CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.
Capitol Reef National park is a remote park in south-central Utah that covers about 381 square miles or 243,921 acres. The park’s highest elevation is 8,960 feet in the Upper Deep Creek Drainage and the lowest elevation is at 3,880 feet, where Halls Creek drainage exits the park.
Capitol Reef National Park is an evocative world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion Canyons in a less crowded park that can offer a more relaxing experience than either of those more-famous Utah attractions.
Capitol Reef was proclaimed in 1937 as a national monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to protect the area’s colorful canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths. It was not until 1950 that the area officially opened to the public. Road access was improved in 1962 with the construction of State Route 24 through the Fremont River Canyon. Finally it was established as a national park in 1971. It is known for the spectacular geology of the Waterpocket Fold, diverse ecological habitats, cultural landscape and recreational opportunities, and as a refuge of pristine dark night skies.
Located at 52 Scenic Drive, Torrey, Utah 84775 in Wayne, Garfield, Sevier, and Emery counties. It is accessed from Utah State Highway 24. If traveling westbound from I-70, take Utah State Highway 24 (Exit 149) southwest towards Hanksville. The Visitor Center is 95 miles from I-70.
Park Map: https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/upload/Park-Map-for-Web.pdf
The park and campgrounds are open year round. Bicycles are restricted to public roads at all times.
The Capitol Reef Visitor Center is open daily (except for some major holidays) from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm with extended hours spring through the fall.
Ripple Rock Nature Center is open on limited days from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The Gifford House Store and Museum opens for the season on March 14 and remains open daily through November 4 from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm with extended hours in the summer.
Park entrance fees are $20.00/private non-commercial vehicle, $15.00/motorcycle, and $10.00/individual with no car, and passes are valid for seven days.
There is no fee to drive on Highway 24, so you can tour part of the park without paying an entrance fee. On this list, you can drive Highway 24, see the petroglyphs, hike to Hickman Bridge, and visit Panorama and Sunset Points without paying the entrance fee.
Park admission is free on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week, the National Park Service Anniversary, and National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.
Camping at the 71-site Fruita Campground, south of the Visitor Center in the Fruita Historic District, is $20.00/night. Campsites at the Fruita Campground can be reserved six months in advance online through www.recreation.gov. The free Cathedral and Cedar Mesa Primitive Campgrounds are located in more remote parts of the park. They have pit toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables, but no water. (https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/campinga.htm)
Possession, destruction, or removal of any animals, plants, rocks or artifacts is prohibited. Help protect the fragile desert environment. Stay on established trails, avoid stepping on biological soil crusts, and do not shortcut switchbacks. Do not throw rocks. Climbing on loose talus or steep slickrock is dangerous, and it is always harder to climb down than to climb up. Don’t take unnecessary risks because help may be a long way off.
Capitol Reef National Park is home to more than 100 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, 239 bird species, 13 fish species, 71 mammal species, over 900 plant species, 16 reptile species, 5 amphibian species, and 33 ecological systems.
The Moenkopi is the oldest sedimentary rock layer visible from the visitor center, with the younger Chinle Formation above it. The Castle is Wingate Sandstone; the Kayenta Formation that formerly capped it has eroded away, but is still visible atop the red cliffs behind it. White domes of Navajo Sandstone comprise the highest and youngest layer seen from the visitor center.
Panorama Point on Highway 24 offers convenient roadside access for photographers; be sure to continue along the mile-long spur road to Goosenecks Overlook and hike 20 minutes to Sunset Point for even more luminous views of the Waterpocket Fold.
Park Signs: https://www.nps.gov/care/learn/photosmultimedia/waysides.htm
The closest town to Capitol Reef is Torrey, about 11 miles west of the visitor center on Highway 24, slightly west of its intersection with Highway 12. Torrey has a population of less than 200, with a few motels and restaurants. Highway 12, as well as a partially unpaved scenic backway named the Burr Trail, provide access from the west through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the town of Boulder.
The nearest traffic light to Capitol Reef National Park is 78 miles away.
There are 10 sites in Capitol Reef National Park on the National Registrar of Historic Places.
Capitol Reef is approximately 60 miles long and about 6 miles wide.
The spring and fall months are the best times to visit. Weather conditions are pleasant and you can avoid the larger crowds that arrive in the summer. During the summer months, expect soaring temperatures and large crowds (although Capitol Reef does not get the legendary crowds like Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Zion). During the winter months, the park is less crowded, but temperatures get below freezing and snow is likely. Snow can close the roads and make hiking more difficult.
Services and Facilities
The nearest cell phone service and free wifi are available in Torrey. For wifi information contact the Wayne County Travel Council (http://www.capitolreef.org/), (800)858-7951, which operates in Torrey at the junction of Highways 12 and 24. Open spring through fall.
