Capitol Reef National Park

Utah, United States North America icon North America

Capitol Reef National Park is located in the southern part of central Utah.  The park covers 377.91 square miles (978.8 sq km) of pristine wilderness adding to the stunning protected areas of the state.  It stretches about 60 miles (97 km) in length while only being about 6 miles (9.7 km) deep.

Capitol Reef is probably closest to Bryce Canyon National Park; however, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park are situated just to the east while Zion National Park sits a little further to the west.  It is kind of hard to find a better collection of national parks anywhere in the United States.

Capitol Reef is renowned for the strikingly colorful buttes, canyons, monoliths, ridges, and other complementary rock formations.  The heart of the park features Waterpocket Fold which is a collection of geological rock formations stretching from Lake Powell to Thousand Lake Mountain.

Along with the rock strata folds, the park is comprised of other geological fascinations that include arches, canyons, cliffs, domes, and towers.

The easiest way for anyone to experience much of what the park has to offer is through the scenic drive along State Route 24.  This drive follows the Fremont River and through the canyon, and for all practical purposes is the only road navigating the wilderness.  All other exploration has to be done on foot, ATV, or bikes.

The park is also known for the Navajo sandstone cliffs that appear like white domes.  The name of the park was derived from these geological features.  They are similar to the white cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The park is a pristine wilderness and home to wildlife that is similar to neighboring national parks of Utah.  Hopeful sightings include black bear, mule deer, pronghorn, badger, coyote, fox, and bobcat.  The golden eagle and bald eagle are two of the two hundred plus species of birds.

Capitol Reef Highlights

The landscapes of Capitol Reef are the highlight of this park, although there are other facets of nature that make a visit to this national park a must.

Waterpocket Fold

The centerpiece of the park is Waterpocket Fold.  This is a geological encounter with the forces of nature.  This area represents the largest exposed monocline in the world.  This exposed monocline reveals the step-like folds in the rock strata that have occurred over time.  It is possible to see near vertical dippings in the rock folds of the area.

Trails in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is one of those places that leaves you bewildered and the extensive and colorful landscapes.  There are hundreds of miles of trails that allow you to more fully engage this magnificent part of the country.

Hickman Bridge Trail: The moderately easy 2-mile (3.21) round trip hike provides a lot of natural wonder highlights for such a short excursion.  Of course, you will see Hickman Bridge, however, you will also see a complementary second arch and the Fremont pit house ruins.  You will also look out over Fremont River from the bluff above.

Cathedral Valley Trail: The 60-mile (96.5 km) loop is most often navigated with ATVs, however, there are several places to stop and explore on foot.  The highlights of the trail include the geological rock formations that are affectionately named: Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon, Temple of the Stars, and the Walls of Jericho.  There is also a large gypsum sinkhole.

Cassidy Arch Trail: This easy 3.5-mile (5.6 km) round trip adventure is found toward the center of the park.  Most people access this trail off of the larger Frying Pan Trail.  The arch is named after Butch Cassidy and it creates a window into serenity.  The trail ends above the arch itself.

Frying Pan Trail:  This is a moderate trail that stretches 4.4 miles (7.08 km) each way.  You can opt to have a vehicle pick you up at the other end.  The trail meanders from Grand Wash along the Cassidy Arch Trail and then follows the Scenic Drive of Waterpocket Fold.

Brimhall Natural Bridge: This is a challenging 4.5 miles (7.2 km) round trip trail that takes trekkers to Brimhall Natural Bridge.  Along the way, you will also see Brimhall Canyon and the features of the Waterpocket Fold.  You should be in good physical condition before embarking on this trail.

Halls Creek Narrows Trail:  This is a 22-mile (35 km) difficult journey.  This is a camping hike that requires two or three nights out on the trail depending on your pace and engagement with nature.  You will experience an array of canyons, creeks, and rock formations.

Capitol Reef Highlights

  • Waterpocket Fold
  • Thousand Lake Mountain
  • Incredible arches and rock formations
  • Navajo Sandstone domes


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