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If you’re out in Moab, Utah, visiting Arches or Canyonlands National Parks, don’t forget about another National Park which isn’t too far away. Capitol Reef National Park, located in Torrey, Utah, is only a 2.5 hour drive from Moab. Even though it’s a lot less visited and known, it’s no less impressive than the other parks!
If you want to just go to Capitol Reef for the day and come back to Moab you can make a day trip out of it. The drive itself is easy along open highway. Just start early so you have enough time if you want to get back before dark.
Alternatively you can take your time with the drive, make a few stops along the way, then stay overnight in Torrey or camp right in Capitol Reef!
Leaving Moab on route 191
As you head north on route 191 you’ll pass by the entrances to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, along with Dead Horse Point State Park. Moab is a great place to stay for several days to see these places since they’re so close to the town, and there’s also plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, off roading, etc.
But enough about Moab, get on Route 191 and start heading north until you reach the intersection with I-70.
Driving on I-70
After about 30 minutes of driving you’ll come to a T intersection. This is Crescent Junction. You’ll see Papa Joe’s Stop & Go gas station and quick mart on the corner. To continue on towards Capitol Reef you’ll be making a left turn here, heading west.
Side Trip: Sego Canyon Petroglyphs
If you head east on I-70, about a 15 minute drive from Crescent Junction and just north of the town of Thompson is Sego Canyon. It’s easy to get to and worth the trip if you’re into spotting petroglyphs! There are several spots to see them in there, with a small parking area and signage-you’ll know when you get to it.
Also for another small adventure if you don’t mind driving on a dirt road, if you continue on past the petroglyph area, and keep right at the fork, you’ll come across a cemetery and some abandoned building-the Sego Canyon ghost town!
Side Trip: Green River
As you continue on down I-70 west, the highway bypasses the town of Green River. If you’re in the mood to stop and learn a bit of history however, take the exit into town, as there is the John Wesley Powell River History Museum you can visit. If you’ve been to any of the National Parks in the area then you’ll probably have heard the name John Wesley Powell before. He was a lead explorer in the late 1800’s into Colorado, Utah, and Arizona-going down the Green & Colorado Rivers through the Grand Canyon.
Also if you’re into fun road side attractions, check out the giant watermelon sculpture that’s right near the museum!
Side Trip: San Rafael Swell
About 15 minutes from Green River you’ll come to Route 24 south, which is the quickest way to get to Capitol Reef and the way I took when going there. However, an alternate route is to stay on I-70. If you stayed on that highway you’d pass through a land formation called the San Rafael Swell, which is a huge bulge in the land, creating interesting formations and canyons. You can explore the land there as it’s open to the public, and there are several viewpoints that you can stop to rest at and look at the landscape.
South on Utah Route 24
You’ll see the San Rafael Reef ahead of you as you approach Route 24. You’ll make a left turn heading south on 24 and the reef formation will be on your right hand side. I think the scenery is fantastic out here no matter which way you go!
Side Trip: Goblin Valley State Park
Probably the biggest side trip on this whole route would be Goblin Valley State Park! You could easily fill up the rest of your day exploring this park, especially if you enjoy hiking. Full of unusual rock formations and hoodoos, the funny shapes are where the park gets its name from. It’s a 20 minute drive off route 24, so make sure you plan a couple extra hours if you plan to visit here!
Route 24 continues west as you approach the little town of Hanksville, so if you’re just passing through follow it that way. Hanksville has a couple little restaurants, and even motels and a campground, so it’s a good place to stay if you spent a while at Goblin Valley and want to stop for the night and continue to Capitol Reef the next day, which isn’t much farther on.
A cool place for a quick stop at is Hollow Mountain, a gas station and convenience store which has been built into a hollowed out rock on the side of the road. It’s pretty neat inside! It’s on the left corner when you get to the intersection of route 24 and 95 at the edge of town.
As you continue the rest of the way you’ll notice trees and greenery start popping up due to the Fremont river nearby. The rest of the drive follows the river which leads right into Capitol Reef National Park!
And that’s it! It’s a very easy drive on an uncrowded highway, you’ll be there and exploring Capitol Reef before you know it–unless of course you decide to check out the neat side trips along the way. Happy travels! 😉