How to Spend One Day in the Capitol Reef Area
The fourth day of our Utah trip was mostly spent around the Capitol Reef area. We started our morning in Monument Valley and left shortly after sunrise to begin the four hour drive to Capitol Reef National Park. If you are taking the most direct route, you will turn off the main road, passing by Goosenecks State Park. We quickly realized that the road climbs to the top of the mesa we were approaching. This road is not for the faint hearted! The road turns into gravel and you will quickly climb up many switchbacks as you approach the top of the mesa. The view from the top is phenomenal, and you can see the Valley of the Gods from there. There were several pull-offs along the road that were safe to stop at.
Once you reach the top, the terrain quickly changes from red rock to a green forest and is fairly flat the rest of the drive. You will pass through Glen Canyon and get plenty of scenic views along the way. It is worth noting that after we left Monument Valley, we did not reach another gas station (or any civilization at all or cell service) until we got to the town of Hanksville. That is about 150 miles. We started with a little over half a tank of gas, thinking there would be plenty of opportunities to stop. Once we realized how desolate the drive would be, we drove conservatively to ensure we would make it to Hanksville. If we had run out of gas, I don’t know what we would’ve done!
Capitol Reef National Park
From Hanksville, the terrain along the 45 minute drive to Capitol Reef National Park changes several times. It feels otherworldly, with huge gray mounds with interesting patterns that could be from another planet. Our first stop in the park was at the Visitor Center to get a lay of the land and use their restrooms. We had a lot we wanted to do for the rest of the day, so we picked a hike and a couple other quick stops.
We stopped at Goosenecks Overlook, which is near Panorama Point. It’s a quick five-minute drive from the Visitor Center. From the parking lot, the overlook is a quick walk. You can see Sulphur Creek way down below the overlook inside of the canyon.
We arrived at the Gifford Homestead just after lunch, which is located in the Fruita Valley (near the Visitor Center). This area is a literal oasis. Surrounded by dry desert, the Fruita Valley is lush and green, and filled with fruit trees. The original house that was occupied by the Gifford Family in the early 1900s has since been converted into a shop where you can buy many handmade items. The most popular thing to buy are their pies! I got a cherry pie and Ashley got strawberry. They were delicious.
Hickman Bridge Hike
After we got our fill of sweets, we did a shorter hike to Hickman Bridge. The hike is 1.8 miles round trip. It’s fairly easy with only about 400 feet of elevation gain. Once you go about 0.9 miles, you reach an arch called Hickman Bridge. The trail goes right underneath the arch and loops around. This hike felt similar to the hikes we did in Moab.
Explore the Moon-Like Terrain East of Capitol Reef
After we finished our hike, we checked into our hotel, Cathedral Valley Inn. This is one of the only hotels around and was really nice! It was also in a perfect location, exactly in between Capitol Reef and the town of Hanksville. We had spent the last three nights camping, so we were very excited for a bed and a hot shower. After we checked in, we had a little extra time to spare before our plans for sunset. We decided to spend some time exploring the moon-like terrain near our hotel. After doing a little searching on Google Maps, we found a spot with an awesome view!
We were the only ones there, but it was mid-afternoon, and we wished the lighting was prettier. We decided to return the following morning for sunrise.
Sunset at Bentonite Hills
Our last stop of the day was at the Bentonite Hills for sunset. This desert landscape looks bland during the day, but during the blue hour just after sunset, the colors pop and it really looks like you’re on Mars! We got here just before sunset and played around until it got dark. The views from the drone were great.
Dinner at Outlaw’s Roost in Hanksville
After sunset, we stopped at one of the only restaurants nearby in Hanksville. Outlaw’s Roost is a delicious Mexican joint. I got two tacos and a margarita. It was the perfect end to the day!
Sunrise on the Moon
We returned to the moon-like spot we found the next morning and holy cow, was it gorgeous! There were a couple other photographers there. We only stayed for about 20 minutes before going back to the Salt Lake City area.