This park is world class – really so wonderful! I don’t see it on enough lists for travellers – it should be! There’s a lot to see, 2-3 days would be ideal, especially with a few nights in an isolated campground to see the stars.

We toured:

***Cathedral Valley, via Cathedral Road & Hartnet Road (60 mile loop, well maintained dirt road). You definitely need a high clearance car, but the road is not difficult. The total loop (out to the Temple of the Sun) is spectacular, lots of mini hikes along the way, huge amounts of diversity in scenery. We didn’t see a single person or car.

***Capitol Gorge to the Pioneer Register: At the end of the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, you should definitely drive out to the end of the unpaved but well-maintained Capitol Gorge spur, a few miles farther along the scenic drive. This 2.2- mile road is a little narrow for RVs, and nothing you would want to pull a trailer through, but other vehicles will make it without difficulty. An easy and interesting 1-mile hike from the trailhead at the end of the Capitol Gorge drive takes you into this slot canyon, where on a rock wall called Pioneer Register you can see the names of miners, settlers, and other adventurers who passed through here starting in 1871. The Capitol Gorge road here was the main transport route through this region from 1884 until UT Highway 24 was opened in 1962. Pioneers had to remove boulders and other debris after every flash flood, and at its best, it was a tight fit for big wagons or trucks.

While in the Fruita area, make sure you check out other historic attractions such as the Fruita Schoolhouse, old Blacksmith Shop, the Fremont petroglyphs and the Gifford Homestead (note: closed in winter), which offer a snapshot of early Mormon pioneer life. The Gifford farm lies in the heart of the Fruita valley, a desert oasis described by Wallace Stegner as “…a sudden, intensely green little valley among the cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold, opulent with cherries, peaches, and apples in season, inhabited by a few families who were about equally good Mormons and good frontiersmen and good farmers.”¹ We did this, but they’re pretty quiet in winter, likely more active at other points of year.

Just after the old schoolhouse, also on the left, is a petroglyph trail; beyond the petroglyph trail is the trailhead for the easy to moderate (2 miles round-trip) hike to **Hickman Natural Bridge. It’s pretty; worthwhile: a great view of the large white sandstone domes that inspired the park’s name. 

Note that food is very limited in winter – only our hotel and one restaurant (Red Cliffs) in Torrey were open.

Continuing South, there is SPECTACULAR driving. Also reminder that South Eastern Utah basically shuts down from Nov-Mar and it’s hard to find gas and just about impossible to eat. We didn’t find a single restaurant open – or a grocery store – for nearly 300 miles.

  • Highway 12, from Torrey to Boulder, UT – incredible! Aspen groves, wide vistas, high altitude – over 10,000 ft in places.
  • **Anasazi State Park Museum – this is more designed for children, but it’s a pleasant 20 minute stop, so why not?
  • ***Burr Trail. This was truly stunning and very worth it – if a bit scary at times! Spanning 66 miles, the only partially paved road winds through dramatic portions of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We drove the “traditional” route from Boulder to Bullfrog. The  switchbacks in particular are worth doing. Requires a fairly sturdy car – it would be a long walk out. From Bullfrog, you may be able to save an hour or so of driving by taking the ferry, which operates on the weekends, we’re told (wasn’t operating as we passed by). 
  • Allow an hour to detour to **Natural Bridges National Monument. 9 mile driving loop to three natural bridge-rock formations. I’d stop here if in the area for the drive, and even better come back for a hike through the canyons – a full day activity. It looks to be one of the better hikes in Utah.
  • Continuing south, you’ll find yourself at the ***Moki Dugway. Holy switchbacks Batman! I totally didn’t see it coming – a 5 mile switchback to the valley floor, overlooking Monument Valley. A dirt road, no less! I think this, and the valley floor, are the best part of the valley. Approaching from the south would be a total waste.
  • [didn’t see] Goosenecks State Park.