Capitol Reef National Park, located in south-central Utah, is a lesser-known gem among the state’s “Mighty 5” national parks. Despite its lower profile, it offers plenty of scenic beauty and outdoor adventure for families, especially those with young children. Below we’ve shared our favorite kid-friendly things to do at Capitol Reef National Park. 

The park boasts several kid-friendly trails that are easy to hike, providing an ideal setting for your little ones to connect with nature.

Why will kids love it? Being such a diverse park, with the settlement’s preserved school house, fruit picking, and even a pie shop, it was especially memorable from the kids’ perspective.

Things to do at Capitol Reef National Park

Established as a national park in 1971, Capitol Reef protects a unique geological feature known as the Waterpocket Fold. This massive ridge, formed millions of years ago, is a front row seat to the raw power of geological forces.

Even before you’re inside the park, the surrounding landscape is remarkable. My husband sent up our drone and this is what it captured. We were driving to Capitol Reef from the Moab area with kids.

Scenic Drive

If you’re coming in from the east, Moab area, the first thing to do in the National Park is the Scenic Drive.  The 8 miles paved drive is stunning. Key stops along the route are well marked as you enter from Hwy 24.

Thing to do at Capital Reef National Park, the scenic drive

Visitor Center

Before you set out on any of the day’s hikes, stop by the Visitor Center for Junior Ranger guides, park maps, and talk with the rangers about any flash flood risks for the day.

We arrived with clear blue skies and by the time we finished our Capitol Gorge hike, we were being urged out by a park ranger warning us of the flash flood heading our way. We drove in about 2 inches of water trying to vacate the area. While light rain was just starting to fall where we were, it was raining nearby and that water was traveling quickly down the waterpocket fold.

Hickman Bridge Trail

The Hickman Bridge Trail is a popular choice among families. This 1.8-mile loop trail offers a moderate climb, making it a fun challenge for kids. The trail’s key allure is the natural bridge at the end, which provides a fantastic photo opportunity.

The hike takes about 1-2 hours to complete, perfect for young adventurers.

Hickman Bridge

Capitol Gorge “Tanks” Trail

The Capitol Gorge trail is an easy 2-mile out-and-back trail with minimal elevation gain, making it ideal for families with young children or babies. The trail takes you through the park’s impressive gorge, a narrow canyon with towering sandstone walls on either side. The most difficult terrain is when you reach the tanks, some scrambling is required and I felt off balance with a baby on my back.

On the way to the Capitol Gorge “tanks,” about .8 miles in, look upwards on the rocks about 20 feet and you’ll find the Pioneer Register of the area’s earliest travelers etched into the rock, most from the 1800s. 

It’s incredible now much lower the ground is now and offers more tangible example of how canyons and gorges become so immense over time.  In addition, it’s expected the pioneers had reached as high as they could to etch their names above flash flood levels.

Grand Wash

The Grand Wash trail is another excellent option for families. This trail features towering canyon walls, narrows, and even a few petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings) to spot along the way. It’s a relatively flat trail.

The full trail is 2.2 miles each way (if you have two cars you can park one on the opposite end). Personally, 4.4 miles is more than I want to hike with two little kids so a great option is to start at the lower trailhead and find the narrows about 30 minutes in then turn around to return.

Thing to do at Capital Reef National Park (4)

Cathedral Trail

For epic views, don’t miss the Cathedral Trail. This easy 2.4 mile hike offers panoramic vistas of the park’s monumental rock formations, which resemble cathedrals reaching towards the sky.

This is in a more remote area of the park so I’d recommend this if you have more than one day in the park.

Petroglyph Panel

The carvings (petroglyphs) and paintings (pictographs) found here depict deities, animals, and customs of the people who lived in the area from 300-1300 BC.

The entrance to this hike is not far from the school house.

One of the best Things to do at Capital Reef National Park is to find petroglyphs

Fruita District Orchards

Of all the things to do at Capitol Reef National Park, picking fruit was the kids’ favorite.

The orchards at Capitol Reef have over 2,000 trees bursting with peaches, apples, cherries, pears, plums, apricots, and almonds for visitors to pick! A honor-box and scale is left for patrons to pay after they pick. Make sure to check out these orchards which were initially planted by the first settlers of the region.

Typical harvest season runs from June to October.

One of the best thing to do at Capital Reef National Park is fruit picking in the Fruita District

Gifford House Pies

If you’re visiting Capitol Reef National Park, make sure to stop by Gifford House for a truly delightful treat. Located just a mile south of the visitor center on the Scenic Drive, this historic farmhouse turned pie shop and living museum offers a taste of rural Utah farm life from the early 1900s.

It’s a perfect spot to take a break from your adventures and indulge in some mouthwatering delights. So why not treat yourself to a slice of history and a slice of pie at Gifford House?

Gifford House Pie is one of the best Things to do at Capital Reef National Park

Gooseneck Overlook

The Gooseneck Overlook trail is another great choice for families with young kids. It’s a short, easy hike that leads to a humbling overlook of the park’s waterpocket fold, a geological wrinkle on earth extending almost 100 miles.

The trail is super easy with lots of fun features for kids to explore. My 3 year old loved climbing rocks and was especially excited about discovering “nature’s puzzle.” (After I checked each whole for creatures, of course.)

It took us about 30 minutes, taking our time to complete the .6 mile out and back walk from the parking area.

One of the best Things to do at Capital Reef National Park Kid Friendly Hike is Gooseneck Trail

Safety Tips for Capitol Reef National Park 

Flash Flood Awareness and Precaution

When visiting Capitol Reef National Park, it is crucial to have a strong awareness of flash floods and their potential dangers.

The park’s unique terrain, characterized by mountainous regions and dry grounds that do not absorb the water makes it prone to flash flooding.

Flash floods can occur even if rainfall happens outside of the park, and sunny skies do not necessarily guarantee safety.

To stay informed and prepared, all visitors should make it a priority to stop by the visitor center. Here, they can find valuable information about the risk of flash floods for the day and learn about the necessary precautions to take while exploring the park.

Things to Pack for Capitol Reef National Park 

One of the top things we were grateful to have on our Utah adventure was a walkie talkie. We were traveling with another family so to be able to communicate with each other from our vehicles and on the trails was crucial. It was a cellular dead zone for all of us.

If you’re visiting in the summer months, there are many things to consider packing for sun and heat safety. Check our our Utah guide to summer packing, here.

A photo showing that a walkie talkie is one of the best things you can pack if you are traveling with others

Closing Thoughts on Things to Do at Capitol Reef National Park

We hope you enjoyed reading our top things to do at Capitol Reef National Park. It truly offers an unforgettable experience for all and holds its own in Utah’s Mighty 5.

Are you traveling around Utah? We have guides on Salt Lake City, Moab (including Arches and Canyonlands), and Bryce and Zion.

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