The nearest gasoline is available in Torrey (11 miles/ 18 km west) and Hanksville (37 miles/ 60 km east).
Snacks are available at the Visitor Center and at the Gifford House store and museum. The nearest groceries and restaurants are located in Torrey (spring through falls). Groceries are available year-round in Loa, 27 miles (44 km) to the west. Many local businesses are closed during the winter off-season, as well as on Sundays year-round.
Dark Sky Park
Capitol Reef NP was designated a “Gold Tier” International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (https://www.darksky.org/).
Because of the darkness of the night sky and the park’s commitment to reducing light pollution and educating the public about the night skies, the park has become the seventh unit of the National Park Service (NPS) to achieve designation as an “International Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark-Sky Association. The designation of Capitol Reef National Park (CRNP) as a “Gold Tier” park, signifying the highest quality night skies
Pets are allowed on leash in the developed areas of the park: within 50 feet of center line of roads (paved and dirt) open to public vehicle travel, parking areas open to public vehicle travel, in unfenced and/or unlocked orchards, in the Chestnut and Doc. Inglesbe picnic areas, on the trail from the visitor center to the Fruita Campground, on the Fremont River Trail from the campground to the south end of Hattie’s Field, and in the campgrounds.
Pets are not permitted on hiking trails, in public buildings, or in the backcountry.
Pets must be restrained at all times on a leash 6 feet (1.8 m) or less in length. There are no kennels in the park and pets may not be left unattended in the campground. Kennel boarding may be found in the surrounding communities. Consider your plans carefully before bringing your pet with you.
Please clean up after your pet and dispose of waste in a dumpster.
Service animals are allowed in the park (https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm)
Lime kilns were often one of the first community structures built in a new settlement. Lime is necessary for masonry and construction, and can also serve as a protective coating against scalding, cracking, rodents, and insect damage for fruit tree saplings.
Two lime kilns exist in the Fruita Rural Historic District: one adjacent to the campground and one near Sulphur Creek. Kilns once used to produce lime can still be seen in Sulphur Creek and near the campgrounds on Scenic Drive.
To make lime, limestone is heated in a kiln, with internal temperatures reaching 800–1200 degrees Fahrenheit (427–649 Celsius) for several days. As the limestone is heated, carbon dioxide is “boiled off”; it loses about half its weight, and very reactive quicklime is formed. The resulting quicklime is slaked with water to make a safer, more usable final product.
These lime kilns were likely used a few times a year. Now they remain an important vestige of the early Fruita community and illustrate the industrious nature of the pioneers.
Waterpocket Fold | Wrinkle in the earth
The Waterpocket District offers amazing views of the Waterpocket Fold and great hiking and backpacking opportunities.
The roads are unpaved, but can normally be accessed by standard passenger vehicles. Any precipitation can cause the roads to become impassable, so check weather and road conditions at the visitor center.
The Waterpocket Fold is a geologic landform that extends from southern Wayne through Garfield and ending in northern Kane counties of southern Utah, United States
A vibrant palette of color
The hues are constantly changing, altered by the play of light against the towering cliffs, massive domes, arches, bridges, and twisting canyons. Over millions of years, geologic forces shaped, lifted, and folded the earth to create this rugged, remote area known as the Waterpocket Fold.
Capitol Reef’s defining geologic feature is a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust, extending nearly 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. It was created over time by three gradual, yet powerful processes—deposition, uplift, and erosion. The result is a monocline-a one-sided fold in the otherwise horizontal rock layers.
Deposition: The climate a geography changed dramatically over the past 280 million years. The environment was once oceans, deserts, swamps, and riverbeds, creating nearly 10,000 feet of sedimentary rock made of limestone, sandstone, and shale.
Uplift: Between 50 and 70 million years ago, an ancient fault was reactivated during a time of tectonic activity, lifting the layers to the west of the fault over 7,000 feet higher than those to the east. Rather than cracking, the rock layers folded over the fault line. Continued uplift occurred again some 20 million years ago.
Erosion: Erosive forces sculpted uplifted rock layers. Much of the carving occurred between one and six million years ago. Water, along with the pull of gravity, is the primary erosive force here. Powerful rains, flash flooding, and freeze-thaw cycles loosen, crack, and wash away stone, creating canyons, cliffs, domes, and bridges.
Water Pocket Fold
The Waterpocket Fold is a classic monocline: an elongated fold with one steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers. The layers on the west side of the Fold have been lifted more than 7,000 feet (2134 m) higher than corresponding layers on the east. The Waterpocket Fold is the longest exposed monocline in North America and is nearly 90 miles in length. It is the main reason Capitol Reef National Monument was established in 1937.
The folding and tilting of the rock layers allow you to travel through 280 million years of Capitol Reef’s geologic history in just fifteen miles by driving through the park on State Route 24.
