Capitol Reef National Park with Kids
Capitol Reef National Park is an oasis in the middle of red-rock and desert in central Utah. Your kids will love picking fruit, hiking to arches and through canyons, playing in streams, viewing petroglyphs, eating fresh pie from the Gifford House, junior ranger activities and more. Whether you are old or young Capitol Reef is an adventure for the entire family.
Fun: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (out of 5)
Difficulty: VERY EASY Easy Moderate Hard VERY HARD
(Very easy to very hard depending on what you are doing)
Terrain: Dirt, sand, streams, rivers, rock, exposed trails, shaded trails
Time: A few hours to a few days (we spent a few days in August)
When to Go: Spring, Summer, Fall
$20 per vehicle for a 7 day pass
Free if you have a 4th grader with Every Kid Outdoors program
Bathrooms at Visitors Center and Fruita Campground
Camping and water available at Fruita Campground within Capitol Reef National Park
Lodging in Torrey, Utah 15 minutes from park entrance
THINGS TO BRING
Camping gear if camping
Good hiking shoes
Weather appropriate outdoor attire
Water shoes/sandals if planning on playing/hiking in streams
Capitol Reef is a lesser known National Park within Utah, but don’t let that detour you from visiting. This park is an absolute gem and I often refer people here instead of the busier parks. We spent a weekend at Capitol Reef and then ended up going back the next weekend to get a hike in we didn’t have time for the week before. We stayed at the Fruita Campground and loved being close to the main hikes, junior ranger programs, orchards and Gifford house. Capitol Reef also hosts my favorite all time family hike – Sulphur Creek.
Fruita is the main hub of Capital Reef National Park. The area was habited by Fremont Native Americans between 300 and 1300 BC. Latter Day Saint Settlers moved to the area in the late 1800s and started a small farming community that became self sufficient. The orchards, land and historic buildings are now all part of the National Park program and is enjoyed by people visiting from all over the world.
We spent our time in the Fruita area but there are two other more remote areas of the park: the Waterpocket District in the southern areas of the park and Cathedral Valley in the north. We hope to explore these areas of the park soon.
THINGS TO DO
Pick Fruit from the Orchards
My kids loved picking fruit from the Fruita Orchards! There are over 2,000 fruit trees including apples, cherries, peaches, pears apricots that are available for public picking. Call (435) 425-3791 to find out if there is fruit ripe when you are visiting or check the Park's Facebook page.
Baked Goods at The Gifford House
The Gifford house was originally built in 1908 and housed a few different farming families before it become unoccupied. It now serves as a historical building, gift shop and a great place to purchase fresh baked goods like pies and cinnamon roles. Get there early in the day. They often run out of pie by the end of the day.
Wade in Sulphur Creek or Fremont River
Need to cool off after hiking in Capitol Reef National Park? Jump in one of the rivers of streams in the park. We had so much fun wading and swimming here. It was a great way to spend an afternoon after a morning hike. A great wading location is in Sulphur creek between the Ripple Rock Nature Center and the Gifford House. Access Sulphur Creek through the large grassy area with picnic tables. You can also hike/wade Sulphur Creek from the back side of visitors center.
Fruita Campground is the only developed campground within the park and has 71 sites that include tent, RV and trailer spots. It truly is an oasis in the desert with green grass and large mature trees providing great shade in the summer. The campground is also surrounded by tall red rock and fruit orchards. It has flush toilets and well kept facilities. The campground is also near the visitors center, Gifford House, hiking opportunities, river access, ranger programs and more. I definitely recommend Fruita Campground to anyone visiting Capitol Reef.
This campground is open to reservations at www.recreation.gov on a 6 month rolling basis from March to October and is first come first in the winter months. Book early if you want to snag a spot at this beautiful campground.
Primitive camping is also available at the Cathedral Valley Campground and Cedar Mesa Campground. Pit toilets are available but there is no water. 4x4 vehicle required. These are good places to camp if you are exploring the more remote areas of the park.
Right off of Utah State Route 24 there are large walls of Petroglyphs. These wall drawings were created by the Fremont Native Americans who lived in the area from 300 to 1300 BC. There are permanent binoculars for viewing or bring your own. Make sure to check out both boardwalks! Our favorite petroglyph was the Big Horn Sheep and a petroglyph that looked like a monster seen below.
