Big Bend National Park vs Capitol Reef National Park

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Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park are both tucked away in the southwestern United States, offering visitors a chance to escape into the wild and explore breathtaking landscapes. These parks are like two sides of a coin, with Big Bend offering a vast desert wilderness, and Capitol Reef showcasing a colorful and rugged desert landscape. If you’re looking for an adventure that will take you from hot, arid deserts to colorful rock formations and towering cliffs, then these two parks are for you. Imagine hiking through the rugged terrain of Big Bend and then cooling off by taking a dip in the crystal clear waters of Capitol Reef. Whether you’re a nature lover, a hiker, or just looking for a unique vacation destination, Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park are sure to leave you in awe. Keep reading to find out more about the unique features, activities and best time to visit these parks.

Hiking Trails in Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park

Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park are both popular national parks that offer a wide variety of hiking trails for visitors to enjoy.

Big Bend National Park has over 150 miles of trails, ranging from easy nature walks to strenuous backpacking trips. Some of the easiest hikes in the park include the Chisos Basin Loop Trail, which is a 1.5-mile trail that offers great views of the Chisos Mountains, and the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, which is a 1.4-mile trail that takes visitors to the base of the impressive Santa Elena Canyon. For more strenuous hikes, visitors can tackle the Emory Peak Trail, which is a 8.4-mile round trip hike that leads to the highest point in the park, or the South Rim Trail, which is a 13-mile round trip hike that offers stunning views of the Chisos Mountains.

Capitol Reef National Park has a variety of hiking trails, from easy nature walks to strenuous backpacking trips. Some of the easiest hikes in the park include the Capitol Gorge Trail, which is a 2-mile round trip hike that leads to an historic pioneer register, and the Rim Overlook Trail, which is a 0.5-mile round trip hike that offers great views of the park’s colorful cliffs. For more strenuous hikes, visitors can tackle the Cassidy Arch Trail, which is a 3-mile round trip hike that leads to an impressive natural arch, or the Grand Wash Trail, which is a 3-mile round trip hike that leads through a narrow canyon with high towering walls.

In summary, Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park both offer a wide variety of hiking trails for visitors to enjoy. Big Bend National Park is known for its strenuous backpacking trips, while Capitol Reef National Park has a variety of trails, some easy nature walks and some strenuous hikes. Both parks offer a great opportunity for visitors to explore the beauty of the nature and enjoy the outdoor activities.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Big Bend National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Lost Mine Trail 4.19 mi 1,098.80 ft out and back Moderate 5/5
South Rim Trail – Boot Springs Trail 10.98 mi 2,328.80 ft loop Hard 5/5
The Window Trail 5.19 mi 947.92 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Emory Peak Trail 8.48 mi 2,400.96 ft out and back Hard 5/5
Santa Elena Canyon Trail 1.50 mi 610.08 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Balanced Rock Trail 1.90 mi 232.88 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Boquillas Canyon Trail 1.20 mi 229.60 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Hot Springs Canyon Trail 5.49 mi 921.68 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Outer Mountain Loop 24.05 mi 5,707.20 ft loop Hard 4.5/5
Big Bend Hot Springs Trail 1.10 mi 127.92 ft loop Easy 4/5

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Capitol Reef National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Hickman Bridge Trail 1.70 mi 426.40 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Cassidy Arch Trail 2.89 mi 701.92 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Grand Wash Trail via Northeast Trailhead 4.39 mi 400.16 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Chimney Rock Loop Trail 3.29 mi 793.76 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Cohab Canyon Trail 2.99 mi 793.76 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Navajo Knobs Trail 8.68 mi 2,135.28 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5
Goosenecks & Sunset Point 2.49 mi 544.48 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Capitol Gorge Trail 4.49 mi 373.92 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Sulphur Creek Route 11.47 mi 1,403.84 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Rim Overlook Trail 4.09 mi 1,052.88 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5

Wildlife in Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park

Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park are both home to a diverse array of wildlife, including a variety of animals, birds, and plants. However, the types of wildlife that can be found in each park are quite different.

Big Bend National Park is known for its desert wildlife, which includes species such as the desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and white-tailed deer. The park is also home to a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians, such as the desert tortoise, collared lizard, and Rio Grande leopard frog. The park is also a great place for birdwatching, with over 450 species of birds recorded in the park, including the white-tailed hawk, Montezuma quail, and roadrunner.

