Capitol Reef National Park is an impressive park that really doesn’t get enough air time. I suppose when you’re competing with Zion that will happen. However, I think that Capitol Reef is a can’t-miss southern Utah destination that offers some similar attractions as Zion but without the crowds.
About the Park
Capitol Reef’s headlining attraction is the 100 mile Waterpocket Fold – basically a wrinkle on the surface of the earth. A really, really big rock wrinkle. There seems to be a little bit of everything in this park from mountains to creeks to still-functioning orchards that were planted when a group of Mormons settled inside what is now the park boundary in 1880. If you’re lucky, some trees will be available for harvest during your visit and you can pick your own fruit!
Hiking and backpacking is very popular in the park, despite the desolate and harsh summer conditions and lack of water sources along the trails.
The Scenic Drive
About that harsh weather… We visited in August. It was hot. While we did take a hike, we had limited time in the park and chose to cover as much ground as possible via car by taking in a driving tour. We went with the Great Wash, an unpaved road back into the park’s canyons. A wash is basically the bed of a dried up stream that only flows occasionally (essentially a flash flood zone), so we were warned that at any sight of rain we needed to hightail it out of the wash and up to higher, paved ground.
The drive is short, but does take a while due to the unpaved, rocky, bouncy road and the need to take in all of the jaw-dropping scenery. The drive is full of interesting geology, even some canyon walls that look just like underwater reefs. These are actually pockets of rock and minerals that have been eroded over time, but they certainly help you understand how the park got its name!