Capitol Reef Overview

Capitol Reef National Park, located in south-central Utah, USA, is a hidden treasure among the American Southwest’s national parks. Spanning approximately 241,904 acres (about 978 square kilometers or 378 square miles), this park is characterized by its unique geological features, rich cultural history, and stunning landscapes. Established as a national park in 1971, Capitol Reef is named for the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble the U.S. Capitol building and the rocky ridges, or “reefs,” that present a formidable barrier to travel, much like a coral reef.

The park’s centerpiece is the Waterpocket Fold, a nearly 100-mile (160 km) long warp in the Earth’s crust. This classic monocline, a step-up in the rock layers, has exposed a geological cross-section of nearly 200 million years, offering an unparalleled opportunity for scientific study and exploration. The resulting landscape is a marvel of cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the heart of red rock country.

Capitol Reef’s natural beauty is matched by its rich history. Petroglyphs etched into rock walls by the ancient Fremont people, alongside the historic pioneer settlement of Fruita, provide a glimpse into the area’s human past. The orchards planted by Mormon settlers in the late 19th century are still maintained by the park and offer visitors the chance to pick fresh fruit today.

The park offers a wide range of activities, from scenic drives along the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive to backcountry hiking, camping, and stargazing in one of the darkest night skies in the United States. Its diverse terrain includes lush river valleys, striking rock formations, and expansive vistas, making it a paradise for photographers, hikers, and nature lovers.

Capitol Reef National Park, with its combination of natural wonders, historical sites, and recreational opportunities, invites visitors to explore its less-traveled paths and discover the beauty and solitude of this remarkable desert landscape.

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Park Map
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Capitol Reef National Park Highlights


Capitol Reef National Park, nestled in the heart of Utah’s red rock country, is a hidden treasure of the National Park System, offering a stunning display of cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges.

The park’s natural diversity, from desert basins to lush river valleys, supports an array of species that have adapted to life in this varied environment.

Visitors to Capitol Reef have the opportunity to encounter these animals, each contributing to the park’s ecological richness and enhancing the experience of exploring this rugged wilderness.

Mule Deer – Common across the park, these deer are easily recognizable by their large ears and black-tipped tails, often seen grazing in the cooler parts of the day.

Mountain Lion – Although rarely seen, these elusive predators roam the park’s backcountry, a silent testament to the wildness that Capitol Reef embodies.

Desert Bighorn Sheep – Reintroduced to the area, these magnificent animals are adept at navigating the park’s rocky terrain, a thrilling sight for lucky visitors.

Rock Wren – Often heard before seen, the Rock Wren’s melodious song fills the air, with these small birds frequently spotted hopping among boulders and cliffs.

Peregrine Falcon – Known for their incredible speed, Peregrine Falcons can be observed diving for prey at speeds of over 200 miles per hour, nesting on the park’s cliffs.

Common Raven – Intelligent and versatile, ravens are a frequent presence in Capitol Reef, their black plumage and large size making them easy to spot against the desert backdrop.

Golden Eagle – Majestic in flight, Golden Eagles are often seen soaring high above the park, their keen eyes searching the ground below for prey.

Utah Prairie Dog – These social rodents, endangered and protected, can be found in the park’s grasslands, their colonies a hub of activity and an essential part of the ecosystem.

Western Rattlesnake – Exemplifying the desert’s wild character, the Western Rattlesnake is respected by visitors and wildlife alike, its presence a reminder of the natural world’s untamed beauty.

Coyote – The iconic howl of the coyote is a hallmark of the American West, with these adaptable canines frequently seen (or heard) throughout Capitol Reef.

The wildlife of Capitol Reef National Park adds depth and wonder to the already spectacular landscape, offering glimpses into the survival and adaptation of species in this unique desert environment.

Hickman Bridge

One of Capitol Reef’s most iconic landmarks, Hickman Bridge is a natural sandstone arch spanning 133 feet (40 meters) across a gorge.

This impressive rock formation is accessible via a moderately strenuous 1.8-mile round-trip hike, offering stunning views of the surrounding canyon landscape.

Named after Joseph S. Hickman, a local school teacher who first documented the bridge in the late 19th century, this natural wonder attracts hikers and photographers alike with its unique shape and picturesque setting.

The Castle

Standing majestically against the desert skyline, The Castle is a towering monolith composed of Navajo sandstone, rising over 400 feet (122 meters) above the valley floor.

Its distinctive fortress-like appearance, characterized by vertical cliffs and jagged spires, has made it one of the park’s most recognizable landmarks.

Visitors can admire The Castle from various viewpoints along the scenic drive or embark on a hike to get a closer look at this imposing geological feature.

