Just two hours west of the haven of Moab is Utah’s most underrated national park, Capitol Reef. The park itself is a free entrance park (with the exception of the scenic drive) and offers unique experiences with a lot less crowds.
When Mud Season hits the mountains, it becomes the ideal time for exploring Capitol Reef’s wonders. With temperatures being warm but not too hot and everything in bloom, you’ll be sure to have a fun-filled desert getaway. The park is about 400 square miles, facilitating lots of sections to explore. A few of my favorite ways to be adventurous in the park are as follows.
Inside the national park, there is a highlighted 8-mile drive called “The Scenic Drive” that features many worthwhile stops to different hikes and various overlooks, even some ever sought after arches. At the very end of the road you can explore a hike called “The Capitol Gorge.” Following the base of a canyon, the walls above you tower with petroglyphs from the previouscowboy and native settlers — a great way to see some history while still taking in the red rock canyon views.
For a more “rugged” adventure, set out to explore the Cathedral District of Capitol Reef by taking a drive down Harnet Road, off of Highway 24 (on your way out of the east entrance to the park), to connect to Cathedral Road that then loops back to Highway 24. The loop totals about 70 miles of unpaved high clearance dirt road and includes a river crossing at the beginning, not to mention limited to no cell reception, so you’ll definitely feel “out there.” On your drive in, there’s a hike worthwhile to the overlook of lower Cathedral Valley, roughly twomiles roundtrip. The hike provides a peak to the other side of the mountains you see to your right and views galore. If you have the time, it’s nice to break up the drive by camping a night. There is a six site first come first serve free campground inside the park at the juncture of Harnet and Cathedral Road. If you don’t catch a campsite there, Cathedral Road winds in and out of the National Park and BLM land, where you’ll be sure to find a campsite. On your way out of Cathedral Road, stop to see the Temple of the Sun and Moon and Glass Mountain, you won’t leave disappointed. The Cathedral District provides an experience that feels so remote and quiet you’ll want to stay awhile.
ORCHARDS + FARMS
Inside this gem of a national park, there are acres of orchards and farms that were from the previous Mormon settlers. Take a stroll through the fields and find yourself looking up at not only fruit trees but towering canyon walls. When the fruit is in season, you can stop at the local Gifford House inside the park to purchase homemade pie made from the fruit in the orchards — an experience unlike anything else you’ll find in a national park.
Photos by Holly Mandarich.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
Holly Mandarich is a freelance photographer, storyteller and graphic designer based in Vail, Colorado. She works with clients all over the nation to create content. Her primary focus lies in the adventure lifestyle world, working with brands and collectives like The Outbound to communicate the wondrous experiences that come from playing outside. Her outdoor passions include hiking and mountain biking in the summer, and skiing in the winter. You can find more of her work at HollyMandarich.com.