Capitol Reef National Park Solo Trip to Utah’s Least Visited National Park

When I visited Capitol Reef National Park during my solo road trip to Moab, I only stayed for one night. In hindsight, I would recommend staying at least two or three nights at Capitol Reef park. Even though I only had one day in Capitol Reef National Park I still got in a few hikes and enjoyed driving around the park –  the place is one big beautiful scenic drive. If you stay for 2 or 3 days at Capitol Reef, you could explore many more hiking trails.

In this post I’ll show you some of the awesome things to do at Capitol Reef National Park in 24 hours.

 

Solo Trip Capitol Reef National Park Utah

 

From the moment you get to the park you’ll notice the interesting rock formations at Capitol Reef – they will grab your attention with various colors of beautiful sandstone.

The park is named after two geologic features: the waterpocket fold and the Capitol Dome which resembles the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

If you enter the park from the west like I did you’ll see Chimney Rock on the left side of the road and the twin rocks.

 

Twin Rocks as seen from Hwy 24 in Capitol Reef National Park

Twin Rocks as seen from Hwy 24 in Capitol Reef National Park

 

After checking into my hotel in Torrey Utah, a few miles west of Capitol Reef National Park, I drove to the visitor center to get a map and some info about the hiking trails in the park.

Since I was driving all afternoon and skipped lunch I decided to visit Capitol Reef Inn and Café in Torrey. I enjoyed the trout sandwich and a slice of homemade blackberry pie.

 

Homemade pie Capital Reef Cafe

Enjoy homemade pie at the Capitol Reef Cafe in Torrey Utah

 

Chimney Rock

Back on the road at about 5:30 pm I stopped at Chimney Rock but only hiked up about a half mile on the trail. I didn’t have to do the whole hike before sundown, so I opted for a mini-hike.

 

Chimney Rock Capitol Reef National Park

The Chimney Rock at Capitol Reef National Park

 

Chimney Rock Trail Info

  • Distance: 7.2 miles (11.8 km)
  • Type of Hike: Loop
  • Elevation gain: 590 ft (180 m)
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Duration: Allow about 2.5 to 3 hours

 

Chimney Rock trail map Capitol Reef

Map of Chimney Rock Trail at Capitol Reef National Park

 

Chimney Rock trailhead and a small parking lot are located before the visitor center on Hwy 24.

 

Chimney Rock trailhead Capitol Reef

Chimney Rock trailhead at Capitol Reef National Park is on Hwy 24

 

Gooseneck Overlook and Sunset Point

Next, I drove to Gooseneck Point and Sunset Point Trail, down a gravel road for a mile or so to the parking lot. Luckily, I got the last available spot.

The short hike to the canyon overlook at Gooseneck Point is easy. The term gooseneck refers to the u-shaped turns formed by the river in the canyon bed.

 

Gooseneck Point Capitol Reef National Park

Gooseneck Point Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

 

Continuing to the Sunset Point trail, the sun low on the horizon, I realized I should have brought a jacket with me. While hiking I felt warm enough but at a couple of places the wind made it quite chilly. In the high desert everything cools off quickly after the sun sets.

 

Sunset Point scenic rocky landscape atCapitol Reef Utah

The hike to sunset point is enjoyable and the views are outstanding

 

Besides watching the sunset, the best part of sunset trail is watching the light on the landscape after the sun drops below the horizon. It’s one of those places where you keep taking photos of the same place over and over again, because the light is slightly different.

Rim Rock Inn

Address: 2523 UT-24, Torrey

By the time I arrived back at the parking lot it was almost dark, I drove back to the Rim Rock Inn and enjoyed a couple of beers and dinner at the Rim Rock Restaurant. I took my second beer with me to my room and enjoyed a hot bath and good night’s sleep.

Even from this budget hotel there are amazing views of the Utah landscape.

 

Rim Rock Inn Torrey Utah basic but comfortable room with 2 double beds

The Rim Rock Inn in Torrey Utah is a short drive to Capitol Reef National Park

 

First thing on my agenda in the morning was hiking rather than breakfast.

“Hickman Bridge is our most popular hike” the park ranger informed me when I inquired about hiking it on the afternoon of my arrival to Capitol Reef. She advised going early in the morning or later in the evening in order to get an available parking spot.

 

Hickman Bridge Trail

Trailhead with parking lot is 2 miles east of the Capitol Reef visitor center.

  • Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km)
  • Type of Hike: Out and back
  • Elevation gain: 400 ft (122 m)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: Allow about 1 hour
  • GPS coordinates: 38.288867, -111.227975

Grab a trail guide at the trailhead (only 50 cents) which I didn’t have so I borrowed one, but I missed several of the 17 items highlighted in the brochure.

I decided to get up early and hike the Hickman trail around sunrise, about 7 am in early October. When I arrived at the trailhead there were only two other cars parked there but when I returned at about 8:30 the lot was almost full. This parking lot is not very big – maybe 25 – 30 parking stalls.

