Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Things To Do

Things To Do

The Fruita Schoolhouse is a restored and refurbished historic structure located on Utah Highway 24, .8 miles east of the visitor center.

The blacksmith shop, .5 miles south on the Scenic Drive, offers a recorded message about life in a Mormon pioneer community.

The Historic Gifford Homestead, 1 mile south on the Scenic Drive, is typical of rural Utah farm-houses of the early 1900s and is open during the summer season. Cultural demonstrations and handmade sales items are available.

A picnic area near the visitor center provides tables, fire grills, restrooms, drinking water and shade trees.

Bicycles are restricted to maintained roads open to vehicular traffic. A handout available at the visitor center identifies and describes recommended routes.

Fishing is permitted in the Fremont River with a valid Utah fishing license.

Developed Camping

The Fruita Campground is often described as an oasis within the desert. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, this developed campground has 71 RV/tent sites, each with a picnic table and grill, but no individual water. sewage or electrical hook-ups. An RV dump station, located near the entrance to Loops A and B, is open during the summer. Restrooms are heated and feature running water and flush toilets, but not showers. The nightly fee is $10.00, or $5.00 for Golden Age/Senior Pass and Golden Access/Access Pass holders. An accessible site is located in Loop B adjacent to the restroom.

Open year-round, the Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park and as a result often fills by early to mid-afternoon during the spring through fall seasons. Sites are first-come, first-served and self-serve, and campground hosts (located at the beginning of Loop A) are available to assist you during the summer season. We do not take reservations.

Historic Fruita Tour

The story of Fruita reaffirms that the history of the land is never complete without the saga of man. Study the detail in turn-of-the-century buildings and orderly rows of trees, and observe the intertwined natural and cultural heritage of Fruita.

There is no trail to follow; historic features remain near several roads and footpaths. This page marks some of these special places.


South Fruita Vista

From the first hairpin turn of the Cohab Canyon Trail, the most compelling of Fruita's readily accessible vistas lies before you.

At the foot of rocky Johnson Mesa flows the Fremont River, key to life and agriculture in Fruita. Only a large stream by eastern standards, the Fremont River supplies water to thousands of historic trees.

A gravity-feed irrigation system flood-irrigates the park's historic orchards. Upstream to your left, a settling pond allows the often-muddy water to clear. From there, gravity moves water through a complicated network of pipes and ditches. The irrigation system remains essentially the same as that of a century ago.

The Cohab Canyon Trail takes you high into the cliffs overlooking Fruita. Tradition records that Mormon polygamists found refuge in these cliffs during the Federal government's active enforcement of the anti-polygamy statutes in the 1880s.


Fruita One-Room Schoolhouse

This structure was built in 1896 by Fruita settlers. Elijah Cutler Behunin, Amasa Pierce, and Leo Holt cooperated in its construction. Refurnished and appearing much as it did about 1936, the schoolhouse saw its last class in 1941. A decline in the number of school-age children of this still remote settlement resulted in the closing of the Fruita school, after which the remaining students were bussed over dirt roads to consolidated schools in western Wayne County. The Historic Fruita Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Tool Shed and Blacksmith Shop


Johnson Orchard

This orchard is located on the site Nels Johnson's original homesteading claim. The trees replanted here are antique varieties popular before World War I. The orchard has been planted with many different types of fruit and nut trees, and several varieties of each, as early pioneers would have done.


Fruita Mailbox Tree


Sorghum Processing Site


The Signs

To learn more about Fruita's historic landscape and the people who lived here, consider purchasing a copy of the booklet Red Rock Eden, available from the CRNHA.

Waterpocket District Tour

The spectacular Waterpocket District, or southern section, of Capitol Reef National Park is open all year. Vehicles with good ground clearance, such as pickup trucks, vans, and a variety of passenger cars, can usually negotiate most of the roads without difficulty. However, road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent weather conditions. Spring and summer rains and winter snows can sometimes leave roads slick, muddy, washed out, and impassable to the best four wheel drive vehicle. Many of the roads are unpaved, and are often rough, sandy, and corrugated. Check at the visitor center for current road and weather conditions before you begin.

Vehicle and foot travel in the southern part of the park can be light to moderate, depending on the time of year, so be prepared for the unexpected. If you have problems, help may not arrive for hours or even days. Carry plenty of water, food, gas, adequate clothing, a shovel, and emergency supplies. Cool/cold temperatures will accompany sudden summer storms or an unexpected night out in the backcountry. Daytime temperatures in the summer may top 100 degrees and winter highs may stay below freezing, so dress and plan accordingly.


Most visitors to the southern part of the park drive the 125 mile loop, or various sections of it. Start at the visitor center and follow Hwy 24 east to the Notom Road; take the Notom-Bullfrog Road south to the Burr Trail Road; continue on the Burr Trail Road west to Boulder; continue north on Hwy 12 to Torrey; and then drive east on Hwy 24 back to the visitor center. Highways 24 and 12 and the first 5 miles of the Notom Road from Hwy 24 are paved. The Burr Trail Road from the park boundary west to Boulder is also a [paved] surfaced road.

Side trips can be taken south of the Burr Trail Road junction along the Notom- Bullfrog Road to short day hikes at Surprise and Headquarters Canyons (each is a moderate 2-mile round trip), or to the Hall's Creek Overlook, which may require high clearance or four wheel drive, for an outstanding view of the Fold and Brimhall Natural Bridge. Along the Burr Trail Road, a four-wheel-drive-only side road follows Upper Muley Twist Canyon to the Strike Valley Overlook, a colorful, bird's eye view of the Fold and the Henry Mountains.

