14 BEST Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for Kids

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Capitol Reef isn’t known for having the best hikes of the five Utah national parks for families. It doesn’t boast the diverse scenery of Zion or the short and sweet trails to various rock formations in Arches.

And while many of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park are backcountry trails, there are easily enough family-friendly hikes to keep you and your kids active for a day or more! They’ll allow you to witness jaw-dropping overlooks across sandstone mountains, slot canyons, petroglyphs, and even historic farms and fruit orchards.

The 377-square-mile national park is split into five districts: Fruita Historic District, Waterpocket, Cathedral Valley, Sulphur Creek, and the Slot Canyons of Burro, Cottonwood, and Sheets Gulch. Most of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for families are in the Fruita District.

This guide lists all the best Capitol Reef hikes for families, starting with easy hikes for younger kids and moderate hikes for older kids. Check out the interactive map, and there are also essential tips for families traveling on a road trip to Capitol Reef National Park at the end to ensure your trip is epic and memorable for the right reasons!

family at Capitol Reef National Park sign in UtahPin
our family at Capitol Reef

Note: As you’ll see, many of the family-friendly trails in this park have the word “overlook” in them. That’s because there are a lot of steep, high cliffs and terrain in this park. Be mindful of drop-offs and aware of your surroundings. Your mama bear radar may be on high alert at places in this park, for sure.

family at Capitol Reef National Park sign in UtahPin

Best Hikes in Capitol Reef for Families: Interactive Map

Below you’ll find an interactive map that highlights each of the trail recommendations made in this article. You’ll be able to see the relative distance to hikes, as well as other park highlights like visitor centers, etc.

How to Use This Map:

Click on any of the trail recommendations marked with the bed icon in this color. A popup will open discussing the hike in greater detail.

Clicking the star next to the name of the map will save the map to your google account. To access it later on a computer or your smartphone, open google maps and select “Your Places”.

Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for Younger Kids

1. Petroglyph Panel Trail

Distance: 0.3-mile out and back trail (approx. 15 minutes)

Difficulty: Very Easy

District: Fruita District

Location: Public Parking near Petroglyphs on Utah State Route 24

Petroglyph Panel Trail is one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for families for two reasons. First, it’s a short, flat (elevation is less than 50 ft), and easy hike. Second, you and your kids get to see something cool at the end of the trail!

best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park: walking along Petroglyph Panel trail, Capitol Reef NP, UtahPin
my oldest son walking on Petroglpyh Panel Trail

Petroglyphs are a scientific name for rock carvings. Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people made the ones on these canyon walls during their time living here from 600-1300 AD. The carvings depict their stories, crop cycles, hunting patterns, and more.

There is a small, dirt parking area at the trailhead. Public bathrooms are just down the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive at the Hickman Bridge Pullout.

best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park: telescopes are installed along the Petroglyph Panel Trail so that visitors can more easily look at these ancient rock drawingsPin
take advantage of the binoculars along the Petroglyph Panel Trail to get an even better look at these amazing rock drawings

2. Goosenecks Overlook Trail

Distance: 0.2-mile out and back trail (approx. 15 minutes)

Difficulty: Very Easy

District: Fruita District

Location: Goosenecks Overlook Trailhead

Although it’s more of a short walk to an overlook than a full-on hike, Goosenecks Overlook Trail is a good option for kids of all ages. It’s a great trail to introduce your young kids to hiking and is short enough that you’ll be able to carry babies and toddlers in a carrier.

NPS sign at Goosenecks Overlook, Capitol Reef NP, UtahPin
Famartin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The elevation change is less than 50 ft and you get great views over the canyons of this Red Rock country and the Sulphur Creek. Although it’s one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for kids, note that there are no barriers or walls at the viewpoint (yikes!). It’s essential to be mindful of your kids’ safety.

There is a parking area at the trailhead which is also the trailhead for Sunset Point Trail. There aren’t any bathrooms here, but you can find some close by at the Chimney Rock Loop Trail.

