If you never get out of the car as you drive across Capitol Reef National Park, you’ll see some fantastic scenery. It’s even better if you do a little hiking.
And, of course, it’s best if you stop at Gifford House, just down the road from the visitor center, and get a pie. There’s an orchard at Capitol Reef, and during harvest season, you can pick your own apples, pears, cherries, etc. Or, you can just buy an individual pie. Lunch one day was strawberry-rhubarb pie. Another day, it was cherry pie. The Gifford House also has home made ice cream, which is very good. I happen to be a purist when it comes to my pie — just pie, no ice cream. (Of course, I have had the ice cream, just not with the pie!)
A little further down that same road, you can pay a modest fee to take the scenic drive. Again, if you don’t get out of the car, you’ll see beautiful scenery. (Of course, you do need to like rocks.) There are several hiking trails off the scenic drive, all very nice.
Capitol Reef is perhaps the least well known of the five national parks in Utah. That might be because many visitors just drive through on Highway 24. It takes a little hiking to realize what a gem Capitol Reef truly is. I’ve primarily hiked the “main” area of the park accessed from Highway 24. That includes a day-long hike in Sulfur Creek as part of an REI hiking tour. There are other parts of the park that require something like a Jeep to access. Those are on the “to do” list.
Hickman Bridge Trail
The Hickman Bridge Trail is one of the most popular trails in the main part of Capitol Reef. It’s a few miles from the visitor center, with a small parking lot at the trailhead. The trail is a total of about three miles, with a loop at the end that takes you under Hickman Bridge. It’s a bridge, not an arch, because it was formed by water. (Arches, like at Arches National Park, are formed by various forces, like wind.)
The hike is rated moderate. It seems like it may be on the easier side of moderate. There’s a bit of an elevation gain, but it’s certainly manageable. And, there are some rocks to step around, on or over. Kind of an uneven walking surface in spots, but definitely not a matter of rock scrambling.
I think I first did the Hickman Bridge trail in 2012. There were a few other people on the trail, but there definitely were times when I felt like I was alone on the trail. When I did the hike in 2018, the number of hikers was significantly more. I don’t think I was ever out of sight of other hikers. It was not as crowded as some of the trails in the main part of Zion National Park, but like all of the national parks in Utah, the number of visitors to Capitol Reef has increased during the years I’ve been visiting Utah.
If you want more of a sense of being alone with nature, other parts of Capitol Reef are more remote than the main area along the highway. For me, even though there were more people at Capitol Reef on this visit than in past years, it still didn’t feel over-crowded. It’s still one of my favorite National Parks. And, not entirely because of the pies! Trails like Hickman Bridge are great, even if shared with more folks.