Capitol Reef National Park…
A Complete Guide

Capitol Reef National Park, located in south-central Utah halfway between Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands National Parks, is 378 square miles of magnificent, stratified rock formations freely sprinkled with a host of desert plants and animals.

Highway 24 bisects the Park near its northern boundary and runs east to west paralleling the Fremont River, named after explorer John C. Fremont who crossed its headwaters in 1853.

Capitol Reef National Park - Courtesy National Park Service

Capitol Reef National Park - Map


Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah, off Hwy 24, half way between the towns of Torrey and Hanksville.

Park Fees

Entrance Fees, good for 7 days, are charged for traveling the park's Scenic Drive beyond the Fruita Campground.

Individuals: $3.00 – This fee applies to pedestrians and bicycles (per person).

Vehicles: $5.00 – This fee applies to private vehicles and motorcycles.

Sunset at Panorama Point

Capitol Reef National Park

Sunset at Panorama Point Capitol Reef NP

Seasons and Hours

The Park and Campground is open all year round.

The visitor center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the winter, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm in spring and autumn and 8:00 am to 6:00 pm in the summer.

Holiday Closures

The visitor center will be closed for the following Federal Holidays during the year 2013:

Tuesday, January 1 New Year's Day

Monday, January 21* Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Inauguration Day

Monday, February 18** Washington's Birthday

Monday, May 27 Memorial Day

Thursday, July 4 Independence Day
Monday, September 2 Labor Day

Monday, October 14 Columbus Day

Monday, November 11 Veterans Day

Thursday, November 28 Thanksgiving Day

Wednesday, December 25 Christmas Day


There is no lodging within the Park.

The nearest towns of any size are Torrey and Hanksville, Utah.

To find lodging in either of these towns, use the Search Box on the right.

Simply enter the location and dates you have in mind, and the server, Hotels Combined, will provide you with a list of the lodging available on the dates you have specified.

This is not a booking agency. It is a search engine to help you find great lodging at great prices.

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Weather and Climate

Capitol Reef National Park has an arid climate with precipitation averaging just 7.2 inches (18.3 cm) annually at the park Visitor Center weather station.

The chart below, downloaded from the NPS website, is based on temperature and precipitation records from 1948 through 1986.

While it is somewhat old, it may give you an idea of what can be expected from the weather:

JANUARY    41    18    69    -9    0.34    0 - 2.00    0 - 12.50    97%
FEBRUARY    48    24    72    -7    0.23    0 - 1.13    0 - 10.00    62%
MARCH    56    30    79    10    0.52    0 - 2.25    0 - 14.00    71%
 APRIL    66    38    90    18    0.48    0 - 2.84    0 - 6.50    37%
MAY    76    47    95    28    0.65    0 - 2.23    0 - 2.50    3%
JUNE    87    55    104    36    0.45    0 - 2.29    -    -
JULY    92    62    104    44    1.04    .90 - 3.13    -    -
AUGUST    89    61    102    42    1.16    .04 - 4.42    -    -
SEPTEMBER    81    53    98    30    0.72    0 - 3.00    -    -
OCTOBER    68    42    91    17    0.79    0 - 3.33    0 - 10.10    13%
NOVEMBER    53    30    77    5    0.54    0 - 2.84    0 - 13.00    50%
DECEMBER    42    21    69    -8    0.29    0 - 1.49    0 - 8.00    90%


Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center

The visitor center is accessible to wheelchair users and provides a ramped entrance, reserved parking, and accessible restrooms.
The 18-minute orientation movie is accessible and closed captioned for those with hearing impairments.


The petroglyphs along Utah Highway 24 are accessible by boardwalk.

The Petroglyph Panel, Fruita Schoolhouse, and Merin-Smith Implement Shed are accessible and feature audio guides.
Ranger Programs

Programs held at the Fruita Campground Amphitheater are accessible by a paved, lighted path from reserved parking spaces in the parking lot.

Programs held at the visitor center, Ripple Rock Nature Center, Petroglyph Panel are accessible to wheelchair users.


The Fruita Campground is located south of the Visitor Center in the Fruita Historic District.

Sites at the Fruita Campground are $10 per night. Senior and Access pass holders receive a 50% discount on their campsite.

All sites, including five wheelchair accessible sites, are first come, first serve, with the exception of the Group Campsite.
If the campground is full, there may not be any wheelchair accessible sites available.

Panorama Point

Capitol Reef National Park

Panorama Point Capitol Reef NP

Things to Do

Fishing in the Fremont River (Utah fishing license required).

Pictographs and Petroglyphs - Very impressive petroglyph figures can be seen along a sheer cliff that parallels Hwy 24 just east of the Visitor Center in Capitol Reef.