Keep your eyes peeled for deer, lizards, yellow bellied marmots, bats the rare big horn sheep and more. While staying at the Fruita Campground we saw deer every evening.
There are three daily Ranger Programs May to October. If you stay at Fruita Campground in the summer there are daily Ranger Programs located at the campground amphitheater. We attended an evening program about bighorn sheep and fell in love with them --- We bought a stuffed animal bighorn which we affectionally call Ramy. Ramy comes with us on our road trip adventures now. The kids were determined to see a real-life bighorn sheep at Capitol Reef. Our seven year old was adamant she saw one traversing a hill --- I think she actually did. She was our best animal spotter in Yellowstone.
Junior Ranger Program
We love getting Junior Ranger books from National Park visitor centers. The Junior Ranger program keeps the kids busy while we drive and helps them learn about each park and how to preserve it. At Capitol Reef there is a Junior Ranger Geology Badge class at the Ripple Rock Nature Center. We enjoyed learning about the geology of Capitol Reef and the kids got a cool badge at the end.
Capitol Reef is home to many amazing hikes! All the hikes we did were in the Fruita area. We hope to go back soon and check out the more remote areas of the park. Here are the hikes we did. Follow this link for other hiking options in the park.
Sulphur Creek: 0.5 miles - 6 miles (you choose), out and back or one way
One of my top 3 favorite hikes we have done as a family (and we have done a lot of hiking). I have an entire blog post and youtube video dedicated to this incredible hike. The full 6 miles requires a little preparation so make sure to check out my Sulphur Creek blog post if interested. This hike follows Sulphur Creek and has a few water falls and pool areas. SO MUCH FUN!
Capitol Gorge: 2 miles, 80 feet elevation gain, out-and-back trail. This hike takes your through a red rock canyon and then up to "the tanks." These pockets in the red rock hold water and wildlife at times throughout the year. The tanks were dry when we were there in August, but it was still a fun hike. The canyon walls keep you shaded most of the way and there are fun areas in the red rock the explore.
Hickman Bridge: 1.8 miles, 400 feet elevation gain, out-and-back with a loop at the arch. Great hike to a large arch. Jump in the river at the end to cool off!
Cassidy Arch: 3.4 miles, 700 ft elvation gain, out-and-back hike. Hike to one of the few arches you can actually walk on! Incredible! This hike has some steep drop-offs so might not be good for kids who wander.
Capitol Reef is a designated International Night Sky Park. This means on a clear, moonless night your kids may see more stars than they ever have before. Our friends brought a telescope and we were able to see some stars and planets up close. You might be able to catch a ranger led Star Talk program at the Gifford House. Check the visitors center for details.
Historical Building Viewing
Visit the Fruita Schoolhouse, Gifford Barn or Gifford house. We enjoyed peering in the one-room Fruita Schoolhouse and imagining what school was like in the early 1900s. The school is set up like it would have been 100 years ago.
Take 8 mile Scenic Dr. from Fruita to see some of the geologic wonders of Capitol Reef National Park. This road is paved and RVs and trailers welcome. The two dirt roads, Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge are worth the detour on the way. These areas have picturesque high red rock. RVs and trailers may not be able to make it on these two dirt roads.
PROS & CONS
Not as busy as other Utah National Parks
Variety of activities available (fruit picking, ranger programs, historical buildings, water hikes, etc)
Easy to hard hiking options
Water available to play in
Hot in the summer (hike early/late - include a water hike or wading in the afternoon)
Captiol Reef National Park is located in south central Utah off of Utah State Route 24. It is about 15 minutes east of the town Torrey.
OTHER NEARBY ADVENTURES
Fish Lake National Forest (1 hour)
Goblin Valley State Park (1 hour 15 min)
Lower Calf Creek Falls (1 hour 15 min)
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (1 hour 45 min)
Arches National Park (2 hours 15 min)
Bryce Canyon National Park (2 hours 15 min)
Canyonlands National Park (2 hours 30 min)
Peek-a-boo & Spooky Slot Canyons (2 hour 30 min)
Hi, I'm Corrine! I'm an outdoor enthusiast, mother of four, wife, nurse and runner. I believe God gave us this beautiful earth to explore, enjoy and protect.
My goal is to inspire you to get outside and create your own amazing memories as a family. Life is precious and there are too many adventures to be had to spend life on the couch or in front of a screen.
Join me and my family for "Adventures off the couch!" Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest @outdoorfamfun.