Capitol Reef National Park, on the other hand, is known for its diverse array of wildlife that can be found in its high desert environment. The park is home to many species of mammals such as mule deer, bighorn sheep, and rock squirrels. The park also has a variety of birds species including the golden eagle, turkey vulture, and white-throated swift. The park is also home to a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians such as the Great Basin rattlesnake, collared lizard, and the desert horned lizard.

In summary, Big Bend National Park is known for its desert wildlife such as desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and white-tailed deer, as well as a variety of reptiles and amphibians, and over 450 species of birds. Capitol Reef National Park is known for its diverse array of wildlife that can be found in its high desert environment, such as mule deer, bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, golden eagle, turkey vulture, and white-throated swift, as well as a variety of reptiles and amphibians.

Below are lists of the most commonly spotted wildlife at Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park. However, you can see a full list of wildlife at each national park here.

Birds

Big Bend National Park Capitol Reef National Park
Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon
Northern Harrier Northern Harrier
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Osprey Osprey
Tree Swallow Tree Swallow
Mallard Mallard
Canada Goose Canada Goose
Lincoln’s Sparrow Lincoln’s Sparrow
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
American Robin American Robin
Great Horned Owl Great Horned Owl
Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker Northern Flicker
Merlin Merlin
Barn Swallow Barn Swallow
Savannah Sparrow Savannah Sparrow
Great Blue Heron Great Blue Heron
Hermit Thrush Hermit Thrush
American Kestrel American Kestrel
Bald Eagle Bald Eagle
Song Sparrow Song Sparrow
European Starling European Starling
Northern Pintail Northern Pintail
American Wigeon American Wigeon
Green-Winged Teal Green-Winged Teal

Mammals

Big Bend National Park Capitol Reef National Park
Coyote Coyote
American Beaver American Beaver
Muskrat Muskrat
Big Brown Bat Big Brown Bat
Bobcat Bobcat
Striped Skunk Striped Skunk
Deer Mouse Little Brown Bat
Raccoon Deer Mouse
Black Bear Raccoon
Porcupine Black Bear
Silver-Haired Bat Porcupine
Hoary Bat Silver-Haired Bat
Long-Tailed Weasel Hoary Bat
House Mouse Red Fox
Mountain Lion Long-Tailed Weasel
Mule Deer House Mouse
Common Gray Fox Mountain Lion
Gray Wolf American Mink
Long-Legged Myotis Mule Deer
American Badger Common Gray Fox
California Myotis Long-Legged Myotis
Fringed Myotis Long-Eared Myotis
Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat American Badger
Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat Ermine
Western Harvest Mouse California Myotis

Reptiles

Big Bend National Park Capitol Reef National Park
Sonoran Gophersnake Gophersnake
Prairie Rattlesnake Terrestrial Gartersnake
Ring-Necked Snake Prairie Rattlesnake
Common Side-Blotched Lizard Common Sagebrush Lizard
Desert Kingsnake Greater Short-Horned Lizard
Texas Nightsnake Side-Blotched Lizard
Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard Common Kingsnake
Mexican Milksnake Nightsnake
Central Texas Whipsnake Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard
Smith’s Black-Headed Snake Striped Whipsnake
Big Bend Tree Lizard Smith’s Black-Headed Snake
Eastern Collared Lizard Tree Lizard
Glossy Snake Western Whiptail
Long-Nosed Snake Western Skink
Desert Spiny Lizard Desert Spiny Lizard

Amphibians

Big Bend National Park Capitol Reef National Park
Barred Tiger Salamander Northern Leopard Frog
American Bullfrog Tiger Salamander
Southwestern Woodhouse’s Toad Woodhouse’s Toad
Red-Spotted Toad Red-Spotted Toad
Canyon Treefrog Canyon Treefrog

Fish

Big Bend National Park Capitol Reef National Park
Largemouth Bass Rainbow Trout
Green Sunfish Brown Trout
Bluegill Bluegill
Fathead Minnow Mottled Sculpin
Common Carp Speckled Dace
Longnose Dace Black Bullhead
Yellow Bullhead Cutthroat Trout
Channel Catfish
Mosquitofish

Beautiful Landscapes in Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park

Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park both offer visitors a wide variety of beautiful landscapes and natural features.

Big Bend National Park is known for its vast desert wilderness, which is home to a wide variety of cacti, yucca, and other desert plants. The park also features the Chisos Mountains, which offer visitors the opportunity to hike to the summit for panoramic views of the park. The Rio Grande River also runs through the park and offers visitors the opportunity to raft, kayak, or canoe. Other notable landscapes in the park include the Santa Elena Canyon, which is a 1,500-foot-deep canyon carved by the Rio Grande, and the Hot Springs, which is a historic area with hot springs and a bathhouse.

