Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park: A Hidden Treasure in the Heart of Utah


7/22/20232 min read

Capitol Reef National Park: A Hidden Treasure in the Heart of Utah
Capitol Reef National Park: A Hidden Treasure in the Heart of Utah

Capitol Reef National Park: A Hidden Treasure in the Heart of Utah

Capitol Reef National Park, nestled in south-central Utah, is known for its layered sandstone, unique geological formations, and abundant fruit orchards. Named for the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble the US Capitol building and the rocky cliffs — called "reef" by early settlers — that hindered their westward travel, the park is a hidden gem among Utah's mighty five national parks.

History of Capitol Reef National Park

The area that is now Capitol Reef National Park has a long human history dating back at least 12,000 years. The Fremont culture, ancestors of contemporary Puebloan peoples, lived here from about 600 to 1300 CE. They left behind rock art panels, petroglyphs, and pictographs that offer a glimpse into their ancient civilization.

European-American settlers arrived in the area in the late 19th century, establishing small settlements and planting orchards. The town of Fruita, now located within the park, was one of the most successful communities.

Originally designated a national monument in 1937 to protect the area's unique geology and historical artifacts, Capitol Reef was re-designated as a national park in 1971. The park now spans over 240,000 acres, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Iconic Features of Capitol Reef National Park

The park's unique geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth's crust known as a monocline. This fold exposes layers of golden sandstone, canyons, and striking rock formations.

The Hickman Bridge, a natural arch with a 133-foot opening, and the Chimney Rock pillar are among the park's iconic structures. The Cathedral Valley offers towering monoliths that resemble cathedrals.

An unexpected feature of Capitol Reef is the historic Fruita orchards. Established by Mormon settlers in the 19th century, the National Park Service still maintains the orchards, and visitors can pick fruit during the appropriate seasons.

Visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The park is particularly known for its scenic drives, challenging hikes, and opportunities for backpacking and horseback riding. Night sky viewing is another popular activity due to the park's remote location and lack of light pollution.

While much of the park is remote and accessible only by strenuous hikes or four-wheel-drive roads, the Fruita area is readily accessible to all visitors, offering a campground, picnic areas, and easy walking trails.

Capitol Reef is located approximately 3.5 hours drive from Salt Lake City, Utah, and is near the other national parks in Utah, allowing visitors to easily include it in a tour of the "Mighty 5."


With its rugged beauty and rich cultural heritage, Capitol Reef National Park offers a less crowded alternative to some of the more well-known national parks. Whether you're exploring its canyons, strolling through the verdant orchards, or simply marveling at its expansive night skies, a visit to Capitol Reef is an adventure into the heart of Utah's wild and scenic desert country.