Hickman Bridge hike starts out alongside the Fremont River with beautiful views. The trail climbs up for a short distance then levels out.

You may see a small natural bridge to the right of the trail on the way to Hickman Bridge, but it’s tiny in comparison to Hickman Bridge.

 

Hickman Bridge Trail Capitol Reef National Park

Hickman Bridge is the most popular hike at Capitol Reef National Park

 

You know you are getting close to Hickman Bridge when you see the sign indicating the trail loops under Hickman Bridge. Walk to the right and enjoy the wonderful view of the bridge as you approach. Then walk under the bridge and have a look at the other side.

Hickman Bridge is 133 ft (40 m) long and 125 ft (37 m) high

This Hickman natural bridge was named after Joseph Hickman, a local school administrator and a Utah legislator who offered public support for protecting the Capitol Reef area in the early 1900’s.

 

Fruit Orchards – Fruita Mormon Settlement

After hiking Hickman Bridge, I stopped at one of the orchards on the way to Torrey Utah. You can pick as many apples as you can eat while visiting the orchard. September and October are apple season. Other fruits, such as cherries, apricots, peaches, and pears are ready to pick in the summer months.

 

Fruita orchard Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

After hiking Hickman Bridge I picked and apple at one of the many orchards in Capitol Reef National Park

 

The apple I ate was juicy and sweet but not too sweet – a very refreshing snack after hiking.

Fruita Mormon settlement is a historic district in Capitol Reef National Park. After the surrounding area was designated a National Monument the government slowly began purchasing the land in Fruita from private owners. Apparently the Fruita Mormons were Mormon-Lite, as in not particularly religious. They did not build a church in the settlement.

 

Petroglyphs

A short distance west of the Hickman Bridge trailhead on Hwy 24 there is parking lot at the petroglyphs. I stopped to read about the petroglyphs and walk the boardwalk alongside the canyon wall. Across the highway from the petroglyphs is where I visited the orchard – there are many others along Hwy 24.

 

Petroglyphs Capitol Reef National Park Utah

Petroglyphs – carvings in stone – from hundreds of years ago – probably by the Fremont Indians

 

Since I knew I could get good food at the Capitol Reef Café I returned for lunch. I ordered a slice of apple pie for my appetizer, decided I must try the guacamole and chips, then fish and a salad for mains. All delicious! The house salad includes a great selection of vegetables – it’s wonderful. The homemade guacamole was very good, and the panko crusted fish was fried to perfection.

After refueling, I decided to do another hike at Capitol Reef.

 

Utah Capitol Reef National Park

 

Grand Wash Trail

  • Distance:  miles 4.4 miles (7.2 km)
  • Type of Hike: Out and back
  • Elevation gain: 200 ft (122 m)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: Allow about 90 minutes to 2 hours

Grand Wash Road trailhead

You have two options as to your starting point for Grand Wash hike.

Option 1 – Hwy 24

The parking lot along Hwy 24 is 4.5 miles east of the visitor center on Hwy 24.

Option 2 – Scenic Drive

From the visitor center take Campground Rd and continue onto Scenic Drive. Turn left on Grand Wash Road (dirt road) and continue for 1.3 miles to the parking lot.

 

Grand Wash Trail Capitol Reef National Park

A view of Grand Wash Trail from the Cassidy Arch trail at Capitol Reef park

 

I enjoyed walking through the narrows of the Grand Wash trail but otherwise it is not my favorite type of hike. The trail has a gradual elevation gain that is almost unnoticable while hiking. I prefer trails with more variation in elevation.

 

Slot canyon portion of Grand Wash hike Capitol Reef National Park

The narrows at Grand Wash trail

 

Cassidy Arch Trail

I’m adding the information for Cassidy Arch hike even though I did not do the hike, a little to hot out for me and I knew I would see plenty of arches during my four days at Moab.

The trailhead for Cassidy Arch is located on the Grand Wash trail. Take the scenic drive and park at Grand Wash parking lot. Some people opt to hike Grand Wash trail, then add on Cassidy Arch for a longer hike. If that’s what you choose to do, you’ll want to park on the Grand Wash trailhead at Hwy 24 rather than on the scenic drive side.

  • Distance: 3.4 miles (5.6 km)
  • Type of Hike: Out and back
  • Elevation gain: 670 ft (204 m)
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Duration: Allow about 90 minutes

 

Cassidy Arch Trail sign Capitol Reef Utah

Cassiday Arch trailhead is located on the Grand Wash Trail near Grand Wash Road parking lot

 

Summary of Capitol Reef Solo Trip

While I did have time to do some cool hikes at Capitol Reef, I know I could easily spend a couple of days exploring the park more thoroughly. Staying in Torrey Utah was a great choice, the Rim Rock Inn is very basic, but I was only there to sleep. Torrey is the perfect location for going to Capitol Reef and for dining options and supplies from the general store. I’m happy I chose to go to Capitol Reef on my way to Moab, next time I will plan a longer visit.

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Solo Trip Capitol Reef National Park Utah

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Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Utah

 

 

 

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, roadtripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

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