We visited Capitol Reef National Park with kids in early-May (our two kids were 5 & 3 years old at the time). We must admit that prior to deciding to go on a family road trip to Utah, we had never heard of Capitol Reef NP. We were well aware of Utah’s other four super-star national parks, so we were intrigued to find out they had a fifth.
After reading up on things to do in Capitol Reef and finding there were plenty of outdoor activities for the kids, we decided to give it a shot and we are very happy we did. We spent four days in Capitol Reef National Park enjoying all the beauty this natural wonder has to offer.
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Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park
Like visiting the other Utah national parks with kids, we found hiking to be one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park. There really is no better way to truly experience Capitol Reef with kids. We also made sure to stop at the Capitol Reef National Park visitor center to learn about the park and get their Junior Ranger badges.
Hickman Bridge is one of the most popular hikes in Capitol Reef National Park. This 1.8 mile / 2.7km hike begins with a nice walk along the Fremont River, then transitions to a moderate climb which provides immediate payoff with views of the surrounding cliffs and valley.
The trail soon enters a scenic valley with many large and small caves which kids of all ages will have fun exploring. The hike pays off at the Hickman Bridge, a 133-foot natural stone bridge nestled in a beautiful setting.
Note, that the National Parks Service rated this hike as “moderate”, but we respectfully disagree. It was pretty easy…
Facilities: There are washrooms in the parking lot, but no water station for your hydration packs.
Chimney Rock is a natural stone tower easily seen from Highway 24. A towering hulk of rock, Chimney Rock measures in over 300 feet tall. At a minimum, you should pull into the parking lot and take a closer look at this natural wonder, but even better, you can hike up the adjacent mesa and look down on it.
The view down onto Chimney Rock is immensely satisfying, but there is much more to this hike than that. The views of the valley from the top of the mesa are incredible and the topography of the land is very beautiful with many valleys and cliffs looming overhead.
As you might imagine, this 3.6 mile / 5.6km loop trail has a decent amount of uphill hiking, but it’s not as bad as you’d think – both our 3 & 5 year old kids did all the climbing themselves with no help. If you do the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, you get all the climbing out of the way early and then you can enjoy a leisurely downhill stroll for the duration.
Facilities: There are washrooms at the trailhead.
The Capitol Gorge Trail has something for everyone, making it one of the best Capitol Reef National Park hiking trails for families. Adults will appreciate the raw beauty of the narrow gorge with its mighty walls looming overhead, while kids will love running wild through the sandy bottom of the gorge, able to be free without the risk of getting lost. Throw in some cowboy history, petroglyphs and 100 year old graffiti and you’ve got a fun half-day outing exploring this short and easy trail.
The final approach of the drive to the Capitol Gorge Trail along Capitol Gorge Road is every bit as scenic and fun as the hike itself, so even if you can’t do the walk, you can still enjoy this very scenic Capitol Reef drive.
Facilities: There are washrooms at the trailhead.
This was our favorite of the Capitol Reef hikes we did and one of the best hikes during our whole 23 day road trip to the Utah national parks with kids. It’s actually three separate one-way hikes stitched together to form a single 8.2 mile / 13.2 km one-way hike.
It’s a difficult hike, but we loved it so much as it had all of the elements which make Utah hiking so special. Among the many, many highlights of this hard hike are outstanding views of the Kolab Canyon and the Cassidy Arch.
If you are interested in this outstanding hike, read about more on the highlights and the special logistical considerations in our full blog post on this hike.
What to Bring
Where to Eat in Canyon Reef National Park
The Fruita Valley is a charming little oasis in the middle of the Utah desert, where early Mormon settler planted large fruit orchards. Built in Fruita in 1908, the Gifford Homestead now makes homemade fruit pies, preserves and more. Their pies are so coveted that they sell out early in the morning most days.
One day we were lucky enough to get there early enough to get a strawberry-rhubarb pie that was still warm from the oven. We abandoned our plan to bring the pie on our hike and devoured it on one of the Gifford Homestead picnic tables on the front lawn.
A must-do food experience while in Capitol Reef.
The Torrey Grill BBQ is an interesting one… It’s located in the heart of a RV Park just outside Torrey, UT. The restaurant is inside a rustic cabin-like building with indoor picnic tables, rocks on the floor and a firepit in the center. It’s a very cool setting for a bbq shack indeed. The smoked meat sold here is excellent (ribs, chicken, salmon, steak, etc) and the side dishes are equally high quality.
Don’t be fooled by the casual location and setting though – this is fine dining. Chef Peter Cole is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America (with honors) and has settled in Utah to explore his passions for hiking and barbecue.
We tell you this to help you set your expectations, as we typically walk into a bbq joint expecting to leave so full I can barely walk, but that didn’t happen here. Given the fine dining element of this restaurant, the prices are higher than a typical bbq shack in Utah and the portions are smaller (an order of ribs is 1/4 rack). Again, they were excellent ribs, but we wish there were about 9 more ribs on our plates – haha!
Here’s something we didn’t expect to find in rural Utah – a hybrid Indian food / pizza joint. It’s so good it was featured on the Food TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, starring Guy Fieri.
The owner was a super friendly guy who went out of his way to make our kids feel special. Based on his recommendation, we ordered the house special called the ‘Bhinda Pizza” with chicken tikka, paneer, mozzarella, garlic, ginger, cauliflower, mushrooms, green & red onion, jalapenos, fresh basil, cilantro, garlic salt, & fenugreek on curry. Gotta admit – it was pretty damn good.
Where to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park
We travel a lot as a family and our go-to accommodations are typically a vacation rental from Airbnb or VRBO. We appreciate the separate bedrooms, the full kitchen and laundry facilities. Capitol Reef was our final stop in our Utah road trip and to date we had stayed in hotels and campgrounds, so we were so happy to finally kick back and relax in a charming Airbnb in Teasdale, not far from the National Park.
For Capitol Reef National Park camping, the Fruita Campground is the only official campground within the park. An oasis in the desert, this campground is on the banks of the Fremont River and surrounded by orchards. Beware, you are so close to the Gifford Homestead you can probably smell the pies cooking!
For those who prefer a hotel, these are the three top rated family-friendly hotels near Capitol Reef National Park:
Get 10% off the Lonely Planet Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks travel guide with our discount code CANTRAVEL10.