Utah truly is the land of majestic National Parks and pristine wide open spaces. There are far more scenic places to visit in this state than one can experience during an entire summer vacation. Any direction that a visitor points the car when traveling in Utah, an endless outdoor adventure awaits to be discovered. The beautiful varied landscape and cobalt blue skies of Utah have a way of revitalizing health and it is easy to achieve an improved outlook on life. In a spiritual sense, experiencing Utah will provide far more than great memories that will last a lifetime!
One of the most famous scenic destinations in Utah is Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef is located in central Utah and two Interstate Highway corridors run close by. After getting off the freeway, there are several scenic byways that go to Capitol Reef and Highway 24 runs through the center of the park.
When driving on Highway 24 from the direction of Torrey, the first view of Capitol Reef truly is a spectacular sight to see! The vast landscape of eroded multi color sandstone and red rock is simply breathtaking and stopping the car to stare in awe is all that one can do. The towering cliffs overshadow the rolling ancient sandstone dune hills, which harbor thousands of small canyons and gorges that await to be explored. Tall rock pillar formations, volcanic tuff domes and gigantic boulders that have tumbled down over eons of time literally paint the landscape with bright colors.
Some of the rock formations have names and there are scenic overlook parking areas located in good vantage points along the main road. The Castle is a rock formation that sits atop a high mesa, which truly looks like a an old fortress nestled high on a rocky crag somewhere in Italy. Some of the tall rock hoodoos have names too and these unique rock formations present great photo opportunities, so be sure to pack a good camera when visiting this National Park.
The white capped red sandstone domes are the main attraction at Capitol Reef. These unique rock formations resemble the white domes on capitol buildings and this is how this National Park got its name. The layers of white, pink, yellow and red sandstone were created by ancient rivers, lakes and volcanoes long ago. The erosive forces of the Colorado River system and a gigantic geological upheaval reef carved this vast surreal landscape that extends east through the entire Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and south into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Taking a scenic drive on Highway 24 and the park touring loop is the best way to become familiar with Capitol Reef upon arrival. The drive through Capitol Reef offers opportunities to experience historic pioneer settlements along the way. Remnants of Mormon settlements from the 1800s and the little community of Fruita can be found along the main road, which winds its way next to a small river in the canyon. The old Mormon settlement is green lush farmland that looks like paradise in this barren landscape. A snack bar, gift shop and a museum is located in this area. There are shade trees and picnic tables in this part of Capitol Reef, so this is a great place to relax when the heat of the day reaches a peak. Best of all, when autumn rolls around the Fruita Orchard apples are ripe for the picking!
The main access roads in Capitol Reef are paved. Travelers in any kind of vehicle can access nearly all points of interest in the main section of the National Park and there are several scenic loop options. It is important to remember that the section of the park next to Highway 24 is only a small portion of Capitol Reef. In order to explore more, a high ground clearance 4x4 vehicle will be needed. Access to the south end of Capitol Reef can be found on Notom Road, which turns into a rough dirt road near the old Burr Trail. The Cathedral Valley section of Capitol Reef is located in the north end of the park and a 4x4 is required to get there too. As can be imagined, driving a capable vehicle has its benefits at Capitol Reef.
A visitor could spend months exploring this wilderness area and still only cover a small portion of what awaits to be seen. Camping and hiking expeditions in this wilderness area do require careful planning, because it is easy to become lost in the maze of slot canyons. There are many marked hiking trails and back country campsites that are well suited for casual explorers that only want to venture into the wilderness for an afternoon or for an overnight stargazing experience. The best way to find out about all that the Capitol Reef National Park has to offer is to stop by the visitor center where information is freely available. Information about neighboring dispersed camping areas can be found there too!
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