Capitol Reef National Park Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

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    The first pioneers: Fruita Overview

    by goodfish Updated Oct 30, 2011

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    Part of the valley in what is now the National Park was once home to Mormon pioneers who arrived here in the late 1800's to farm and raise livestock near the Fremont River. This small group of tough, hard-working folks planted sizable orchards of fruit trees which proved to be their most lucrative source of income, and are probably the reason that the settlement, once known as Junction, was renamed Fruita in the early 1900's. Apples, plums, peaches, pears, cherries and apricots were hauled by wagon - no small task over this region's difficult terrain - to other small communities and sold or bartered for goods unavailable in their remote location.

    Isolation also required self-sufficency: children to be schooled; horses to be shod; people to be fed and sheltered; equipment to be mended. Structures for all of these needs were built from whatever materials happened to be close at hand, and some of them still stand today.

    Capitol Reef was established as a National Monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 and by the 1960's, most of the residents of Fruita had sold their property to the NPS and moved on. But the orchards, named for some of the families who originally planted them, are still a cash crop for the park - providing fruit for homemade pies, jams and jellies for visitors to purchase.

    You will find the ghosts of this frontier outpost along portions of Hwy 24, east of the visitor center, and a no-pass-needed section of the Scenic Road; download the self-guided tour before (link below) before you go.

    Address: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

    Website: http://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/historicfruitatour.htm

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    Behunin Cabin

    by goodfish Written Oct 28, 2011

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    Remember the Elijah Behunin I mentioned in the Capitol Gorge Trail review? This was the house he built in 1882 for his family of 13. That is a LOT of Behunin's for one tiny cabin. Actually, about 8 or 9 too many; a dugout in the cliff behind was a bedroom for some of the boys, and a few of the girls bunked in a wagon box. The little one-room, sandstone-block house measures 13 by 16.5 feet, had a fireplace for cooking, and sleeping space for parents and youngest of the tots. My guess is that most daily chores and activities occurred outdoors, and there may have been rough shelters nearby for livestock and storage. The family were only here a year or so when the Fremont River, expected to provide abundant water for farming, flooded its banks and took their crop with it; time to move on.

    You can find Elijah, his wife, Tabitha Jane, and a few of their offspring in the Torrey cemetery down the road. The cabin is unfurnished and closed to visitors but there's a pullout here for a look at the exterior. No park pass needed.

    Address: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

    Directions: On Hwy 24 about 6 miles east of the visitor center.

    Website: http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

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    Hike: Hickman Natural Bridge Trail

    by goodfish Updated Oct 28, 2011

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    This is another fun one for families that climbs to the biggest natural span in the park. A printed guide (50 cents) available near the trailhead corresponds to 17 marked posts for geological, botanical and man-made points of interest along the way. The path climbs steeply at the beginning of this 2.2-mile RT hike but flattens out at the top and follows along past clumps of prickly pear, an ancestral pithouse and granary, and a smaller natural bridge than the one at the end of the trail. Hickman is huge - 133 feet long and 125 feet high - and designated as a natural bridge instead of an arch because of the way it was formed: by flowing water instead of freeze-thaw cycles of erosion. The trail makes a small loop under and around it, and then you just retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

    The path is largely exposed with little-to-no shade so is a hot one in the afternoon; bring plenty of water. It is also one of the more popular hikes in the park so expect to have a lot of company. More ambitious hikers can find some solitude by taking a right fork to Rim Overlook (4.5 miles RT) and Navajo Knobs (about 10 miles RT) at the top of the trail's initial ascent. A park pass isn't needed for any of these hikes.

    Address: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

    Directions: The trailhead is on Hwy 24 a couple miles east of the visitor center

    Website: http://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/trailguide.htm

    Prickly pear, Capitol Reef
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    Petroglyph Panel

    by goodfish Written Oct 27, 2011

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    About a mile east of the visitor center on Hwy 24 (the main public road through the northern end of the park) is a rock panel of Fremont-era petroglyphs. These are much more visible and more numerous than the few on Capitol Gorge Trail, and it's an easy, shady walk along the panel on a flat, raised wooden bridge.