Camping is restricted to the 5-site Cedar Mesa campground located along the Notom-Bullfrog Road 20 miles south of Hwy 24. The campground is free and is run on a first-come, first-served basis. Picnic tables, grills, and pit toilets are provided. Water is not available. Wood collecting is not permitted in the park. A 3-mile round trip hike to Red Canyon, a colorful, high-walled box canyon, starts from the campground.

Backpackers must obtain a free backcountry permit at the visitor center before starting their trip. Multi-day backpacking trips can be done in Hall's Creek, Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons, and other areas in the south.

Approximate Distances From the Visitor Center:

Notom-Bullfrog Road to Lake Powell (at Bullfrog Marina)

The Notom-Bullfrog Road south from the Burr Trail Road junction traverses approximately 25 miles of spectacular desert country to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell at Bullfrog marina. After leaving Capitol Reef, the unpaved road continues 10 miles to a major road junction. The road to Lake Powell is paved from this point south, approximately 10 miles, to the boundary of Glen Canyon NRA. The access road to Hall's Creek Overlook is located along this section of road and is marked by signs. Within Glen Canyon, the road is unpaved until you reach the developed area approximately 4 miles from the marina. The road from Capitol Reef to Bullfrog is normally in good condition, with the exception of the Bullfrog Creek crossing (several miles north of the marina) which occasionally is impassable due to deep water and mud.

Approximate Distances From the Burr Trail and Notom-Bullfrog Roads Junction:


A drive south along the Notom-Bullfrog Road offers comprehensive views of the 100-mile long geologic structure known as the Waterpocket Fold. The Fold, a monocline in geologic terms, is a premier example of the bending and folding of rock layers. The Waterpocket Fold is notable for its great length, as well as for the dramatic manner in which its colorful sedimentary rock layers have been exposed, deformed, and carved by erosion. The monocline extends from Thousand Lake Mountain in the north to the vicinity of Lake Powell in the south.

Pressure deep within the Earth caused the overlying horizontal rock layers to be pushed upward and folded over. Today this monoclinal structure appears as a step with one sloping side that ends in an abrupt cliff line. The east side of the Fold is tilted as much as 60% from the normal horizontal which caused excelerated stream erosion to occur. An estimated 7,000 feet of overlying rock has been eroded away since the formation of the Fold, 60 million years ago. The west side, or escarpment face, is a near vertical cliff line and a formidable barrier to travel.

Erosion and the resulting geological features provide a source of park names. The vast expanse of white Navajo Sandstone atop the sloped side of the monocline is dotted with numerous natural tanks or potholes that collect rain water, contributing the name "Waterpocket" Fold. Navajo Sandstone domes resemble the rounded roof of the Capitol building, hence the name "Capitol." Many early travelers were former sailors who likened the vertical cliffs of Wingate Sandstone to a barrier common in nautical travel: a "Reef."

As you travel along the Notom-Bullfrog Road you will be driving through Strike Valley, which runs parallel to and on the east side of the Waterpocket Fold. The Burr Trail Road crosses through the Fold via a series of steep switchbacks. Both roads offer an outstanding viewing platform for this geologic wonder and of the Henry Mountains to the east. Enjoy your visit to this land of extraordinary rock's time well spent!

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Backcountry Horse Ride

Horse and pack animal use is considered a valid means of viewing and experiencing Capitol Reef National Park. Animals designated as "pack animals" are limited to horses, burros, and mules. Stock use in any part of the park may be prohibited when, at the discretion of the superintendent, such action is necessary to protect park resources or visitors.


Regulations and Concerns

The park has no developed overnight facilities for stock users with the exception of the Equestrian Staging Area at the Post Corral in the Waterpocket District. Overnight camping will be permitted for horse users within the Post Corral on an advanced reservation basis only. All camping units and horse trailers must be contained within the west side of the corral with horses kept in the adjacent pens or tied. There is no water available at the corral site.

Guidelines for backcountry camping with stock are described below:

  • Stock animals may not be ridden or kept overnight in any campground, picnic area, orchard or roadside pullout.
  • A free backcountry use permit, available at the visitor center, is required for each party with horses or pack animals staying overnight in the park.
  • Backcountry camping is prohibited within one half mile of roads or trailheads. Camping is also prohibited within sight of established roads or trails or within sight or sound of other campers.
  • Campsites and tethering areas must be a minimum of 300 feet from water or archeological sites.
  • Parties camping with horses or pack animals must camp in a new location each night.
  • Manure must be scattered before vacating the area. Manure must be removed immediately if dropped in or near any spring or non-flowing water source.
  • When picketed, select locations where horses and stock animals will cause little or no vegetation damage. Grazing and loose herding is not permitted. All feed must be carried in and must be certified weed-free feed.
  • Stock use in the park’s backcountry is limited to 12 people and no more than 12 head of riding or packing stock.
  • Riders will slow to a walk when passing hikers.
  • Human waste must be buried 6 inches deep and at least 100 feet from non-flowing water; 200 feet from flowing water. All trash, including toilet paper, must be carried out. Burning and/or burying toilet paper is prohibited.
  • Fires are not permitted in the backcountry.
  • Dogs may not accompany stock trips.
  • All commercially guided horse or pack animal trips must be provided by an outfitter that is authorized and permitted to operate under the commercial use procedures of the park.
  • Report all accidents or injuries to a park ranger or at the visitor center as soon as possible.
  • Generators are not permitted.

