We had a great weekend in Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef is Utah’s least visited national park, probably because of its remote location and small-ish list of things to do, so it’s a great place to be “off the beaten path,” especially in October when the weather is still pleasant, but the crowds have dwindled to almost nothing. I wish I would have realized how far off the beaten path we would be — I might have brought more snacks.
If you go, I would recommend staying in Torrey, rather than in Hanksville, where Matt pre-paid for three nights in this lovely establishment:
Don’t you always drive by places like this and wonder who on earth ever stays there? Yeah, that was us. There are more hotel choices in Torrey. This wasn’t that bad, though. It was definitely better than camping.
If you do enjoy camping, there is a very nice campground in Fruita, which is right in the national park.
Capitol Reef is an interesting place — you have the beautiful reef, with its characteristic Southern Utah geology, but you also have remnants of both indiginous people and pioneer settlers there. There are orchards maintained by the park service where you can pick fruit in late summer, a one-room school house, a pioneer home, etc. Also Native American petroglyphs. If your children are school-age, I would recommend spending an hour in the little nature center near Fruita, where they can learn about the geology, wildlife, and history of the park — this place was small, but very well planned, complete with a kind volunteer ranger who taught the kids all kinds of enriching things and showed them how to play with pioneer-style toys they had there.
I would also recommend this beautiful canyon hike:
Complete with a trail to these pools of water, naturally formed (fascinating): ***I edited this because I incorrectly said that the pioneers carved these (where did I get that impression?). I’m feeling a little sheepish….***
Jon would want you to know that his little legs walked all three miles.
One full day is enough to see most of Capitol Reef, unless you want to do more hiking. We spent our second day elsewhere…
I would recommend a few hours in Goblin Valley State Park, which is great for kids (there’s camping there too):
Matt and the boys would recommend a hike in Little Wild Horse Canyon, near Goblin Valley (Mary and I stayed in the car for a nap):
And we would recommend driving one more hour to throw rocks into Lake Powell (and to eat dinner in a real restaurant):
But we would not recommend driving back from Lake Powell to Hanksville in the (pitch black) dark at 70 mph, as we very nearly hit a large black cow. It was terrifying.