A Perfect Day at Capitol Reef National Park With Kids

Planning to spend one day at Capitol Reef National Park with kids? I’ve got a great itinerary for you – read on for details!

A stunning, multi-colored landscape featuring various  shapes is a feature of Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef National Park is the oft-forgotten and oft-overlooked national park in Utah’s Mighty 5. And while, sure, it doesn’t offer world famous attractions like Angel’s Landing in Zion or Delicate Arch in Arches, Capitol Reef National Park is full of beautiful vistas and exciting hikes of its own. It also has some interesting cultural sites – which is fairly unusual for a national park.

The best thing is, if you’re visiting with littles, there are a ton of cool things to see and do in Capitol Reef. And if you only have one day for Capitol Reef, you can still see many of the top highlights in and around the Fruita District of Capitol Reef.

In this post, we’re sharing what I consider to be the perfect one-day itinerary in Capitol Reef with kids. This itinerary is tailored to families who like to hike, but maybe can’t do a full day of intense hiking with the kids.

The itinerary is also tailored more to families who have kids with K-12 aged kids; if your children are toddlers and infants, you might not be able to do every single hike on this list.

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Quick Tip: Capitol Reef has no shuttle service, so you’ll need a car to get around. I recommend reserving a rental car ASAP for the best prices and availability, and I always book my car with this rental car aggregate site to find the best deals.

One Day Itinerary at Capitol Reef (With Kids)

Capitol Reef National Park is long and skinny – in fact, the park is 70 miles long and anywhere between 1-14 miles wide. It can take a long time to drive between the northern, central ,and southern sections of the park, and that travel eats up a lot of your time for hiking and view-finding.

So, while the northern area and southern areas are certainly great areas of the park to visit, this one day plan for Capitol Reef centers along the central section of the park, along Highway 24.

Cassidy Arch Trail

Four girls and a man stand on rock steps leading up the path on the Cassidy Arch trail with a parking lot down below.

Cassidy Arch Trail is the hardest hike that you’ll do today, but it’s also our favorite hike in all of Capitol Reef (and the trail really isn’t that bad).

This trail starts in the same canyon as the Grand Wash Trail, then quickly turns and heads straight up the mountain. The trail becomes very steep as you climb on rocks up the side of the cliff.

When you reach the top of the ridge you’ll continue following the ridge face in and out along the mountainside, until you reach this incredible viewpoint of Cassidy Arch!

The view of Cassidy Arch from a ridge on the opposite side of the valley with large orange and white colored rock formations in between the trail and the arch

While this certainly appears to be an “end point” for the arch, you will keep going another 1/2 mile from here, winding around the ridge until you actually are walking on top of the arch.

What you don’t realize until the very end is that there is actually an opening from the back of the arch as well, and the views from the backside are insane!

4 girls stand on the wide Cassidy Arch with the tall multi-color rock wall.

Not only do you get a cool from behind shot of Cassidy Arch at the end, this is one of the few arches in Utah that you can actually walk on (usually walking on arches is strictly forbidden). And don’t worry, the arch is actually very wide and easy to get to – the risk of just accidentally falling off the arch is very, very low.

If you fancy an extreme adventure, there are actually metal loops drilled into the top of the arch for rappelling.

I recommend doing this one first thing in morning since it’s the longest hike and the one with the most elevation gain.

  • Distance: 3.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 666 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Drive the Waterpocket Fold

A road leading throughout large rock buttes with shrubbery and pieces of broken rock at the bottom

The Cassidy Arch trailhead is located off of the Scenic Drive, which runs north to south along the Waterpocket Fold, starting at the Fruita District off Highway 24. After you finish the Cassidy Arch hike, continue driving south along the Scenic Drive, admiring the views of the Pocket as you drive.

A large rock formation with lots of different colors of strata leading all the way up with different bushes at the base and up the formation.

The Waterpocket Fold is the main feature that Capitol Reef National Park was formed to protect. The Fold is essentially a “wrinkle in the earth’s crust” created from the forces of deposition, uplift, and erosion.