Closed Areas

Horses and pack animals are prohibited on the following trails and hiking routes:

  • Brimhall Bridge
  • Capitol Gorge 
  • Cassidy Arch
  • Cathedral Valley Overlook
  • Chimney Rock
  • Cohab Canyon
  • Fremont Gorge Viewpoint
  • Fremont River Overlook
  • Fruita Campground to the Visitor Center
  • Frying Pan Trail
  • Golden Throne
  • Goosenecks
  • Grand Wash
  • Halls Creek Narrows
  • Headquarters Canyon
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Navajo Knobs
  • Red Canyon
  • Rim Overlook
  • Spring Canyon
  • Strike Valley Overlook
  • Sulphur Creek
  • Sunset Point
  • Surprise Canyon

Recommended Rides

The following are recommended rides in the park:

  • SOUTH DRAW: Access to Tantalus Flats and Boulder Mountain or return down Pleasant Creek.
  • OLD WAGON TRAIL: Access to Miners Mountain with good views of the Waterpocket Fold.
  • HALLS CREEK: Access from The Post south through Halls Creek drainage.
  • THE SOUTH DESERT: Access from the Upper or Lower South Desert Overlooks.

Guidelines and Regulations for the Backcountry Equestrian Staging Area

The Superintendent of Capitol Reef National Park has authorized the use of a staging area for horse users departing on overnight or day use trips into the Waterpocket District of the park. The equestrian staging area is located at the Post Corral on the Notom-Bullfrog Road about one-half mile south of the Burr Trail/Notom Road junction. All use is subject to the existing regulations outlined in the park horse use policy and the park compendium. Use of the camp is limited to non-commercial groups.

Overnight camping will be permitted for horse users within the Post Corral on a reservation basis only. Reservations are free and should be made at least two weeks prior to planned use. For reservations or further information, contact the park at (435) 425-3791 extension 111

Regulations governing the staging site include:

  • There is a limit of 12 riders and 12 horses; each person must intend to ride (one rider, one horse). A maximum of 2 camp tenders may accompany the group and/or remain in camp as needed.
  • All camping units and horse trailers must be contained within the large (west) side of the corral with horses kept in the adjacent pens or tied.
  • No dogs may accompany stock trips.
  • Generators not permitted.
  • No wood gathering is allowed; no ground fires unless contained within a fire pan or grill. Ashes must be removed.
  • There is no water available at the corral site. Users must bring water for themselves and their horses.
  • Horses must be fed certified weed-free hay or pellets; grazing and loose herding are not permitted outside the corral or in the backcountry.

Road Tours


These maps are quite large. You may want to assess whether you wish to spend the time downloading these files.

Road Conditions

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument provides road condition information for some of the roads that travel through Capitol Reef and the Monument.


The park's main driving tours include the paved Scenic Drive and two long, mainly unpaved, loop tours through the park's Cathedral and Waterpocket Districts.

The Hartnet and Caineville Wash Roads that make up the Cathedral District loop are described on this page, as are the Notom-Bullfrog and Burr Trail Roads that make up the Waterpocket District loop. You may also take a more detailed tour of either district by following the links below. Please note that these pages contain several large images and may be slow to load.

Scenic Drive

The Scenic Drive starts at the park Visitor Center and provides access to Grand Wash, Capitol Gorge, Pleasant Creek, and the South Draw Road. The Scenic Drive is a 10 mile paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that, weather permitting, are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return on the same road. An entrance fee of $5 per vehicle is charged for the Scenic Drive. The entrance station is located just south of the campground on the Scenic Drive. There is no entrance fee for holders of the Interagency passes, America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands passes - Annual Pass, Senior Pass, Access Pass and Volunteer Pass. Golden Eagle, Golden Age, or Golden Access passes will be honored until they expire. A free Guide to the Scenic Drive brochure is available at the entrance station. Follow this link for a virtual tour of the Scenic Drive.

South Draw Road

The South Draw Road is a high clearance 4-wheel-drive road that extends from Pleasant Creek to the park boundary near Tantalus Flats. The South Draw Road is rough and rocky, includes several creek crossings, and, in inclement weather, becomes impassable to even 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The South Draw Road is reached by following the Pleasant Creek Road from the end of the Scenic Drive to the crossing at Pleasant Creek. The South Draw Road climbs upward from Pleasant Creek, exits the park, and eventually meets Utah Hwy 12 at 8,500 feet on Boulder Mountain. The access to the South Draw Road from Boulder Mountain is closed in winter, and access from Pleasant Creek is not possible, except during the mildest winters, due to snow.

Notom-Bullfrog Road

The Notom-Bullfrog road intersects Utah Hwy 24 9.3 miles east of the Capitol Reef Visitor Center and extends south to Bullfrog Marina and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This dirt road runs along the eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold and offers excellent scenery as well as marvelous hiking opportunities. Access to many of the park's backcountry trails, such as Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek Narrows can be found off this road. While portions of the road outside the park are paved, the majority of the Notom-Bullfrog road is dirt and subject to changes in weather conditions. Visitors are advised to check with the Visitor Center before setting out.

