Capitol Reef National Park lies in southern Utah and is home to a rugged desert filled with breathtaking rock formations. The park surrounds the Waterpocket Fold, a natural wrinkle in the earth’s crust. One of Utah’s distinguished national parks, Capitol Reef National Park draws many visitors each year.
In ancient times, Native American tribes inhabited the land surrounding the Waterpocket Fold. When explorer John C. Fremont came across Capitol Reef in 1854, Fremont River was named after him. In the 1870s and 80s, Mormon settlers established themselves in the area and developed what is now the historic district of Fruita alongside the Fremont River. The orchards the Mormons planted there still grow fruit today and can be picked from by visitors to Capitol Reef National Park. President Franklin D. Roosevelt named the area, then called Wayne Wonderland, as a national monument, though funding for the park was limited. In the 1960s, the park gained a visitor center, a campground, staff housing, and a paved road, and the majority of farmers who had previously inhabited the land sold their portions to the National Park Service. In 1968, a massive plot of land was added to the park, which led to the official establishment of Capitol Reef National Park in 1971.
Characterized by ancient geological features like colorful sandstone canyons, buttes, ridges, slot canyons, narrow bridges, cliffs, streams, and monoliths, the park exists along the vast Waterpocket Fold, a monocline which extends 100 miles from Thousand Lakes Mountain to Lake Powell. The park is named for its rocky buttes which are said to resemble capitol domes, and the line of rugged cliffs which, similarly to coral reefs in the ocean, provide a barrier to travel.
Located in southern Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is characterized by breathtaking desert landscapes and interesting geological formations. With plenty to see and explore, you’re sure to be enchanted by Capitol Reef National Park. If it’s your first visit to the park, you’ll want to make sure to check out the top points of interest.
Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
Defined by white sandstone domes and a rugged desert landscape, Capitol Reef is the namesake of Capitol Reef National Park. One of the best ways to get a feel for this gorgeous area is by heading out on the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, which is eight miles one way and offers breathtaking scenery.
One of Capitol Reef National Park’s finest treasures is Hickman Bridge, a massive natural arch tucked away in a canyon. The hike to Hickman Bridge is incredibly scenic, guiding visitors along the Fremont River and offering views of Highway 24 and Cohab Canyon.
As should be expected, Panorama Point offers spectacular panoramic views over the park. Here you’ll be able to see the colorful rock layers and formations that make Capitol Reef National Park so special.
Sunset Point Trail
The absolute best place in Capitol Reef National Park to watch the sunset, Sunset Point Trail boasts dramatic views over the vast rugged landscape of the park. A short trail leading from Goosenecks Overlook, you won’t be disappointed by Sunset Point!
A lovely area which was originally settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1880s, you’ll have the opportunity to pick your own fruit in the historic Fruita district. Explore the one-room schoolhouse, the Gifford House, and the rest of this charming pioneer town.
A beautiful backcountry valley in Capitol Reef National Park, Cathedral Valley is defined by sandstone monoliths that are said to appear like cathedrals. Featuring the Temple of the Sun and other noteworthy monuments, you can’t miss Cathedral Valley on your trip to Capitol Reef National Park.
A popular national park located in southern Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is home to dramatic desert landscapes and fascinating geological formations. Cliffs, canyons, and domes make this park a wonderful place for hiking and exploring. Once you’ve had your fill of Capitol Reef National Park, continue your trip by heading to the following nearby destinations!
Anasazi State Park – Home to an Ancestral Puebloan village of the ancient Anasazi people, Anasazi State Park and museum feature the ruins of this historic site. Less than an hour outside of Capitol Reef National Park, Anasazi State Park makes for the perfect next stop along your way.
Bryce Canyon National Park – A gorgeous national park known for its colorful hoodoos and unique geological features, Bryce Canyon National Park is an excellent place to stop before or after your visit to Capitol Reef National Park.
Goblin Valley State Park – Under an hour outside of Capitol Reef National Park lies Goblin Valley State Park. The “goblins” that are this park’s namesake are the thousands of hoodoos that appear throughout the park.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area – An area that surrounds Utah’s Lake Powell and lower Cataract Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area boasts beautiful rugged desert landscapes. Just over an hour away from Capitol Reef National Park, this is the natural next stop along your journey.
Salt Lake City, Utah – About 3.5 hours from Capitol Reef National Park lies Salt Lake City, Utah’s bustling capital city. A sparkling metropolis situated against the backdrop of towering mountains, you’re sure to fall in love with Salt Lake City.