As you drive east-west through sections of Highway 24, and then north-south along the Scenic Drive, you’ll get an incredible up-close look at the Waterpocket Fold, admiring the unique rock formations and brilliant colors.

A large rock formation with the top of the rock looking like a castle,.

The above picture is a rock formation known as “The Castle,” which can be viewed across from the Visitor’s Center.

Capitol Gorge Trail

Capitol Gorge trail with a wide path leading throughout large brown rock walls and large pieces of rock scattered all around.

Capitol Gorge Trail is about 25 minutes south on the Scenic Drive from the trailhead to Cassidy Arch. In many ways, the Capitol Gorge Trail is very similar to the Grand Wash trail, which shares a trailhead with Cassidy Arch.

However, with just one day in the park, I do think it’s worth choosing Capitol Gorge over Grand Wash, for a few reasons. First, we found Capitol Gorge to just be a more visually interesting hike. Second, driving to the Capitol Gorge trailhead allows you to enjoy driving along the Waterpocket Fold, which is a beautiful experience.

Okay, so what is it like hiking the Capitol Gorge trail? For the most part, really easy. The trail is in a canyon, between tall rock walls, and the path is flat and gravelly. The trail has many small canyons entering into the main Capitol Gorge canyon, breaking up one long sheet of rock wall.

As you walk, there are a few places where you can see the historic Pioneer Register on the cliff walls, where the early LDS settlers carved their names on the rocks.

A large sheet of rock with 5 different names carved into the rock.

In the middle of the canyon trail, you can scramble up a path on the canyon walls which takes you to the top of the ridge. Keep your eyes open for “The Tanks”, which are depressions in the rock often filled with water (however, they were dry when we were there in mid-July). 

A large hump of rock at the top of steps leading up a sloped tan rock sheet.
  • Distance: 4.4 miles round trip, but if you just go to The Tanks and back (what we did), it’s just 2 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Become a Junior Ranger

If you’re traveling with kids between the ages of 5-12, you’ll definitely want to stop at the Visitor Center to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet.

Kids need to complete a certain number of activities in the booklet (the number is based on age), that are all centered on Capitol Reef National Park, and then turn the booklet back in to receive a cute, wooden Capitol Reef Junior Ranger badge.

A small blonde girl holds a Capitol Reef Junior Ranger badge on a sandy trail.

Junior Ranger activities and badges are available at all National Parks (and some National Monuments), and my kids have loved completing the activities and collecting the badges at all of them that we’ve visited.

Just make sure that you pick up a booklet and turn it back in during the Visitor’s Center opening hours, which are 8am-4:30pm

Fruita Historic District

The Fruita Historic District is located on the Scenic Drive, just down from the Visitor Center off of Highway 24.

Fruita is the location of the original Mormon settlement in the region, and today you can view and visit many of the historic buildings and sites that were developed by these families in the 1800’s. This is a very unique and interesting type of “attraction” for a national park. 

There are multiple historic buildings and experiences to have in Fruita. For example, you can visit the blacksmith shop or the schoolhouse, the Gifford House and Museum, pick fruit from the orchards, or walk the Freemont River trail. 

A girl in a pink shirt holds harvesting tool in front of an apricot tree.
Apricots were in season when we visited in July!

There are 14 orchards in Fruita, and they are open to the public to pick fruits in season. Check at the Visitors Center to find out which ones are open when you visit (as different orchards have different fruits, which are ripe and available to pick at different times of the year).

Whatever fruit you eat in the orchard is free of charge, and anything that you take out with you is just $2/lb.

Two small pies with lots of berries and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of pies.

And whatever you do, definitely stop at the Gifford House for homemade pies – they are absolutely delicious. The pies are small and made to share with one other person, cost $8.50, and usually sell out early. When we were there, they sold out around 1:30pm.

The Gifford House is open from 9am-4:30pm, with a 45-minute closure from 12-12:45 for lunch.

Hickman Bridge Trail 

A small blue river running throughout the two rock formations with a dirt path leading next to the river.

This easy and interesting trail starts by following the scenic San Juan River and then climbs up into the hills. You’ll pass a small arch/cave right on the path, before arriving at the Hickman Bridge!