Burr Trail Road

The Burr Trail road, originally a cattle trail blazed by stockman John Atlantic Burr, extends from the town of Boulder on Utah Hwy 12 to the Notom-Bullfrog Road. Much of the 36.5 mile road lies outside the boundary of Capitol Reef and traverses the Circle Cliffs, as well as spectacular canyon areas such as Long Canyon and The Gulch. The 5.3 mile stretch of road inside Capitol Reef includes a breathtaking set of switchbacks rising some 800 feet in only one- half mile. These switchbacks are not considered suitable for RVs or vehicles towing trailers. From Boulder to the west boundary of Capitol Reef, the Burr Trail road is surfaced. Inside the park it remains a graded dirt road and is subject to change due to weather conditions. Visitors should inquire about road and weather conditions before traveling.

Hartnet Road

The Harnet road, or western half of the Cathedral Valley Loop, begins 11.7 miles east of the Visitor Center off Utah Hwy 24. In order to take this route to Cathedral Valley, visitors must ford the Fremont River soon after leaving the highway, which may require a 4WD vehicle. The remaining 24 miles to the top of the loop afford expansive view of the Blue Flats and the South Desert. The northern end of the loop nears Thousand Lake Mountain, and the geology and topography change greatly with the subsequent gain in elevation. Conditions on the Hartnet road vary widely based on recent weather. At best, high clearance vehicles are recommended and visitors should check with the Visitor Center for the most current road information.

Caineville Wash Road

The Caineville Wash road, or eastern side of the Cathedral Valley Loop, begins 18.6 miles east of the Visitor Center. By taking this route into Cathedral Valley, visitors avoid the Fremont River Ford on the Hartnet side of the loop; however, those planning on driving the entire loop are encouraged to begin at the River Ford to be certain they are able to make the crossing. 16.5 miles up the road, in Lower Cathedral Valley, are the Temple of the Sun and Moon, massive monoliths rising from the desert floor. Further north in Upper Cathedral Valley, columns of spire-like formations dominate the landscape. Conditions on the Caineville Wash road vary widely based on recent weather. Check with the Visitor Center for current road information.



Travel lightly on the land! Please help us protect Capitol Reef National Park and the fragile high desert environment. In the park, bicycles must stay on designated roads at all times. Bicycles may not travel off road, in washes, on closed roads, on hiking trails, or backcountry routes. For overnight trips, you must camp in one of the three designated park campgrounds or on adjacent BLM or USFS lands. Water is difficult to find on all of the routes listed below, so plan accordingly. Check with the Visitor Center about availability before starting your trip.


Rating: Easy to moderate with some hills.

Length: 1 to 25 miles.

Surface: Paved. The roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge are dirt and follow wash bottoms. Some sections are sandy and rocky. The road to Pleasant Creek is dirt and gravel with rough sections.

Description: The Scenic Drive starts at the park Visitor Center and provides access to Grand Wash, Capitol Gorge, Pleasant Creek, and the South Draw Road. You must return on the same road, so the length of your ride depends on where you turn around. Vehicle traffic can be heavy from April through October. The road is narrow and without shoulders, so bicyclists must be alert to approaching vehicular traffic. Consider doing this as a morning or evening ride when traffic is reduced or during the off season. The road has some moderately steep grades. The park entrance station is located just south of the campground on the Scenic Drive. The entrance fee is $4.00 per vehicle and is good for 7 days in Capitol Reef. Bicyclists who have not previously paid the entrance fee must pay when they pass the fee station. Payment is as for a car, i.e.: a family traveling together would pay $4.00. If you are traveling alone the fee would be $2.00. Be sure to pick up a free copy of A Guide to the Scenic Drive at the entrance station. Other park maps and brochures are available at the Visitor Center.


Rating: Strenuous with some steep sections.

Length: 60+ miles.

Surface: The route traverses a variety of road surfaces including dirt, sand, bentonite clay, and rocky areas and also requires a ford of the Fremont River.

Description: Riding into the Cathedral Valley can be a very challenging and rewarding experience. This is one of the more remote areas of the park. Finding water is very difficult and summer temperatures can soar over 100 degrees. This ride is best done in the spring or fall. There are steep hills and switchbacks, wash crossings (muddy when flowing), stretches of deep sand and a river ford that is usually 1 to 1 1/2 feet deep. Access to Cathedral Valley is via the Harnet Road (11.7 miles east of the Visitor Center) or the Caineville Wash Road (18.6 miles east of the Visitor Center) on Utah Hwy 24.

The park has a 5 site primitive (no water) campground located mid-way through the loop. The campground is run on a first come, first served basis (permits are not required) and is free. For more information on Cathedral Valley, inquire at the Visitor Center or e-mail us.


Rating: Strenuous with very steep hills.

Length: Depending on route chosen, 12,22, or 52 miles.

Surface: The route traverses a variety of dirt, sand, and rocky surfaces and crosses several creeks that may be muddy.

Description: This ride is not recommended in the winter or spring months due to deep snow at higher elevations which make the route impassable. If you like fast downhill rides, this trip should satisfy you. The route starts at 8,500 feet on Boulder Mountain and ends in the park at 5,500 feet. Make sure your bike has good brakes. This trip works best if you can shuttle a vehicle to the Pleasant Creek parking area located at the end of the Scenic Drive and then drive to a starting point at the junction of the Bowns Reservoir Road and Utah Hwy 12 on Boulder Mountain. Follow the Bowns Reservoir Road to Jorgeson and Tantalus Flats (bypass the turnoff to the reservoir), and continue on into the park via the South Draw Road. The South Draw Road turns into the Pleasant Creek Road at the Pleasant Creek crossing inside the park. The parking area is located near this point. If you prearranged a vehicle shuttle, your trip will end here. Alternatively, you can ride the entire loop, including 40 miles of paved road along the Scenic Drive and Utah Highways 24 and 12, back to your starting point on Boulder Mountain. Be sure to carry a map of the area (available at the bookstore in the Visitor Center) as there are side roads that may be confusing.


