Capitol Reef National Park vs. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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If you’re planning a vacation and would like a quick comparison of Capitol Reef National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, we’ve got you covered.

We’ll take a look at what they have to offer in terms of hiking and wildlife, plus what the best time of year to visit might be.

Let’s get started with an overview of Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park Overview

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve Overview

Open 24/7 year round! There are no limitations or reservations to visit, but there is currently limited capacity in the visitor center. The tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Stay on a moonless night to experience this International Dark Sky Park’s starry skies!

Hiking At National Parks

Most national parks have some of the best hiking trails you’ll find anywhere in the US.

If you’re planning to take along your furry friend, double-check the rules before you go – as many of the parks have different rules about bringing animals along with you.

Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Trails

Capitol Reef National Park is a hiker’s paradise, offering a wide variety of trails to suit all levels of ability. For those looking for a relatively easy hike, the Capitol Gorge Trail is an excellent option. This 3-mile round-trip hike takes you through a narrow canyon with towering walls, and can be completed in a few hours. For something a bit more challenging, the Frying Pan Trail is a 9.5-mile loop that takes you up into the foothills of thepark. Along the way, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the surrounding scenery. Finally, for experienced hikers looking for a real test, the Hailstone Trail is a strenuous 16-mile trek that summits several peaks along the way. Whichever trail you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience at Capitol Reef National Park.

Best Hikes At Capitol Reef National Park

The ratings below are based on user-submitted data at AllTrails.com

Hike Name Elevation Gain Difficulty Rating Type Average Rating
Fremont River Trail 124.968 3 out and back 4.5
Upper Muley Twist 412.6992 3 loop 4.5
Cohab Canyon – Cassidy Arch Trail 728.7768 3 out and back 4.5
Panorama Point 2.7432 1 out and back 4
Frying Pan Trail 797.9664 3 out and back 4.5
Grand Wash Trail via Capitol Reef Scenic Dr. 169.7736 3 out and back 4.5
Burro Wash Trail 302.9712 3 out and back 4.5
Sulphur Creek Waterfall Hike 54.864 1 out and back 4.5
Cottonwood Wash 367.8936 3 out and back 4.5
Fremont Gorge Trail 310.896 3 out and back 4.5

Hiking Overview at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the country. The park offers a variety of trails for all levels of hikers, from easy strolls to challenging treks. The easiest trail is the Dunes View Trail, which is a short, 0.5-mile loop that provides stunning views of the dunes. For a more challenging hike, try the Alkali Flat Trail, a 4-mile loop that takes you through a variety of terrain, including dunes, meadows, and forests. For the most experienced hikers, the Sandwich Peak Trail is a strenuous 11-mile round-trip hike that culminates in stunning views from the summit of Sandwich Peak. No matter what your level of experience, Great Sand Dunes National Park has a hiking trail for you.

Top 10 Hiking Trails at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Hike Name Elevation Gain Difficulty Rating Type Average Rating
Upper Sand Creek Lake Trail 598.932 7 out and back 4.5
Medano Lake Trail 697.992 3 out and back 4
Montville Nature Trail 26.8224 1 loop 4
Dunes Overlook Sand Ramp Trail 80.772 3 out and back 3.5
Little Medano Creek Trail to Medano Lake 1079.9064 3 out and back 4
Wellington Ditch Trail 47.8536 1 out and back 4
Dunes Overlook Trail 143.8656 3 out and back 4
Pinion Flats Campground Trail 26.8224 1 loop 4
High Dune Trail 191.7192 5 out and back 5
High and Star Dune Loop 403.86 3 loop 4.5

Wildlife at Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. The park’s diverse ecosystem includes desert, mountain, and river habitats, providing a home for many different species of creatures. Visitors to the park can expect to see desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and coyotes. There are also several species of reptiles, including the Gila monster and desert tortoise. In addition to its furry and scaly residents, Capitol Reef National Park is also home to a variety of birds, includinghawks, eagles, and owls. Flowers bloom throughout the year in the park, attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Capitol Reef National Park is truly a wildlife paradise!

Wildlife at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, from small insects to large mammals. The most common animals you’re likely to see in the park are mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. Other smaller mammals include squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and mice. You may also see reptiles such as lizards and snakes, as well as a variety of birds, including hawks, eagles, and quail. In addition to its many animal residents, Great Sand Dunes National Park is also home to a wide variety of plants, including grasses, shrubs, and trees. The park’s diverse ecosystem provides habitat for many different species of wildlife, making it a great place to explore the natural world.

What’s the best time to visit?

A lot of times, weather can dictate when it makes the most sense to visit a particular national park.

Plus, depending on the types of activities you’re hoping to take part in, seasonality will be a huge factor in whether those things are even available.

Capitol Reef National Park Weather Considerations

Capitol Reef National Park is located in southern Utah, and the weather there can vary greatly depending on the time of year. The summers are hot, with average highs in July and August exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the dry heat means that the temperatures are not as oppressive as they might be in other parts of the country. The winters are cool, with average lows in January and February below freezing. However, Capitol Reef National Park is a popular destination for winter sports, and the snow-covered landscape is truly breathtaking. Spring and fall are generally considered to be the best times to visit Capitol Reef National Park, as the temperatures are mild and the crowds are relatively thin. Regardless of when you visit, Capitol Reef National Park is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve Weather Considerations

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a great place to visit any time of year, but the best time to go depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to experience the park’s namesake dunes, the best time to visit is during the spring or fall, when the temperatures are cooler and the sand isn’t as hot. However, if you’re more interested in hiking or other outdoor activities, the summer months are generally the best time to go, as there is less chance of rain. Winter can also be a good time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park, as long as you’re prepared for colder weather and possible snow. So whatever your interests, there’s a perfect time of year for you to explore Great Sand Dunes National Park.