The Mighty Five: Capitol Reef National Park

Phoebe Laine

Phoebe Laine

· 4 min read
Sunset over Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

This article is part of the Might Five Series!

Hikers in Capitol Reef National Park

We started off the Mighty Five adventure at Capitol Reef. None of us had ever visited and I think it's the least well-known park in Utah. Nat, Jake, and I wrangled a bunch of friends to come down with us for the long weekend, share an Airbnb, and explore both Capitol Reef and nearby State Park, Goblin Valley. It was January, and we mistakenly assumed that since Capitol Reef is in southern Utah and in the desert, it would be warmer than mountainous northern Utah where we all live.... We found out just how wrong this assumption was when the temperature gauge in the car was showing 6°F as we were driving down on Thursday night.

So, if you go in the dead of winter like us, bring warm layers, coats, and hats. It is very chilly. I imagine it also gets very hot in the summer so spring/fall is probably the best time to go (like most of southern Utah).

We stayed in an Airbnb in a small town called Torrey which is very close to the entrance to the park. There are lots of camping options, but it is too cold in the winter to camp unless you love winter camping and have the gear for it.

We did these hikes in Capitol Reef:

  • Cassidy Arch: 3.4 miles out and back. Trail follows an old river bed at the bottom of the canyon before it shoots up the canyon walls and weaves across butte tops. You can walk across the arch itself at the end!
Cassidy Arch
  • Scenic Drive: 8 miles (not a hike, but there are lots of places to explore along the road) We drove the road all the way until it ended. The park ranger described it as "the Zion Narrows but in your car" and that sums it up. Amazing views twisting through steep golden canyon walls.
  • Goosenecks: less than 1 mile. Short walk with amazing views across the whole reef and down a deep twisty canyon.
View of the Goosenecks canyon in Capitol Reef National Parks
  • Hickman Bridge: 2 miles. This is on the Eastern side of the park which has mostly white rocks instead of red. There are big domes of rock all around which is where Capitol Reef gets its name: the domes look like the domes on Capitol buildings.
Woman standing underneath Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park
  • Sunset Point: Near the Goosenecks, a short, flat-ish hike that has THE best view over the whole reef at sunset. The rainbow light in the sky emphasises the rainbow colours of the rocks.

If we had more time, I would have liked to check out the Valley of the Sun and Moon. Also, make time to be out at night and look at the stars. They are so bright.

Thanks for reading! Keep going to see the bonus things to do nearby Capitol Reef and click back to the Mighty Five article to keep reading about the rest of the 5 Utah National Parks.

Bonus section: Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

If you are at Capitol Reef, you should drive the quick 1.5 hours over to Goblin Valley State Park. The highlight of the park is the Valley of Goblins, which is a huge valley full of these strange rock formations pictured above (called goblins). It is a completely unearthly pace and you have free reign to climb, explore, and play in this alien atmosphere.

My insider tip is to play sardines (reverse hide and seek). It is a fun way to find unique spots amongst the goblins. For instance, we stumbled upon a hole in the ground that led to a big cave with a secret opening. Best hiding spot around ;)

Cave at Goblin Valley State Park

Extra Bonus Section: Little Wild Horse Canyon

Also very close to Goblin Valley is this accessible slot canyon called Little Wild Horse Canyon. The full canyon walk is about 8 miles, but the first 3 are the most fun, so you can turn around and get back to the parking lot after that if you want a quicker hike. The trial gets very narrow (definition of slot canyon, ya know?) and it is fun to follow the twist and turn of the rocks. When we went there was no one else there and no water in the canyon, but I've heard that both the water and crowd levels can get quite high.

Phoebe Laine

About Phoebe Laine

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