Utah loop road trip: Capitol Reef National Park

From Bryce Canyon, we headed toward Capitol Reef National Park along Highway 12, the slower but far more interesting route. Highway 12 is designated an All-American Road (a more prestigious designation than National Scenic Byway alone). This section meanders through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument region, into canyons and up along ridges. It is rugged, beautiful, and varied.

We booked a campsite about 10 miles before Capitol Reef knowing we would need shower and laundry facilities. There were fewer than a handful of choices anywhere in the vicinity, but we were so pleased we had chosen the Wonderland RV Park. Even though it was at one time, we surmise, a strip of bare land at the corner of two highways, the owners have done a wonderful job of creating a pleasant, well-shaded stop off. We chose one of three water and electric sites (sewer isn’t helpful to us as we don’t use gravity-feed dumping), for a decent rate.

We backed in under trees, had lots of green grass around us, behind us pastures and red rock cliffs beyond that. Cows lazily pulled at the grass behind us, occasionally a beautiful black horse would join them or gallop and gambol around, and several times a raft of ducks quacked along in formation, running one way behind Artie and off to an unknown endpoint, and then a quick turn and they waddled and quacked their way back. The WiFi was relatively strong, shower rooms were the best we’ve ever seen at a campsite, and the laundry equipment was clean and priced fairly. This park was such a nice respite from the dust and desert that we decided to take a break the first day and just hang out and get caught up.

With our energy replenished, fridge full, tanks either full or empty as appropriate, our bodies, clothes, bikes and even Artie cleaned (there is a big carwash across the street from the campground along with a tourist information center for the area), we drove the 10 miles to the Capitol Reef Visitor Center. Ken had visited the tourist office near our campground and had been told that it was the cliffs that made Capitol Reef different from the other canyon-centric national parks we had been visiting. The park is named for two geologic landmarks: the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold—an elevated landmass that acted as a barrier, or reef, to travel; and a white sandstone dome reminiscent of the US Capitol building.

While at the tourist office, Ken picked up maps and brochures, so we were ready with a tentative plan for the day before we arrived at the visitor center. We wanted to do the longer and more difficult hike as early as possible so drove the two miles to the parking area for the Hickman Bridge Trail. The end-point of this out-and-back (and up-and-down) trail is Hickman Bridge, a 190′ natural stone bridge.

Next on our agenda was the 10-mile Scenic Drive and, while on it, we planned to check out the historic buildings that demonstrated the lives of the early Mormon settlers and walk part of the Great Wash Trail. We drove about three-quarters of the drive, which was beautiful, and stopped at Gifford House Store and Museum (tiny). We skipped the second planned hike.

And with that, our time in Capitol Reef National Park was done. We drove only partway to our next major destination, stopping at Green River State Park for the night since the boondocking (or dispersed camping) sites we found in our research were unappealingly out in the open desert. The shady, green campground was a welcome respite once again.


TripBits

  • Capitol Reef National Park entry fee: $20 per vehicle or free with Interagency Pass.
  • Wonderland RV Park: $32 USD for water/electric site, WiFi, showers.
  • Green River State Park: $35 USD for water/electric site (all sites the same), showers.

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