With my oldest going into fourth grade this fall, our family gets free entry into all national parks this summer. We love camping, campfires, smores, star-gazing, and hiking. Okay, Lori and I love hiking. Nathan likes when hiking is over and Anna likes to be carried on hikes.
So we’re hoping to get out to as many national parks as we can this summer, in particular the Mighty Five of Utah.
Knowing that someone out there with a couple of young kids might also be considering heading to the parks, I want to share what we did that was fun and not a total whiny nightmare.
First up: Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is about 3 1/2 hours south of Salt Lake City. The drive is short and fairly scenic, and includes the opportunity to explore scenic Scipio and even Fillmore, depending upon your route there. The park is named after The Capitol, a big round mound; and “reef,” which means a big wall, generally.
Camping: Our plan was to camp out Friday and Saturday, then take off Sunday morning. There’s only one campground in Capitol Reef, and we assumed we couldn’t get into it, since we were arriving mid-day Friday. So we booked a spot at the Thousand Lakes RV Park.
Thousand Lakes was good enough. The people were…well, they seemed annoyed that we were there. But they have a small pool, general store, water, and they strictly enforce quiet time beginning at 10pm.
But, as we learned, we could’ve had a tent spot in the park, even into Friday evening. And there were still plenty of spots at the RV park – so, plan to camp in the park, but head just outside of Torrey if it’s full. There’ll be space.
Hickman Bridge Trail was our first hike we did. It’s short, easy, and has a really cool payoff.
Great Wash Trail was beautiful and flat, with occasional narrow canyons and spots of shade. It’s supposed to be a 2.5 mile trail, but we missed a turn at some point and went closer to three miles. We never found the end of the trail, nor the path we were supposed to follow. Still a walk worth doing.
Sunset Point is a MUST, but hang on to your kiddos. There are some serious dropoffs.
But the views…sheesh. Bring a chair and some drinks, like the couple whose romantic scene was ruined by my feral children.
The Fruita Scenic Drive is neat, with a couple hikes at the end. We didn’t hit it until late Saturday, however, and my kiddos were done.
At the beginning of the Scenic Drive is the town of Fruita (and the in-park campsite). We stopped at the Gifford House Store and Museum to snoop around and picked up some homemade ice cream for $1 a cup.
Just down the road (and still not within the “paid” part of the park) is an active orchard that people are welcome to pick fruit from; it’s free to eat what you pick when you’re in the orchard, and a small charge to take it out. We didn’t stop there, however, because early July the orchard was producing nothing but apricots (and we have a gigantic apricot tree at home).
The old town of Fruita is pretty cool. Stop by the old schoolhouse and peek in, then head down the road a bit to check out some ancient petroglyphs.
Eating & Fun Around Torrey:
Torrey is the little town just outside Capitol Reef. Like a lot of the National Park towns, it’s quirky and full of tourist traps.
For us the highlight was shakes at Slackers. It’s the standard Dairy Queen knockoff that every town in Utah has, but the shakes are ridiculous. If you want to do dinner, get there early. Our shakes took 15 minutes to make, but people ordering burgers and fries were waiting 30+ minutes.
We stopped by the Farmer’s Market Saturday evening and picked up some homemade goat cheese (but passed on the chance to buy a baby duck). Down the road is a teepee on the fringes of a trinket shop, and inside that teepee is a geocache full of gems the kids loved.
On the whole, Capitol Reef is a nice, small national park. It has its awe-inspiring spots, but I’d say a lot of those aren’t really kid-friendly.
That being said, it’s a really good one to take your kids to, because it does have a lot of short, simple hikes and activities.
- Stay in the park, but head outside if it’s full
- Shakes at Slackers
- Hickman Bridge is a must
- Sunset Point is a must
- Get the Ice Cream at the Historic Gifford House