Rating: Very Strenuous with steep climbs.

Length: 80 to 125 miles.

Surface: The Notom/Bullfrog Road and part of the Burr Trail Road are graded dirt with some sandy stretches and wash crossings that are muddy when flowing. The Notom/Bullfrog Road is paved for the first 5 miles from Utah Hwy 24 to Notom. The Burr Trail Road is paved form the west park boundary to Boulder. Utah Highways 12 and 24 are paved.

Description: Starting at the Visitor Center and riding west via Utah Hwy 24, 10 miles, to Utah Hwy 12, this loop takes you over the high country on the west flank of Boulder Mountain (9,400 feet in elevation) on Utah Hwy 12, through the Circle Cliffs, across the Waterpocket Fold on the Burr Trail Road, and then up the Strike Valley along the Notom/Bullfrog Road back to Utah Hwy 24. The complete loop includes approximately 70 miles of paved road. A shuttle can shorten the ride and cut out some of the paved sections.

The ride along the Burr Trail Road takes you through narrow, sheer walled Long Canyon, across the relatively flat center of the Circle Cliffs areas, and down the steep eastern slope of the Waterpocket Fold via the spectacular Burr Trail Road Switchbacks. Many miles of spur roads are available for exploring in the Circle Cliffs area. Near the top of the Burr Trail Road switchbacks, a short spur road branches north into Upper Muley Twist Canyon. This three mile road follows the wash bottom past several large arches and ends at the Strike Valley Overlook parking area. Bicycles are not permitted beyond this point. From the parking area, a short foot trail leads to a spectacular view of Strike Valley from the top of the Waterpocket Fold. Another hiking route continues through Upper Muley Twist Canyon (9 miles round trip).

At the bottom of the Burr Trail Road switchbacks you will encounter an intersection. Turn left (north) here and continue up the Notom/Bullfrog Road through Strike Valley. The Notom/Bullfrog Road parallels the east flank of the Waterpocket Fold with its steep upthrust of dome topped cliffs. The road continues north approximately 40 miles to the junction of Utah Hwy 24. Take Utah Hwy 24 west 9 miles to the Visitor Center.

The park has a 5 site primitive (no water) campground located approximately 12 miles north of the Burr Trail Road junction on the Notom/Bullfrog Road. The campground is run on a first come, first served basis (permits are not required) and is free. From more information on this ride, inquire at the Visitor Center.

Primitive Campsites

The Cathedral Campground is located approximately halfway on the Cathedral Valley loop road which traverses Capitol Reef's Cathedral District. About 36 miles from the Visitor Center, this primitive, no-fee campground has six sites, each with a picnic table and fire grate. There is a pit toilet, but no water available. The campground is open year-round; however, visitors should check road conditions with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center prior to planning an overnight stay. The campground is at approximately 7000 feet in elevation, in the Pinyon/Juniper-clad foothills of Thousand Lake Mountain. No reservations; first-come, first-served.

Cathedral District Tour

The spectacular Cathedral Valley section of Capitol Reef National Park is open all year. Vehicles with good ground clearance, even those without four wheel drive, can usually negotiate the roads without difficulty. However, road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent weather conditions. Spring and summer rains and winter snows can leave the roads muddy, washed out, and impassable to the best four wheel drive vehicle, so check at the visitor center for current road and weather conditions before visiting Cathedral Valley.

Foot and vehicle travel in the Cathedral Valley area is light, so be prepared for the unexpected. If you have problems, help may not arrive for hours or even days, depending on the time of year. Carry plenty of water, food, gas, adequate clothing, a shovel, and emergency supplies. Cool/cold temperatures will accompany sudden storms or an unexpected night out in the backcountry. Daytime temperatures in the summer may reach the upper 90s and winter highs may stay below freezing, so dress accordingly.


Most visitors to Cathedral Valley drive the 60 mile loop: start at the River Ford (11.7 miles east of the visitor center on Hwy 24), follow the Hartnet Road to the Caineville Wash Road and return back to Hwy 24 just west of Caineville (18.6 miles east of the visitor center.)

The River Ford is passable at most times of the year, except during spring runoff or following a thunderstorm, when the river may be in flood. The ford has a hard packed, rocky bottom and water levels are normally a foot or less deep. The access road to the River Ford crosses private land. The gate on Hwy 24 may be closed, but is not locked. Please close the gate after you drive through, and honor the posted no trespassing signs along the road near the ford by not parking off road or camping in the vicinity.

Distances from the River Ford:

Thousand Lake Mountain Road

This scenic route is noted for its exceptional, panoramic views of the surrounding Painted Desert country. The unpaved road climbs steeply through evergreen forests, from 6,800 feet at the Hartnet/Caineville Wash/Polk Creek roads junction to 9,500 feet on Thousand Lake Mountain, then drops to 7,000 feet at Hwy 72. The mountain road is normally open from mid-June to late October. The road is closed during the winter and spring due to deep snow and muddy conditions.

Distances from the Hartnet/Caineville Wash/Polk Creek roads junction:

Baker Ranch Road to I-70

The graveled, dirt road crosses an extensive expanse of open, level terrain with outstanding views of colored, sculptured cliffs and canyons. The road provides access to several remote ranches and is open year round. The road is normally in good shape, but muddy conditions may exist in low areas following storms or as snow melts in the spring.

