Amongst the phenomenal National Parks of southern Utah, sometimes Capitol Reef gets overlooked. Stretching along the geologic warp of Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park is colorful in the extreme. Driving the miles of dirt roads that crisscross the park may be the best way to explore its hidden treasures and no visit should be completed without some back road driving, even if it is the easy drive down Caineville Wash Road to the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.
Fruita Historic District, Hickman Bridge, Grand Wash Trail, Strike Valley Overlook
After exploring the Fruita Historic District and Grand Wash Trail, drive across Highway 24 to the petroglyphs and the trailhead for the steep one-mile hike to Hickman Bridge, a massive stone formation cut into a gorgeous canyon. Be aware, this is the busiest part of the park because it is one of the few places with paved roads.
Leaving from Strike Valley Overlook, the all-day trek through Upper Muley Twist Canyon offers many unnamed arches, slickrock slopes, narrow passages, sheer cliffs, and stunning views as it winds 10 rugged miles to form a lollipop loop.
Strike Valley Overlook offers an amazing perspective on Waterpocket Fold, but requires a high clearance vehicle to drive the last three miles after a long drive down Notom-Bullfrog Road or Burr Trail Road.
Spring and Fall
The only fee is on the paved Scenic Drive south of the Fruita Historic District, but the NPS accepts the America the Beautiful pass for that.
Most of the dirt roads (like Notom-Bullfrog and Caineville Wash) are passable to any vehicle, but high clearance is needed on the last bit to Strike Valley Overlook and to cross the Fremont River on the Cathedral Loop. However, there is not much infrastructure in this rugged and dry National Park, so you need to be well-prepared in case of emergency.
The Fruita Historic District offers camping along the Fremont River, close encounters with mule deer, and free apple picking in the fall. Dry sites are free at Cedar Mesa and Cathedral Valley Campgrounds.