Capitol Reef National Park isn’t the most well-known national park in the US, but it’s worth checking out if you love nature. While it’s not the most popular park, it does get hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
If you want to be one of those visitors, but aren’t sure when to plan your visit, don’t worry — we’ve rounded up the cheapest, least busy, worst, and best times to visit. Let us be your guide!
Why You Should Visit Capitol Reef National Park
If you love national parks, you’ll be head over heels for Capitol Reef National Park. This park has everything a national park should have: stunning hiking trails, beautiful scenery, breathtaking views, and more.
What makes it special are the awe-inspiring geological formations, like the colorful red rock cliffs, funky-shaped boulders, and plunging canyons.
While this park is just as remarkable as any other national park in the country, it’s a hidden gem that is criminally underrated. It’s located in the Waterpocket Fold in Utah, a geologic monocline colloquially called a wrinkle in the earth.
Along with the geological significate, the area is also rich with history revolving around settlers and ingenious people, so it’s fun for history buffs too!
Overall Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
The best time of the year to visit the Capitol Reef National Park is mid-spring or mid-fall, and the best time of the day is early morning.
Frankly, you’ll likely enjoy Capitol Reef National Park no matter what time of year you decide to visit. The foliage in the fall, the sun in the summer, the snow in the winter, and the vegetation in the spring are all reasons to visit the park throughout the year.
However, if you want to enjoy the park to its fullest without being crowded by other visitors, we recommend planning your trip in mid-spring or mid-fall.
Specifically, March, early April, late October, and November are the best timeframes to explore the park without dealing with lots of other hikers and people. But during these weeks, you can also enjoy the mild weather, as opposed to the sweltering heat or frigid cold.
If you go in spring, you can relish the thriving flowers and trees, and if you go in autumn, you can admire the kaleidoscope of colorful foliage as the leaves change.
Now that you know the best time of year to visit, let’s talk about the ideal time of week and day to explore the park. If you want to avoid crowds weekdays are best, but no matter what weekday you go, we recommend going early.
The hours following the sunrise are majestic, as the sunlight makes the red rocks glow and the birds will be chirping their pretty songs. It’s a bonus that most visitors come later in the day, so you’ll have some peace.
As mentioned, the park is beautiful 365 days a year. But we think the optimal time to visit is early morning in March or October. So, that gives you the option to choose the slightly warmer spring season or mildly colder autumn time.
Cheapest Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
The cheapest time to visit the Capitol Reef National Park is during the entrance-free days.
You don’t have to pay the entrance fee if you visit on:
- January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 22: First day of National Park Week
- August 4: Great American Outdoors Act anniversary
- September 23: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Like most national parks, Capitol Reef National Park is an affordable place to visit. The basic entry fee cost is $10, but it’s $20 if you take your car into the park. Concerning entry fees, there are no price fluctuations.
If you aren’t concerned about the entry fee but want to save money on accommodations, that’s a different story. The most affordable time to stay in the area is winter, as there are fewer tourists.
From December to March, hotels, rentals, motels, and other accommodations drop their prices and offer off-season deals. You can save as much as a few hundred dollars and avoid crowds by booking in the winter.
Least Busy Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
The least busy times to explore the Capitol Reef National Park are weekdays, early mornings, late evenings, and during winter, especially January and February.
Trying to escape the hustle and bustle of your daily life by hiking through the rocks is difficult when you’re surrounded by people snapping photos, riding bikes, and making noise.
If you want to escape to Capitol Reef National Park for some peace and calm, there are off-season times you can go. So, if you’re all about a solo hike where you can escape humanity for a few hours, we have some helpful tips.
It’s not a secret that most people work 9-5 and have children in school 8-3, so one of the least busy times to go to the park is on a weekday. Daytime Mondays through Fridays is typically lowkey, so you can wander around the park without bumping into too many strangers.
Despite the radiant color and energy early in the morning at this park, not many visitors venture before 10 am. If you want to go on a Saturday or Sunday without navigating around other people, you can get some quiet by going bright and early.
Ideally, you should leave your home or accommodations before the sun rises and time your arrival to coincide with the light.
If you go this early, you’ll likely be one of the very few visitors, if not the only one. You can also watch the sunrise over the rocks, which is a mesmerizing and memorable sight.