Distances from the Caineville Wash and Baker Ranch roads junction:


Cathedral Valley presents another chapter in the story of Capitol Reef's geology. The geologic layers and eroded features found here are different than those seen in other sections of the Waterpocket Fold. The Bentonite Hills along the Hartnet Road and the Painted Desert on the Caineville Wash Road appear as softly contoured, banded hills in varying hues of brown, red, purple, gray, and green. The hills are composed of the Brushy Basin shale member of the Morrison Formation. This layer was formed during Jurassic times when mud, silt, fine sand, and volcanic ash were deposited in swamps and lakes. Bentonite clay (altered volcanic ash) absorbs water and becomes very slick and gummy when wet, making vehicle or foot travel difficult or even impossible.

South Desert is a long, narrow valley that runs parallel to the strike of the Waterpocket Fold monocline. The valley extends 20 miles from the Upper South Desert Overlook southeast to Hwy 24. From Lower South Desert Overlook (located midway through the valley) viewers can see rock layers ranging from the gray, ledgy Morrison atop the cliffs to the east to the white Navajo Sandstone slickrock and domes high on top of the Fold. In the near distance, Jailhouse Rock, composed of Entrada Sandstone, rises 500 feet from the valley floor.

The Gypsum Sinkhole is an occurrence formed by the reverse of the process that created Glass Mountain. Here groundwater is dissolving a buried gypsum plug. The cavity left behind has collapsed under the weight of overlying rock layers. This collapse has created a large sinkhole nearly 50 feet in diameter and 200 feet deep.

When visiting the Gypsum Sinkhole, please stay away from the edge. The rocks here are very soft and unstable, and can collapse at any time.

The black boulders strewn across the landscape are remnants of lava flows that capped Boulder and Thousand Lake Mountains about 20 million years ago. Short glacial periods on these peaks broke up the underlying lava. Glacial outwash and mudslides, along with the natural process of erosion, helped move the boulders far from their original location. The dikes and sills seen in Cathedral Valley formed at the same time as the lava flows on the nearby mountain tops. Dikes and sills are the result of molten lava flowing into vertical joints (dikes) or between horizontal layers of sedimentary rocks (sills), then solidifying. Plugs are more massive lava intrusions, and Cathedral Valley has examples of those as well. More resistant to erosion than the surrounding layers, the lava outcrops provide a stark and rugged contrast, forming jagged ridges and pointed outcrops.


Cathedral Valley was named in 1945 by Frank Beckwith and Charles Kelly, the first superintendent of Capitol Reef. The upward-sweeping, tapering lines, and three dimensional surfaces reminded the men of Gothic and Egyptian architecture. Most visitors will agree that theirs was a suitable name choice. Enjoy your visit to this land of grand, free-standing monoliths and extraordinary rock forms!

Scenic Drive

Although this " Virtual Tour" is free, there is a $5.00 entrance fee when you come to the park to drive the Scenic Drive.


Most rock at Capitol Reef is sedimentary, meaning it was formed in layers from loose materials - sediments - like mud and sand.

Geologists have classified the rock layers into various formations. Many formations also have different parts, or members.

These layers entomb the landscapes and lifeforms of a younger planet Earth.

The gray band of rock just above the Moenkopi is a greenish-gray shale that was once volcanic ash. Its one part of the Chinle, a complex, 700-foot thick formation that is rich in petrified wood. The Chinle ascends to the base of the reddish wall.


From here you can see the rugged western face of Capitol Reef.

First, see how rock bands of differing thickness, colors, and textures lie one upon another like layers of a cake? The rocks of Capitol Reef were once sediments - silt, sand, clay, volcanic ash, and gravel - laid down in many different environments during the Age of Dinosaurs, and long before. The younger rocks lie on top of the older rocks.

"Erosion" means not only the crumbling of rock by frost, plant roots, and internal water seepage, but also the blowing or washing away of the particles.


Beyond a one-mile drive, foot trails lead into the narrowest, most spectacular part of the canyon and up to a graceful curve of stone arch on the canyon's north wall - Cassidy Arch. The arch was named for turn-of-the-century outlaw Butch Cassidy, who is thought to have hidden occasionally in Grand Wash.

Notice the holes at the base of a layer of yellowish-gray rock. This is the abandoned Oyler Uranium Mine, opened in 1904 when uranium was used in some "over the counter" patent medicines. This rock crumbles easily so keep back from the entrance.


At stop number one you saw the rock layers of the Moenkopi Formation that were once silt and clay. It wasn't hard to visualize their flood plain origin.

Look closely at the massive, sheer cliffs. Focus on the base of the wall below. Do you see sweeping lines that intercept one another at varying angles in the rock? This is crossbedding. Where crossbedding occurs on a large scale like this, it means that here once drifted the windswept dunes of an ancient desert.

Sediment becomes rock when it is buried and compacted by huge overlying loads of other sediment. Individual sand or clay particles are cemented together by minerals in seeping ground water.

As ages pass, the cement of the ancient rock is dissolved by weak acids in rainwater. Small cracks in the rock are widened by frost and plant roots. The rock washes away in chunks and particles. This is what geologists call weathering, part of the larger process of erosion.

A few small, weather sculpted arches can be seen in Shinob Canyon, which cuts in the south wall of Grand Wash to your right. Cassidy Arch is nestled high in the cliffs to your left.


There are more plants in Grand Wash than on the red hills at the start of the Scenic Drive. Although relatively naked stone - slickrock - dominates the landscape here, plants also are plainly visible.