    As mentioned in my Capitol Gorge Trail review, the Fremont were a culture of indigenous hunter/gatherer/farmers who occupied parts of this region from 600-1300 AD. Petroglyphs (carved) and more rare pictographs (painted) are found all over the Southwest. You'll often see images like these referred to as "rock art" but the people who painstakingly pecked them into the sandstone likely had little time for decorative leisure. Some archeologists think they were a form of worship while others believe they could be records of important historical or astronomical events. Or all of the above.

    So while none of them really know for sure what the squiggles, geometrics, animals and otherworldly anthropomorphic (human) forms mean, they have a rough idea how old they are and which groups of people carved them by the age of other artifacts found nearby and specific attributes of the images themselves. For instance, bows and arrows first appeared in this region around 500 A.D, and horses not until after the Spanish brought them in the mid 1500's. Sometimes the age of the surface they've been etched into is a clue as older figures are darker than more recent additions. Later images are also sometimes superimposed over older ones.

    Combine your walk here with a hike to Hickman Natural Bridge as the two parking areas are just 1/4 mile or so apart. A park pass is not needed to see the petroglyphs.

    Address: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

    Directions: The parking area is on Hwy 24 east of the visitor center and old Fruita schoolhouse.

    Website: http://www.nps.gov/care/historyculture/fremont.htm

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    Hike: Capitol Gorge and the Tanks

    by goodfish Updated Oct 26, 2011

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    This is a very easy (1 or 2+ miles RT) hike that even couch potatoes can do. At the end of the Scenic Drive, hang a left at the fork onto a dirt road and follow it a couple of miles to a parking area and the trailhead. From here, just follow the path as it winds beside a wash, through the majestic walls of the gorge, about 1/4 mile to a wall of faint (and sadly vandalized) petroglyphs from the Fremont Period. They were etched by prehistoric hunter-gathers - named for the same river that runs through the park - who roamed the region over 1000 years ago.

    Another 1/4 mile beyond that is a dark rock face covered in more recent inscriptions: the Pioneer Register. The wash that you've been following was once a critical passage through the gorge and into the canyon for the Fremont and, much later, the early settlers who came to farm along the river. In 1882, Elijah Behunin - whose cabin still stands near the Fruita area of the park - and a small group of those first pioneers widened the passage enough to accommodate a wagon, creating what was the first and only road through the Waterpocket Fold for greater part of the next century. Traders, prospectors and travelers took to leaving this 19th century graffiti when passing through - carving John Henry's or pockmarking their initials with a pistol.

    From here you can retrace your steps or follow along another 3/4 mile or so to the sign for The Tanks. A short but steep .2 mile climb takes you to a group of natural potholes in the rock that provided critical sources of collected rainwater for both people and animals in this arid region.

    Returning to the parking area, just walk in the wash, if it's dry. Raining like the devil? Pick another day; flash flooding could make this one dangerous place to be. This was a particularly nice wander on a September day with a profusion of yellow rabbitbrush, purple asters and scarlet Indian Paintbrush in bloom.

    Address: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

    Directions: Capitol Gorge Road is at the far end of the scenic drive.

    Website: http://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/trailguide.htm

    Petroglyph Pioneer Register
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    Where to begin

    by goodfish Written Oct 26, 2011

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    The visitor center of any national park should always be your first stop. The main desks are staffed by rangers and knowledgable volunteers who provide maps and valuable advice for things to do and see that match your interests and abilities. This is also where you check current weather and road conditions, pick up backcountry permits, sign up for tours, and check out Junior Ranger materials for the kids. They also post listings of daily events such as free evening astronomy, history and geology talks at the outdoor amphitheater. Restrooms and drinking water are available, and this one has a nice book/gift shop and picnic area as well - but no cafeteria. Access is free and does not require a park pass; nice!

