Called "Wayne Wonderland" in the 1920s by local boosters Ephraim P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman, Capitol Reef National Park comprises 378 square miles of colorful canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths. About 75 miles of the long up-thrust called the "Waterpocket Fold", extending like a rugged spine from Thousand Lake Plateau southward to Lake Powell, is preserved within the park boundary. "Capitol Reef" is the name of an especially rugged and spectacular part of the Waterpocket Fold near the Fremont River. The area was named for a line of white domes and cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, each of which looks somewhat like the United States Capitol building, that run from the Fremont River to Pleasant Creek on the Waterpocket Fold. Go directly to the Capitol Reef Photo Gallery.
Only a few decades ago the Waterpocket Fold country comprised one of the remote corners of the "lower 48". Easy road access came only with the construction of a paved Utah Highway 24 through the Fremont River Canyon in 1962.
Visitors to Capitol Reef are often curious about the orchards that lie within a mile or two of the Visitor Center. These trees are the most obvious remnant of the pioneer community of Fruita, which was settled in 1880. Today, the orchards are preserved and protected as a Rural Historic Landscape. The orchards hold approximately 2,700 trees and are composed of cherry, apricot, peach, pear, and apple, as well as, a few plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut trees. The National Park Service now owns and maintains the orchards with a 2-person orchard crew that is kept busy year round with pruning, irrigation, and orchard management.
Capitol Reef National Park has an arid climate with precipitation averaging just 7.2 inches annually at the park Visitor Center weather station. The Scenic Drive starts at the park Visitor Center and provides access to Grand Wash, Capitol Gorge, Pleasant Creek, and the South Draw Road. The Scenic Drive is a 10 mile paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that, weather permitting, are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return on the same road. The entrance station is located just south of the campground on the Scenic Drive. Here's a cute video we took along the scenic drive of young bighorn sheep learning the lessons of life.
The Burr Trail Road, originally a cattle trail blazed by stockman John Atlantic Burr, extends from the town of Boulder on Utah Hwy 12 to the Notom-Bullfrog Road. Much of the 36.5 mile road lies outside the boundary of Capitol Reef and traverses the Circle Cliffs, as well as spectacular canyon areas such as Long Canyon and The Gulch. The 5.3 mile stretch of road inside Capitol Reef includes a breathtaking set of switchbacks dropping some 800 feet in only one-half mile. These switchbacks are not considered suitable for RVs or vehicles towing trailers. This is your primary access to the geologic wonder that is the Waterpocket Fold. From Boulder to the west boundary of Capitol Reef, the Burr Trail road is surfaced. Inside the park it remains a graded dirt road and is subject to change due to weather. Visitors should inquire about road and weather conditions before traveling.
The Caineville Wash Road, or eastern side of the Cathedral Valley Loop, begins 18.6 miles east of the Visitor Center. By taking this route into Cathedral Valley, visitors avoid the Fremont River Ford on the Hartnet side of the loop; however, those planning on driving the entire loop are encouraged to begin at the River Ford to be certain they are able to make the crossing. 16.5 miles up the road, in Lower Cathedral Valley, are the Temples of the Sun and Moon, massive monoliths rising from the desert floor. Further north in Upper Cathedral Valley, columns of spire-like formations dominate the landscape. Conditions on the Caineville Wash road vary widely based on recent weather. Be sure to check with the Visitor Center for current road and weather information.
Proceed to the Capitol Reef National Park Photo Gallery
National Parks Conservation Association — The gradual, accelerated warming of our planet will have disastrous consequences for America's national parks. But all is not lost. Although the situation seems dire, NPCA's report, Unnatural Disaster, says we can still halt the most severe effects of climate change if we take action now. The national parks offer a unique opportunity to draw attention to America’s priceless resources at risk, and to showcase opportunities to act to protect them.