Hiking Trails in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park - Overview

This Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long wrinkle in the earth's crust known as a monocline, extends from nearby Thousand Lakes Mountain to the Colorado River (now Lake Powell).

Capitol Reef National Park was established to protect this grand and colorful geologic feature, as well as the unique historical and cultural history found in the area. With an extremely arid climate, Capitol Reef averages just over 7.2 inches of precipitation annually, measured at the park Visitor Center weather station.

Animals is the park include Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Deer, Venomous Midget Rattlesnakes, coyotes, and fox...to name a few. Due to the harsh climate, most activity is late in the evening or early in the morning. Temperatures can be well above 100 degrees and sun exposure is extremely high.

Traditionally, Capitol Reef National Park has experienced minimal use by technical rock climbers. However, recent years have seen an increase in climbing in Utah's canyon country. The rock at Capitol Reef is comprised predominately of sandstone. It varies in hardness from the soft crumbly Entrada to the relatively hard Wingate. The Wingate cliff walls are the most popular for climbing, as natural fracturing has created many climbable crack systems. In addition, the hardness of the Wingate lends itself more readily to the successful use of chocks, nuts, and camming devices; however it can flake off easily and be very unpredictable. Climbing in canyon country is not something to be taken lightly. Permits are not required for climbing. However, if you plan to camp overnight on a climb, you are required to obtain a free backcountry use permit, available at the visitor center.

In the Fruita area, there are 15 day hiking trails with trailheads located along Utah Hwy. 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. Hikes may take you deep into a narrow gorge, to the top of high cliffs for a bird's eye view of the surrounding area, under a natural stone arch, to historic inscriptions...and much, much more! Round trip distances vary in length from less than 1/4 mile to 10 miles. All trails are well-marked with signs at the trailhead and at trail junctions and by cairns (stacks of rocks) along the way. A free guide to the trails is available at the visitor center or by clicking here. Some trails have self-guiding brochures which are available, for a nominal fee, at the trailhead or at the visitor center.

Capitol Reef offers many hiking options for serious backpackers and those who enjoy exploring remote areas. Marked hiking routes lead into narrow, twisting gorges and slot canyons and to spectacular viewpoints high atop the Waterpocket Fold. Popular backcountry hikes in the southern section of the park include Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons and Halls Creek. Backcountry hiking opportunities also exist in the Cathedral Valley area and near Fruita...the possibilities are endless! Stop in the visitor center and talk to a ranger if you are interested in a backcountry hike. They can help you pick out a hike that will fit your time and abilities. If you plan to take an overnight hike, you need to obtain a free backcountry permit at the visitor center prior to your trip. Backcountry group size cannot exceed 12 people.

Capitol Reef National Park - Anthropology


The prehistoric Fremont people lived throughout Utah and adjacent areas of Idaho, Colorado and Nevada from 700 to 1300 AD. The culture was named for the Fremont River and its valley in which many of the first Fremont sites were discovered.

The Fremont were an Ancestral Puebloan people who had strong cultural affiliations with their better-known contemporaries, the Anasazi. The Fremont often lived in pit houses (dug into the ground and covered with a brush roof), wickiups (brush and log huts) and natural rockshelters. Their social structure was composed of small, loosely organized bands consisting of several families. They were closely tied to nature and were flexible, diverse and adaptive -- often making changes in their lifeways as social or environmental changes occurred.

Diet of the Fremont People

The Fremont maintained a hunting and gathering lifestyle and supplemented their diet by farming; growing corn, beans and squash along the river bottoms. Edible native plants included pinyon nuts, rice grass and a variety of berries, nuts, bulbs, and tubers. Corn was ground into meal on a stone surface (metate) using a hand-held grinding stone (mano). Food was stored in pottery jars or baskets inside small masonry structures, called granaries, which were tucked under small overhangs on narrow ledges. Deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, birds, fish and rodents were hunted using snares, nets, fishhooks, bow and arrow, and the atlatl or spear-throwing stick.

Unique Artifacts of the Fremont

Archeologists have identified several kinds of artifacts that are distinctive to the Fremont people.One was a singular style of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, which incorporated willow, yucca, milkweed, and other native fibers. They also created pottery, mostly graywares, with smooth, polished surfaces or corrugated designs pinched into the clay.