If you’re not an early bird but more of a night owl, you can also avoid other people by going later in the evening. The park is open 24 hours a day, so you can go in the dead of the night if you want.
However, we strongly advise against this, as it’s highly dangerous to be out in nature, alone, in the dark. But you can explore the park just before the sun sets. If you want to visit the park later in the day, we recommend going in the summer.
The sun will set later, giving you more time to enjoy the excursion, and you won’t have to worry about the temperature dropping below freezing when the sun disappears. Bask in the warm evening air and wander the park without all the hustle and commotion of families around you.
January and February are undeniably the best times to visit the park if you hate being around other guests. In January and February, just over 10,000 people visit the park each month.
From April to October, the park sees well over 100,000 visitors each month, so it’s ten times less crowded in January and February. Those winter months can be cold, dropping to temperatures below 30ºF.
So, it’s not surprising the visitor numbers taper off during this time. But if you don’t mind the cold and bundle up, you can explore the park in peace and maybe watch a picturesque snowfall.
Worst Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
The worst times to visit Capitol Reef National Park are during May and September, July and August, December through February, and weekends afternoon.
Again, this park is a stunning place to visit any time of the year or day. But some times are super busy, and others deliver harsh weather that can make hiking miserable. Below is an explanation of the worst times to visit Capitol Reef National Park based on weather and busyness.
May and September
The worst times to visit the park in terms of other visitors are May and September. Both of these months see well over 150,000 visitors.
These months are also when many families spend time in the park, so it’s likely to be louder with giggling kids and fussy babies. If you want to avoid crowded hiking trails and parking lots, avoid May and September at all costs.
July and August are extremely hot; temperatures in the park can reach up to 91ºF. And many parts of the geological park do not offer plentiful shade from the scorching sun. The risk of dehydration and fatigue increases substantially in the middle of the Utah summer.
On the other hand, winter can super cold in the park. December, January, and February see temperatures around 20ºF and below.
Even when properly dressed and prepared for the cold weather, these low temperatures can make hiking unpleasant. Unless you’re a snow bunny, you’ll likely not enjoy the dead of winter in Capitol Reef National Park.
Lastly, weekend afternoons, between 11 am and 3 pm, are insanely busy with families and visitors. What better time to enjoy the beauty of Capitol Reef National Park than on a Saturday afternoon?
Unfortunately, everyone seems to have this same thought, causing the hiking trails to be crowded and the parking lot full.
Things to Consider
Before planning your visit, there are a few things to consider:
- Age Group: Make sure you consider who you’re visiting with, whether it’s children or older people, as not all hiking trails are easy.
- Preferred Activities: If you want a scenic drive instead of a hike, winter is a fine time to visit. Consider what activities you want to do and choose a suitable season.
- Duration In the Area: If you live near the park, going on a weekday morning is easier. But if you’re visiting Utah, it’s best to plan your trip around the off-season.
- Budget: If you’re visiting on a budget, try to go in the off-season to save money.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are a few commonly asked questions about the park:
How many hiking trails does the park have?
Capitol Reef National Park has over 20 different hiking trails. Most of them are easy, but there are a handful of trails that are more strenuous and challenging.
Can I drive through the park?
Yes, the park has several scenic routes you can drive down, enjoying the park’s beauty without leaving the comfort of your vehicle.
Can I camp in the park?
Yes! You can camp on one of the several campgrounds inside the park, such as Fruita Campground, Group Site, Cathedral Valley, and Cedar Mesa. Most of these parks require reservations, so plan ahead.
Does the park have restrooms or other facilities?
Flush toilets are available year-round at the park’s visitor center. There are also pit toilets at the beginning of most trails. Aside from restrooms, the park has designed areas for eating, with trash cans, overhead coverings, and picnic tables.
Are there tour guides?
Yes, there are tour guides available to walk you through the park. You have to schedule your tour guide ahead and specify what parts of the park you want to see and learn about.
So, When Should You Go to Capitol Reef National Park?
The best time of day to wander around the park is early in the morning, ideally on a weekday. The ideal time of year to enjoy Capitol Reef National Park is either March, if you want warm weather and green trees, or October, if you want crisp air and fall foliage.
However, this place is one of the most sensational national parks and is highly underappreciated. No matter when you go, you’ll be amazed by the majesty of this area. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!