The figures cover several rock panels and the diversity of images is astonishing. A road sign identifies the area, which includes a parking turnout.
Boardwalks and viewing platforms have been established to make it easy for visitors to see the figures.


Scenic Drives – With the exception of the 8.2 mile scenic drive which starts at the Visitor Center, the drives are all on dirt roads requiring a high-clearance/4WD vehicle.  For more information, Click Here.

Jumbled Rocks

Jumbled Rocks Capitol Reef NP

Wildlife Viewing

Biking (restricted to maintained roads open to vehicular traffic).

Free Ranger Programs offered from May to September

Rock Climbing – For more information, Click Here.

Twisted Junip;er Capitol Reef NP

Day Hiking

Capitol Reef offers “…fifteen day hiking trails with trailheads located along Utah Highway 24 and the Scenic Drive.

These trails offer the hiker a wide variety of options, from easy strolls along smooth paths over level ground to strenuous hikes involving steep climbs over uneven terrain near cliff edges.”

For more information on these hikes, Click Here.

Backcountry Hiking

Capitol Reef offers several backcountry hiking opportunities for “…serious backpackers and those who enjoy exploring remote areas.”

A free backcountry permit, available at the Visitor Center, is required for all overnight trips.

For more information on backcountry hikes, Click Here.


Pets are allowed:

•    In picnic areas and campgrounds
•    Along established roads
•    Along the trail from the campground to the visitor center
•    In the orchards when they are open to the public

Pets are not allowed:

•    In the Visitor Center
•    In Public buildings
•    On hiking trails

Pets must be restrained at all times on a leash 6 feet (1.8 m) or less in length.

They may not be allowed to run free.

They may not be left unattended in vehicles, at trail head, campsites or any other location.

You are responsible for cleaning up after your dog and disposing waste in a dumpster.

Flora and Fauna


One of the nice things about visiting a National Park is being able to watch animals in their natural environment.

Some of the mammals found in Capitol Reef National Park may be abundant and seen in large numbers in suitable habitat, while others are rare and seldom observed.

A few of the more common mammals are:

•    Desert Bighorn Sheep
•    Mule Deer
•    Yellow-bellied Marmots
•    Beaver
•    Gray Fox
•    White-tailed Antelope Squirrel
•    Rock Squirrel
•    Ringtail

Mule Deer

Mule Deer Capitol Reef NP


More than 230 bird species have been documented in Capitol Reef National Park. Some species are seasonal residents, others pass through during migration, and a few make this their home year-round.

A  few of the more abundant birds found here are:

•    Bullock's Oriole
•    Chukar
•    Common Raven
•    Pinyon Jay
•    Canyon Wren
•    Rock Wren


Chukar Capitol Reef NP


Many people, myself included, have an aversion to reptiles.  They are, however, a necessary part of our ecosystem.

Some of the more common reptiles found in Capitol Reef National Park are:

•    Gopher Snake
•    Striped Whipsnake
•    Terrestrial Garter Snake
•    Midget Faded Rattlesnake


“The varied topography, geology, elevations, and precipitation patterns along the Waterpocket Fold have resulted in a diversity of microhabitats and niches for plant species to inhabit.”


•    Utah Juniper
•    Pinon Pine
•    Western Bristlecone Pine
•    Fremont Cottonwood


Cottonwood Tree Capitol Reef NP

Cliff Rose

Cliff Rose Capitol Reef NP


•    Apache Plume
•    Cliffrose
•    Roundleaf Buffaloberry


•    Showy Four O'Clock
•    Ferron Milkvetch
•    Foothill or Common Indian Paintbrush
•    Utah Penstemon
•    Naked Stem Sunrays
•    Mountain Pepperplant
•    Silvery Townsendia


•    Central Pricklypear
•    Whipple's Fishhook Cactus
•    Claret Cup

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush Capitol Reef  NP:

Claret Cup

Claret Cup Capitol Reef NP


Fremont People (700 to 1300 AD)

Some of the earliest people to inhabit the area in and around Capitol Reef were the Fremont people named by archaeologists for the Fremont River which flowed east to west through the area.

They were primarily hunters and gatherers who supplemented their diets with maize, beans and squash grown in the bottomlands along the Fremont.

Unlike the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in rock buildings constructed above ground, the Fremont people lived in brush and log huts, called wikiups, pit houses dug into the ground and covered with a brush roof, or in natural rock shelters.

They built stone granaries in caves and alcoves to store maize and other crops.

Unique to the Fremont people was a leather moccasin made from the hide of large animals, such as deer, which incorporated the dew-claw as part of the sole.

Also, unique to the Fremont was a type of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, composed of willow, yucca, milkweed and other native fibers.

The area in and around Capitol Reef National Park abounds with rock art left by the Fremont people.

There are both pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (pecked or carved) which depict people, animals and other shapes and forms.