A large hole off the side of the trail

Hickman Bridge is 125 feet tall and spans 133 feet wide and is a truly beautiful natural bridge. There are many vantage points of Hickman Bridge – you see it at a distance as you approach, then from below, underneath, and behind, as the trail goes directly underneath the arch.

A large tan natural bridge with large parts of black strata and lots of bushes and trees around the bridge. There are large pieces of rock broken off in front of the bridge.

Overall, it’s an easy hike with a beautiful hike and a big payoff.

  • Distance: 1.7 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 416 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Panorama Point

Multi-colored rock formations with a street winding throughout the entire valley.

Panorama Point, as well as the next two viewpoints, are all located very close to each other and are the perfect place to come just before sunset.

Panorama Point gives you a 360 view of the surrounding Capitol Reef Waterfold Pocket and valley surrounding it.

While you can see some great views just from the parking area, walk up the path to the top of the small hill for the best views. 

A large rock formation with large rock pillars around the entire formation

Gooseneck Point

A large valley with a river running throughout and a large multi-colored butte in the middle of the valley.

Gooseneck Point is a short, 600 foot walk from the parking area, and offers view down into a deep, winding canyon created by the flow of Sulfur Creek. The canyon make a sharp “goosenecks” turn and there are multiple places to sit and enjoy the view. I loved this incredible viewpoint!

Sunset Point 

A stunning, multi-colored landscape featuring various  shapes is a feature of Capitol Reef.

Finally, the Sunset Point trail is 0.3 miles long, and winds around the rim of a small ridge, leading to incredible distant views of the Waterpocket Fold that run north-south along the Scenic Drive (as opposed to the views of the Waterpocket Fold along Highway 24, that you can see up close from Panorama Point). 

While the sunset sets in the opposite direction of the Fold, the glow on the rocks at sunset is really magical!

Panorama Point, Gooseneck Point, and Sunset Point are all accessed off of the same short road off of Highway 24. Goosenecks and Sunset Trails start from the same parking area. All three spots are great locations for sunset, but would also be really great at sunrise.

Frequently Asked Questions for Visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Where to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park

There are no hotels or accommodations (outside of campgrounds) in Capitol Reef, so if you want to stay at a hotel, the closest hotels are in the town of Torrey, about 15 minutes from the Visitor Center.

These are a couple top-rated options for where to stay in Torrey:

Broken Spur Inn
–This adorable hotel offers lovely, updated rooms
–You can also stay in a Conestoga Wagon (these fill up quickly!)
–An indoor pool and outdoor hot tub, as well as fire pit are available
–There’s a restaurant for breakfast & dinner
Rated: 8.6 of 10 stars
Check rates and availability here

Red Sands Inn

–Modern, updated decor and design
–Indoor swimming pool (with a wall that opens to the outdoors)
–Outdoor firepit
–Laundry facilities
–Beautiful views
Rated: 8.6 of 10 stars
Check rates and availability here

Camping at Capitol Reef

The campgrounds at Capitol Reef are located in the Fruita historic district, just adjacent to some horse pastures and not far off of Highway 24. The campground is very nice, with a lot of shaded campsites. And because Capitol Reef isn’t the most famous park in Utah, it’s not too difficult to get a site here. 

Restaurants in Capitol Reef

Outside of the pies at the Gifford House and the fresh fruit in the orchards, there is no food available for purchase in Capitol Reef. The nearest town is Torrey, Utah, about 15 minutes from the Visitor Center, which has a few restaurants and a general store. We’d recommend bringing in food for picnics during the day.

Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef

The best time to visit Capitol Reef is during the spring and fall, when the weather is mild and pleasant. Winter can see cool to cold temperatures, and sometimes even snow. Summers can be blistering hot, although mornings and evenings do cool down quite a bit.

One Day in Capitol Reef with Kids – the Wrap Up

Capitol Reef is a beautiful national park with interesting hikes, cool rock formations, and even some cultural activities. There are plenty of things to do in Capitol Reef with kids, and you can see and do a lot in the park, even with one day!

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