Capitol Dome

Named for its resemblance to the United States Capitol building’s dome, Capitol Dome is a prominent sandstone formation that dominates the landscape of Capitol Reef National Park. Rising approximately 400 feet (122 meters) above the surrounding terrain, this massive dome-shaped rock formation captivates visitors with its sheer size and striking beauty. Whether viewed from afar along the scenic drive or explored up close on one of the park’s hiking trails, Capitol Dome serves as a reminder of the powerful geological forces that have shaped the landscape over millions of years.

Cathedral Valley

Cathedral Valley, located in the northern region of Capitol Reef National Park, is renowned for its stunning array of towering sandstone monoliths, spires, and domes.

This remote area offers visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the park’s awe-inspiring scenery while exploring its ancient geological formations.

The centerpiece of Cathedral Valley is the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, two massive sandstone monoliths that resemble ancient cathedrals rising from the desert floor.

Visitors can access Cathedral Valley via a rugged unpaved road, which adds to the sense of adventure and remoteness. Whether admiring the surreal landscapes from scenic viewpoints or embarking on a backcountry adventure,

Cathedral Valley promises an unforgettable experience in Capitol Reef National Park.

Engaging Capitol Reef

Embark on an unforgettable journey through Capitol Reef’s diverse landscapes, where ancient petroglyphs, towering sandstone cliffs, and winding canyons await.

With trails ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks, there’s something for every skill level and interest.

Don’t miss iconic routes like the Capitol Gorge Trail and Hickman Bridge Trail, offering breathtaking views and opportunities to connect with nature.

Explore the park’s stunning vistas and geological wonders from the comfort of your car along its scenic drives.

The Capitol Reef Scenic Drive winds through towering rock formations, colorful canyons, and expansive desert landscapes, providing numerous overlooks and photo opportunities along the way.

Be sure to drive the Cathedral Valley Loop for a glimpse of the park’s most iconic landmarks.

For thrill-seekers and adventurers, canyoneering in Capitol Reef offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore hidden slot canyons, rappel down towering cliffs, and navigate through narrow passageways carved by water over millions of years.

Guided canyoneering tours are available for those seeking expert guidance and instruction, ensuring a safe and memorable adventure in the park’s rugged backcountry.

Capitol Reef National Park Trails

Hickman Bridge Trail

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 1.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 400 feet (122 meters)

Description: This family-friendly trail leads to the impressive Hickman Bridge, a natural arch with a span of 133 feet. The path offers excellent views of the Waterpocket Fold, the Capitol Dome, and the Fremont River. Along the way, hikers can see ancient Fremont Indian petroglyphs and enjoy the diverse desert vegetation.

Cassidy Arch Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 670 feet (204 meters)

Description: Named after the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy, this trail takes hikers on a steep climb to a massive arch perched on the edge of a cliff. The hike provides stunning vistas of the Grand Wash and the Waterpocket Fold’s dramatic landscapes, making it a rewarding challenge for adventurers.

Chimney Rock Loop Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 590 feet (180 meters)

Description: This loop trail circles around the striking Chimney Rock formation, offering panoramic views of the surrounding park landscapes, especially at sunset. The path traverses the Mummy Cliff and crosses several washes, showcasing the park’s unique geology and desert ecosystem.

Grand Wash Trail

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: 4.5 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: The Grand Wash Trail is a relatively flat hike through a dramatic canyon with towering Navajo Sandstone cliffs. The trail can be accessed from either end of the Grand Wash, leading hikers through narrows where the canyon walls are only a few feet apart. This easy hike is suitable for all ages and offers a close-up view of the park’s striking canyon country.

Cohab Canyon Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 440 feet (134 meters)

Description: Starting near the historic Fruita district, the Cohab Canyon Trail climbs into a hidden canyon with fascinating rock formations and several side slots to explore. The trail offers views of Fruita, the Capitol Dome, and the Henry Mountains. Hikers can enjoy the unique landscape of red rock formations, pockets, and spires that make Capitol Reef so distinctive.


1. What is Capitol Reef National Park known for?

Capitol Reef National Park is renowned for its stunning geological formations, including towering sandstone monoliths, deep canyons, and colorful rock layers.

It is famous for its unique Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust that creates a stunning landscape of cliffs, domes, and arches.

The park is also known for its rich cultural history, with evidence of ancient Native American civilizations and pioneer settlements scattered throughout the area.

Visitors come to Capitol Reef to hike scenic trails, explore slot canyons, marvel at natural bridges and arches, and stargaze under some of the darkest skies in the United States.

Whether seeking outdoor adventure or cultural exploration, Capitol Reef offers a diverse range of experiences amidst its spectacular desert scenery.

  • All Trails, Best Trails in Capitol Reef,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Britannica, Capitol Reef National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Bryce Canyon Country, Capitol Reef National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • National Park Service, Capitol Reef,, retrieved April 2024.
  •, Capitol Reef National Park,, retrieved April 2024.