Capitol Reef National Park – Northern District

Historic Fruita and Park Icons

Remote backcountry areas require high clearance 4x4

Remote backcountry areas require high clearance 4x4


Capitol Reef National Park, one of the many national parks in Utah, contains nearly a quarter million acres in ‘slickrock country’.
Plant and animal life is diverse because of a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper, perennial streams, dry washes, and rock cliffs.
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.

Trip Planning and Safety

The spectacular Waterpocket District (or southern section) of Capitol Reef National Park is fairly remote and rugged, and open year-round. Most passenger cars, pickups, and vans can usually negotiate the roads without difficulty. However, road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent weather conditions. Check the weather forecast before your visit. Spring and summer rains and winter snows can sometimes leave roads slick, muddy, washed out, and impassable to the best high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle. Many of the roads are unpaved, and are often rough, sandy, and corrugated. Check at the visitor center or call 435-425-3791 for current conditions. Press #1 for information, and then #4 for current road conditions. For weather conditions press #3.
Vehicle and foot travel in the southern part of the park can be light to moderate, depending on the time of year, so be prepared for the unexpected. If you have problems, help may not arrive for hours or even days. Carry plenty of water, food, gas, adequate clothing, a shovel, and emergency supplies. Cell phone reception is usually poor to nonexistent. Cool or cold temperatures will accompany sudden summer storms or an unexpected night out in the backcountry. Daytime temperatures in the summer may top 100 °F (37.8°C) and winter highs may stay below freezing, so dress and plan accordingly. Your safety is your responsibility.


Capitol Reef is home to towering sandstone structures and impressive canyons, but it also holds many ancient petroglyphs, which are engraved etchings into rock walls. Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people lived here between 600-1300 A.D., and their markings tell what appears to be their the stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and mythologies of their lives. What they thought and what exactly they were communicating, will never be known because there is no actual translation available. That’s part of the fun of seeing them: imagining what the conversations of the ancients told of this colorful and rugged place.
You can scour over the beautiful renderings yourself, and take your best guess at a mixture of forms, including pictures that appear to be anthropomorphs (human figures), wildlife, birds, tools, and more esoteric, abstract things. The Fremont people, more than other neighboring Native American cultures, were prolific with their rock art output.
Archaelogical artifacts from the Fremont were first found along the Fremont River, which flows through the park. These people lived in pit-style houses and they lived in bands of several families. They were hunter-gatherers, but also adopted agricultural practices to supplement their diets. The Fremont have left their markings throughout the park in petroglyphs on big rocks.
The most pristine example of Capitol Reef petroglyphs can be seen 1.5 miles east of the visitor center on Highway 24. The parking turnout is well-marked. It’s just a short walk along the boardwalk to get to the impressive petroglyph panel. You’ll note animals they hunted, as well as human-like figures with elaborate horned headdresses. Additionally, there is another rock art panel in Capitol Gorge, as well as smaller petroglyphs in more remote destinations within the park.
It’s worth mentioning that you should refrain from touching the panels, because the oils in your hands can severely damage and erode these precious and ancient artforms. If you see anyone damaging rock art or any archeological site, report it to a ranger immediately.
The Fremont culture navigated this very landscape that you are exploring, searching for food, documenting the patterns of nature and time, potentially passing on information about medicine, and trying to communicate and translate the divine with petroglyphs. The real question is, what do you think the Capitol Reef petroglyphs mean? Start making plans to visit this mystical attraction on your next trip to Utah!


Our guarantee is simple: If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with a Capitol Reef Outfitters Guide, you do not have to pay for the service. No argument, only apologies. That goes for merchandise, too. If you are not satisfied, now or in the future, you can expect a prompt exchange or refund
Book Now