ABOUT THE PARK / WHERE IT IS: Capitol Reef National Park lies in Utah’s south-central desert, an oasis of colorful sandstone cliffs, impressive domes, and soaring monoliths. Once called “Wayne Wonderland,” the park got its name in part from the great white rock formations which resemble the U.S. Capitol building, and from the sheer cliffs that presented a barrier to early travelers. Early inhabitants referred to the area as the “land of the sleeping rainbow” because of its beautiful contrasts: multi-colored sandstone surrounded by verdant riverbanks and arid desert vegetation, all nestled beneath deep blue skies. The area was designated as a national monument in 1937 and reclassified as a national park in 1971. The park is open year-round. Click on the link to view a Capitol Reef Map.
ACCESS: The gateway town of Torrey is just eight miles west of Capitol Reef National Park’s visitor center, on Highway 24. The town offers lodging and restaurants, and easy access to the scenic wonders inside the park. Other neighboring communities on the west side of Capitol Reef, such as Grover, Teasdale, Bicknell, Lyman and Loa, also make great staging areas for exploration of this national park. Entering from Torrey offers a view of the Waterfold Pocket. Caineville and Hanksville are located on the east side of Capitol Reef, also on Highway 24, and both communities make great locations from which to view Capitol Reef or other nearby attractions such as Canyonlands National Park, Goblin Valley State Park and more. .
WHAT TO SEE AND DO: The most distinguishing geologic feature within the park is the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold, a protuberance in the earth’s crust that has eroded into a maze of winding canyons, towering monoliths, and massive domes.
Capitol Dome is a majestic white sandstone formation that resembles the U.S. Capitol building. The park was partly named for this landmark.
Chimney Rock is a towering 400-foot-tall sandstone pillar, located three miles west of the visitor center off Highway 24 and accessible via a short hiking trail.
Hickman Bridge is a huge natural arch spanning 133 feet wide and 125 feet tall. The arch is named after Joseph Hickman, an early advocate for Capitol Reef’s preservation.
The Fremont Petroglyphs were etched in sandstone by the Fremont people who inhabited the area nearly 1,000 years ago and can be seen from the Hickman Bridge Trail.
Early Mormon pioneers also left their mark in Capitol Reef, carving their names in sandstone at Pioneer Register to acknowledge their travels.
In 1882 Elijah Behunin built Behunin Cabin out of red sandstone to blend in with the surrounding landscape. The cabin remains can be seen just off of Highway 24 on the east side of the park.
The historic Gifford Farmhouse, built in 1908, can be reached via a short path about a mile south of the visitor center.
The small town of Fruita inside the park has more than 2,500 fruit trees, some of which were originally planted by Mormon pioneers. Today the town is federally owned, and visitors can stroll through the orchards and eat fruit fresh off the trees.
Cathedral Valley is a remote area in the northern end of the park where enormous monoliths soar hundreds of feet high.
THREE EXCELLENT HIKES
The Hickman Bridge Trail leads to Hickman Bridge, a massive natural arch. The trail is two miles roundtrip, with a 300-foot incline. The trailhead is two miles east of the visitor center on Highway 24.
Chimney Rock Loop Trail is a 3.5-mile loop with a fairly steep elevation gain at the beginning. The loop offers panoramic views of Chimney Rock and the Waterpocket Fold. The trailhead is located three miles east of the visitor center.
The Cassidy Arch Trail is a 3.5-mile roundtrip trail that climbs 1000 feet to an overlook above Cassidy Arch. It’s named for the outlaw Butch Cassidy, who used the area as a hideout.
ROADS: From Torrey, Highway 24 continues east through the park, offering access to landmarks such as Chimney Rock, Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, the Fremont Petroglyphs, and Behunin Cabin.
The 25-mile long Scenic Drive begins near the visitor center off Highway 24 and heads south past the Gifford Farmhouse and Fruita. Along Scenic Drive there are two spur roads which offer spectacular backcountry access. Grand Wash Road is a one-mile, well-maintained dirt road that leads to Cassidy Arch. Further south, the 2.5-mile roundtrip Capitol Gorge Road gives access to Capitol Gorge Trail, a one-mile which that leads to Pioneer Register.
There are also hundreds of miles of unpaved roads leading into the backcountry, including the Cathedral Valley Loop, a 70-mile scenic drive through Cathedral Valley, which requires a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle.
WILDLIFE: The unique Waterpocket Fold has created diverse habitats that allow a wide range of plants and animals to flourish. More than 300 species reside here, including deer, antelope, ringtail raccoons, chipmunks and squirrels, golden Eagles, raven, bats, whiptail and collared lizards. Mountain lions, coyote, and black bear are rarely seen but also populate the area.
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