Capitol Reef National Park Overview

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Slot Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park
Slot Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park (Nathan Borchelt)
Capitol Reef National Park

Established: 1971
Acreage: 241,904
Average Yearly Visitors: 516,000
Location: South-central Utah, 200 miles south of Salt Lake City

Contact Details
Capitol Reef National Park
HC 70 Box 15
Torrey, UT 84775
Phone: 435-425-3791 ext. 111

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The unyielding blue of Utah's desert sky can play tricks on the mind. Fall under its spell and you might begin to see that blue dome as an inverted sea through which the sun's refracted rays illuminate the hypnotic Waterpocket Fold. The Fold is the defining geologic formation that makes up Capitol Reef National Park, a 100-mile stretch of buckled earth characterized by crimson cliffs, soaring spires, massive domes, serpentine canyons, graceful arches, stark monoliths, and silence.

The park tends to attract a society of hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, and equestrian explorers who prefer solitude to trendy social scenes. As the least visited of Utah's five national parks, this vast and wild frontier still offers a glimpse of America before it was settled by a civilization intent on paving the planet.

Hike the Slots
Serious hikers and backpackers can explore the labyrinth of slot canyons and serpentine gorges that snake their way through Capitol Reef. The Upper Muley Twist is a meandering canyon of astonishing natural bridges and golden arches. And what do you think of when you see the golden arches? Hamburgers, right? Hike to Hamburger Rocks and discover bizarre hoodoos shaped like hamburgers accentuated by chalky-white Navajo sandstone. Surprise Canyon Trail is a great trail for little tykes who like to hike—it's an easy two-mile trail (round-trip) into a deep sandstone canyon.

More on hiking in Capitol Reef National Park

Test Your Will by Bike
Moab may be fat-tire capital of the world, but at Capitol Reef you can bike far from the madding crowd. The Cathedral Valley Loop is a 60-mile, three-day, grueling test of will that traverses Utah's remote moonscape. The isolated terrain of lonely rock monoliths exposes mountain bikers to the savage beauty of the high desert. Mountain bikers can expect an elevation fluctuation of 2,140 feet along a surface including dirt, sand, bentonite clay, and rocky areas. And here's the cool part—one section requires you to ford the Fremont River!

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Climb the Reef
Until recently, mentioning Capitol Reef among rock climbers would have elicited befuddled shrugs. Not anymore—the last few years have shown a noticeable increase in climbing activity on the Wingate sandstone formations, since their natural fracturing provides the crack system necessary for quality hand and footholds. The density of the Wingate formations also allows for the use of chocks, nuts, and camming devices. Nevertheless, Wingate does flake off easily and can be very unpredictable.

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Camp in a Desert Oasis
Fruita Campground appears out of the searing Utah desert like a mirage. The orchards surrounding the campground include some 2,700 trees bearing cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums, mulberries, almonds, and walnuts. Each of the 70 sites offers a picnic table and grill, but no hookups. Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in Capitol Reef. Primitive campgrounds can be found at Cedar Mesa and Cedar Valley.

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Pack into the Waterfold
Left your llama at home? No problem, other "pack animals" permitted in the park include horses, burros, and mules. We recommend trying the riding trails at South Draw, Halls Creek, Old Wagon Trail, and the South Desert. A backcountry equestrian staging area is situated at the Post Corral, located on the Notom-Bullfrog Road about one-half mile south of the Burr Trail/Notom Road junction. The staging area is for horseback riders departing on overnight or day trips into the Waterpocket District of the park.

Visit a Rock Art Gallery
The Fremont Indians lived throughout Utah from A.D. 700 to 1300 before mysteriously abandoning the region. On Utah Highway 24 at "Petroglyph Pullout," visitors can pull over and view petroglyphs carved into the sandstone at the base of the Wingate sandstone cliff. The Fremont rock art depicts humans, animals, and a variety of geometric patterns.

More on geology in Capitol Reef National Park


Published: 24 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 12 Feb 2013
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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