Utah's secret park

It may not get the hype (or the crowds) of big-shot neighbors Bryce Canyon and Zion, but one springtime visit may just make Capitol Reef your new favorite national park

Kate Siber

48 hours in Torrey and Capitol Reef


3 p.m. Roll into town on State 24, which turns into Torrey’s mile-long main drag lined with huge cottonwood trees. Spend a laid-back afternoon poking around the shops.

For a taste of the local art scene, duck into Gallery 24 (closed Sun; 135 E. Main St.) and the Torrey Gallery (closed Sun; 80 E. Main).

6 p.m. Head to Cafe Diablo, the only gourmet restaurant around, for dinner on a patio set in a garden of 3,000 tulips.

A mix of locals and out-of-towners makes a scene that’s far more casual and friendly than you’d expect from a place with upscale dishes like baby back pork ribs slow-roasted with a chipotle, molasses, and rum glaze. $$$; opens Apr 14; 599 W. Main.

8 p.m. Three miles west of town, check into the sprawling Lodge at Red River Ranch on the banks of the Fremont River. Butch Cassidy reportedly stayed here, and the lodge still has plenty of Wild West charm, with Navajo rugs, antiques, and an oversize stone fireplace.

Grab a book or game from the library and hang out on the wraparound porch before hitting the hay. From $160; two-night minimum; 2900 W. State 24


8 a.m. Fuel up for a day of hiking Capitol Reef. At the lodge’s Cliff-stone Restaurant ($), fresh eggs, homemade granola, and chilaquiles with avocado and salsa come with views of the Boulder Mountains.

9:30 a.m. Pick up picnic supplies at Austin’s Chuck Wagon General Store in Torrey, where you’ll find deli sandwiches, fresh brownies, and water bottles. 12 W. Main.

10 a.m. Drive 10 miles along State 24 to Capitol Reef National Park. The visitor center has free trail maps. One easy start is the flat 4.5-mile round-trip Grand Wash Trail, which threads through a canyon.

For more of a challenge, try the dramatic (and steeper) 2-mile round-trip Hickman Bridge Trail to see bright fuchsia and red cactus blooms and a 133-foot-long natural bridge. 

1 p.m. You no doubt noticed the blooming fruit trees just beyond the visitor center in an area of the park aptly named Fruita. Head back this way and pull over anywhere you see an open orchard gate for lunch under the spring blooms.

Fun fact: These cherry, peach, pear, apple, and apricot orchards were originally planted by Mormon pioneers more than a century ago.

3 p.m. In the afternoon, check out the park’s out-and-back Scenic Drive, which branches off State 24 at the visitor center.

The historic 25-mile tour has sweeping panoramas of sheer-walled canyons, multilayered domes, and views of the famous 100-mile-long rock Waterpocket Fold. Factor in a good 90 minutes, including stops to ogle. $5 per vehicle.

6 p.m. On the way back to Torrey, stop at the Rim Rock Restaurant for the best views of any area restaurant―especially nice from the patio.

Watch the sun setting over the park while digging into hearty comfort food like steak and smoked ribs. $$$; 2523 E. State 24

9 a.m. Grab coffee and a pastry from Robber’s Roost Books and Beverages in Torrey, where you can see the desertscape from the back windows. 185 W. Main

9:30 a.m. To explore the more remote reaches of the park, try a pioneer-style trip by horseback.

Capitol Reef Backcountry Out-fitters leads you through the canyons to see Ancestral Puebloan ruins, rock art, wildflowers, and wildlife like desert bighorn sheep. $120 for a 5-hour ride.

3 p.m. You can’t take off without a piece of pie from Gifford Homestead, a pioneer home turned pie shop south of the visitor center. Dig into a slice of berry at a picnic table outside. 435/425-3791 ext. 106.

Next: Pit stops along the way


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