Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Capitol Reef National Park: What to do with Kids

In my last post I mentioned our stay in Capitol Reef National Park, it was one of three NP we visited while in Utah. We also stopped at two state parks. We figured if we were going from Western Utah to Eastern Utah (for a wedding) we'd make the best of it and drag our three small children all over the central portion of the state! I'm so grateful we did. We could have easily just gone from Delta to Moab and straight back, but we would have missed out on so many amazing experiences that lie just off the main road. Utah is most known for it's Northern (ski) and Southern (more famous National Parks) areas, but growing up in the desolate stretch of Central Utah has made that portion of the state my personal favorite. I love the small towns, far from city reach. I love the blend of desert and mountain terrain. I just love Central Utah. And in my next four posts I'll give you an easy, kidproof, roadtrip through that part of the state.

First, lets visit Capitol Reef National Park!

Capitol Reef offers the perfect campground for families. My previous post shared some of the details of our own (first family) campout. There are three lots, and a forth for tents only. They all filled up by mid afternoon and on busy weekends they fill up much quicker. There are camp hosts at the entry of each lot and they can help you with things like matches -- just in case you missed that part of your packing check list. There is a lot of shade and wild life and running water and modern day plumbing. Really, all the main things you need for a family camp out. Adventurous enough to appreciate the great out doors but not so primitive you loose your mind. I highly recommend camping in this park (I won't say the same for the other two we visited).

Help your kids become Junior Rangers! When I first started planning our whirlwind park tour I read through the list of things a child has to do to become a Junior Ranger and decided "ain't nobody got time for that!" But I was wrong. I WAS SO WRONG! The checklist does feel like it might restrict your visit a bit, but you will naturally do all those things with your children. They will not take extra time. You will have to make a stop (or two) at the Visitor Center -- once to get your child the Educational booklet and then again to have a Ranger welcome them into the program. We did this at both Canyonlands and Arches, which is ironic because we spent thrice as much time in Capitol Reef. I have deep regrets that my kids are missing that third badge! Guess we'll just have to go back in a couple of years.

Highway 24 offers several easy hikes and valuable history lessons for kids. You can see most of the park from state Hwy 24. Think of the Park as a T. Highway 24 runs East and West and offers wonderful trails, U-pick orchards, and several historic markers (both modern and prehistoric). On pullouts along 24 you can find panoramic views of Central Utah and Geologic wonders that scrape the sky. Below is a breakdown of three of the hikes we did.

Sunset Point and Goosenecks: These two trail heads share a parking lot. Goosenecks is a super short, straight up hike to panoramic views, mostly looking South. Sunset Point is a bit longer, but offers a more gradual incline. It is still rather short and my almost 3 year old walked the whole thing on her own. We hiked this trail at Sunset, and it did not disappoint. There was not a cloud in the sky, so the sunset to the West was hardly anything spectacular, but the way the setting sunlight shone on the mountains to the East was breathtaking. It completely transformed the desert landscape. Pictures do not do it justice, but I'll share them anyway. Our camera was my S6 (we didn't want to lug around anything bulkier), so you really can tell the shots do the scenery little justice.

Our entire crew walked in without any packs or carriers, super easy hike.
There is a large boulder that was easy enough for my children to climb on and enjoy the view. You can't really tell from the photo, but it really feels like they are just sitting on the edge of the world. 

One of my very favorite photos from the entire trip!

River boardwalk and Fremont Petroglyphs: A couple miles East of Sunset Point you'll run right into a well kept river boardwalk. The kids loved walking this little trail, as they were able to watch the river the entire time. We also kept our eye on the mountain, trying to spy Petroglyphs. If you look close enough you will find some that are unmarked by park posts. Because I had my S6 I didn't even bother taking any photos of the Petroglyphs, but my Father-in-Law, who visited the park a few days after we did, shot this fabulous photo.

The drawings are from the Fremont tribe, and are estimated to be over 600 years old. The tribe was wiped out before European settlers ever reached the area.

Old Fruita Schoolhouse: Other park history you learn on Hwy 24 belongs to the first European settlers. There is a tiny one room school house that once held as many as 16 students. We didn't stop there on this visit, but I know I went there a time or two with my own family when I was a kid. I always loved learning about the days of the Old West and imagining what it might have been like to be one of those children, attending an old one room school house during the day, picking fruit from the orchard on my walk home from school, tending the garden into the evening, and waking up early to make the day's fresh bread (or butter).

Hickman Bridge Hike:

Just past the Petroglyphs lies the Hickman Bridge Trailhead. It was one of my favorite landmarks of the entire vacation. The hike was a little more difficult for our children to handle. We had to take lots of breaks, drink lots of water, and eat lots of snacks, but we made it to the famous Natural Bridge and enjoyed ourselves along the way.

Reid (our almost 5 year old) was our only child who had to walk any of the trail. Nell was carried on Dad's back via our Kelty and Coraline rode on my chest thanks to our Ergo Sport. To make the trip more bearable for Reid we had him lead the way for the first 1/3 of the hike. He took this responsibility very seriously and only complained when one of us started ahead of him after any breaks we took. The first half of the trail takes up most of the incline and offers very little shade. But once we were further into the canyon we were finding all sorts of cool little places to stop and let Reid rest (and let us drink up, it's a lot of working hiking in an extra 25 - 50 pounds).

Our fearless leader

Stopping to identify some Cacti. Reid was very excited (and a bit scared) to see cactus in the wild.
Taking a break near some small arch structures. I love the baby eye peaking out!