Gooseneck OverlookPin
View from Gooseneck Overlook – mind your kiddos at this overlook as there are no barriers | CanyonlandsNPS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook Trail

Distance: 0.2-mile out and back trail (approx. 10-20 minutes)

Difficulty: Very Easy

District: Cathedral Valley

Location: Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook Road

This is one of the best short hikes in Capitol Reef National Park, but it’s often overlooked due to its remote location in the Cathedral Valley District. Since this is an easy trail to an overlook with a minor elevation change of 22ft, it’s similar to Goosenecks Overlook Trail. Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook has some of the best views across the deep canyon of the valley.

There is a small parking area at the trailhead close to Cathedral Valley Campground. The closest bathrooms are in the Fruita District, which is pretty far away down the Hartnet Cathedral dirt road.

view of Cathedral Mountain from upper Cathedral Valley overlook; Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
view of Cathedral Mountain from upper Cathedral Valley overlook

4. Sunset Point Trail

Distance: 0.8-mile out and back trail (approx. 30 minutes)

Difficulty: Easy

District: Fruita District

Location: Goosenecks Overlook Trailhead

After you complete the hiking trail to Goosenecks Overlook, check out the Sunset Point Trail which has the same trailhead. It’s yet another short yet beautiful trail to an overlook that has the best views in Capitol Reef National Park at sunset. Hence the name!

The elevation change is less than 50 ft and, although the path is sometimes rocky, it’s a great hike for younger kids and one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for everyone. Just take your time and keep in mind there’s a dropoff at the end, though not a dramatic one. As mentioned, the closest bathrooms are at Chimney Rock Loop Trail.

man sitting at Sunset Point, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
man sitting at Sunset Point | National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Capitol Gorge Trail

Distance: 2-mile out and back trail (approx. 60-90 minutes)

Difficulty: Easy

District: Fruita District

Location: Capitol Gorge Trailhead

Capitol Gorge Trail truly is one of the most popular, best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for families. You can’t visit Capitol Reef without adding this easy 2-mile hike to your list! It’s sometimes called the Pioneer Register Trail after the trail’s main scenic spot.

Pioneer Register: inscriptions/rock carvings of early settlers and travelers, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
The “Pioneer Register” | Tricia Simpson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Pioneer Register is a log of historic inscriptions on the canyon wall in the late 1800s. Prospectors, explorers, cowboys, and settlers who passed through the area carved their names to leave their mark. Everyone who visits Capitol Reef says it’s one of their favorite things to see on one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park.

The elevation change of the trail is only 80 ft and while the terrain isn’t flat, it’s not too difficult to traverse. It’s a great place to spot bighorn sheep and you can see water tanks at the end of the trail.

best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park: Capitol Gorge TrailPin

6. Grand Wash Trail

Distance: 4.4-mile out and back trail (approx. two and a half hours)

Difficulty: Easy

District: Fruita District

Location: Parking Lot at the end of East Grand Wash Road

Another favorite hike of families with kids, Grand Wash Trail might not be the flattest trail in the park with a 200 ft elevation change but it is the shadiest. It’s the perfect place to hike on a hot summer day!

warning sign at Grand Wash about flash floodingPin
warning sign about flash flooding at Grand Wash | Nikater, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This is one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park to take you through narrow canyons with a flat, even surface. You don’t have to complete the entire round trip if you don’t have time as you can turn back when you like.

best hikes in Capitol Reef NP, Utah: Grand Wash TrailPin

You can park on the side of the road at the trailhead, but it’s better to tackle the trail from the Cassidy Arch Trailhead instead. There is a parking lot and public bathroom.

best hikes in Capitol Reef NP, Utah: Grand Wash TrailPin

7. Sulphur Creek Waterfall Trail

Distance: 1.8-mile out and back trail (approx. 40-60 minutes)

Difficulty: Easy

District: Sulphur Creek

Location: Capitol Reef Visitor’s Center

Let’s be clear: this is not the entire 5.6-mile Sulphur Creek Route Trail! That is a strenuous one-way hike. This is the Sulphur Creek Waterfall Trail which is very family-friendly and does not require two cars.

The Sulphur Creek Waterfall Trail actually follows the Sulphur Creek with a 147 ft elevation change. You will need to check the water level with the Visitor Center before attempting this trail, but it really is suitable for most kids. If they aren’t keen, you can just splash in the water for a bit without hiking.

