Many of the travelers who come to Southern Utah can only visit one national park. And that can make it tough, since it’s hard to choose between all five of the major parks. We at the Lodge understand this, and we want to try to help you out a little bit, so we’ve decided to write a couple comparison posts. This time around we’re comparing Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks.
So let’s get to it. If you can only visit one park, which do you go to? Both parks have amazing geology and unbelievable scenery. And while it does factor in a little bit, it’s hard to pick a favorite park based solely on the rock formations, since that’s kind of a personal preference thing. So for us at the Lodge it really comes down to the experiences that you can have in each place.-
Capitol Reef National Park:
Full disclosure, we are slightly biased in Capitol Reef’s favor, since it’s basically our backyard. Just so you know.
Scenery Description – Many of Capitol Reef’s sandstone formations are quite a bit older than those found in Zion (or at least Zion Canyon) so they are more eroded. This has created monoliths like the Temple of Sun in Cathedral Valley. Overall, we’d say the biggest difference is the concentration of sights. Capitol Reef’s coolest features are spread further apart, compared to those in Zion.
The Good Stuff – First, unlike Zion National Park, there is no entry fee required to get into the park, which saves you thirty-dollars per entering vehicle. (Although there are possible plans to significantly raise the entry rates to Zion. Capitol Reef has no plans to implement an entrance fee.) Which is nice if you’re planning a trip on a budget.
Second, Capitol Reef is also significantly less crowded, as it only draws in about a quarter of the annual visitors of Zion. This means that once you get outside the main section of the park, along Highway 24, you’re basically on your own. So you can literally hike a trail and never meet another person.
The Not-So-Good Stuff – since there is less tourist activity, there is less government funding allocated to Capitol Reef. This translates into fewer roads and less accessibility. Zion has two bus lines that service a large section of the park, but in Capitol Reef many of the roads are not even paved. This can limit the amount of the park that the average visitor is likely to see.
Zion National Park:
Scenery Description – Zion has an lot of amazing – and diverse – attractions. All within an easy distance of each other. That’s not to say that Capitol Reef offers less, but the different geologies of the park are harder to reach. In Zion, you can go from the hot, dry mesa plains to quiet, lush green pools in a few minutes.
The Good Stuff – First, Zion National Park is easier to get to, as it has a large city center nearby (Saint George and the surrounding towns.) These population bases also give the average traveler more amenities. (For example, there are no fast-food chain restaurants in Torrey.)
And second, Zion attracts a lot of artists and photographers to the area. And they can sell their work in many of the nearby galleries at the main entrance of the park. If you are in the mood for gallery shopping after a day of hiking, you should definitely stop by.
The Not-So-Good Stuff – For us the biggest con in Zion is the crowds. Every year 3.2 million visitors come to the park. In our view, this kind of dampens the connection with nature that we at really want when visiting a national park.