The Fremont people left the area near the end of the thirteenth century probably as a result of an extended drought, overuse of local resources and the encroachment of the Shoshonean culture.

Historic School House

Historic School House Capitol Reef NP

Mormon Settlers (1880s)

 “Following the 1844 mob slaying of their founder Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinois, the Mormons were urged westward by a new leader, Brigham Young: away from the hatred, violence and dissension that had plagued the Saints for the previous 20 years.”

On July 21, 1847, Brigham Young and an advance party of Mormons arrived at the valley which was to become Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Gradually, over the next 10 to 15 years, Mormon pioneers had established settlements throughout most of the arable land around Salt Lake City, avoiding the high plateaus and deserts to the southeast.

It wasn’t until the San Juan expedition of 1879 that any serious effort was made to bring a Mormon presence to this inhospitable land.  (See my page on Hole-in-the-Rock).

Fruita, Utah

In 1886, Nels Johnson established the first homestead in the area located just above the junction of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek.

He was followed by other homesteaders, Leo Holt, Elijah Cutler Behunin, and Elijah's son Hyrum.

The land along the Fremont was useful for ordinary farming but most valuable for fruit orchards, and, within a few years, other homesteaders moved into the area, bought small tracts of land from the original homesteaders and worked at building their own orchards.

They named the valley, Junction.

Sometime between 1900 and 1903 the name was changed to Fruita when they tried to establish a post office and discovered there was already a Junction, Utah.


Orchard Capitol Reef NP

Fathers of Capitol Reef National Park

Two men deserve credit for the preliminary work that led to the creation of Capitol Reef National Monument (later Park)--Ephraim P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman.

Although Pectol has been called the father of Capitol Reef National Park, the two men worked together to promote the scenic value of what they then called Wayne Wonderland, a reference to its location in Wayne County, Utah.

It was largely through their efforts that the people of Utah were made aware of this beautiful and stunning wonderland.

Together they worked to organize local booster clubs to promote Wayne Wonderland and make it Utah’s first State Park.

In July of 1925 Joseph Hickman drowned at Fish Lake, and, after his death, the movement lost some of its momentum.

However, Pectol continued in his efforts to promote Wayne Wonderland, and in 1933 was elected president of the Associated Civics Club of Southern Utah.

That same year he was elected to the Utah State Legislature and one of his first actions was to contact President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking him for the creation of "Wayne Wonderland National Monument.

This resulted in a Federal feasibility study and boundary assessment under the supervision of Zion Superintendent Preston Patraw with Ephraim P. Pectol often acting as a guide.

Panorama Point

Panorama Point Capitol Reef NP

 National Monument Status

During this study, it was decided that a name change was in order, because “….neither "Wayne" nor "Wonderland" were "sufficiently distinctive" to describe the proposed area.

Since "Waterpocket Fold National Monument" was too long, Patraw suggested "Capitol Reef," the local name for the prominent domes and cliffs that would be at the center of the new monument.”

Finally, on August 2, 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation making Capitol Reef a National Monument.

“Capitol Reef National Monument would be 37,060 acres, approximately 58 square miles.
Its dimensions were about 18 miles from the northwest tip to the southeast corner. It was roughly two to five miles wide.”

In 1942, Wallace Stegner, noted author and wilderness advocate, described the country as “…spectacular and almost inaccessible….The terrain is so broken and eroded that even yet parts of the monument have not been explored.”

Cottonwood with Sunburst

Cottonwood with Sunburst Capitol Reef NP

Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds needed for its development and operation, the Monument was not officially opened to the public until 1950.

Prior to 1962, the only road through Capitol Reef was the narrow Capitol Gorge wagon road which frequently washed out making it impassable.
In 1962, it was replaced by the paved, all-weather State Route 24.

Today, more than a half century later, Capitol Reef still remains free of many of the maladies which afflict so many of our National Parks.

There are no traffic jams, no overcrowding and no shuttle bus system to transport visitors from one area of the park to the other.

Beyond the focal point of the Visitor Center at Fruita, there are only a few rutted dirt roads winding through this seemingly uninhabitable,

National Park Status

The road to National Park status was fraught with many obstacles:

•    The advent of WW II and the intervening war years during which the country’s attention was focused elsewhere.
•    Debate over the boundaries which would eventually increase the size of the park from 37,060 to 241,671 acres.
•    Grazing and mining conflicts
•    Conflicts between environmentalists and multiple-use advocates

Finally, after 37 years of often bitter and caustic wrangling and hassling, Congress gave Capitol Reef national park status on December 18, 1971.

Capitol Reef National Park References and Resources

National Park Service


Utah History to Go
The Fathers of Capitol Reef National Park
Charles Kelly
History Blazer, September 1995

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