Capitol Reef National Park, Utah – American Road Trip (pt30)
Sept 26, 2015. Day 48 of my American Road Trip.
Capitol Reef National Park was the next destination as I made my way through southern Utah visiting as many national parks as I could over a four-day period. The drive from Moab, Utah to the eastern entrance of the park was a little over 2 hours. I was in the park mid-morning and spent half a day exploring all the shiny objects I could before moving on to Bryce Canyon National Park. Capitol Reef was yet another interesting park thanks to the “reef” and narrow canyon dirt road I stumbled upon.
Capitol Reef is just over 60 miles long from north to south but only about six miles wide east to west. The park gets its names from the white domes of Navajo Sandstones that look like city “capital” buildings. The “reef” portion of the name comes from the north to south multicolored mountain range that resembles a barrier reef.
Here is a Capitol Reef map link for those interested.
There are three districts in the park and each offers a little something different. I chose the Fruita Area because it’s the most accessible to the adjacent highways, has a scenic drive and multiple hikes. The other two districts are the Waterpocket District and Cathedral Valley. Waterpocket is more of a hiking and backpacking location while Cathedral Valley is the backcountry, high clearance vehicle, destination.
The first place I stopped in the Fruita Area was the trailhead to many of the area’s most popular trails. Some trails are only a few hundred yards / meters while others like Navajo Knobs is 4.7 miles / 7.6 km one way. I wasn’t quite up for an almost 10 mile round-trip hike through the rocky sandstone mountains in 100 degree weather and chose the 2 mile round trip Hickman Bridge trail instead. While hot, it was a beautiful day full of great views and many of the Navajo Sandstone “capitol” domes.
The appropriately named “Scenic Drive” is one of the top things to do during any half day visit to the park. It’s a 7.9 mile / 12.7 km paved road that travels along the 80-270 million year old multi colored strata and provides great long distance views of the “reef.”
Capitol Gorge Road
Scenic drive also takes you to many popular dirt roads and narrow canyons that cut through the reef. When I visited the Visitor Center, the dirt road that looked the most interesting was Capitol Gorge Road. For almost 80 years, early pioneers used it as the only reliable transit point through Capitol Reef.
At the end of the very windy dirt road, there is a parking lot and hiking trail. I parked and explored a bit before driving back through the gorge and making my way out of the park and on to Bryce Canyon National Park. I included the German Souvenir in the pictures below to give her a little love and provide a little Capitol Gorge perspective.
Southern Utah is a covered with national forests and national parks, which is good and bad at the same time. With so many to choose from, it’s not always easy to select the best one(s) to visit during short vacations or long weekends. I only experienced a small part of Capitol Reef and would definitely recommend adding it to your Utah natural wonder and National Park collection. Even if just for half a day like I did. Scenic Drive and Capitol Gorge Road themselves are worth the visit.