Capitol Gorge Trail is one of those hikes which is just naturally fun for the kids. It’s flat, it’s sandy, and the towering canyon walls keep them pinned in tightly so they can run wild and not get too far. It’s one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef for families.
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What makes the Capitol Gorge Trail so fun for kids? The canyon walls have lots of little holes carved into them that the kids love to climb into and hide, while there are many rocks to climb up and lizards to watch.
There’s also a bit of history on this trail as well with petroglyphs, 100-year old graffiti and old watering holes used by cowboys. From top-to-bottom, this is just a great family hike in Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Gorge Hike Stats
Distance: The official round trip distance of the Capitol Gorge hike is 2.0 miles / 3.2 km, but our GPS measured it as 2.4 miles / 3.9 km. (The delta is likely running back and forth to help the kids, etc.)
Elevation Gain: The Capitol Gorge hike is nearly completely flat with a mere 80 feet / 24m of total elevation gain. You won’t even notice any up or downhill while you are walking.
Difficulty: The Capitol Gorge Trail is super easy. Our 3 & 5 year old kids easily did this entire hike themselves.
Duration: This hike took us 1 hour and 38 minutes to complete, which is faster than usual for us. Typically we need to keep asking the kids to speed up, but on this hike the kids were having such a fun time in the canyon that they were always running ahead of us. A normal pace for us on a 2.4 mile hike would be 2 hours.
Location of Capitol Gorge Trail
How to Get to Capitol Gorge Trail: The drive to the Capitol Gorge trailhead was very scenic. You turn south at the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center onto Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, which as the name suggests is a very scenic, slow drive through the park.
The paved road eventually ends and transitions to a gravel road through a tight, winding canyon. We took turns driving in/out as the scenery was so impressive that we wanted to make sure we each had a turn to look. The gravel road is in decent condition, but it’s a tight squeeze, so be careful with those rental cars.
Capitol Gorge Trail Highlights
- It’s always a treat to have the highlight of a hike with you every step of the way. This is the case with this hike as walking below the towering walls of the Capitol Gorge is such a fun experience.
- Etched into the rock of the gorge walls are 1,000 year old petroglyphs, carved by the Freemont Indians. To find them, look for a short wooden stake in the ground on the left-hand side of the gorge that has “petroglyphs” carved into it.
- Not quite as historically significant, but kinda funny, is the names of surveyors from 1911 carved high up on the cliff walls, opposite the petroglyphs. It felt like olden-times graffiti.
- Despite being in a desert environment, when we did the hike in April there were lots of beautiful wildflowers.
Hiking Capitol Gorge Trail with Kids
- There are bathrooms at the trailhead. Use them as there are not many spots to hide along this trail if a little one has to go.
- There are no water bottle filling stations on this hike. If your hydration packs need a refill before starting, the Capitol Reef Visitor Center has a water station.
- The trail on this hike is a mixture of deep, beachy sand and large, loose rocks. A good pair of shoes is sufficient for this hike, but real hiking shoes would be better. Be prepared for your kids to stop and play in the sand as if it were a beach.
- Despite being at the bottom of a deep canyon, we had full sun exposure for the afternoon of our hike. Bring lots of water and sunscreen.
- This trail is not stroller accessible, but many parents in Utah carried their little ones on hikes in a carrier.
- No dogs are allowed on Capitol Gorge Trail.
- Keep your eyes open for wildlife. We saw a several lizards, many birds and lots of butterflies.
- If your kids like playing “hot lava” (the ground is hot lava and we need to hop from rock to rock), the big rocks interspersed in the sand are ideal for an epic game.
- Over time, water has carved out many little round holes in the cave walls. Chances are your kids won’t resist the urge to climb up to them and crawl in. They’ll love it!
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are two good places to stop for lunch before the trail even begins. The first is Gifford House in Fruita, where their amazing fruit pies sell out daily. Grab a pie and have a picnic on one of their picnic tables on the front lawn. Our favorite pie was strawberry-rhubarb. The other is a covered picnic area at the trailhead which has three picnic tables.
If you’d prefer to take a break on the hike (as we do), there aren’t many places to stop as the canyon is so narrow and is well traveled, you will be hard pressed to find a spot which won’t be in the way. The best place is by the spur trail to The Tanks, as the canyon widens significantly and there are many good rocks to sit on for lunch.
What to Bring
Other Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park
We enjoyed several other hikes during our three day stay in Capitol Reef NP, including:
- Enjoy great views and an impressive arch while hiking Hickman Bridge Trail, one Capitol Reef’s most popular hikes.
- Looking down on the mighty Chimney Rock while hiking the Chimney Rock Loop.
- An all-day adventure stringing the Frying Pan, Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash Trail together for some of the best scenery in the park.
Capitol Reef National Park with Kids
For more on what to do in Capitol Reef National Park with kids and family friendly Capitol Reef hotels, visit our Capitol Reef National Park with Kids post.