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Capitol Reef Photography: Utah’s Mighty 5 Surprise Package

Capitol Reef Photography: Utah’s Mighty 5 Surprise Package

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.

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Capitol Reef Entrance & Visitor Center

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 Centers are the best place to start the day, check out any Ranger led programs and learn about Capitol Reef’s history. When there is a great view right next to the visitor center – you know you’re in Utah!

We always make sure we grab a quick photograph of ourselves next to / on top of / underneath each national park sign! Keep any eye our for any information boards which offer history of Capital reef and activities in the area.

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.

We read every single word on every single information board at National Parks! The geology in Utah is fascinating. Check out the nice view into the canyon! There was a lightly flowing river at the bottom turning through the rock.

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

We loved the ornate old wagon with wooden wheels, previously used for hauling hay! It’s also common to see deer feeding among the apple orchards close to Gifford Homestead.

Here is a close up shot of a fawn munching on grass! There is also a plaque explaining the recent history of the Fruita Barn.

Fruita Barn

Fruita barn up close and front perspective

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)!

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

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

The front of Fruita schoolhouse, a better perspective of the area and those awesome colors. If you are interested in learning about the Fruita schoolhouse history, be sure to read the boards in the area!

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?

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! 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!

One of the strange but interesting erosion/weathering features along the trail. It looks perfect for small animals to shelter in heavy rain! 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 trying to climb inside all the rock openings – this one looks like a birds mouth … ! 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 chilling at the top of Hickman Bridge trail and looking rather ponderous! Either thinking about how surprising Capitol Reef was … or food! 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.

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

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 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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Randy

Friday 27th of August 2021

Excellent! I was there last year and you have done an outstanding job capturing the beauty of this place and its unique features. Well done!

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Friday 27th of August 2021

Thank you, Randy! Capitol Reef is a hugely underrated Utah park, we'll be sure to revisit in the near future. Happy travels!