Capitol Reef Petroglyphs

Capitol Reef is home to towering sandstone structures and impressive canyons, but it also holds many ancient petroglyphs, which are engraved etchings into rock walls. Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people lived here between 600-1300 A.D., and their markings tell what appears to be their the stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and mythologies of their lives. What they thought and what exactly they were communicating, will never be known because there is no actual translation available. That’s part of the fun of seeing them: imagining what the conversations of the ancients told of this colorful and rugged place.

You can scour over the beautiful renderings yourself, and take your best guess at a mixture of forms, including pictures that appear to be anthropomorphs (human figures), wildlife, birds, tools, and more esoteric, abstract things. The Fremont people, more than other neighboring Native American cultures, were prolific with their rock art output.

Archaelogical artifacts from the Fremont were first found along the Fremont River, which flows through the park. These people lived in pit-style houses and they lived in bands of several families. They were hunter-gatherers, but also adopted agricultural practices to supplement their diets. The Fremont have left their markings throughout the park in petroglyphs on big rocks. 

The most pristine example of Capitol Reef petroglyphs can be seen 1.5 miles east of the visitor center on Highway 24. The parking turnout is well-marked. It’s just a short walk along the boardwalk to get to the impressive petroglyph panel. You’ll note animals they hunted, as well as human-like figures with elaborate horned headdresses. Additionally, there is another rock art panel in Capitol Gorge, as well as smaller petroglyphs in more remote destinations within the park. The most pristine example can be seen 1.5 miles east of the visitor center on Highway 24. The parking turnout is well-marked. 

It’s worth mentioning that you should refrain from touching the panels, because the oils in your hands can severely damage and erode these precious and ancient artforms. If you see anyone damaging rock art or any archeological site, report it to a ranger immediately.

The Fremont culture navigated this very landscape that you are exploring, searching for food, documenting the patterns of nature and time, potentially passing on information about medicine, and trying to communicate and translate the divine with petroglyphs. The real question is, what do you think the Capitol Reef petroglyphs mean? Start making plans to visit this mystical attraction on your next trip to Utah!

GPS Coordinates:

Capitol Reef Visitor Center: 38.25619, -111.232858

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