In the southern district of the park, back-road enthusiasts will want to check out Notom Road Scenic Backway. This 29-mile scenic drive (about 25 miles of which is paved) parallels the Waterpocket Fold and gives one of the better perspectives on its magnitude. It connects with the Burr Trail at the southern end of the national park, making up the 129-mile “Waterpocket District” loop.
Impurities in sedimentary rocks act as pigments. Iron is the most common coloring agent found in Capitol Reef’s rocks.
Yellow to orange to rusty brown rocks contain limonite. Example: Navajo Sandstone. Geothite, a mineral similar to limonite, forms brown concretions. Example: Dakota Sandstone.
Light blue, greenish-gray, and off-white rocks show the true colors of the sedimentary particles. Example: Shinarump Member of the Chinle Formation.
Dark gray to brownish-gray to black rocks contain incompletely-decomposed organic matter preserved under conditions such as stagnant marine basins. Example: Mancos Shale.
Dark green rocks contain reduced iron, and were deposited in marine basins, swamps, bogs, and lakes. Example: Morrison Formation.
Red to reddish-brown to purple rocks contain hematite which is simple rust or iron oxide. Example: Moenkopi Formation.
Bright white rocks may consist of gypsum. Thin veins, deposited by groundwater circulating through fractured bedrock, are common in the Moenkopi and Carmel Formations. Gypsum also occurs as clear selenite crystals.
Bridges And Arches
In geologic terms, “bridge” and “arch” both refer to naturally occurring spans of stone. The key difference lies in how the span forms.Erosion by ice, water, wind, rockfall, and other natural processes may combine to form and sculpt bridges and arches. However, flowing water, either a permanent or temporary stream, is influential in sculpting a bridge at some point during its formation. An arch is formed by natural processes other than flowing water.
(Rock walls with pockets carved out) Solution cavities can be seen in many rock surfaces at Capitol Reef. Also known as tafoni or honeycomb weathering, these concentrations of surface holes are caused by the weathering effects of wind, water, and ice. The cavities are only on the surface; that is, there are no holes hidden within the rock layer behind the surface.
What causes solution cavities to form in the first place? Sandstone, in which the cavities often form, is made of sand grains cemented together with minerals, commonly calcite or silica. Some of the sandstone may have areas that are weakly cemented together, creating softer rock. These soft areas erode easily and more quickly when exposed to surface weathering, creating cavities and leaving behind harder portions of rock.
(small pools) Long after intermittent streams dry up in this desert environment, waterpockets often serve as precious sources of water for wildlife. Lush vegetation may be seen growing around a waterpocket, its water creating a small oasis of life.
Also known as potholes, tanks, or tinajas, waterpockets are depressions that form where water erodes into solid bedrock (usually sandstone). The circulating action of flowing water, and the abrasive sand and other debris it carries, gradually wear away stone, often forming circular holes along the stream channel. These depressions often occur below waterfalls and in steeper drainages where water flows directly over smooth bedrock. Much of the erosion takes place during flash floods when large amounts of gritty water scour the potholes. Loose rocks trapped within deeper waterpockets act as scraping tools when floodwaters stir them around, accelerating the erosion and enlarging and deepening the basins.
Civilian Conservation Corps Ranger Station
Even though Capitol Reef became a national monument in 1937, there were no official park buildings until 1940, when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the first ranger station from sandstone quarried near Chimney Rock. It is a classic example of the rustic style of architecture produced by the NPS during the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, a lack of water at its location caused it to sit vacant and subject to vandalism for ten years, before it was wired for electricity and put to its original purpose as a visitor contact station in 1950. The ranger station was used by Charles Kelly, the first custodian, ranger, and later superintendent of Capitol Reef National Monument. In 1959 the ranger station was remodeled as the park headquarters and museum. When the current visitor center was built in 1965, the CCC building was converted into the park superintendent’s office, still in use today.
During the CCC’s tenure at Capitol Reef, crews improved roads and trails such as the route to Hickman Bridge, which was a popular yet rough path that local park supporters forged before Capitol Reef was designated as a national monument.
Mission 66 Additions
Mission 66 was an initiative to make parks more accessible by the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary in 1966. Private land in the Fruita area was acquired to complete the new State Route 24 and entrance to Capitol Reef National Monument within the Fremont River corridor.
Construction for the current visitor center began in 1964 and was completed by 1965. Designs for Capitol Reef’s new visitor center were drawn by Cecil Doty, an architect for the National Park Service. Arthur K. Olsen & Associates of Salt Lake City also played a role in its creation.
During this period, the face of Fruita and Capitol Reef changed. Formerly private structures were removed as part of the park management plan. Mission 66 was also the impetus to create or improve hiking trails, including the Cassidy Arch Trail which previously had been a rough route