    The center is generally open from 8:00 until 4:30 with longer hours in summer and closings on a few major holidays; check the website for current schedules before your visit. Additionally, brochures in French and German can be downloaded from this link:

    http://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/brochures.htm

    And speaking of the website, it is just FULL of all kinds of information about the park that makes for great reading before you come; check it out!!!

    Address: Capitol Reef National Park - near Torrey, Utah

    Website: http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

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    Sulphur Creek hike

    by Segolily Written Sep 3, 2011

    Sulphur Creek winds right past the Visitor's Center and yet it so little known that even after years of visiting the park I had not heard of it. When I did hear about the hike I knew it was one I wanted to take but it took several more years before the opportunity came. It was worth the wait and effort.

    I call it Zion Narrows Lite. It is a small canyon formed by the small Sulphur Creek. When we hiked it was barely ankle deep in most places. At the deepest spot the canyon walls are 800 ft above the creek. You can see this point from the Goosenecks overlook off the main road. But the creek has hidden treasures that make it a fun, enjoyable and entertaining hike.

    It is a 6 mile one way hike, and I recommend starting at the Chimney Rock parking lot and walking downstream to the Visitor's Center. A ranger hike will take you from the visitors center to the first waterfall, where you can continue on alone, but going up those waterfalls is a little harder. Either way a shuttle car must be used, or if you don't have that then hitchhike.

    There are three major waterfalls which must be negotiated along the way. They require some scrambling but are not too difficult and help to keep you cool on a hot summer day. There is a short narrows section and some fun rocky areas. Bring a lunch, eat in the cool of the cottonwood trees and treasure this wonderful waterway in a desert area.

    Directions: Trailhead is either directly behind the visitor's center, or at the other end it is across the road from the Chimney Rock trailhead. From there follow the wash about a mile to Sulphur Creek then follow the stream.

    Kaibab Sandstone Canyon Cool on a hot day
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    Cathedral Valley Drive

    by KimberlyAnn Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    This is a 60 mile loop drive. Here you will see vast expanses of desert and solitary stone monolith towers rising from the sandy plains, as well as secluded valleys and distant mountains. This is a dirt road advertised for high clearance vehicles. To drive the entire loop you should begin at the Harnet Road, which takes you along the western half of Cathedral Valley loop. You will then continue driving along the Caineville Wash Road, which loops back along the eastern side of the valley. The Harnet Road begins 11.7 miles east of the Visitor Center off Utah Hwy 24. The park recommends that you start with this side of the loop to make sure that you can ford the river, as in order to drive the western route into Cathedral Valley, you must drive through and across the Fremont River soon after leaving the highway. The park states that fording this river may require a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We were glad that our truck is a four wheel drive as the river depth came up almost the bottom of our car doors, and there were boulders in the river bottom. We are not into 4 wheel drive activities, and crossing the river scared me.

    If you cannot or do not wish to ford the river, you can still drive part way along the loop, then turn around and go back the way you came. To avoid crossing the Fremont River start with the Caineville Wash Road, which is on the eastern side of the Cathedral Valley Loop. This road begins 18.6 miles east of the Visitor Center. By taking this route into Cathedral Valley, you do not have to ford the Fremont River on the western side of the loop.

    This drive, including a short spur road to a large gypsum sinkhole, and a few stops along the way for photos and explorations, took us 6 hours.

    Conditions on both these roads vary widely based on recent and current weather. Check with the Visitor Center for road information before starting your drive.

    Cathedral Valley Drive
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    Visitor Center-Gifford House

    by BruceDunning Updated Dec 1, 2009

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    The visitor center is near the middle of the park on Hwy 24. This is also where the Scenic Drive goes south 8 miles. It is 8 miles going west from the the east entrance. Close by is the Gifford House, a family that lived here some generations. There is some period furniture on one part of the house. The other part is that gift shop you are looking for to pick up a momento and local items to eat.