Although the channel beyond the bank to your right carries no water most of the time, it does occasionally. Many plants thrive nearby.

There can be too much water. In the continuing process of erosion, flash floods roar down the canyon carrying debris that crushes and smothers vegetation.

In effect, plant life survival means a compromise between a demand for water and a need for protection from floods.


The road now winds through an older, deeper part of the familiar red shales of the Moenkopi Formation. Here, however, fairly uniform layers of sandstone can be seen among the red shale beds, often forming small ledges.

This sandstone was laid down not by desert winds, but by the gently moving, shallow waters of coastal tidal flats.


This is Sliprock Divide, separating two large drainages.

Think again of the large expanse of bare rock exposed to the sun, wind, and rain. When rain does come to Capitol Reef, it often descends in torrents. Thin patches of soil can do little to absorb and hold it.

Poets sometimes speak of water as "carving the face of the land". However, the main role of rushing water in shaping Capitol Reef is not to gouge, but carry away the materials already loosened by weathering.

Gravity draws loosened debris to washes where it can be picked up by moving water. In desert thunderstorms, this slow process of gravitational "creep" is accelerated by deluges that wash down every slope and flush loose debris into channels that soon fill with a tumbling, red torrent.

Imagine all the torrents of a plateau converging upon a single gorge and you will realize how floods develop in a "flash". If you can picture millions of storms pounding this land through the ages, you will have begun to grasp fully the one process that has shaped Capitol Reef.


At stop number one, the Chinle Formation rested directly on top of the Moenkopi. Here, a not-too-thick layer of sandstone - the Shinarump - caps the uppermost bed of the Moenkopi and lies below the few visible greenish-gray remnants of the Chinle. The yellowish-gray Shinarump is very distinct and you can see clearly a small remnant of the Chinle. Why do you think the Shinarump just below the remnant appears greenish gray?

Shinarump is found only here and there at Capitol Reef, which hints at the way it was deposited. Apparently, the Shinarump sediments were laid down in the channels of rivers that meandered across a coastal plain 200 million years ago. Shinarump is composed of sands and gravels like those in many shallow river beds today.

This sandstone is often rich in uranium. The old mine tunnels you saw at stop number three were dug into Shinarump.

Incidentally, Shinarump also affects the number and variety of plants growing here today.

Notice how the Shinarump ledge erodes into debris that litters the clay slopes beneath. This rock rubble forms a protective cover that slows down the rate of erosion, traps precious moisture and changes the texture of the soil. Plants gain a foothold more easily.


The awesome narrows you will now enter is worn through Wingate Sandstone, the same formation that forms the sheer cliffs along the west face of Capitol Reef and the towering walls of Grand Wash. For some, Capitol Gorge is erosion's most dramatic handiwork at Capitol Reef National Park.

The right fork of the road here leads to Pleasant Creek, one of the few perennial streams in the park.

As wagonmasters did a century ago, carefully consider the weather before you proceed into the gorge.


Many visitors notice that the Wingate and Navajo - both formed from ancient deserts - seem to erode differently. The Wingate tends to make sheer cliffs; the Navajo rounded domes. Why?

Part of the answer lies in the rock layers upon which these "petrified deserts" rest.

The Wingate lies on the soft beds of the Chinle Formation. Because this softer rock erodes more rapidly and undercuts the Wingate, the massive sandstone often breaks away to form sheer cliffs.

By contrast, the Navajo rests on the reddish rock layer that forms the base of the canyon walls on both side of you. This water-deposited sandstone - the Kayenta Formation - provides a firm foundation. The Navajo is undercut less often than the Wingate and erodes away in smoother contours.

Incidentally, the Kayenta lies just above the Wingate and just below the Navajo Formation. It is about 350 feet thick and 190 million years old.


Perhaps it is fitting to end your tour here, deep within Capitol Gorge. All around in soaring summation rest elements of the Capitol Reef geologic story.

Dune lines in Navajo Sandstone walls whisper of the ancient landscapes and sediments that became rock. Rounded domes and deep canyons proclaim eloquently the power of erosion. And the rapid changing of rock layers along the fairly level Capitol Gorge spur road testifies to the tilting and bending of the Waterpocket Fold.

A short stroll down the canyon takes you by the vandalized remains of some ancient rock art or petroglyphs. American Indian farmers of the Fremont Culture cultivated their crops along the streams of Capitol Reef until about 1300 A.D. Their most puzzling legacy may be rock art.

In 1884 it took Mormon pioneers eight days to clear the first road through the Gorge, and settlers had to remove heavy debris after every flash flood. When Utah Hwy 24 was opened in 1962, the road was closed.

Early travelers recorded their passage on the canyon walls at the Pioneer Register.

You will end your walk at The Tanks, where erosion has carved pockets in the rock that often hold rainwater.

Perhaps your journey down the Scenic Drive - and through the rock formation of ages - has helped you know better a scenic grandeur that often leaves newcomers awed.

And sometimes - forever possessed.

Group Campsite

The Group Campsite is a secluded site located near the Fruita Campground. Only written or faxed requests to reserve the campsite are accepted. Telephone reservations are not accepted. Your requests for a reservation should be sent to:

or faxed to 435-425-3026

Requests will be accepted beginning the first Monday of February. The campsite is very popular, and opening day requests are highly encouraged. All faxes received the same day have equal preference. Requests faxed or postmarked before the first Monday of February will be rejected.

