Nearby Zion steals all the thunder, but Capitol Reef—named for its ubiquitous sandstone domes that look like capitol buildings—is more than a third larger, with a third as many visitors, which means you get all the same mind-bending red canyon walls and impossible natural arches—minus the annoying crowds. Cassidy Arch, named after Butch, defies gravity, and spectacular Capitol Gorge is less than a car’s width in some spots; both are easy day hikes.
RANGER INTEL: “Get off-road and drive up through Cathedral Valley for a true sense of the vastness of this park,” says superintendent Leah McGinnis. “It’s an all-day affair, but the switchbacks of the Burr Trail are worth it.”
TRAVEL TIP: Capitol Reef, about three hours from Salt Lake City, is a little harder to get to than Zion, but it sets you up better to visit quick-hit NPS monuments like Bryce Canyon and Arches. You’ll find hotels on the outskirts in tiny Torrey, population 178.