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Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park - BEST Places to Picnic

HC 70 Box 15
Torrey, UT 84775

Visitor Information
(435) 425-3791 ext. 111

WELCOME to Capitol Reef!

The Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long wrinkle in the earth's crust known as a monocline, extends from nearby Thousand Lakes Mountain to the Colorado River (now Lake Powell). Capitol Reef National Park was established to protect this grand and colorful geologic feature, as well as the unique natural and cultural history found in the area.

Picnic Area

  • Burr Trail Switchback
  • Studhorse Peaks
  • Visitor Center


Called "Wayne Wonderland" in the 1920s by local boosters Ephraim P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman, Capitol Reef National Park comprises 378 square miles of colorful canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths. 

About 75 miles of the long up-thrust called the Waterpocket Fold, extending like a rugged spine from Thousand Lake Plateau southward to Lake Powell, is preserved within the park boundary. Capitol Reef is the name of an especially rugged and spectacular part of the Waterpocket Fold near the Fremont River.


Only a few decades ago, Capitol Reef and the Waterpocket Fold country comprised one of the remote corners of the lower 48 states. Easy road access came only with the construction of a paved Utah Highway 24 through the Fremont River Canyon in 1962.

The earliest traces of human activity date from the 9th century when Native American Indian peoples occupied the flood plains and high ground near the few perennial watercourses. These people, called the Fremont Culture by archeologists, were contemporaries of the Ancestral Puebloans of the Four Corners area. Between 1250 and 1500, evidence of the Fremont Culture becomes rare and gradually ceased to exist. 

A complex combination of environmental and social pressures may have led to this change, but no definitive explanation has been found.

Not for several centuries did significant human activity reappear. When the first white explorers traveled in the vicinity of the Waterpocket Fold, both Ute and Southern Paiute nomads were encountered.

Despite the fact that numerous expeditions passed near Capitol Reef, none of them explored the Waterpocket Fold to any great extent. John Charles Fremont passed through the Cathedral Valley in 1854, finding the region, as it is now, incredibly rugged and forbidding.

Following the Civil War, Mormon church officials at Salt Lake City sought to establish missions in the remotest niches of the intermountain west. In 1866, a quasi-military expedition or Mormons in pursuit of Native American Indians penetrated the high valleys to the west. In the 1870s, settlers moved into these valleys, eventually establishing Loa, Fremont, Lyman, Bicknell, and Torrey. Meanwhile, men from the expeditions of Major John Wesley Powell had begun to explore the area.

In the early 1880s, settlers moved into Capitol Reef country. Tiny communities sprung up along the life-sustaining Fremont River; Junction (later renamed Fruita), Caineville and Aldridge were created. Fruita prospered; Caineville barely survived; Aldridge died.

By 1920, the work was hard but the life in Fruita was good. No more than ten families at one time were sustained by the fertile flood plain of the Fremont River and the land changed ownership over the years. The area remained isolated.


On August 2, 1937, in Proclamation 2246, President Roosevelt set aside 37,711 acres of the Capitol Reef area, making it a National Monument. This comprised an area extending about two miles north of present Utah Hwy 24 and about ten miles south, just past Capitol Gorge. More highly protective federal regulations now applied in "Wayne Wonderland".

These Depression years were lean ones for the National Park Service (NPS), the new administering agency. Funds for the administration of Capitol Reef were nonexistent; it would be a long time before the first rangers would arrive.


During the 1960s (under the program name Mission 66), NPS areas nationwide received new facilities to meet the demand of mushrooming park visitation . At Capitol Reef, a 53-site campground at Fruita, staff rental housing, and a new visitor center were built, the latter opening in 1966.

Visitation climbed dramatically after the paved, all-weather road was built through the Fremont River canyon near Fruita and the old Capitol Gorge road closed. 146,598 persons visited the park in 1967. The staff was also growing.

During the 1960s, the NPS proceeded to purchase private land parcels at Fruita and Pleasant Creek. Most private property passed into public ownership on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis.

Preservationists successfully convinced President Johnson to set aside an enormous area of public lands in 1968, just before he left office. In Presidential Proclamation 3888, an additional 215,056 acres were placed under NPS control. By 1970, Capitol Reef National Monument comprised 254,251 acres and stretched southeast from Thousand Lake Mountain almost to the Colorado River. The action was locally controversial, and NPS staffing at the monument was inadequate to properly manage the additional land.


The vast enlargement of the monument and addition of diverse resources soon raised another issue: Whether or not Capitol Reef should be a national park, rather than a monument. Two bills were introduced into Congress.

A House bill (H.R. 17152) introduced by Utah Congressman Laurence J. Burton, called for an 180 thousand acre national park and an adjunct 48 thousand acre national recreation area where multiple use (including grazing) could continue indefinitely.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Senate bill S. 531 had already passed on July 1, 1970 providing for a 230 thousand acre national park alone. The bill called for a 25 year phase-out of grazing.

In September 1970, Department of Interior officials told a house subcommittee session that they preferred that about 254 thousand acres be set aside as a national park. They also recommended a ten-year grazing phase-out period, rather than a 25-year period. They did not favor the adjunct recreation area concept.

It was not until late 1971 that Congressional action was completed. By then, the 92nd Congress was in session and S. 531 had languished. A new bill, S. 29, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Frank M. Moss of Utah and was essentially the same as the defunct S. 531 except that it called for an additional 10,834 acres of public lands for a Capitol Reef National Park. In the House, Utah Representative Gunn McKay (with Representative Lloyd) had introduced H.R. 9053 to replace the dead H.R. 17152. This time, the House bill dropped the concept of an adjunct Capitol Reef National Recreation Area and adopted the Senate concept of a 25 year limit on continued grazing.

The Department of Interior was still recommending a national park of 254,368 acres and a 10-year limit for grazing phase-out.

S. 29 passed the Senate in June and was sent to the House. The House subsequently dropped its own bill and passed the Senate version with an amendment. Since the Senate was not in agreement with the House amendment, differences were worked out in Conference Committee. The Conference Committee issued their agreeing report on November 30, 1971.

The legislation - "An Act to Establish The Capitol Reef National park in the State of Utah" - became Public Law 92-207 when it was signed by President Nixon on December 18, 1971.

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