The least visited of Utah's five national parks, Capitol Reef, may also have the greatest variety of terrain. There are hundreds of miles of backcountry roads and trails, as well as a scenic drive to complement the main park road, where rock art created a thousand years ago by the Fremont Indians is visible from a car window.
The Waterpocket Fold, one of the most magnificent geologic features in all of southern Utah, is accessible by way of the Burr Trail, a mostly paved road that cuts through the spine of the park. Check on road conditions before heading onto the Burr Trail.
Tom Cox, the chief ranger at Capitol Reef, said vehicles and hikers can find plenty of solitude in the park's backcountry areas. The Cathedral Valley, a set of strangely sculpted stone fins and pinnacles, is accessible by dirt road.
"There's usually mild weather and a lack of snow, so most of the park is still accessible to the people who want to get into the backcountry," Cox says. "We are getting some backcountry use, but in relation to the busy season it's way, way down. We get maybe two or three groups a day on the weekend."
A major September flash flood wiped out roads and trails in the Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge areas of the park, but crews have rebuilt the trails. The scenic drive road is still under repair, so Grand Wash can be visited by vehicle only on weekends and the Capitol Gorge area won't be accessible until spring.
Two of the three campground loops are open, and some of the restrooms are heated. "That's more than enough to accommodate winter visitors," says Cox.
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Written by Jim Wright for GORP.
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