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Capitol Reef Scenic Drive Closure

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive Closure

Posted in: Lodge Announcements, Travel on April 24, 2024.

Old Roads, New Roads

Capitol Reef National Park has been growing in popularity for years now. In fact, we get about 1.2 million visitors every year! So, as you can imagine, some of the infrastructure that was created decades ago to service the park isn’t quite up to the job anymore. And if you’ve driven on the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive recently, then you’ll know that this small, two-lane road can become a bit hectic during peak hours. It just wasn’t built to handle this kind of traffic. Luckily however, a fix is happening soon!

A construction vehicle stands on a dirt patch near a road

Photo by Boukaih via unsplash.com

Time for a Little T.L.C.

Starting in just a couple of days, on April 29, 2024, the National Park Service will begin a rehabilitation project for the Scenic Drive. This renovation is expected to last throughout the summer, concluding sometime this fall. There are four stated goals for the project:

  1. Expand parking capacity and delineation of parking spots. This aims to improve safety and access while reducing the number of vehicles parked along the highway and Scenic Drive.

  2. Improve drainage due to the area’s flood-prone landscape.

  3. Slightly widen the road especially in tight curve areas; allowing larger vehicles to pass each other without leaving the road surface.

  4. Make accessibility improvements including additional accessible parking spaces, sidewalks, and low-slope grading.

Hopefully this project will make the Scenic Drive a much easier way to access that part of Capitol Reef – without all the current drawbacks.

A sign designating a trail

Photo by Camille Couvez via unsplash.com

Ok, But Can I Still Access The Trails on the Scenic Drive?

Well… no, not for long. We know that some of the coolest hikes have their trailheads on the Scenic Drive. (Shoutout to Cassidy Arch, still one of our favorites after all this time.) If you are heading to Capitol Reef in the next couple of weeks, you can still access the parking area for Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash through May 12th. On the 13th, however, the road will be closed entirely for the duration of the project.

Keep in mind, you can still access the Grand Wash from the trailhead on Highway 24 (updated map here), but you will have to backtrack to your car. You can’t have a vehicle parked on both sides like we usually recommend.

And you CAN still make it to Cassidy Arch after May 13th, if you hike from Cohab Canyon, across the Frying Pan trail, and connect to the Cassidy Arch trail. But again, you will have to backtrack the way you came. We don’t recommend this for a couple of reasons – it’s very hot, and very long. Most hikers are not up for it. Instead, we’ve got a couple of alternate ideas for what to do while the Scenic Drive is closed.

The view from underneath Hickman Bridge

Photo by Intricate Explorer via unsplash.com

What You Should See Instead

If you are visiting the park after May 13th, we have a couple of other suggestions for you. These areas of the park will be good substitutes for anything that you will miss on the Scenic Drive.

For a great scenic road tour, drive the Burr Trail
Burr Trail
(Road Trip | 62 mile loop | 4 – 6 hours)

We’ve written a pretty descent guide to the Burr Trail already. So we’ll link to it here. For now, we’ll just say that it’s one of our all-time favorite things to do in Capitol Reef. You will get to see so much more of the park, including the Waterpocket Fold, the southern section that is much less visited. We highly recommend that you check this out. When you’re done, you won’t even care that you couldn’t see the Scenic Drive!

For a canyon hike like the Grand Wash, try Cohab Canyon
Cohab Canyon
(Moderate | 1.7 – 2.9 miles one-way | 1 – 2.5 hours)

This is a great canyon hike! It’s more narrow than the Grand Wash, with lots of little side canyons that you can explore. It also has the advantage of an open road on either side of the trail, so you can arrange for a shuttle to take you back to your vehicle. Park one car at the Gifford House or Picnic Area, and one car at the Hickman bridge trailhead.

Check out this guide for more details.

For an arch/overlook experience, try Hickman Bridge and the Rim Overlook
Hickman Bridge and the Rim Overlook
(Strenuous | 4.6 – 6.1 miles out-and-back | 4 – 5 hours)

Hickman Bridge is a short detour from the main hike to the Rim Overlook, so check that out first. The Hickman Bridge trail is probably the most popular hike in park, so expect some crowds – especially since Cassidy Arch is closed. After you wander around and under the bridge, head back and continue toward the overlook. We promise it’s the one of the best views in the entire park, and will more than make up for what you’ll miss from the top of Cassidy Arch!

You can get more info from this guide on Hickman Bridge and the Rim Overlook.

The Scenic Drive winding through Capitol Reef

Photo by Lisha Riabinina via unsplash.com

We’ll Keep You Updated

The Lodge at Red River Ranch will keep an eye on any developments throughout the Scenic Drive Rehabilitation Project. We’ll let you know if anything noteworthy happens. And, of course, we’ll tell you the moment the Scenic Drive is fully open again! You can also get updates directly from the park’s website here. In the meantime, we hope you can still have a great trip to Capitol Reef this summer!

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