The Best Things To Do In Capitol Reef National Park If You Don’t Hike

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Capitol Reef might be my favorite national park in Utah.  It’s the one I’ve lived the closest to making it the easiest for me to explore and makes for a great weekend trip in Utah.

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


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.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  Even if it’s not hot you need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

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.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes, or a visor.  A baseball hat should be fine but I like my giant sun hat, too.

Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are, time of day, and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.

Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking, just in case. 


For Camping

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.

Puffy quilt – If you’re a really warm sleeper and visiting in the summer, a puffy quilt might be a better option.  I prefer this for hotter nights.  Check out the Rumpl camp quilts here.

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.

Camp chairs – If you plan on doing a lot of camping outside of this trip, and backpacking especially, the REI Flexlite chairs are great choices.  Check out the camp chairs here.

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!)


Pick fruit in the orchards

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.

Capitol Reef apple orchard

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. 

There are quite a few pull-offs to enjoy the views from along your drive.  If you’re only driving through on your way to Bryce Canyon or Moab, these can be a great way to still enjoy the park.


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.


Walk to the Pioneer Register

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.

Capitol Reef pioneer register

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

Plus, it’s a great way to break up the long drive between Moab and Zion. There are so many amazing things to do in Capitol Reef, it’s not my favorite for no reason!

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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Capitol Reef tanks

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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?  

4 thoughts on “The Best Things To Do In Capitol Reef National Park If You Don’t Hike

  1. Love this tour of CRNP! Of the 20 or so national parks I’ve visited, Capitol Reef ties with Rainier as my favorite, though Capitol Reef just keeps me coming back. It feel like home to me. In spite of having made three visits already, in which every daylight hour was packed with hikes and drives, we still have a huge list of things to see. Cathedral Valley is at the top of that list. The park is even more beautiful in autumn when the cottonwoods are at peak color!

    1. Yessss! Capitol Reef is definitely one of my favorites, especially in the fall when the orchards are open. I can’t wait to do Cathedral Valley!

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