12 Things to Do This Winter in Capitol Reef National Park
It might seem like Capitol Reef National Park is best experienced in the spring or summer, but there’s actually quite a bit to do there in the winter. Since the park includes both low-elevation deserts that receive little to no snow and high-elevation areas with mountains and some snow, you’ll find there’s a variety of ways to enjoy the colder months there.
Winter in Capitol Reef is stark and uniquely beautiful. Plus, it’s much less crowded than during other seasons, so frequently you’ll have the place all to yourself. And in the lower elevations, daytime temperatures are often relatively mild. Here are some recreational activities you can still enjoy even in the wintertime.
Enjoy a Scenic Drive
Even if you don’t feel like braving the cold but still want to enjoy the park, it’s possible to do so from the comfort of your car. For a few dollars, you can cruise along the appropriately-named Scenic Drive, located just south of the visitors’ center. Or you can just stay on the main road, Highway 24, at no cost, and wind your way through Edward Abbey–what many consider to be the most beautiful canyon in the park.
The Chimney Rock Trail entrance is conveniently located right beside the highway. This trail is on the strenuous side though, so it’s best for experienced hikers. An easier option is Cohab Canyon, which features hidden canyons, stunning panoramic vistas, and gorgeous views of Fruita. The Cohab also links up with the Frying Pan trail, which connects to the Cassidy Arch trails, both of which also tend to be harder hikes but also have great views.
The best part of hiking here in the winter is the utter lack of other hikers. It’s possible that you won’t encounter another soul the entire time! Enjoy being alone with your thoughts in this unique location.
There is a variety of riding options in Capitol Reef. The diverse scenery ranges from scrubby desert to high alpine forests and lakes. Most of the park is open to horses and other pack animals; the only limitation is the availability of water. Before riding, make sure to familiarize yourself with feed restrictions and proper trail etiquette.
Boulder Mountain and Thousand Lake Mountain are both beautiful, fun rides located on the edge of the park. You’ll ride through pine and aspen forests, with more abundant access to lakes and sweeping meadows. You’ll also get breathtaking views of the neighboring desert.
Whatever activity you choose, be sure to dress appropriately. The elevations in the park range from 4,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level, so temperatures in the winter can vary widely depending on which part of the park you’re in. But generally, the temperature is in the 20s in the night and morning, rising to almost 50 degrees during the day. Think synthetic layers that are easy to strip off as the temperature increases: warm hat, scarf or neck gaiter, leggings or long johns, gloves, thick socks in well-insulated boots. And remember the importance of traction, especially if you’ll be hiking in the snow at any point. There are boot attachments you can buy to give you extra grip on ice and snow.
What are you waiting for? Plan your visit to Capitol Reef National Park today!