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Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef Visitor Center

Utah has five gorgeous National Parks. Only Alaska and California (8 each) have more than Utah. Probably the least known in Utah is Capitol Reef National Park. The park was established to protect the water pocket fold, a unique geological feature created when the Pacific plate crashed into California and pushed and folded the continent all the way over in Utah.

There are a lot of fun things to do in the park, and you can actually go “through” the park for free on highway 24, which includes a stop at the Visitor’s Center and most of the scenic stuff. There is also a scenic drive that costs just $5 that includes a few short hikes and incredible scenery. That’s the total fee for the park– just $5. We spent just a day at the park and saw a lot of sights.

First, we saw the petroglyph panels. They are right on highway 24, and there is a boardwalk that follows the cliff base so that you can see the petroglyphs. Near this spot we also saw two big horn sheep. They are pretty rare, and you may not be so lucky, but this was quite a treat for our boys.


More petroglyphs down the boardwalk.

This little walk is on a boardwalk, so it is
stroller and wheelchair accessible. 

We also took the $5 scenic drive. It’s about 8 miles each way on a paved road. There are 2 shorter drives on dirt roads that you can take to trailheads as well. The Grand Wash drive had some beautiful rock formations. We also had two chukars fly over our car, which is exciting if you are into birdwatching (which we are!).

The canyon walls are amazing!

At the south end of the scenic drive there is a hike called “Pioneer Register.” They date back to around 1875 and have the names and dates of many of the Pioneers that passed through this region. If you continue through this wide slot canyon (two cars could pass through it) you’ll come to what the Pioneers called the Tanks, which were deep holes that held fresh water even on the hottest of days. We enjoyed this hike except for the extreme heat, which kept us from hiking all the way out to the Tanks with our four year old.

The date says 1911 on these names.

There were SO many names down the canyon walls.

We even found a few rocks to climb into.

Resting in the shade–it was a super hot day!

Back at the Visitor’s Center there is a beautiful park just right for picnicking where we saw deer and lots of birds. We also did the Junior Ranger Program. There was a more interactive, ranger-led Junior Geologist program that we did, too. It was even more fun for the kids and was located at the Ripple Rock Nature Center, which is fun to visit even if you don’t make it for the Junior Geologist Program. Both are free programs where kids can earn a patch or badge.

We visited a small historic Pioneer home located inside the park just south of the Visitor’s Center that is famous for its fruit pies made from the orchards planted there by the Pioneers. We LOVED the peach pie and our kids were grateful for some cool ice cream.

The only bad news we had was the hike we had planned to do was closed. There had been a big rock fall, so no one was able to hike it while we were there. If you go, check out Hickman Bridge. It is supposed to be easy for kids (2 miles round trip) and you hike to a big natural rock bridge. The beginning is labeled steep because of a big incline, but easy going after that.

There is a lot to learn at Capitol Reef National Park. We learned about geology, history, and nature and had a great day in the park.

The park was very shady and nice.


Chimney Rock. We found lots of cool rock formations throughout Capitol Reef.