Capitol Reef National Park is a United States National Park, in south-central Utah. It is 160 kilometres long but fairly narrow. The park, established in 1971, preserves 978.95 km2 and is open all year, although May through September are the most popular months. During this tim the park offers several ranger programs at no charge. These include talks, evening programs at the campground amphitheater and occasional astronomy programs. The park is especially popular amongst hikers, as there are dozens of trails, from easy to strenuous. Check the visitor center for details.
Capitol Reef encompasses the Waterpocket Fold, a warp in the earth's crust that is 65 million years old. It is the largest exposed monocline in North America. In this fold, newer and older layers of earth folded over each other in an S-shape. This warp, probably caused by the same colliding continental plates that created the Rocky Mountains, has weathered and eroded over millennia to expose layers of rock and fossils. The park is filled with brilliantly colored sandstone cliffs, gleaming white domes, and contrasting layers of stone and earth.
The area was named for a line of white domes and cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, each of which looks somewhat like the United States Capitol building, that run from the Fremont River to Pleasant Creek on the Waterpocket Fold.
The fold forms a north-to-south barrier that even today has barely been breached by roads. Early settlers referred to parallel, impassable ridges as "reefs", from which the park gets the second half of its name. The first paved road was constructed through the area in 1962. Today, State Route 24 cuts through the park traveling east and west between Canyonlands National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, but few other paved roads invade the rugged landscape.
The park is filled with canyons, cliffs, towers, domes, and arches. The Fremont River has cut canyons through parts of the Waterpocket Fold, but most of the park is arid desert country. A scenic drive shows park visitors some of the highlights, but it runs only a few miles from the main highway. Hundreds of miles of trails and unpaved roads lead the more adventurous into the equally scenic backcountry.
The park and campgrounds are open year round.
The visitor center is open daily (except for some major holidays) from 8:00am to 4:30pm with extended hours in the summer.
Ripple Rock Nature Center is open on limited days from Memorial Day through Labor Day, check the visitor center for details.
The Gifford House Store and Museum opens for the season on March 14 (Pi Day) to October 31 (closing date can change) and is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm with extended hours in the summer.
The following Entrance Fees are charged for traveling the park's Scenic Drive beyond the Fruita Campground:
Traveling westbound on Interstate 70 - Take Utah State Highway 24 west towards Hanksville (exit 149). Stay on Highway 24 for about 150 kilometres to reach the park Visitor Center. Traveling on Interstate 15 - Take US Highway 50 east at Scipio (exit 188) towards Salina for about 50 kilometres. At the junction with Utah State Highway 89/259, turn right (south) and travel 13 kilometres. Turn left (east) onto Utah State Highway 24 towards Sigurd. Continue on Highway 24 for about 130 kilometres to reach the park Visitor Center.
If you are OK with being way off the beaten track, you can reach the skinny south end of the park via the remote Burr Trail Road, which runs from Boulder in the west through some awe inspiring stretches of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and then runs southeast of the park to Bullfrog Marina in the desolate reaches of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Be prepared that the road is not paved within the park, and the unavoidable gravelly ride down the Burr Trail Switchbacks is extremely steep, and not likely passable in rain or when wet.
There are extensive roads running through the park, some paved, some not. A few roads require a four-wheel drive vehicle. During a strong storm some roads become impassable by any vehicle.
Biking is allowed only on established roads in order to protect the fragile high desert soil.
The only food able to be purchased in the park is small snacks and drinks in the visitor center or from the Gifford Farmhouse. For sale are scones, loaves of artisan bread, freshly baked fruit pies, ice cream, many different types of salsa, jams, butters, and any other concoctions made in the nearby town of Torrey.
All of the running water near the visitor center and campground is safe to drink. In the backcountry it is possible to find shallow holes filled with water, but these are a last resort and must be thoroughly filtered and sanitized before drinking. Local wildlife use these small seasonal ponds for their daily consumption and it is irresponsible to disturb these micro habitats unless absolutely necessary.
There is no lodging other than camping in the park, the nearby towns of Torrey, Caineville and Hanksville have a selection of hotels, motels, B&Bs etc.
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