Scenic Capitol Reef National Park road with red rock formations.

7 Facts You Didn’t Know About Capitol Reef National Park

by | Mar 31, 2023

Capitol Reef National Park is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, adrenaline junkies, nature lovers, and more. This often-overlooked Utah national park offers views that rival those found in Zion or Arches, but with far fewer crowds. 

While most people have an idea of what to expect from a park like Zion, the same can’t always be said for Capitol Reef. If you’re planning your first visit to The Chuckwagon Lodge, keep reading to learn seven facts you might not know about this incredible national park.

1. Two Businessmen Paved the Way for the National Park to Draw Tourists to Torrey

Behind most of the early national parks are individuals passionate about protecting the natural landscapes contained within them. While Capitol Reef is packed with stunning natural features, it actually owes its national park status to a couple of businessmen looking to bring tourists to Torrey, Utah.

In the early 1900s, local businessmen organized a booster club to begin promoting the beautiful landscape around Torrey. In 1924, they hired a photographer from Salt Lake City, who came to the region and photographed what is now Capitol Reef. At the time, they called the area “Wayne’s Wonderland,” and using the photos, they began promoting the region and its natural beauty across the country

One of those businessmen, Ephraim Portman Pectol, was elected to the U.S. legislature. Almost immediately after his election, he contacted Franklin D. Roosevelt, and encouraged him to establish a national monument to protect “Wayne’s Wonderland.” President Roosevelt did just that, and in 1937, the name changed to Capitol Reef National Monument.2

2. The Name Features Two Different References

The park’s unique name, Capitol Reef, often draws questions for first-time visitors. 

The “Capitol” in Capitol Reef National Park refers to the white dome formations in the park that resemble the dome on the American State Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

“Reef” is a reference to the rocky, coral-like landscapes found in the park. These landscapes are the result of the Waterpocket Fold. This “wrinkle” in the landscape formed millions of years ago and caused the rocky landscape that inspired the “reef” part of the park’s name.

3. The Park is Home to Natural Bridges

You’d expect to find a natural bridge (or more accurately, 2,000 of them) in Arches National Park. But did you know that there’s one right here in Capitol Reef, too?

Hickman Bridge is 125 feet tall at its highest points. The hike to this arch is one of the most popular in the park. But this isn’t the only natural arch in the park! Cassidy Arch, and Cassidy Arch Trail, are other popular destinations for visitors.

4. Capitol Reef is the Second Largest Utah National Park

Visitors to Capitol Reef National Park may be surprised to learn just how big the park really is. That’s because you are only able to access a very small portion on paved roadways. But in total, it covers 241,904 acres. That makes it the second-largest national park in Utah, falling behind only Canyonlands National Park.

5. The Park is Home to Ancient Artwork

The Capitol Reef petroglyphs are one of the park’s coolest features. But many first-time visitors don’t realize they even exist!

The Fremont Culture Petroglyphs are over 1,000 years old and were left there by the Fremont people who once settled the region. They are located just off Utah State Route 24 and are accessible via two raised wooden boardwalks that allow visitors to get a closer look without damaging these incredible works of art.

6. Capitol Reef is an International Dark Sky Park

In 2015, Capitol Reef National Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park. This means that the park has taken measures to reduce light pollution and provide programs to inspire stargazing. You can stargaze on your own, or join one of the many public programs offered throughout the year.

You don’t even need to venture all the way into the park to enjoy some incredible nighttime views. Simply step outside of your room at The Chuckwagon Lodge on a clear night, and you’ll be treated to some amazing views.

7. The Park Features Three Distinct Sections

Capitol Reef National Park is actually divided up into three separate sections. 

The Fruita Historic District is one of the most popular. Here, you’ll find the historic Fruita orchards, as well as the Gifford House and other historic homes and buildings. The next most popular section is the Waterpocket Fold. This is where many of the park’s most popular hiking trails are located.

The final section of the park is Cathedral Valley. Cathedral Road winds through this lesser-known section of the park. This unpaved road isn’t heavily traveled, likely because a four-wheel-drive vehicle is a must. But if you have one, you can enjoy the stunning sight of monoliths rising thousands of feet above the desert floor. You can also join an off-road tour to experience this beautiful section of the park.

Planning a Visit to Capitol Reef National Park

From the three unique districts of Capitol Reef National Park to its massive size, these are just a few of the facts that first-time visitors might not know.

Another important fact that can have a big impact on your stay? How staying at a nearby hotel like The Chuckwagon Lodge can make a huge difference. Staying close to the park’s entrance makes it easy to get to and from Capitol Reef for a day of hiking, off-roading, and exploring. Book your stay at The Chuckwagon Lodge today to experience this amazing national park for yourself.

The Chuckwagon Blog

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