On a summer’s day, they will love the cool temperatures of the water! Bring sturdy water shoes before attempting this trail (these are the ones I swear by for myself and the kids).

Sulphur Creek, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
Sulphur Creek

8. Lower Cathedral Valley Overlooks Trail

Distance: 1.8-mile out and back trail (approx. 60-90 minutes)

Difficulty: Easy

District: Cathedral Valley

Location: Side of Hartnet Cathedral Road

This is one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park in the Cathedral Valley District. The terrain is a little rocky but the elevation change is only around 140 ft. At the end of the trail, you can see across to the Temple of the Sun rock formation and across the northern part of the park.

There’s a small place to park at the trailhead, but public bathrooms and other amenities are pretty far away in the Fruita District.

NPS sign for Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook Trail, Capitol Reef National ParkPin
Lower Cathedral Valley Overlook Trailhead | Author
Greg Willis from Denver, CO, usa via Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

9. Hickman Bridge Trail

Distance: 1.8-mile out and back/loop trail (approx. 90 minutes)

Difficulty: Moderate

District: Fruita District

Location: Hickman Bridge Pullout

Along with Capitol Gorge Trail, Hickman Bridge Trail is a favorite hike in Capitol Reef National Park for families. It’s a well-marked trail with a 400 ft elevation change, but an incredible natural bridge is waiting for you all at the end.

Hickman Bridge, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
Hickman Bridge

The best time to tackle one of the most popular, best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park is early morning. Though the parking lot is a generous size, it soon fills up. There are public bathrooms in this parking area too.

Hickman Bridge, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin

10. Fremont River Trail

Distance: 2-mile out and back trail (approx. 60 minutes)

Difficulty: Moderate

District: Fruita District

Location: Fruita Campground

This is one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for kids because of all the beautiful views and cool things to explore. It has a 480 ft elevation change but you’re hiking along the Fremont River next to fruit orchards, wildflowers, and under the shade of trees. The path is flat and you could probably tackle it with a heavy-duty stroller.

view from Fremont River Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
view along the Fremont River Trail | NPS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At the start of the Fremont River Trail, you’ll find a picnic area and bathrooms at the Fruita Campground as well as the Gifford House. This farmhouse is a recreation by the National Park Service of what a typical early 1900s Mormon settlement would have looked like.

They settled in the Fruita Valley because it’s a surprisingly green and fertile area in the Waterpocket Fold. The more ramshackle Pendleton Barn is also on the Gifford Homestead. Don’t forget to visit both before or after you hike the Fremont River Trail!

bridge over Fremont River, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
Bridge over Fremont River

11. Cohab Canyon Trail

Distance: 3.5-mile out and back trail (approx. two and a half hours)

Difficulty: Moderate

District: Fruita District

Location: Cohab Canyon Trailhead (Fruita Campground)

The last of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park that are super kid-friendly is Cohab Canyon Trail. As the name suggests, this trail weaves through slot canyons all the way to the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive.

It has a 440 ft elevation change and there is some shade from the canyons and trees en route. the train is over uneven surfaces, but not too rocky that kids can’t navigate it and have a great time. If your kids are finding the distance a challenge, you can always turn back whenever you like.

Park at Fruita Campground which is where the trailhead is located. Public bathrooms, Fruita Barn, and the Gifford Homestead are here too so don’t forget to check those out!

Cohab Canyon Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
Cohab Canyon Trail

Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for Older Kids

12. Cassidy Arch Trail

Distance: 1.7-mile out and back trail (approx. two hours)

Difficulty: Strenuous

District: Fruita District

Location: Parking Lot at the end of East Grand Wash Road

Although the Cassidy Arch Trail is a strenuous hike due to the elevation change of 670 ft, it is still very popular with families. This is because you actually walk over a real natural arch! Yes, it has steep drop-offs on either side so you may not want to take kids unused to hiking or walking near steep ledges.

Cassidy Arch Trail Capitol Reef National ParkPin
Cassidy Arch Trail

The Cassidy Arch Trailhead is well-equipped with lots of parking and public bathrooms, and it’s also a trailhead for the Grand Wash Trail. You can turn back and take the Frying Pan Spur Trail which is one of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park, albeit not very kid-friendly.

