Capitol Reef National Park

December 01, 2017

While the rest of the world was Black Friday shopping, we hit the road from Bryce Canyon towards Capitol Reef! The two parks are connected by a gorgeous scenic byway (Highway 12), so I HIGHLY recommend visiting both parks in one trip and driving along this highway. This route is filled with red rocks, lush forests, vistas - so much diversity!

(In case you missed it, Part 1 of our trip to Bryce is posted here.)

Our drive along Highway 12 took way longer than usual because we kept stopping every 10 minutes to get a picture or look out over a vista, so we didn't get to Capitol Reef until a bit after 2pm. Like Bryce, we didn't have any preset hiking plans, so we just grabbed a map and followed our whims!

The weather was gorgeous again, in the 60s and sunny, and there was almost no one in the park! Going in the off season is best way to do it, because you end up with the parks almost completely to yourself!

Capitol Reef is larger than Bryce, so there is a lot to explore! We made a stop by Chimney Rock - easy to do since you drive right past it at the entrance!

We took another short drive on an unpaved bumpy road to Panorama Point and Goosenecks. I was expecting rock formations that looked like Goosenecks, but we found this instead...

Zach had already been to the famous Hickman Bridge and we didn't have too much time before sunset, so we chose to explore the Capitol Gorge Trail, right at the end of the Capitol Reef scenic drive. Once you hit the end of the paved road, you have to drive about 2 miles on VERY bumpy, narrow, unpaved road that twists & turns through the gorge. While I was afraid every minute about breaking an axel or something, the view was pretty spectacular.

The actual "hike" is very easy and I honestly hesitate to call it a hike. It's more of a long walk with very very little incline, and you have to go through some sand and step over a bunch of rocks. So if you're looking for an easy experience in Capitol Reef that still gets up close and personal with nature, this is the trail for you.

There are also petroglyphs along the way, which is especially fun if you have kids and want to keep them engaged on the hike.

And the most puzzling thing - the Pioneer Register. Apparently, pioneers would pass through this gorge and wrote their names on the rocks. One particular company wrote their names up super high in the air back in 1911 and I'm seriously perplexed - how did they get up that high?? And their handwriting is INCREDIBLE! I barely have readable handwriting on paper, so I can't image what scribbles I'd make if I had to etch into the rock...

One of my favorite parts of this trail is being surrounded completely by large rock walls, you feel so small!

After about 2 miles of exploring, we turned around and headed back to the car before it got too dark. We checked into our hotel, the Capitol Reef Resort. This property is pretty cool - you can stay in teepees and wagons, glamping style, which would be so fun if you go with a group of people. We booked late, so we just got a regular King room, but it had a private balcony that looked right out into Capitol Reef, which was pretty cool! Such a great view to wake up to....

The only downside of our experience there - we had at least one bat living on our balcony and it left a few "presents" all over the ground. So we didn't really get to enjoy the balcony since it didn't feel too sanitary and didn't want a bat flying around near us. So that was a bit of a bummer.

After we checked in, we just ordered a pizza from Rim Rock Patio from across the street and some desserts from the hotel's restaurant. We don't recommend the pizza, but we DO recommend the desserts. And we DO recommend eating junk food in bed while watching TV.

(Also I'm still confused about what a "Spaghetti Western Cafe" is.)

We made a little video of our Bryce trip, mostly us out of shape on the trail and begging people to send us tacos. So if you want the behind the scenes awkwardness of the trip, then this is the video for you!

On Saturday morning, we hit the road for Manti! My biggest 30 before 30 goal is to visit every open Utah temple and Manti was one of the last to check off the list.


Manti is a pioneer temple and the interior is very unusual and incredible. I felt like I had entered another time period. The only other temple that compares in uniqueness is Salt Lake City, another pioneer edifice, and to a small degree, the St. George & Logan Temples. I've loved visiting all of the older temples because it's helped me feel more connected to the past and the sacrifices of the early Saints.

If you'd like to visit Capitol Reef, here are our tips:

- Visit at the same time as Bryce Canyon, and drive along Highway 12 to get there.

- There is ZERO cell phone reception in the entire park. The visitor's center doesn't have wifi either, so expect to be off the grid once you get there.

- You can drive a lot of the park and enjoy the scenery if you aren't into hiking, but there is a large variety of places to explore if you're up to it!

- Since there service, use the REI National Parks app - you can get an interactive trail map and park info, even without service. The cool part about the map is that you can see your own location as well, so you know where you're at on a certain trail!

- Torrey, the closest town, is pretty small and still has poor cell phone reception. There aren't too many options for hotels or food either, so like Bryce, be prepared for limited choices.

Overall, this was such a fun semi-spontaneous trip! If you are looking for something different to do next Thanksgiving, we highly recommend visiting a National Park:

1. It's free to get in, since it's a holiday.
2. It's the off season, so you won't have to fight as many crowds.
3. It's not as hot as the popular seasons (but might be a bit colder with snow, which is a unique experience!)
4. The hotels are cheaper, since it's the off season.

I actually loved getting out of town for Thanksgiving, since it's just the two of us and we had the time off of work anyway! We didn't need to do any Black Friday shopping, so I didn't feel like we were missing out on anything. And every time we go on a little adventure, I find that Zach & I are more connected and our marriage is stronger. We talk and laugh more and creating memories early in our life together is pretty priceless to me.

Once we have kids or live near our immediate family, I'm sure we'll go back to the traditional Thanksgiving festivities, but for now, this was a great opportunity for a fun, cheap trip!

Do you do anything untraditional for Thanksgiving? Have a destination suggestion for our next adventure? Somewhere else we need to explore in Capitol Reef? Let me know in the comments below 👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻

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2 thoughts

  1. Stunning pictures! We’ve always wanted to visit, but finding hotels was difficult. I’m going to bookmark this for future reference.

  2. Looks like y'all had a blast! Visiting all the national parks is on my bucket list (and getting stamps in my national parks passport)!