Capitol Reef National Park is known for its colorful and rugged desert landscape, which features towering cliffs, narrow canyons, and natural arches. The park’s most famous landscape is the Waterpocket Fold, which is a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Other notable landscapes in the park include the Capitol Dome, which is a large white sandstone formation that looks like a miniature version of the U.S. Capitol, and the Hickman Bridge, which is a natural arch that visitors can hike to. The park also features the Fremont River, which is a popular spot for swimming and fishing.

Both Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park offer visitors a wide variety of beautiful landscapes and natural features to explore. Whether you’re looking to hike to the summit of the Chisos Mountains or explore the narrow canyons of the Waterpocket Fold, these parks have something for everyone.

Things To-Do and Activities in Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park

Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park are both popular national parks that offer a wide variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. However, the types of activities that are most popular at each park can vary quite a bit.

Big Bend National Park is known for its hiking and backpacking trails. The park has over 150 miles of trails that lead visitors through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the park. Some of the most popular hikes include the Chisos Basin Trail, the South Rim Trail, and the Emory Peak Trail. Visitors can also enjoy camping, picnicking, and taking scenic drives to view the park’s stunning landscape.

Capitol Reef National Park is known for its hiking and canyoneering. The park has over 70 miles of trails that take visitors through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the park. Some of the most popular hikes include the Capitol Gorge Trail, the Grand Wash Trail, and the Cassidy Arch Trail. Visitors can also enjoy camping, picnicking, and taking scenic drives to view the park’s stunning landscape. Additionally, visitors can also enjoy rock climbing, stargazing, and ranger-led programs.

In summary, Big Bend National Park is known for its hiking and backpacking trails, camping, picnicking, and taking scenic drives, while Capitol Reef National Park is known for its hiking, canyoneering, rock climbing, stargazing, and ranger-led programs, as well as camping, picnicking, and taking scenic drives. Both parks offer a wide range of activities for visitors to enjoy and are great places to explore the natural beauty of the desert.

Best Time to Visit Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park

Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park are both located in the western United States, but have vastly different weather patterns due to their geographic locations.

Big Bend National Park is located in West Texas, and has a desert climate with hot summers and mild winters. The park is known for its scorching heat, with temperatures often reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months. The best time to visit the park is during the spring and fall months when temperatures are milder, and the park’s wildflowers and cacti are in bloom. Winter months can also be a good time to visit, but temperatures can drop below freezing at night and snowfall is rare.

Capitol Reef National Park is located in Southern Utah, and has a semi-arid climate with hot summers and cold winters. The park is known for its mild temperatures, with daytime temperatures reaching the mid-80s to low 90s during the summer months. The best time to visit the park is during the spring and fall months when temperatures are milder, and the park’s wildflowers and fruit trees are in bloom. The park can also be visited in the summer, but it can be hot in the day. Winter months can also be a good time to visit, but temperatures can drop below freezing at night, and snowfall is possible.

In summary, Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park have vastly different weather patterns due to their geographic locations. Big Bend National Park is known for its hot summers and mild winters, while Capitol Reef National Park is known for its mild temperatures, with hot summers and cold winters. The best time to visit each park is during the spring and fall months when temperatures are milder, and the park’s wildflowers and trees are in bloom. Visitors should be prepared for the heat and cold, accordingly.

Family Friendliness of Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park

Both Big Bend National Park and Capitol Reef National Park offer visitors a wide variety of activities and experiences, but they have different levels of accessibility and family-friendliness.

Big Bend National Park is a great option for families who are looking for a wilderness experience. The park has a wide variety of hiking trails that are suitable for families with children, including the Chisos Mountains and the Santa Elena Canyon. The park also offers ranger-led programs that are suitable for children, such as the “Junior Ranger” program, which teaches children about the park’s history and wildlife. Additionally, the park has a campground that is suitable for families, and there are also nearby towns where you can find accommodations.

Capitol Reef National Park, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging for families with young children. The park has a lot of rugged terrain that can be difficult for young children to navigate, and many of the park’s hiking trails are steep and rocky. However, the park does have some family-friendly hikes, such as the hike to Hickman Bridge, which is a natural arch that visitors can hike to. The park also has a visitor center that offers ranger-led programs and exhibits that are suitable for children.

In summary, Big Bend National Park is better for families who are looking for a wilderness experience, while Capitol Reef National Park is better for families who are looking for a more challenging outdoor adventure. Both parks offer a wide variety of activities, but the accessibility and family-friendliness of the park may vary.

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