    Visitor Center Gifford HOuse front-near river
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    Panorama Point-Goosenecks Overlook

    by BruceDunning Updated Dec 1, 2009

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    These are some of the more dramatic and outstanding views in the park. They almost seem like they would be located in another park because of the different landscapes. Location is near the west edge of the park on Hwy 24. Goosenecks view is off a one mile road behind Panorama Point. The canyon is about 800 feet deep and is the Surrey Creek that carved this canyon.

    Point overlook of canyon below CAnyon floor is carved by river Bend in river-layers of eroded rock ledges
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    CApitol Gorge Hike

    by BruceDunning Updated Dec 1, 2009

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    This hike area is at the end of the paved road, which stops at the gorge wash. When I was here, it rained two days before two inches, so the drive to the trailhead was closed. That caused about another 1 1/2 miles onto the 2 1/2 mile hike. The hike is on level, but some places rocky creekbed. It takes you by some fabulous canyon walls, and what looks like box canyons, but they continue. The reason for the hike is for the dramatic views of the canyon rock walls. One point to remember is that this is a wash, and would flood in even small rain. Another is that because of the sheer walls and narrow ravine, winds whip through here at fast pace; like I guess 40-50 MPH while I was hiking.

    Hiking into the wash basin Going down the canyon ravine Sharp slick wall faces Red mounds of rock wall One more narrowing canyon
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    Cassidy Arch Hike

    by BruceDunning Updated Dec 1, 2009

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    This hike is a split off trail from the Grand Wash trail. You go down Grand Wash creek bed for 3/4 mile, and at the pit toilet, take a turn up through the rock canyon. The hike is 3 1/2 miles round trip. There is a monument near the creek to direct where and how.
    I did not get that far in since Grand Wash hike at 6 miles was fatiguing me. It is a rather steep climb out of the creek bed to get to the top area, and it takes effort for sure.

    View of canyon hike in Pit toilet before trail hike Monument where hike starts from creek
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    Hickman Bridge Hike

    by BruceDunning Updated Dec 1, 2009

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    This was a moderately difficult hike of 2 miles round trip. The parking is along the road lot, and two miles east of visitor center. There are many steps, and some long reach between them to climb the 500-600 feet crest to the top of the plateau. From there is some sand trail and some more steps along a mountainside, leading to the arch. By the time you get to the top, you should be winded from the steep climb. The Fremont River created the canyon walls, and after many years of water pounding at the rock, some collapsed, and the water came through, leaving this arch. A lot of vegetation still in present due to the water nearby, even though the area only gets average of 7 inches rain a year.
    The bridge is names after John Hickman, a frontier explorer and soldier who was around here frequently. The arch is 125 feet high, and 133 feet wide

    Weary hiker pose Close up view of the arch Angle coming toward the arch trail
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    Pick Fruit-Look at Petroglyphs

    by BruceDunning Updated Oct 30, 2009

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    The Mormons used this valley back in 1880's an on to grow. Some of the orchards remain, and there area about 2000 trees in the park. You are allowed to pick fruit for eating on the spot. If you take a large volume, you are to pay for it where the Ranger is near the orchard, or visitor center. Warning, the apples were good but inside core partial rot. The trees do not get sprayed for protections. They also have pear trees in areas for picking.
    The petroglyphs are from The Fremont INdians who lived in this valley along the river for 600 years. Due to droughts in 1300's, they left the area, but left these symbols for you to view. There is a walk path along the rock face to be able to see the etched symbols easier without disturbing them.
    The main orchard and the petroglyphs are 1 mile east of the visitor center on Hwy 24

    Sign to Pay for PIck BAg of apples Fruit trees by the rock walls Etchings in the sandstone More symbols in the rock
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    Fremont River Trail

    by BruceDunning Written Oct 30, 2009

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    This path goes from the Visitor Center and follows the river for 1 1/2 miles. After the first 3/4 miles, it is an orchard area, and some cliffs for an overlook. There are not many places where you can see the river flowing because of trees and undergrowth along the river edge.

    Well worn path along river Walking by the camper area.
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