Cassidy Arch Trail Capitol Reef National ParkPin
Cassidy Arch Trail

13. Golden Throne Trail

Distance: 3.5-mile out and back trail (approx. two hours)

Difficulty: Strenuous

District: Fruita District

Location: Capitol Gorge Trailhead

Although a 777 ft elevation change would be tough for younger kids, that’s not the main reason why the Golden Throne Trail is better for older kids. This trail follows a ridge around a canyon with a steep drop off so it’s much better suited for teens.

The pay off is that this trail will reward you with panoramic views for almost 100% of the way! Surprisingly, there isn’t an overlook at the end of the trail as you end up in the belly of a canyon. Since the trailhead is also the Capitol Gorge Trailhead, there is a parking lot and public bathrooms.

golden throne capitol reef national park, UtahPin

14. Chimney Rock Trail

Distance: 3.6-mile loop trail (approx. three-four hours)

Difficulty: Strenuous

District: Fruita District

Location: Chimney Rock Trailhead

The last of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for families is the Chimney Rock Trail. It’s a longer, more difficult route that will take up half a day. It has 590 ft elevation change which loops around the Mummy Cliffs with views of the Chimney Rock formation. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have steep drop offs like some of the other trails but the terrain is fairly uneven.

You’ll find a parking lot at the trailhead as well as public bathrooms. Some of the best sights from the Capitol Reef scenic drive are near the Chimney Rock Trailhead, such as the Fluted Wall and Panorama Point. Don’t forget to slow down to take in these cool geological formations before starting your hike!

Chimney Rock, Capitol Reef National Park, UtahPin
Chimney Rock

Best Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park That Aren’t Ideal for (Most) Kids

Many of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park are strenuous hikes, far too difficult for most children. However, if you’re traveling with your teenage kids who are expert hikers, these trails might be good options! You know your family better than anyone else.

For most families, these are some of the most popular hikes in Capitol Reef to skip:

  • Frying Pan Trail: This is only a 2.9-mile trail, but it has an 810 ft elevation gain. Not only is the Frying Pan Trail a steep climb, but the path connects Cohab Canyon and Cassidy Arch Trails on top of a ridge. This could be dangerous for children not used to hiking near drop-offs.
  • Rim Overlook Trail: This trail has a total distance of 2.3 miles but climbs a whopping 1,110 ft elevation. You get panoramic views of the ghost town of Fruita and the Waterpocket Fold from the Rim Overlook Trail, but it’s not the best option for kids with little legs.
  • Navajo Knobs Trail: An extension of the Rim Overlook Trail, the Navajo Knobs Trail is longer and more strenuous. It’s 4.7 miles long and climbs 1,620 ft. Some of the most incredible views in Capitol Reef National Park can be found on this trail, but you’d expect a good payoff for the difficulty!

Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Tips for Families

  • Check out Capitol Reef Visitor Center: It’s a good habit to check in at the visitor center for an up-to-date weather forecast and expert advice from a park ranger. Flash floods are a risk in the summer months. The National Park Service also produces self-guiding brochures for some hikes.
  • Bring Plenty of Water: Not all of the best hikes in Capitol Reed National Park provide shade from the sun and there aren’t many water refill stations. Pack plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen to stay safe on the trails. Early morning and late afternoon hikes are a good idea during the summer months.
  • Rent a High Clearance Vehicle: South Draw Road and Hartnet Road are only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles (4WD) with a high clearance.
  • Be Mindful of Elevation Levels: Capitol Reef National Park sits at 5,500 ft, so if you and your kids are used to a lower elevation, take it easy and don’t push yourself too soon.
  • Visit Other National Parks in Utah: Utah’s other Mighty Five national parks are Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands. Although they are more crowded than Capitol Reef, they’re all well worth visiting!
  • Check the National Park Website: Capitol Reef is an International Dark Sky Park, so there is an astronomy program led by a local guide from May to October. The visitor center also runs Geology Talks, Archeology Talks, a sunset program, and a Junior Ranger program. Check the official website for other best things to do in Capitol Reef besides hiking.
kids looking through binoculars at petroglyphs at Capitol Reef National ParkPin
my kids enjoying the sights at Capitol Reef

Pin this article about the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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