Reservation requests must include:

Maximum group size is 40 people, and parking is limited to 10 vehicles. The campsite is open from April 1 through October 20, except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays when it is closed for groundskeeping purposes. The Group Campsite will be closed during the 2007 UEA (Utah Educators Association) weekend.

Maximum length of stay is 5 days annually. The camping fee is $3 per person per night, with a $50 minimum per night for each group. There is no fee for children five years old or younger, but they are counted as a member of the group.

Processing of reservations begins about ten days after the opening date. Requests are sorted by postmark or fax date. A random selection will be made from competing requests with the same postmark or fax date. If the dates requested are not available, second and third choice dates listed will automatically be considered. Please do not send duplicate requests for the same group. When all requests received on the opening day are processed, applications received on subsequent dates are considered.

In late February a confirmation letter will be mailed to those receiving reservations; payment of $50 for each night reserved must then be received by March 20 to hold the reservation. The balance of payment for your reservation must be received 14 days prior to your reservation date. Refunds are available if a group cancels 14 days prior to their reserved date. You will also be notified if all dates are taken and you did not receive a reservation.

All non-reserved dates, or dates that open due to cancellations, are available by written or faxed request, or to visitors at the visitor center on a first-come, first- served basis beginning March 1. No waiting lists are maintained.

Rock Climbing

Traditionally, Capitol Reef National Park has experienced minimal use by technical rock climbers. However, recent years have seen an increase in climbing in Utah's canyon country. Included here are the park regulations and concerns regarding technical climbing.

The rock at Capitol Reef is comprised predominately of sandstone. It varies in hardness from the soft crumbly Entrada to the relatively hard Wingate. The Wingate cliff walls are the most popular for climbing, as natural fracturing has created many climbable crack systems. In addition, the hardness of the Wingate lends itself more readily to the successful use of chocks, nuts, and camming devices; however it can flake off easily and be very unpredictable. Climbing in canyon country is not something to be taken lightly.

Two published guides cover climbs at Capitol Reef. They are Desert Rock by Eric Bjornstad from Chockstone Press, Inc., 1996 and Rock Climbing Utah by Stewart M. Green from Falcon Publishing, 1998. Both are available for sale at the visitor center bookstore . If you climb a new route and wish to leave a route description contact a ranger at the visitor center.

Permits are not required for climbing. However, if you plan to camp overnight on a climb, you are required to obtain a free backcountry use permit, available at the visitor center.

Capitol Reef National Park is a clean climbing area. Minimum impact techniques that don't destroy the rock or leave a visual trail are encouraged. The use of white chalk is prohibited. Climbers using chalk must use chalk which closely matches the color of the surrounding rock. The use of power drills is also prohibited. Bolts may only be used to replace existing unsafe bolts. Where it is necessary to leave or replace existing webbing, the webbing should closely match the color of the surrounding rock. Ropes may not be left in place unattended for more than 24 hours, and these ropes must be out of reach from the ground or other points accessible without technical climbing.

Due to the abundance of prehistoric rock writings, the section of the rock wall north of Utah Hwy 24 between the Fruita Schoolhouse (Mile 80.6) and the east end of the Kreuger Orchard (Mile 81.4) is closed to climbing. In other areas, climbing is not permitted above or within 100 feet of rock art panels or prehistoric structures. Other areas closed to climbing are: Hickman Natural Bridge and all other arches and bridges, Temple of the Moon, Temple of the Sun, and Chimney Rock.

Climbing during the summer is very hot as temperatures frequently reach the upper 90's to near 100 degrees. Carry plenty of water. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in July and August. Sandstone is weak when wet, so avoid climbing in damp areas or right after a rain. Please climb safely! Many falls have been taken on relatively easy routes because experienced climbers became careless. Please report all accidents or injuries at the visitor center.

Backcountry Camping


Capitol Reef offers many hiking options for serious backpackers and those who enjoy exploring remote areas. Marked hiking routes lead into narrow, twisting gorges and slot canyons and to spectacular viewpoints high atop the Waterpocket Fold. Popular backcountry hikes in the southern section of the park include Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons and Halls Creek. Backcountry hiking opportunities also exist in the Cathedral Valley area and near Fruita...the possibilities are endless! Stop in the visitor center and talk to a ranger if you are interested in a backcountry hike. They can help you pick out a hike that will fit your time and abilities. If you plan to take an overnight hike, you need to obtain a free backcountry permit at the visitor center prior to your trip. Backcountry group size cannot exceed 12 people.



  • Tell others your plans and expected return date.
  • Obtain a free backcountry permit prior to your hike.
  • Carry topographic maps and guides of the area.
  • Pack out all trash, including garbage, cigarette butts, and toilet paper. Do not burn or bury.
  • Bury human waste 6" deep in soil and 100' from water sources.
  • Stay on marked routes whenever possible. When hiking crosscountry, walk in wash bottoms, on slickrock, or use animal trails to avoid stepping in cryptobiotic crust.


  • Collect firewood or build ground fires. Instead, use portable stoves for cooking.
  • Pollute water sources by washing or bathing. You should always carry water away from the source to clean dishes or bathe then strain out food particles and disperse dirty water. Always use biodegradable soap. Never swim in waterpockets; lotion, sunscreen, and residue on skin can quickly pollute water sources that are not free-flowing.
  • Camp within 1/2 mile or in sight of roads or trails. In narrow canyons, try to camp as far away from the hiking route as possible and out of sight.
  • Carry firearms.
  • Disturb or deface natural features, historic, or archeological sites.
  • Collect items of any kind, including rocks, plants, animals, or artifacts