Capitol Reef Photography: Utah’s Mighty 5 Surprise Package

by Mark and Kristen Morgan
Kristen stood underneath overhanging tree branches and gorgeous yellow leaves Capitol Reef photography

Capitol Reef National Park offers a different take on photography to its ‘Mighty 5’ siblings.

It is true Canyonlands, Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon are blessed with stunning rock formations that Capitol Reef can’t compete with.

However, none of the others have an iconic barn pre-loaded with an incredible backdrop, beautifully colorful trees in fall or a quaint wooden schoolhouse!

We expected amazing photo ops at the bigger name parks, which made photography at Capitol Reef a welcome surprise package.

We hope our favorite images will inspire you to visit this underrated national park. If you need help with planning your visit, read our complete guide to Capitol Reef.

USA Photography: Take a look through our updated gallery of Favorite Pictures of America – images we’ve taken from sunrise to sunset and from city to national park on our travels across the US.

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Capitol Reef national part entrance brick and symbol

The National Park entrance sign is the first stopping point at any park in America! Capitol Reef’s has an awesome background with towering rocks as far as the eye can see.

Visitor center Capitol Reef photography

Visitor Centers are the best place to start the day, check out any Ranger led programs and learn about Capitol Reef’s history.

Capitol Reef welcome center with rock behind

Great view right next to the visitor center – you know you’re in Utah!

Mark and kristen leaning against Capitol Reef entrance sign Utah

We always make sure we grab a quick photograph of ourselves next to / on top of / underneath each national park entrance sign!

Capitol Reef map of activity

Capitol Reef history in a nutshell, plus activities on offer for the days ahead.

Gooseneck & Sunset Points

Mark and kristen at sunset point Capitol Reef photography

We left the tripod in the car at Sunset point and had to set the camera on a rock! This is the place to be at the end of the day if staying a night in Capitol Reef.

Gooseneck point information board with rock backdrop

We read every single word on every single information board at National Parks! The geology in Utah is fascinating.

Gooseneck point rock formations

The nice view into the canyon! There was a lightly flowing river at the bottom turning through the rock.

Kristen sat on dead tree in dusty Capitol Reef photography

Kristen taking a breather from the relentless desert heat. Found a perfectly arched seat on the dead tree!

Mark accentuating a lookout pose sunset point capitol reef photography

And Mark massively over accentuating a ‘lookout’ pose … but the view is awesome!

Gifford Homestead

Old Mormon Gifford House Capitol Reef photography

The Historic Gifford House belonged to the last residents of Fruita before selling to the US Government in 1969. It is now a cafe, museum and gift shop. Top tip – arrive early to buy a delicious homemade pie before they sell out!

Old green wagon with iron wheels Gifford homestead

Ornate old wagon with wooden wheels, previously used for hauling hay!

deer feeding orchard Capitol Reef

It’s common to see deer feeding among the apple orchards close to Gifford Homestead.

Close up fawn feeding on grass Utah

Close up shot of a fawn munching on grass!

History of fruita barn plaque

Plaque explaining the recent history of Fruita Barn.

Fruita Barn

Iconic fruita barn photo with red rock background Utah

This barn was one of the main reasons we made the extra effort to drive out to Capitol Reef and it did not disappoint. The unique backdrop with huge red rocks is absolutely stunning and there is barely anyone else around to worry about photo bombers (keep in mind, we took this photo mid-day)!

Wide shot of fruita barn from afar Capitol Reef

Taken from further afar, at the beginning of the Cohab Canyon trail.

Fruita barn up close and front perspective

Closer up photo of the famous barn, we like this one!

Gifford homestead barn Utah through fence shot

There’s plenty of space to work with to find some interesting perspectives. Get creative with your photography! This one is simple but we think it’s effective.

If you’re enjoying these photos, don’t forget you can check out our Badlands National Park Photography from South Dakota too!

Fruita Schoolhouse & Surrounding Area

Wooden building fruita communal schoolhouse Capitol Reef Utah

One of our favorite’s from Capitol Reef. The the rusty orangey yellow and deep green colors surrounding the wooden building are gorgeous!

Old wooden desks inside fruita schoolhouse Capitol Reef

Traditional wooden desks with chalk and blackboard inside the old communal schoolhouse. Ranger led programs are often held here.

Bare tree surrounded by gorgeous colorful vegetation Utah

Yes, this is just a tree! We loved the bright yellow colors against the red rocks and brown trees. The colors here just took our breath away. 

Tree with stunning yellow leaves in Capitol Reef

Don’t you agree this looks like it could be a portal to a new land straight out of a fantasy novel?! Narnia on the other side? We had this whole place to ourselves.

Side angle shot of fruita schoolhouse yellow and green trees

The front of Fruita schoolhouse, a better perspective of the area and those awesome colors.

sign showing history of fruita schoolhouse capitol reef

Fruita schoolhouse history – there’s always time for learning!

