So it's called our Capitol Reef page but we're starting with Goblin Valley because that's how our first day (of 2) started at Capitol Reef. Goblin Valley is a state park a bit northeast of Capitol Reef but easily within day trip range and two to three hours here is probably enough. It's full of strangely eroded rock formations called 'goblins'.
The parking lot overlooks valley one (there are three numbered valleys, progressively further away). It's basically just an area to wander around, climb on rocks, see if your kids and/or dog gets lost and so on.
Our only advice besides stop here and check it out, is that you should wear old clothes. We managed to get pretty dirty in a few hours of exploring.
This is valley two which can be reached in general by heading south from valley one. You can follow the valley itself around the rock formations or look for a path that goes up and over the wall between valleys. If you get far enough out into valleys two and three it probably is possible to get lost so a general sense of direction (perhaps aided by a compass) may be required.
Now back to Capitol Reef National Park which seems to be one of the lesser known National Parks in Utah. The park is a long narrow area surrounding a huge buckle in the Earth's crust called the Waterpocket Fold. The park headquarters occupies the former town of Fruita which was intended to be a fertile fruit-producing valley. The orchards are still here and in season, visitors can pick and eat fruit (for immediate consumption).
There isn't really one big recognizable attraction at Capitol Reef like some of the other parks. Hickman Bridge is a relatively easy hike that leaves not far from the campground and visitor center. There's a bit of climb to start out the hike but then it makes a nice loop through (under) the bridge and back around the outside of the rock formations.
Also not far from the visitor center is the Gooseneck overlook, so-called because of the S-bend canyons the river has carved out here. This is an impressive view. There is also a primitive trail that follows the river in the canyon itself but that is much more in the full day hike category.
Capitol Reef has a paved road through the center section of it. To access the north (Cathedral Valley area) or the south (Notom-Bullfrog Rd), there are long unpaved roads that may require four wheel drive. We spent our second day in the south of the park making a loop from Notom Rd back up to Boulder, Utah. This was a fabulous drive. We intended to do several short hikes along the way but we only managed one before it started raining which made some of the hikes more dangerous and also caused the road to become more treacherous. This is a picture of a jackrabbit that calmly watched us pass by.
Headquarters Canyon is one of several slot canyons in the south of the park. The trails aren't heavily advertised but there are small signs at the parking area for each one. Headquarters is just past Surprise Canyon and just before the much larger parking lot called Post. Along the drive, the waterpocket fold will be extremely obvious from the large cliffs to the west of the road.
Headquarters is a slot canyon and of course that's much of the attraction. After a short hike across open land, the trail follows the creek into the canyon and almost as soon as you're in a canyon you're in a slot canyon like this.
This is never so narrow you have to crawl or remove backpacks but it is narrow enough to be fun and also narrow enough to be dangerous in wet weather. After a very narrow section like this, the canyon opens up a little bit but is still a nice hike with towering walls on both sides. A rockfall at the upper end marks the end of the hike unless you're prepared for some technical climbing.
From here we went up the Burr trail switchbacks which are impressive but don't seem as dangerous as say the Shafer switchbacks in Canyonlands. We intended to visit Strike Valley Overlook but the road was in really rough shape. This road connects to the town of Boulder from whence you can return to the main area of Capitol Reef through a spectacular pass in Dixie National Forest.