Contact Capitol Reef National Park, HC 70 Box 15, Torrey, UT 84775 (tel. 435/425-3791, ext. 111; www.nps.gov/care). Books and maps are available from the nonprofit Capitol Reef Natural History Association, Capitol Reef National Park, HC 70 Box 15, Torrey, UT 84775 (tel. 435/425-4106; www.capitolreefnha.org).
For additional information on area lodging, dining, and activities, contact the Wayne County Travel Council, P.O. Box 7, Teasdale, UT 84773 (tel. 800/858-7951 or 435/425-3365; www.capitolreef.travel), which operates a visitor center at the junction of Utah highways 12 and 24, April through October, Sunday through Thursday 9am to 5pm and Friday and Saturday 8am to 7pm.
The park visitor center is on the Scenic Drive at its intersection with Utah 24. A path connects it to the campground, passing the historic blacksmith shop, orchards, and a shaded picnic ground. The visitor center, open daily from 8am to 6pm in summer (shorter hours at other times), has exhibits on the geology and history of the area, and a video about the park. Rangers answer questions and provide backcountry permits. You can also pick up free brochures and buy books, maps, videos, postcards, and posters.
The Ripple Rock Nature Center, about 3/4 mile south of the visitor center along the Scenic Drive, offers exhibits and activities especially for children. It's open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend only. Check at the visitor center for its current hours.
Fees & Permits
Entry to the park is free, although it costs $5 per vehicle (including motorcycles) or $3 person on foot or bicycle to access the scenic drive beyond the main campground (pass valid for up to 7 days). Camping in the main campground costs $10 per night; two primitive campgrounds are free. Free backcountry permits (available at the visitor center) are required for all overnight hikes.
Special Regulations & Warnings
Although most visitors to the park enjoy a wonderful vacation without mishap, problems can occur. Hikers need to carry plenty of water, especially in summer. A major concern is weather: Afternoon thunderstorms in July, August, and September can bring flash floods, which fill narrow canyons suddenly and without warning. Steep-walled Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge can be particularly hazardous and should be avoided whenever storms are threatening.
Because wildlife refuses to follow park rules regarding wildlife diet, campers should be careful of where and how they store food, and dispose of garbage promptly.
Seasons & Climate
Because of its higher elevation, Capitol Reef doesn't get as hot as some other Southwestern parks, but summer temperatures can be uncomfortably warm on the trails without shade. Winters can be very pleasant -- snow falls occasionally but doesn't usually last, and temperatures are often in the 50s (teens Celsius). Late winter and spring are frequently windy.
Depending on the weather, the Scenic Drive sometimes closes, most often in late summer during flash-flood season and occasionally in winter due to snow. When it's closed, you still have access to a network of trails from Utah 24 and can get to the picnic area and campground.
Avoiding the Crowds
Although Capitol Reef receives fewer than 700,000 visitors annually, it can still be busy, especially during its peak season, which lasts from April through September. For this reason, the best time to visit is fall, particularly in October and November, when temperatures are usually warm enough for hiking and camping, but not so high as to send you constantly in search of shade. You also don't have to be as worried about flash floods through narrow canyons as you do during thunderstorm season, July through September.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.