Unlike the Anasazi who wore yucca fiber sandals, the Fremont made moccasins from the hide of large animals, such as deer, bighorn sheep or bison. The dew claws were left on the sole, possibly to act as hobnails; providing extra traction on slippery surfaces.

The most unique and mysterious artifacts left by the Fremont were clay figurines. The small figures resemble people, often showing intricate details such as ear bobs, necklaces, clothing, hair and facial decorations and sexual characteristics. The purpose of figurines is unknown, but archeologists suggest that they had religious significance or were associated with fertility rites.

Rock Art of the Fremont

Figurines resemble Fremont rock art. Pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (carved or pecked) are depictions of people, animals and other shapes and forms left on rock surfaces. Anthropomorphic (human-like) figures usually have trapezoidal shaped bodies with arms, legs and fingers. The figures are often elaborately decorated with headdresses, ear bobs, necklaces, clothing items and facial expressions. A wide variety of zoomorphic (animal-like) figures include bighorn sheep, deer, dogs, birds, snakes and lizards. Abstract designs, geometric shapes and handprints are also common.

The meaning of rock art is unknown. The designs may have recorded religious or mythological events, migrations, hunting trips, resource locations, travel routes, celestial information and other important knowledge. Many archeologists propose that rock art uses symbolic concepts that provide the observer with important information and that was notsimply artistic expression or doodling.

Some day, we may understand rock art better; but only if these sites are not destroyed. The slightest touch removes fine granules of sand and leaves behind a residue of sweat and oil. Please refrain from any activity that involves touching the panels. If you see anyone damaging rock art or any archeological site, report it to a ranger immediately.

By 1500 AD, archeological evidence of the Fremont ceases to exist. A combination of pressures may have caused this. First, Fremont people tended to live in very marginal, high- altitude environments, and their population densities (with few exceptions) were low even in peak years. Second, the disruption of the nearby Ancient Puebloan cultural centers, with their long-distance trade systems and huge population centers, upset interactions between the two cultural groups. This possibly lessened the availability of trade goods and marriageable partners. Finally, the arrival of ancestors of Numic-speaking groups (Navajo and Apache) may have caused new competition for wild resources and territory rights here in the Fremont heartland. Armed conflict may have resulted, as well. It also seems likely that at least some of the Fremont people were displaced and moved southwest probably intermarrying with other groups.

No archeological studies support the idea that fast and extreme climate change is responsible for the “disappearance” of Fremont artifacts from the archeological record. That’s the puzzle: Fremont cultural diagnostics don’t abruptly disappear; they scatter and gradually become increasingly rare between 1250 and 1500, until they are no longer found. A single, simple explanation for events like this would be preferable; unfortunately, this issue is complex, and remains to be solved,

Capitol Reef National Park - Geology


The Waterpocket Fold defines Capitol Reef National Park. A nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth's crust, the Waterpocket Fold is a classic monocline: a regional fold with one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers. A monocline is a "step-up" in the rock layers. The rock layers on the west side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet higher than the layers on the east. Major folds are almost always associated with underlying faults. The Waterpocket Fold formed between 50 and 70 million years ago when a major mountain building event in western North America, the Laramide Orogeny, reactivated an ancient buried fault. When the fault moved, the overlying rock layers were draped above the fault and formed a monocline.

More recent uplift of the entire Colorado Plateau and the resulting erosion has exposed this fold at the surface only within the last 15 to 20 million years. The name Waterpocket Fold reflects this ongoing erosion of the rock layers. "Waterpockets" are basins that form in many of the sandstone layers as they are eroded by water. These basins are common throughout the fold, thus giving it the name "Waterpocket Fold". Erosion of the tilted rock layers continues today forming colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches.


The most scenic portion of the Waterpocket Fold, found near the Fremont River, is known as Capitol Reef: capitol for the white domes of Navajo Sandstone that resemble capitol building domes, and reef for the rocky cliffs which are a barrier to travel, like a coral reef.

Nearly 10,000 feet of sedimentary strata are found in the Capitol Reef area. These rocks range in age from Permian (as old as 270 million years old) to Cretaceous (as young as 80 million years old.) The Waterpocket Fold has tilted this geologic layer cake down to the east. The older rocks are found in the western part of the park, and the younger rocks are found near the east boundary.

