Entrance Sign to Capitol Reef National Park Utah

Where is Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah. The national park is one of five major national parks in the state; others include Arches National Park, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park. The closest city to Capitol Reef National Park is Torrey, which is located about 15 minutes west of the park via highway 24. Visitors choosing to plan a trip to Capitol Reef National Park can expect to find a dense array of desert recreation opportunities. Hiking, backpacking, biking, camping, and rock climbing are popular outdoor activities practiced in the park. While recreating in the park visitors will have the opportunity to take in views of several dramatic desert scenes including colorful canyons, buttes, and monoliths. Visitors planning to stop at other national parks during their trip to Capitol Reef National Park will be enthusiastic to know that the park lies about 145 miles away from Canyonlands National Park, 133 miles away from Arches National Park, and 44 miles away from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

How Large is Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park protects a total of over 241,900 acres of desert landscape. Across this landscape visitors will see whitish Navajo sandstone cliffs that have unique dome formations among other interesting formations and sights. These cliffs give the park its name as their appearance is similar to the domes often found on a capitol building. The majority of these cliffs are present in the capitol reef area of the Waterpocket Fold. The fold is a 100-mile rocky spine that the majority of is protected by the park. In addition to the Navajo sandstone cliffs, within Capitol Reef US National Park visitors will also find a plethora of hiking trails and the Fruita Campground; the camp contains about 70 separate campsites which are designed for tent camping. A few of the most popular hiking trails found in Capitol Reef National Park are the Cassidy Arch Trail, the Hickman Bridge Trail, and the Frying Pan Trail.

Sunset View of Capitol Reef National Park Utah

Capitol Reef National Park Weather

Capitol Reef National Park, according to the Koppen Climate Classification system is defined as having a cold semi-arid climate. While its name suggests differently, climates of this classification can still experience temperatures over 95 degrees in the summer. More specifically, summer temperatures in Capitol Reef National Park usually fluctuate between lows in the high 50’s and highs in the low 90’s. Winter temperatures in the park experience less of a range, but normally hover between the high teens and low 40’s. Precipitation, throughout the year, is held to a minimum in Capitol Reef National Park. In general, the park sees about 6-8 inches of precipitation annually.

When did Capitol Reef Become a National Park

Capitol Reef National Park first became a national park in 1971. Before this protection of the area was issued under National Monument status in 1937. During this phase as a national monument, Capitol Reef was managed and maintained by Zion National Park. Gaining its independence and advanced protection in 1971, Capitol Reef National Park was constructed under the presidency of Richard Nixon. Before national parks or national monuments were even considered, the land around capitol reef was called home by Fremont Native Americans and later groups of Mormon settlers who also took advantage of the rich floodplains of the Fremont River.

Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park offers visitors the opportunity to recreate throughout a desert playground. The park contains an extensive trail system and a designated campground. These trails and campgrounds and a variety of other activities and locations will be outlined below courtesy of our National Park Visitors Guide

Start at the Park Visitor Center in the Fruita District

The Fruita District is the best place to start your Capitol Reef National Park adventure. The park is split into three distinct sections: Waterpocket, Cathedral Valley, and of course Fruita. However, Fruita is the heart of the park. Starting at the visitor center in Fruita is the perfect way to become oriented with the park and gather your bearings for your adventure. Within the visitor center, you will be able to obtain important literature and brochures that discuss the park’s hiking trails, wildlife, and geology. Also, within the visitor center you will be able to interact with park rangers working in the park. These rangers are a good source to field questions to. While in the visitor center keep an eye out for an interpretive program schedule. These programs will help interested parties learn more about the park’s unique characteristics. 

Jeep Driving Through Capitol Reef National Park Utah

Take a Scenic Drive

After becoming oriented with the park within the visitor center, the next best move may be to go on a scenic drive. Within the Fruita district there is a 7.9-mile paved road that travels throughout the park. Along the way, visitors embarking on this drive will be able to stop at several interesting landmarks including the Moenkopi Formation, Grand Wash, and the Cassidy Arch. The latter of which was named for the outlaw Butch Cassidy who previously hid out in the area to escape the law. While on this scenic drive you will also be able to travel to a variety of trailheads that lead to a diverse and interesting hiking trail system.

Hike in the Fruita District

Within the Fruita district alone, there are around 15 trails that will lead visitors on day hikes throughout Capitol Reef National Park. Other hiking trails and backcountry hiking opportunities are present within the Waterpocket and Cathedral Valley sections of the park. Some of the most popular trails in the Fruita section are the Sunset Point, Frying Pan, and Fremont Gorge Overlook. The latter leads visitors to an open mesa where they can take in views of the surrounding gorges, while the former is perfect for a late evening sunset hike! If you and your party decide you want to hike in the backcountry of the Waterpocket or Cathedral Valley section of the park there are several slot canyons and other routes you can follow. The visitor center can supply more up to date information regarding these trails and also supply permits for backcountry camping.