Towering red rock face with yellow plants and trees

Although Capitol Reef’s rock formations are far less impressive than its Utah family members, it doesn’t mean there are no cool features here! This photo depicts the grandeur of this rock face perfectly and the lifeless tree draws the eye, right?

Petroglyphs near fruita schoolhouse Capitol Reef photography

The Fremont petroglyphs are easy to see and great for the kids. Interesting how they all look like they should be in sci-fi movie!

signpost Fremont River Utah capitol reef

The Fremont River runs right through the park. When surrounded by red rocks and colorful leaves we couldn’t resist pulling the camera out!

Hickman Bridge Hike

Hickman bridge from afar with Kristen stood underneath

The Natural Bridge on the Hickman Bridge hiking trail is the highlight of Capitol Reef. At just 1.8 miles roundtrip and with some interesting rock features along the way, it’s perfect for the family. Kristen is the tiny red blob underneath the arch!

Kristen crouched inside rock crevice Hickman bridge hike

One of the strange but interesting erosion/weathering features along the trail. It looks perfect for small animals to shelter in heavy rain!

Kristen sat on wall next to Fremont River

Close to the beginning of the Hickman Bridge trail with the Fremont River in the background. Kristen was sure she was going to fall backwards here!

Mark inside rock crevice looks like a birds mouth Capitol Reef

Mark trying to climb inside all the rock openings – this one looks like a birds mouth … !

Mark messing around in a pretend pose inside cool rock formations at Capitol Reef

And well, we don’t have any words for this one!

hiking distances signpost on Hickman bridge trail

The trail splits here for Hickman Bridge or Rim Overlook / Navajo Knobs. If you have spare time, head up to the rim overlook after Hickman Bridge for panoramic views of Fruita.

Kristen looking contemplative underneath Hickman bridge Utah

Kristen chilling at the top of Hickman Bridge trail and looking rather ponderous! Either thinking about how surprising Capitol Reef was … or food!

Mark balancing on a ledge underneath Hickman bridge

It might look as though Mark is performing a poor attempt at a Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal lean … but the drop behind was enough to overcompensate!

Other Trailheads and Signs

The castle lookout point Capitol Reef

The Castle is named so because it resembles a hilltop fortress from an angle closer to the visitor center. From this angle, it’s a great shot of the rock layering between the top and bottom.

Capitol Dome signpost and viewpoint

This sign is close to the Hickman bridge / Rim Overlook trailhead. The park is named Capitol Reef because early settlers thought the white stone domes resembled the Capitol building in Washington DC.

Cohab Canyon Trail head Utah

The Cohab Canyon trailhead starts right off the road as it bends around Fruita Barn before the campsite and scenic drive. There are some fun switchbacks on extremely narrow paths!

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive

Empty open road with green orange and yellow leaves both sides

One of the best aspects of photography inside Capitol Reef? The solitude. Compared to the other Utah parks, this was like a ghost town. We didn’t have to rush this photo! Just another one to showcase the bright colors.

Scenic drive signpost on a tree Capitol Reef

Scenic Drive signpost to explain that you will need to come back on yourself. Everything is quaint and pretty at Capitol Reef, even the signs!

Front side view of our car at Capitol Reef with red rocks behind

Getting a photo of your car with a cool background is harder than you might think! Most places you stop but can’t a clear shot without interference. We liked the separate foreground and background rock formations on this one.

Sunset Highway 12

Incredible sunset phoenix on fire stunning near Capitol Reef

This is one of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen. Anywhere! The photo doesn’t even do justice to what we saw. This was taken around 30 minutes from Capitol Reef on the spectacular Scenic Highway 12 towards Escalante and Bryce Canyon.

It looks like a flaming phoenix! The deep red colors were mind blowing.

our car at sunset with sunburst near Capitol Reef highway 12

Definitely got a little carried away with aperture here! Probably should have opened up to f11 but we loved the huge sunburst at f16!

Mark taking photographs of the amazing sunset

Mark with the Sony A-6000, the camera got a workout throughout that incredible sunset!

Sunset on highway 12 panorama

The sunset on Highway 12 was far too awe inspiring to watch from the inside of the car, so we parked up and watched the whole ‘event’ on the edge of a cliff!

More Photography Guides

 We were pleasantly surprised by Capitol Reef and its diverse photography opportunities. We did time it perfectly for autumnal colors and we were lucky with that unbelievable sunset just outside on Highway 12.

If you’re planning a Utah road trip, consider including Capitol Reef to your itinerary – especially if you’re taking the kids along!

Don’t forget you can read our full guide to Capitol Reef for more information about visiting.

-Happy Snapping-

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Surprisingly Amazing Photography Ops Capitol Reef National Park Utah
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