This layer upon layer sequence of sedimentary rock records nearly 200 million years of geologic history. Rock layers in Capitol Reef reveal ancient environments as varied as rivers and swamps (Chinle Formation), Sahara-like deserts (Navajo Sandstone), and shallow oceans (Mancos Shale).


The tilt of the Waterpocket Fold dies out at Thousand Lake Mountain near the northwestern boundary of the park. Rock layers in Cathedral Valley have a gentle inclination of three to five degrees to the east and appear nearly horizontal.

Deep erosion has carved Cathedral Valley's free-standing monoliths, or temples, out of the soft reddish-orange Entrada Sandstone, which was originally deposited as sandy mud on a tidal flat. Some of the cathedrals are capped by thin, hard beds of a greenish gray marine sandstone, the Curtis Formation.

The scenery of the Entrada Sandstone temples of Cathedral Valley is complemented by evidence of other geologic processes at work. The flowing and disolving of gypsum, a soluable mineral from the underlying Carmel Formation, created Glass Mountain and the Gypsum Sinkhole. Glass Mountain is an exposed plug of gypsum. The Gypsum Sinkhole formed when a gypsum deposit dissolved. Dikes and sills, which are thin bodies of igneous rock and small volcanic plugs, are found in Upper Cathedral Valley. These features formed during volcanic activity three to six million years ago.


Most of the erosion that carved today's landscape occured after the uplift of the Colorado Plateau sometime within the last 20 million years. Most of the major canyon cutting probably occured between one and six million years ago.

Even in this desert climate, water is the erosional agent most responsible for the carving of the landscape. The pull of gravity, in the form of rock falls or rock creep, plays a major role in the shaping of the cliff lines. Wind is a minor agent of erosion here.

The landforms are a result of different responses of various rock layers to the forces of erosion. Hard sandstone layers, like the red Wingate and the white Navajo Sandstones, form cliffs. Softer shale layers, like the Chinle Formation, form slopes and low hills. The barren slopes found in many areas are due in part to the presence of bentonitic clays in the shale which make an inhospitible environment for plants.

Black boulders, found scattered throughout the Fremont River valley and along other drainages, are recent geologic arrivals to Capitol Reef. These volcanic rocks came from the 20 to 30 million year old lava flows which cap Boulder and Thousand Lake Mountains. The boulders made their way to Capitol Reef during the end of the Ice Age when the high plateaus supported small mountain glaciers. Landslides, debris flows, and possibly heavy stream outwash from these glaciers carried the boulders to lower elevations in the park.

Capitol Reef National Park - Camping

The 71-site Fruita campground is the only developed campground in the park, located south of the visitor center in the Fruita Historic District.

The Fruita Campground is often described as an oasis within the desert. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, this developed campground has 71 RV/tent sites, each with a picnic table and grill, but no individual water. sewage or electrical hook-ups. An RV dump station, located near the entrance to Loops A and B, is open during the summer. Restrooms are heated and feature running water and flush toilets, but not showers. The nightly fee is $10.00, or $5.00 for Golden Age/Senior Pass and Golden Access/Access Pass holders. An accessible site is located in Loop B adjacent to the restroom.

Open year-round, the Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park and as a result often fills by early to mid-afternoon during the spring through fall seasons. Sites are first-come, first-served and self-serve, and campground hosts (located at the beginning of Loop A) are available to assist you during the summer season. We do not take reservations.


The no-fee Cathedral and Cedar Mesa Primitive Campgrounds, located in more remote parts of the park, have pit toilets and picnic tables, but no water.

Cathedral Valley Primitive Campground: The Cathedral Campground is located approximately halfway on the Cathedral Valley loop road which traverses Capitol Reef's Cathedral District. About 36 miles from the Visitor Center, this primitive, no-fee campground has six sites, each with a picnic table and fire grate. There is a pit toilet, but no water available. The campground is open year-round; however, visitors should check road conditions with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center prior to planning an overnight stay. The campground is at approximately 7000 feet in elevation, in the Pinyon/Juniper-clad foothills of Thousand Lake Mountain. No reservations; first-come, first-served.

Cedar Mesa Primitive Campground: The Cedar Mesa Campground is located approximately 35 miles south of Utah State Highway 24 on the Notom-Bullfrog Road and is at 5,500 feet in elevation. This primitive, no-fee campground has five sites, each with a picnic table and fire grate. There is also a pit toilet, but no water is available. The campground is open year-round, but visitors should check with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center for road conditions prior to planning an overnight stay. The 3.5-mile round-trip Red Canyon trail leads from the campground through Pinyon and Juniper trees into a large box canyon. No reservations; first-come, first-served.


