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Capitol Reef

  • 90+Audio Points
  • LocationUtah, USA
  • Suggested TimeAllow 1+ Days

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What to Expect

Capitol Reef is included in Utah’s Mighty 5 (Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon) for a reason.  

An amazing collection of massive, colored rock formations, cliffs and slot canyons rise from below the surface to provide us with an amazing display.  Early settlers likened the wrinkling to a reef and the huge white domes to the U.S. Capitol building. 

The Fremont River supported growing fruit trees and you’ll still find apples, cherries, apricots, pears, peaches, and plums available to pick in Fruita.

The Scenic Drive is a 8 mile (13 km) paved road that winds through the heart of the park. Starting at the visitors center and accesses to the campground and trailheads.  Alternatively drive the dirt Grand Wash Road, that follows a huge walled canyon to the trailheads for Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash Trail.  Only vehicles under 27 feet (8.2 m) in length are permitted.

Beyond the official scenic drive begins an unpaved spur road continues for two miles (3.2 km) into Capitol Gorge. This narrow, twisting roadway used to be the main throughway through south central Utah. Continue to hike along the old roadbed to a spot where early pioneers and Mormon settlers carved their names in the rocks as they passed through the canyon.

What to make of the petroglyphs that the native people of Fremont Culture carved into the Wingate sandstone cliffs.  Some images are recognizable, animals and geometric designs.  Other anthropomorphic (human like) may depict deities, legends or stories that the Hisatsinom (Fremont Culture) wanted to record. For a closer look, bring binoculars.

And you’ll want to view the tiny one room Fruita Schoolhouse that served school aged children from 1896 to 1941. 

Spend some time at Capitol Reef, visitors are often blown away by the amazing geology and wide-range of activities this lesser-known park has to offer.

Listen to the Tour Intro

Highlights

  • Scenic Drive
  • Capitol Gorge
  • Fruita
  • Fruita Schoolhouse
  • Goosenecks
  • Grand Wash Road
  • Grand Wash Trail
  • Petroglyphs

Map

Suggested Start Location

Arriving from West: The tour will officially start on Highway 24 at the junction with Highway 12. 

Arriving from East: Follow Highway 24 driving westbound from Hanksville. Approximately 20 minutes after leaving Hanksville, the commentary will begin as you approach the eastern boundary of the Park. 

 

Suggested Time

Capitol Reef National Park is quite compact, so it is easy to visit see all the major locations in a couple of hours or single day. If you have the time to extend your visit you’ll find this less crowded National Park might become one of your favorites.

Driving Distance

You will add less than 50 miles to your vehicle by traveling on all of the routes suitable for regular vehicles within the park.

FAQ

WHAT IS CAPITOL REEF KNOWN FOR?

Visitors to Capitol Reef National Park are often blown away by the amazing geology and wide-range of activities this lesser-known park has to offer.

Capitol Reef is an amazing wonderland of massive, multi-colored rock formations and dramatic slot canyons in a surprisingly green desert river valley, and is also rich in Native American history with petroglyphs and ancient sites throughout the park.

WHAT IS THE BEST MONTH TO VISIT CAPITOL REEF?

Spring and fall are the best times to visit Capitol Reef National Park. Temperatures are typically pleasant during these times and you avoid the summer crowds. The orchards are typically in bloom from late March through mid-April and wildflowers tend to be the best from late April through early June. Multi-colored fall leaves are especially gorgeous when surrounded by Capitol Reef’s red rock cliffs and fall colors often peak in mid-October.

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED IN CAPITOL REEF?

While many visitors simply pass through on their way between Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks, if you stay for a day or two and there’s a good chance Capitol Reef will end up being one of your favorites.

WHY IS CAPITOL REEF NAMED THAT?

Early settlers to the region thought the Waterpocket Fold, a nearly 100-mile (161-kilometer) wrinkle in the Earth’s surface, looked like a “reef.” These pioneers also thought the huge white domes dotting the Waterpocket Fold looked just like the U.S. Capitol building so they named the area Capitol Reef.

CAN YOU DRIVE THROUGH CAPITOL REEF?

The Capitol Reef Scenic Drive is a 7.9-mile (12.7-kilometer) paved road that winds through the heart of the park, beginning at the visitors center with access to the campground and numerous trailheads. From here you can take two unpaved spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.

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