Almost there!
Can you spot Ben and Nell hiking under the Bridge? Helps put things into scale, doesn't it!
The end of the trail is a loop that takes you under the bridge. Head North on that loop for the best view of the bridge. Round trip the hike is just less than 2 miles. There are several breathtaking views along the way. You can also identify different desert plants. And be sure to take in the smell of the Juniper trees! It is absolutely one of my most favorite scents. The sandstone peaks you see as you begin the hike are actually ancient sand dunes that, after lots of pressure, turned into mountains. Reid's always had an interest in geology, so we spent much of our hike talking to him about all these crazy facts. We are all still trying to wrap our head around the idea that sand can turn in to rock and rock turns in to sand. Most amazing of all, the simple (yet so complex) element of water is what really shapes the land.  

Cacti, Pine and Desert Grass, digging deep roots so they can each flourish in this harsh climate. 
Ben loved this view on the back side of the Bridge.
Reid loved the opportunity to sit down and throw some rocks.
We ran into other hikers at the Bridge, and they were kind enough to take a family photo -- and give us one of their extra water bottles (we ran out near the end). 

This is a more difficult hike to complete with children, but it is doable and well worth the reward. Ben and I want to instill a love of nature and a natural scientific curiosity into our children; both National Parks and State Parks provide ample opportunity to do so. I want my kids to be physically challenged, so they can appreciate the wonder that is their body. I firmly believe wholesome recreational activities build strong families, and building a strong family is currently my number one goal. But I'll stop preaching and just repeat: this hike is worth it -- even with three children under age four. 

Almost two miles in and out with desert heat -- ain't no thing for this little explorer!
Diva over here probably complained more than the hiker -- but she sure was cute!
Here are a couple of the photos my Father-in-Law took while he hiked Hickman Bridge. They are much more breathtaking than mine (clouds and a better camera will do that).

Ancient Sand Dune

Hickman Bridge

To enter the heart of the park, you must take the scenic drive. You can (and should) venture off Hwy 24 and into the park; your fist stop will be the Visitor Center. Each National Park Visitor Center is similar, in that it hosts the ranger station and the gift shop. I highly recommend buying something at this particular gift shop. Capitol Reef is quite primitive and the fees for the park are on the honor system. So unlike other parks, it doesn't have a huge revenue but it still has a huge workload. We buy a magnet at every park we visit, but we also bought Nell the adorable pink Junior Ranger hat you see photoed above. We hadn't thought to bring a hat along for either of the girls (the carriers have shade covers, but they weren't sufficient). Of course it was over priced (though only slightly), but we don't mind supporting a good cause.

Near the ranger station you'll find a wonderful Nature Center, which is closed after Labor Day. So we didn't get to see it, but I'm certain it is a wonderful place for kids to explore. There are also fruit orchards and a huge picnic area near the entry of the park. The Fremont River runs through this area, making it a beautiful oasis in the desert. Reid and Nell both loved going down by the river bottom and wandering around, crossing the shallowest points on big stones. We ate our lunch in this area and if you go in the late summer or early fall you can enjoy some fresh fruit. Also, the gnarliest Cotton Woods I've ever seen thrive in this little oasis. They must have been hundreds of years old. I've never seen anything like them. Crazy huge.

The campsites are just past the picnic area, but just before the campsite you'll find an early settlers old home. It's cozy and well kept. You can take a tour and learn about the history of the early Mormon settlers. You can even buy a delicious (and huge) homemade cinnamon roll baked fresh by one of their decedents (we ate it all up in a hurry). The cupboards were also lined with delicious looking pies. It's a quaint little shop and another great way to support the park and the local members of the community who keep it running.

We weren't able to do any hikes along the scenic route. We had planned to hike Capitol Gorge, but the road was washed out due to some flash floods that hit the park earlier this summer. All the other hikes along the scenic route are too long or too strenuous to do with young children. Ben kept saying "We'll come back when they're a little older and ..." He has all sorts of fancy adventures planned. But even without any hiking available, the drive is worth it.

We did get out and stretch our legs on Capitol Gorge road. Crews were working to repair the (gravel) road. We couldn't hear them, but Ben's Uncle went through the day after and he did. He's been on that particular hike before and he did tell us it is the best part of the whole park (most the books I researched mentioned the same), so maybe next time.

Once Upon a Time, just a couple months ago, this was a road any car could drive down.
I'm horrible at narrowing down pictures. The white flowering plant poking out at the bottom center of this one ... 
... Oh, but this one shows some of the sky, adding to the majesty of the mountain. 
Reid wanted to prove himself tuff this whole trip. He was confident he could go anywhere Daddy went.
There is another gravel spur road off the main scenic route that was not washed out, so we ventured up it. There were some note worthy things along the way. Reid was fascinated with some old, gated off uranium mines. Ben and I loved the random peak pictured below. There's also an arch named after the famous Butch Cassidy. I'm sure there is an adventurous story that goes along with that. It's hard to travel through the West and not stumble upon a famous outlaw's old hideout.

Where to go next: If you head South from Capitol Reef (on Hwy 12) you'll run into Bryce National Park in just over two hours. From there you can also visit Zion (Utah local's favorite National Park) and the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon.

If you continue East on Hwy 24 (as we did) stop at Goblin Valley State Park. It's awesome. Or you can even go East and then South (at Hanksville) and enjoy some time on Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Really, your possibilities are endless.

We definitely give Capitol Reef a five star review, and we can't wait to get back again. 

1 comment:

Pa said...

Surely all these photos make you want to move home! The beauty of Utah is like none other...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...