Set up Camp in Capitol Reef National Park

Visitors planning to camp within Capitol Reef National Park can either decide to backpack and camp in the backcountry or camp within the park’s Fruita Campground. The campground in the Furita section of the park contains 71 campsites suited for tent campers. The campground does not have water, electric, or sewage hookups. However, the campground does contain a primitive set of bathrooms. Visitors wishing to camp within the Fruita Campground can make reservations online through the park’s website and reservation portal. Visitors wishing to camp in the backcountry can obtain backcountry permits from the visitor center.

Travel the Park by Bicycle

In addition to scenic drives and hiking trails, another great way to explore Capitol Reef National Park is by bicycle. Visitors opting to pedal through the park will be able to explore using all paved roads and the trail that connects the campground and visitor center. All other trails in the park are off limits to bicycles. Bicyclists looking for a challenge can tour the Cathedral Valley Loop. The loop is very strenuous and takes visitors throughout the northernmost reaches of Capitol Reef National Park. While in these isolated parts of the park, visitors will have a better chance of witnessing sights of some of the park's wildlife.

Wildlife Viewing in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park protects a diverse set of desert wildlife. The largest mammals found in the park are Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Mountain Lions, and Coyotes. Capitol Reef National Park also contains about 67 other mammal species, a diverse set of amphibians, and a large array of migratory and resident birds. Some species like the Red Fox, Kit Fox, Ringtail, and the Greater Short-horned Lizard are all present in the park, but rarely spotted by humans. The park’s website has a complete species checklist available for any visitor interested in downloading or printing it.

Hiker Standing on Rock Edge in Capital Reef National Park Utah

When to Visit Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is open throughout the entire years, and visitors can plan their trip to the park throughout any season. However, the park’s busiest season extends from May through September. The late spring and summer are the best times to visit Capitol Reef National Park. These seasons normally possess temperatures that are conducive to outdoor recreation and overnight stays in the park. Visitors wishing to avoid the busiest seasons at the park can plan their trip during the winter and early spring, though colder temperatures may require visitors to obtain additional supplies and to conduct more planning.

Must Have Items to Bring to Capitol Reef National Park

List of Paks suggests the following few items are only some of the items you should bring to Capitol Reef National Park. Obviously, if you plan to venture into the backcountry you should be completely prepared with a first aid kit, adequate supplies, and protective clothing and equipment. 

Water & High Energy Snacks

Water is always a priority when embarking on an outdoor recreation trip. When this trip takes place in the deserts of Utah, adequate supplies of water are even more important. Summer temperatures in Capitol Reef National Park can reach extremes of 100 degrees fahrenheit. Visitors planning to hike extensively in the park should be prepared. Bringing high energy snacks with you to the park is also a great idea. These snacks will give you an added boost late in the day.

Field Guides

Wildlife in Capitol Reef National Park is diverse and abundant. Visitors wishing to experience as much of this wildlife as they possibly can, will want to purchase and bring a Utah or North American wildlife field guide with them to the park. This field guide will aid in the identification and study of specific species. Binoculars are also a great item for wildlife enthusiasts to bring to Capitol Reef National Park.

Sturdy Hiking Boots

A sturdy pair of hiking boots will be a visitor’s best friend during their trip to the park. These boots will allow visitors to be able to safely navigate the diverse sections of terrain they will find while exploring the many trails of Capitol Reef National Park. Visitors looking for added protection and comfort should opt to purchase a waterproof and lightweight pair.

Bicycles & Helmets

Individuals interested in exploring Capitol Reef National Park by bicycle should make sure to bring their bike and all other equipment they will need for the activity during their trip. Visitors should also wear a helmet at all times while biking in Capitol Reef National Park.

Native American Petroglyphs in Capitol Reef National Park Utah

Where to Stay in Capitol Reef National Park

Visitors looking to stay overnight in Capitol Reef National Park have the choice of either securing a campsite in the Fruita Campground or camping in the backcountry of the park. Visitors wishing to secure a campsite can do so online through the park’s website and reservation portal, while visitors planning to backpack in the park can obtain their backcountry permit from the park’s visitor center.

Food Near Capitol Reef National Park

The closest restaurants, grocery stores, and other services to Capitol Reef National Park are located in the nearby town of Torrey. Here visitors can grab a bite to eat, stock up on supplies for their adventure, and fuel up their vehicles.

Airports Near Capitol Reef National Park

The closest international airport to Capitol Reef National Park is located in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake City International Airport is about a 3 or 3.5 hour drive north of the park.

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