How We Saved $200 on Covered Wagon Glamping at Capitol Reef National Park

Updated: Sep 15

Hi, JJ here! Brittany and I are both Utah natives but until recently neither of us had ever been to Capitol Reef National Park. When we first arrived in Torrey, we were blown away by the natural beauty all around us and couldn’t we had overlooked this place. We’re not the only ones, either.


utah national parks capitol reef

Utah National Parks: Capitol Reef


Capitol Reef is considered one of the "Mighty Five" National Parks in Utah, so why is it so much less crowded and so much more heavenly? Compared to Greater Zion or Moab, the town of Torrey where Capitol Reef is quite small and undeveloped. There are no major brand-name hotels, very few restaurants, and one tiny general store. But that’s part of the charm of Capitol Reef! It’s still a hidden gem - though probably not for long- and somewhere you can go to escape the crowds that plague some of the other national parks.




Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park


Scenic drives that make you think you’re on another planet


I’ve heard from multiple people that Highway 12 from Torrey through Escalante and down to Bryce Canyon is one of the most beautiful drives you can do in Utah, let alone the US. We’ll have to save that for the next trip but make sure to add that to your own Utah Bucket List.


There’s also a road that cuts north/south through the park aptly named Scenic Drive. It takes you from the visitor center to Capitol Gorge in about 30-40 minutes round trip. You get to drive through multiple washes (so beware of flash floods on a rainy day) and past some beautiful scenery. There are multiple places to stop and hike along the drive if you feel so inclined. If you want to venture beyond the end of Scenic Drive, you’ll have to do so on dirt roads where 4WD is recommended. But it would take you to some of the most secluded, pristine wilderness in Utah.


Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

What I wasn’t expecting was how blown away I’d be by Highway 24! This is without a doubt one of the most unique scenic drives I have ever done. Highway 24 cuts east/west through Capitol Reef National Park itself (in a no-fee zone), so you get some spectacular views of the red cliffs and white sandstone domes. Our kids felt like they were on Mars.


Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

If you venture past the boundaries of the park and continue East on Highway 24, the landscape changes dramatically from red to black. The ashy color of Swing Arm City and Factory Butte make you feel like you’ve suddenly landed on the moon – or that ice planet from the movie Interstellar. There were multiple places we just had to stop the minivan and get out to explore the area next to the road because it was so bizarre.

Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

As you embark on this epic road trip, you'll definitely want to have a cooler on hand for snacks and drinks. Did you know that you can get one that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter so you don't have to deal with melting ice? Check out this iceless cooler from Igloo.


Learn about pioneer & Native American history

The earliest known inhabitants of the area were the Fremont people, who resided here from around 300-1300 CE/AD. There are several easily-accessible places where you can see petroglyphs carved into the cliffs. The most popular is the Capitol Reef Petroglyph Trail, a 0.3 mile round-trip walk along a relatively flat boardwalk.


Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

The first Mormon Pioneers arrived to settle the area in the 1870s and established the town that would eventually be known as Fruita. They were the ones who came up with name Capitol Reef. ‘Capitol’ because the white sandstone domes reminded them of the US Capitol building and ‘Reef’ because they found the huge cliffs to be impassable, like a barrier reef. Fun fact! As you meander through Capitol Reef, you can see old historic buildings, cabins, barns, and schoolhouses throughout the park. The most iconic of them is the Fruita Barn. The orchards that these pioneers planted are still around today, which brings us to...


Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park


Fruita orchards & fresh pie

When you think of the Utah desert, fresh fruit pie probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But within a couple miles of the visitor center lie over a dozen orchards with over 3,000 apple, pear, apricot, and other varieties of fruit trees. When the fruit is in season, you can actually walk through the orchards and pick the fruit yourself. You can eat whatever you want on site for free but you have to pay for anything you take with you.

Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

However, the best part is the fresh fruit pie, baked daily in the Gifford Homestead, a historic pioneer building. Make sure to go early, because the pies usually sell out before noon. You can literally get a taste of pioneer history at Capitol Reef!


Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park


Best hikes in Capitol Reef



Cohab Canyon

As you would expect from a Utah national park, Capitol Reef has some exceptional hikes. Our favorite trail we hiked was Cohab Canyon. The trailhead is located just across the street from the Fruita Barn and takes you up ¼ mile of switchbacks for some pretty epic views of Fruita and the cliffs along Highway 24. At the top of the mountain is where Cohab Canyon starts and the trail takes you along a sandy wash with some fun mini slot canyons to explore. The entire trail is about 3 miles round trip, but we only ventured about ½ mile before turning around.

Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

The views were amazing and our kids loved the sandy slot canyons. And with the trailhead located right near the barn, it’s the perfect hike to do in the morning to earn that slice of pie. The switchbacks are a bit steep and slippery on the way down, so you may want to consider getting some hiking shoes before your trip.


Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

Panorama Point, Goosenecks, and Sunset Point

Some more favorite were these three trails that we explored during golden hour right before sunset. Panorama Point is an easy short walk out to an area with 360-degree views of Capitol Reef. The light during golden hour was magical and just lit up the red rocks and sandstone in a way that is hard to describe. There isn’t really a trail there but it’s a fun place to just explore the various rock formations.



utah national parks capitol reef