Arches National Park – Home to spectacular red rock scenery, Arches National Park is among the country’s most unique national parks. Head to Arches after your visit to Capitol Reef National Park for hiking and breathtaking landscapes.
Located in Utah’s Canyon Country, Capitol Reef National Park encompasses a vast desert landscape defined by buttes, sandstone canyons, ridges, and monoliths. This national park’s stunning geological features draw visitors from around the country every year. Be sure to take the necessary safety precautions when visiting Capitol Reef National Park to ensure a safe trip!
Intense flash floods can happen suddenly and without warning, so avoid narrow slot canyons if it begins to rain. Floods can begin from storms that occur upstream, so if you’re hiking and the water begins to rise or the ground begins to get muddy, seek higher ground immediately.
The desert temperatures can be unbearably sunny and hot, so it’s imperative that you drink plenty of water when visiting the park to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion. Wear sun protection, including sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
Capitol Reef National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including rodents, coyotes, cougars, black bears, bats, and more. It’s important to keep your food and scented items properly stored and out of reach from wild animals. Never approach or feed wildlife and make sure to always keep a safe distance, both for their safety and yours.
Capitol Reef National Park is home to steep cliffs that can become slippery and dangerous. Make sure to always stay on the trail, watch your footing, keep a close eye on children, and stay back from cliff edges.
The Canyon Quest road trip will take you across Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, where you will visit the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, and Glen Canyon!
If you are looking for a retreat from Spring through Fall, this road trip can be the perfect itinerary. Although the trip traditionally takes about two weeks to complete, we recommend more time if you want to camp and hike in every park. If you’re flying in, we recommend booking flights through Las Vegas in Nevada, Salt Lake City in Utah, or Phoenix in Arizona.
Grand Canyon National Park
If you have not heard about this National park, then you might well have been living under a rock. The Grand Canyon National Park is the most iconic natural treasures of the United States.
The Grand Canyon is widely admired for the extensive range of colorful rocks that vary in shape, size and depth. The lookout points across the park provide you with stellar views. We recommend hiking on your own or joining a ranger-led tour, which will often detail the full natural history of the Canyon.
Zion National Park
Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon. Zion’s unique array of plants and animals will enchant you as you absorb the rich history of the past and enjoy the excitement of present day adventures.
Bryce CanyonNational Park
Hoodoos, yes you read that correctly, are what make this national park a site to see. The national park is home to the largest cluster of hoodoos or more descriptively, irregular columns of rock, that are situated across the high plateau of the Grand Staircase. During your visit, explore one of the countless trails that exist in the park to discover the true beauty of the location. Like the Grand Canyon National Park, you can take part in ranger programs and camp in the outdoors. You can also take guided horseback rides or book ahead for a private horsing experience within the park.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is famous for its renowned orchards that stem over 2,000 trees including apricots, cherries, apples, peaches, mulberries, pears, walnuts, and almonds.
This park provides you with the unique experience of harvesting fruit. The staff at the park thoroughly maintain the large variety of orchard trees using traditional farming practices so that you can have the ideal fruit picking session during your visit. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the park so you can help preserve the orchards in the same manner they have been for decades.
Arches National Park
This park boasts vivid, abstract, and contrasting landscapes with formations that include massive balanced rocks and colossal fins. The most recognizable features of this park are stone arches that have been photographed countless times during the edge of dawn and dusk.
Canyonlands National Park
Although we have been discussing about the many daytime activities and places to go, the Canyonlands National Park has something for you during the night: stargazing. Canyonlands has preserved the night sky by keeping the light pollution levels low and the great air quality ensures that the stars are vibrantly on display during the night.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. Declared a National Monument in 1908, the bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Glen Canyon has many sights, but perhaps the most iconic is Horseshoe Bend. Below the rim, the Colorado River makes a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment. On its long downward journey to the sea, the river meandered, sometimes making wide bends, but always seeking the path of least resistance. Over 5 million years the unique twists of Glen Canyon are poignantly summarized by photos of Horseshoe Bend.
The Grand Circle Road Trip can be enjoyed throughout the year. Ideally, it is better to experience these parks during Spring or Fall. The summertime heat may be overwhelming, especially when you are doing physically straining activities such as hiking. Springtime also provides you with the opportunity to harvest certain fruits, such as apricots and cherries, in Capitol Reef National Park.