The Group Site is available by reservation and can accommodate a maximum of 40 people. The Group Campsite is a secluded site located near the Fruita Campground. Only written or faxed requests to reserve the campsite are accepted. Telephone reservations are not accepted. Your requests for a reservation should be sent to:

Group Campsite Reservations
Capitol Reef National Park
HC 70, Box 15
Torrey, UT 84775
or faxed to 435-425-3026

Requests will be accepted beginning the first Monday of February. The campsite is very popular, and opening day requests are highly encouraged. All faxes received the same day have equal preference. Requests faxed or postmarked before the first Monday of February will be rejected.

Group Reservation requests must include:

-Group leader’s name, address, and daytime phone number
-Number of people in the party
-Number of vehicles
-Dates requested
-Second and third choice dates

Maximum group size is 40 people, and parking is limited to 10 vehicles. The campsite is open from April 1 through October 20, except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays when it is closed for groundskeeping purposes. The Group Campsite will be closed during the 2007 UEA (Utah Educators Association) weekend.

Maximum length of stay is 5 days annually. The camping fee is $3 per person per night, with a $50 minimum per night for each group. There is no fee for children five years old or younger, but they are counted as a member of the group.

Processing of reservations begins about ten days after the opening date. Requests are sorted by postmark or fax date. A random selection will be made from competing requests with the same postmark or fax date. If the dates requested are not available, second and third choice dates listed will automatically be considered. Please do not send duplicate requests for the same group. When all requests received on the opening day are processed, applications received on subsequent dates are considered.

In late February a confirmation letter will be mailed to those receiving reservations; payment of $50 for each night reserved must then be received by March 20 to hold the reservation. The balance of payment for your reservation must be received 14 days prior to your reservation date. Refunds are available if a group cancels 14 days prior to their reserved date. You will also be notified if all dates are taken and you did not receive a reservation.

All non-reserved dates, or dates that open due to cancellations, are available by written or faxed request, or to visitors at the visitor center on a first-come, first- served basis beginning March 1. No waiting lists are maintained.


A free backcountry permit is required for camping outside of campgrounds.

Capitol Reef offers many hiking options for serious backpackers and those who enjoy exploring remote areas. Marked hiking routes lead into narrow, twisting gorges and slot canyons and to spectacular viewpoints high atop the Waterpocket Fold. Popular backcountry hikes in the southern section of the park include Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons and Halls Creek. Backcountry hiking opportunities also exist in the Cathedral Valley area and near Fruita...the possibilities are endless! Stop in the visitor center and talk to a ranger if you are interested in a backcountry hike. They can help you pick out a hike that will fit your time and abilities. If you plan to take an overnight hike, you need to obtain a free backcountry permit at the visitor center prior to your trip. Backcountry group size cannot exceed 12 people.

Capitol Reef National Park - Contact

Capitol Reef National Park
HC 70 Box 15
Torrey, UT 84775

Visitor Information: 435-425-3791 x111

Fax: 435-425-3026

Operating Hours & Seasons

The park and campgrounds are open year round. The Visitor Center is open daily (except for some major holidays) from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with extended hours during the summer season.

Ripple Rock Nature Center is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sundays and Mondays.


The following Entrance Fees are charged for traveling the park’s Scenic Drive beyond the Fruita Campground:
Individuals: $3.00 (Good for 7 days)

This fee applies to bicycles and pedestrians (per person).

Vehicles: $5.00 (Good for 7 days) This fee applies to private vehicles, including motorcycles.

Commercial Tours: This fee is based on the seating capacity of the vehicle.

Vehicles with a seating capacity of 26 seats or greater: $100.00

Vehicles with a seating capacity of 7 - 25 seats: $40.00

Vehicles with a seating capacity of 1 - 6 seats: $30.00

Entrance Fee Waivers: Fee waivers are available for groups traveling the Scenic Drive for educational purposes. Fee waiver requests must be submitted two weeks prior to your visit. Qualifications for fee waivers can be found on the Fee Waiver Application. If you have any questions, please contact the Fee Office during normal business hours at (435) 425-3791 ext. 160.