. If you want to take any with you, it’s $2 per pound. There are scales by the orchard entrances and a box to pay in.
It is cash only and an honor system. It’s really fun wandering around the orchards eating some of the best apples ever.
Drive Cathedral Valley Loop
If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle and are up for a little more adventure, consider driving the Cathedral Valley Loop. This is a 56-mile loop north of the Fruita District.
If you just have one day in the park, I’d skip this, but if you’ve got extra time, this could be a great option. It’s definitely not as busy as the rest of the park due to its remoteness.
This is best done over two days with a night spent camping, but if you just have one day, you can still do it. Plan the whole day for the drive though.
There are a few hiking routes in Cathedral Valley if you want to do them, but you can also just drive and admire the scenery.
Make sure you see the Temple of the Moon and Sun and the gypsum sinkhole. Check road conditions at the visitor center before leaving.
Check out all the rock formations along Highway 24
Chimney Rock, Balanced Rock, Twin Rocks, The Castle, these are just a few of the many rock formations you can admire along Highway 24 on your drive through Capitol Reef.
Stop at Panorama Point
Just before, or after depending on your direction of travel, the Goosenecks Overlook is Panorama Point. If you want great views of Capitol Reef, this is the stop for you.
It’s a 0.1 mile lightly trafficked trail over the sandstone with views for miles in every direction. This is definitely one of the best views in the park that involves minimal hiking to get to.
The Pioneer Register is in Capitol Gorge at the very end of the scenic drive (the part you need a pass for) and a short walk into the gorge. You’ll drive to the trailhead on a dirt road, but any car can do the drive. Just be careful if it’s been rainy recently.
The whole Capitol Gorge trail is one mile, but the Pioneer Register isn’t all the way in. On the left of the trail, which follows the wash, you can see some petroglyphs.
Soon after on the right, waaaaay up on the wall, you can see a list of names of the pioneers that came through here in the 1800s.
On the left, you’ll see almost a gallery of names carved in the wall in one area. If you’re a big history fan, this is a cool thing to see. This is a nice easy walk and an intereting thing to do in Capitol Reef.
So, whether you like to hike and don’t have time, just don’t want to, or can’t hike, there is still plenty of reason to visit Capitol Reef on your Utah road trip. It has some of the best scenery and is totally underrated.
Is Capitol Reef worth visiting?
Absolutely! It’s totally underrated and my favorite Utah park. It has slot canyons, incredible views, orchards, delicious food, water hikes, scenic drives, and more.
There are so many amazing things to do in Capitol Reef and hikes that will blow your mind, especially if it’s your first time out here. It’s 100% worth a visit.
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Have you been to Capitol Reef? Did you do any of these things? What is your favorite thing to do there?