United States Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

An amazing wonderland of unique rock formations, dizzying slot canyons and ancient petroglyphs, without the crowds of Utah’s more famous parks

The name Capitol Reef evokes images of tropical coastlines and marine life, which may seem odd for the name of a national park smack dab in the middle of landlocked Utah. Early settlers thought the park’s seemingly impenetrable 87-mile long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust looked like a “reef,” and that its giant white Navajo Sandstone domes looked just like the dome of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. - hence its name, Capitol Reef.   

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. The park is about 115 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon National Park and 130 miles southwest of Arches National Park. The closest major airport is about 185 miles northeast, in Grand Junction, Colorado and the nearest major cities are Salt Lake City, 218 miles to the north, and Las Vegas, 330 miles southwest. 

Capitol Reef National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, although some roads may close due to snowy conditions or flash flood warnings. The visitor center is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, except for major holidays. Visitor center hours are extended to 6:00 pm during the summer. The Gifford House, famous for its pie, opens for the season appropriately on Pi Day (March 14) and closes around the end of October and is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Capitol Reef National Park is under limited operations due to COVID-19. Some facilities may not be available and staffing may be limited.

Entrance into the park costs $20 per vehicle or $10 per individual on foot or bike and passes are valid for 7 days. Holders of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass enjoy free entry into the park. Sites at the Fruita Campground are $20 a night and campsites at the more primitive Cathedral Valley Campground and Cedar Mesa Campground are free.  

One of the most exhilarating ways to explore Capitol Reef National Park is with a guided canyoneering tour. Canyoneering involves climbing, rappelling, and squeezing through narrow and twisty slot canyons and there are canyons for all skill levels and abilities. For first timers, we like Capitol Reef Adventure Company.

Tips from the community

Just 2 hours west of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, Capitol Reef offers a rugged oasis of red rock arches, sheer cliffs, and unbelievable bridges all along a geologic wonder called the Waterpocket Fold. This 100-mile wrinkle in the earth is some 7,000 feet higher to the west than to the east and is the defining feature of Capitol Reef, best viewed on the park’s classic Scenic Highway 24 down to the uniquely golden Navajo Sandstone mountain aptly known as the “Golden Throne.”  For visitors looking for a low-key drive through canyon country, Capitol Reef’s scenic highway may be the best way to check out Utah’s grandeur. But the route is just about the only paved section of the park. More adventurous hikers won’t be disappointed by the park’s trail offerings, like Burr Trail, which crosses the Waterpocket Fold and intersects with the popular trail loop along the scenic highways and Notom-Bullfrog Road. At any given point along the hike, trekkers are likely to happen upon slot canyons and backcountry trails. Three of the most popular slot canyons that can be accessed from Notom-Bullfrog Road are Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash, and Sheets Gulch. Capitol Reef will make modern-day hikers feel like real explorers. The park is full of unique pioneer history that’s still accessible to this day. Visitors can visit Fruita Campground to find (and freely pick from) a whole lush orchard area of fruit trees planted by 19th-century pioneers, purchase goods made with that same fresh fruit at a little country store on site, or settle in to watch the sunset along banks of the Fremont River. Whatever you do, you’ll find a beautiful scenery of red cliffs. While Capitol Reef rings in last on this list, it’s surely not the least and shouldn’t be missed.

savannah.whitmer 3 years ago

Stretching across the heart of the Beehive State in a 60-mile spread of Western-worthy outback is Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. It’s named for the peaked domes of Navajo sandstone that loom like the tops of US capitol buildings throughout the preserve. Capitol Reef National Park is a treasure trove of geological wonders that dates back over 65 million years. The park is home to a unique collection of geological formations, including domes, cliffs, canyons, and arches. The park’s most iconic feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a massive geological formation that stretches for 100 miles and rises up to 7000 feet above sea level. The Waterpocket Fold is a unique feature, as it is a monocline, meaning that it has a single slope that forms a steep incline.

jrfrancis 3 months ago

If you're feeling extra adventurous, I certainly recommend a day trip to Capitol Reef National Park! This is the closest National Park to Salt Lake City, but the drive is still three hours each way. The entry fee is $20, but honestly, the number of scenic highways and overlooks you'll encounter along the way, makes it worth every penny. Plus, crossing another National Park off the bucket list? Yes, please! ✈ To stretch your legs from the long drive, I recommend the Hickman Bridge Trail. In under two miles, you'll feel as if you were transported to another planet!

paige 10 months ago

A favorite — hiking, birding, historic Fruita tour, biking

lwithrow 3 years ago

Capitol Reef National Park Lists

Capitol Reef National Park Articles

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