Getting Around Capitol Reef
Negotiating Capitol Reef National Park is pretty much straightforward...until you leave the pavement.
The main road is Utah 24, which cuts the park in two. It comes into the park from Torrey, Utah, just to the west, passes through Fruita and the park's Visitor Center, and heads off to the east towards Hanksville.
If you turn off the highway towards the Visitor Center, you can continue on for about a mile to the campground. Keep on heading south from there and you'll be on the park's Scenic Drive, which runs about 8 miles. This route provides access to Grand Wash, Capitol Gorge, Pleasant Creek, and the South Draw Road.
The Scenic Drive is a paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that, weather permitting, are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return on the same road. An entrance fee of $5 per vehicle is charged for the Scenic Drive.
Now, the other roads in the park aren't quite so easy to navigate in a sedan.
South Draw Road
The South Draw Road is a high clearance 4-wheel-drive road that extends from Pleasant Creek to the park boundary near Tantalus Flats. The South Draw Road is rough and rocky, includes several creek crossings, and, in inclement weather, becomes impassable to even 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The South Draw Road is reached by following the Pleasant Creek Road from the end of the Scenic Drive to the crossing at Pleasant Creek. The South Draw Road climbs upward from Pleasant Creek, exits the park, and eventually meets Utah Hwy 12 at 8,500 feet (2,591 m) on Boulder Mountain. The access to the South Draw Road from Boulder Mountain is closed in winter, and access from Pleasant Creek is not possible, except during the mildest winters, due to snow.
The Notom-Bullfrog road intersects Utah Hwy 24 9.3 miles (15.0 km) east of the Capitol Reef Visitor Center and extends south to Bullfrog Marina and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This road is paved for the first 11 miles (17.7 km), and then becomes dirt. The road runs along the eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold and offers excellent scenery and hiking opportunities. Access to many of the park's backcountry trails, such as Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek Narrows can be found off this road. While portions of the road outside the park are paved, the majority of the Notom-Bullfrog road is dirt and subject to changes in weather conditions. Visitors are advised to check with the visitor center before setting out.
Burr Trail Road
The Burr Trail road, originally a cattle trail blazed by stockman John Atlantic Burr, extends from the town of Boulder on Utah Hwy 12 to the Notom-Bullfrog Road, and continues to the Bullfrog Marina and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Much of the road lies outside the boundary of Capitol Reef and traverses the Circle Cliffs, Long Canyon, and The Gulch. The 5.3 mile (8.5 km) stretch of road inside Capitol Reef includes a breathtaking set of switchbacks rising some 800 feet (244 m) in only one- half mile (0.8 km). These switchbacks are not considered suitable for RVs or vehicles towing trailers. From Boulder to the west boundary of Capitol Reef, the Burr Trail road is surfaced. Inside the park it remains a graded dirt road and is subject to change due to weather conditions. Visitors should inquire about road and weather conditions before traveling.
The Harnet road, or southern half of the Cathedral Valley Loop, begins 11.8 miles (19.0 km) east of the Visitor Center off Utah Hwy 24. In order to take this route to Cathedral Valley, visitors must ford the Fremont River soon after leaving the highway, which may require a high-clearance or HC4WD vehicle. The remaining 24 miles (38.6 km) to the top of the loop afford expansive view of the Blue Flats and the South Desert. The northern end of the loop nears Thousand Lake Mountain, and the geology and topography change greatly with the subsequent gain in elevation. Conditions on the Hartnet road vary widely based on recent weather. At best, high clearance vehicles are recommended and visitors should check with the visitor center for the most current road information.
Caineville Wash Road
The Caineville Wash Road, or eastern side of the Cathedral Valley Loop, begins 18.6 miles (29.9 km) east of the Visitor Center. By taking this route into Cathedral Valley, visitors avoid the Fremont River Ford on the Hartnet side of the loop; however, those planning on driving the entire loop are encouraged to begin at the River Ford to be certain they are able to make the crossing. The Temples of the Sun and Moon are located 16.5 miles (26.6 km) up the road in Lower Cathedral Valley. These massive monoliths rise from the desert floor. Further north in Upper Cathedral Valley, columns of spire-like formations dominate the landscape. Conditions on the Caineville Wash road vary widely based on recent weather. Check with the visitor center for current road information.