Enter a world of magnificently colored and rugged rock features made of contrasting red Entrada and white Navajo sandstones. Capitol Reef's central formation is a magnificent rip in the crust of the earth known as the Waterpocket Fold. The fascinating geology is the backdrop to the park's unique Western pioneer heritage found along Scenic Byway 24 and the park's scenic drive — but the formation extends for nearly 100 miles deep into the heart of Utah's best red rock country. Choose to get just a taste of Capitol Reef and you'll find yourself longing for more. Experience more and you'll uncover bucket-list landscapes you didn't even know were on your list.
Capitol Reef Weather
Travelers in Capitol Reef will encounter a combination of mountain and desert climates. As the summer sun ripens the orchards, visitors will experience generally dry, warm weather with 70–80s F, and significant nighttime dips down to the 40s F. November–March is the coldest time, with daytime temperatures peaking under 50 F in November and 39 F in January and freezing overnight. Hardy travelers, however, will encounter stunning solitude amid snowcapped monoliths.
The park is 11 miles east of Torrey, the northern end of Utah's All-American Scenic Byway 12, or 37 miles west of Hanksville on Scenic Byway 24. Capitol Reef is 2.5 hours from Moab and just over 3.5 hours from Salt Lake City. If coming from Bryce Canyon, you'll want to make the 3-hour drive up Highway 12, and plan to make a stop or two (or many more) along the route.
Gateways to Capitol Reef
The welcoming and eclectic town of Torrey is the primary gateway to Capitol Reef but nearby towns from Hanksville to Loa offer great motel and bed and breakfast accommodations. Capitol Reef campgrounds are first come, first served, including a developed campground in Fruita and primitive campgrounds in the backcountry.
Build an Itinerary
The visitor center and campground are open year-round. Several easy hiking trails and the park's scenic drive are found in this area. In only a couple of hours you can take the scenic drive along S.R. 24 for a snapshot of the park and harvest fruit from the park's orchards when in season. Stop for a couple of short hikes like Hickman Bridge and the Grand Wash or examine petroglyphs panels left by the Fremont culture. Heritage tours and several ranger programs round out the Capitol Reef experience.
With a day and a high-clearance vehicle, you can explore the bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone "reefs" and canyons of the Waterpocket Fold or tour the Temple of the Sun and Moon and the rest of Cathedral Valley's sculptured sandstone monoliths. The contrast of red Entrada and white Navajo sandstones and the magnificent rip in the crust of the earth known as the Waterpocket Fold create surreal landscapes unlike any you have seen — and it extends for nearly 100 miles deep into the heart of Utah's best red rock country, connecting with the Burr Trail Road back to Boulder on Highway 12, or continuing on to Bullfrog at the shore of Lake Powell. With lots of time and the right supplies you can grab a free backcountry permit and discover yourself amid pristine wilderness under more stars than you ever fathomed.
Capitol Reef has several incredible backpacking trails, but water is scarce and wayfinding knowledge is a must. The park is also growing in popularity as a rock-climbing destination. Capitol Reef's sandstone formations make for some fascinating technical climbing. Permits are not required to climb unless camping overnight in the backcountry. For all its rugged splendor, Capitol Reef is not as well-known as other parks. Yet most who discover the park wonder how they ever missed it.
Capitol Reef's 378 square miles (979 square kilometers) unfold over the 100-mile-long park (160 kilometers) through the center part of Southern Utah.
Capitol Reef is Utah's youngest national park, designated in 1971. Rock art petroglyphs are abundant in the midst of Capitol Reef's red rocks and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Nestled in the valley near the park headquarters are the large orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement, where a variety of fruit may be picked in season.
Click here for a detailed NPS map.
Capitol Reef National Park
3000 Utah 24
Torrey, Utah 84775