Capitol Reef National Park and Boulder, Utah

Capitol Reef is one of the least visited National Parks in the United States. Despite this, it and the surrounding area is a photographer's paradise, especially in the Fall when the Aspen, Cottonwoods, and Poplar are changing color. Aspen are found on Boulder Mountain which is about 15 miles south and a bit west of Capitol Reef on Highway 12. Highway 12 is often named as the most scenic highway in America and the drive over Boulder Mountain from Boulder Utah to Torrey is spectacular when the Aspen are changing. This usually occurs about the last week of September and can be short lived if there is an early snowfall or high wind. Cottonwoods and Poplar trees are found along Sulfur Creek and the Fremont River, and along the Dirty Devil river in Hanksville. The last week of October is a good time to catch them changing. Some of the areas to visit in the area include:

In Capitol Reef

  • Sulfur Creek and the Castle - across from the visitor center
  • The picnic area has many poplar trees and is very good in late October, mule deer are often present but shy.
  • There is a small waterfall on the Fremont River on the left just past Behunin Cabin on Highway 24. Park at the pullout on the North side just east of Behunin Cabin marked by a sign that states no jumping, diving, ...
  • The twin rocks near the west entrance on Highway 24 photograph well in the spring when there are wildflowers present. A good sunset shot.
  • Panorama point near the West entrance at sunset.
  • Strike Valley Overlook - off the Burr Trail three miles from the west end of the road (intersection of the Burr Trail and the Notom Bullfrog Road). If you are coming from the East the turnoff is about 30 miles from Boulder Utah on the Burr Trail. To reach the trailhead turn north off the Burr Trail and drive about 3.25 miles to the trailhead and sign the trail register. This road is only passable to 4WD vehicles. From the trailhead it is about .35 miles to the overlook.

Cathedral Valley

  • Cathedral Valley is perhaps the most photogenic part of Capitol Reef. There are two access roads into Cathedral Valley from the South, and several from the North. Access from the North is via the Thousand Lakes region from I70 and will not be covered here despite being very scenic and worth exploring. Almost all visitors, and there are few, come in via the South. A 4WD vehicle is required to access the area. Cathedral Valley is accessed via a 60 mile long loop road from Highway 24. Allow at least four hours to travel the loop and probably a lot more. To complete the loop requires fording the Fremont River. Water levels in the Fremont are usually less than a foot and the ford is normally not difficult. You should ask about conditions at the Visitor Center in Capitol Reef before attempting it. The crossing is 2.7 miles from the east boundary of Capitol Reef on Highway 24 and is clearly signed. It is recommended that if you drive the loop road you start with the river ford so that if there are any problems you find out about them immediately rather than driving 60 miles and having to return the same way you came. The other southern access is via Caineville Road which intersects Highway 24 9.3 miles from the east boundary of the park (18.6 miles from the visitor center). Most of Caineville road is on BLM land and you can freely car camp overnight along the road. To car camp within Capitol Reef NP you must park in a designated campground.
  • Temple of the Sun and Moon - if you are not driving the full loop of Cathedral Valley easiest access is via Caineville Road. Drive 15.3 miles from the intersection of Caineville Road and Highway 24 and turn left onto the signed dirt road. Temple of the Moon is about 2 miles down this road, park a bit before it so that your car is not in your pictures. The temples are best photographed in the morning with the best time of year being around the spring or fall solstice when light will hit them earliest. At dawn they take on a wonderful red glow. If you are photographing both "temples" I suggest walking 100 yards or so south of Temple of the Moon before shooting. This will make the Temple of the Sun more prominent. Otherwise it will appear very small in your picture despite being taller than the Temple of the Moon. The shot of both temples is almost due North so this is a good "star trails" location. If you intend to shoot at dawn you can either drive Caineville road in the dark, plan on at least an hour to do this, or car camp pretty much anywhere on Caineville Road. You cannot camp at the temples themselves since they are within the national park where camping is permitted only in designated campgrounds. If you plan to shoot both temples in the evening you need to be there a few hours before sunset, otherwise one temple will be in shadow. Glass Mountain is close by, to me it is uninteresting.
  • Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook is a good evening location and is 30 miles from the River ford. A short hike is needed to get to the overlook. Best a bit before sunset, you can camp at the NPS Cathedral Valley campground - pit toilets, no fee, no water. Six sites available, first come, first served. Very unlikely it would ever be filled.
  • South Desert Overlook is an evening location 27 miles from the river ford.
  • Bentonite Hills is a great location 9 miles from the river ford. It photographs best a few hours after sunrise or before sunset, otherwise they are in shadow. If there is heavy rain the road at the hills is impassable and you will have difficulty even walking on the clay based soil.

National Park Service Map

Below is the official Capitol Reef National Park map as a jpeg and in three geocoded formats, (GeoTIFF, KMZ file, Oruxmaps). The official park map as a PDF can be found here.

Capitol Reef National Park Service Map


Google Map of Capitol Reef


Google Map of Capitol Reef National Park

To view the map in Google Maps please click anywhere on the map above.

USGS 24K Topo Maps

Capitol Reef and the surrounding area is covered by 27 topo maps. Due to the size of the park I've provided two distinct merge maps of the area, one for locations generally north of Highway 24, and one for locations south. I suggest you download both if you plan to hike in the park extensively. Here are the maps included in each.


Capitol Reef North Index Map


Topo maps covering Capitol Reef south of Highway 24

Capitol Reef South Index Map

Capitol Reef South Index Map

The maps can be downloaded in a variety of formats by clicking or right clicking in the table to the right (or below):


Geo Tiff/Avenza KMZ Oruxmaps KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Bear Canyon KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Bitter Creek Divide KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Cathedral Mountain KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Cave Flat KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Deer Point KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Egypt KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Flat Top KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Fruita NW KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Fruita KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Horse Pasture Mesa KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Geyser Peak KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Golden Throne KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Lamp Stand KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Notom KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Pioneer Mesa KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Salvation Creek KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Sandy Creek Benches KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Scorpion Gulch KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Silver Falls Bench KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Solomons Temple KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Steele Butte KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Stevens Canyon North KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Stevens Mesa KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
The Post KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Torrey KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Twin Rocks KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Wagon Box Mesa KMZ Oruxmap KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Merged Capitol Reef maps north of Highway 24 NA NA KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared
Merged Capitol Reef maps south of Highway 24 NA NA KMZ Decollared Oruxmap Decollared Avenza Decollared

Outside the Park

Boulder Town has a spectacular hoodoo called "Balancing Rock" about one mile west of town near Highway 12. The hoodoo can be seen from the highway, look north. It is best photographed near sunset. The hoodoo can only be shot from its south and west sides, there are cliffs to the north and east. Balancing Rock may be on private state owned land but no one was present when I hiked there. There is a no trespassing sign on the land west of the hoodoo near Highway 12. Conversely the Boulder Town topo map has a line marked "Boundary" just to the west of the hoodoo itself, whether this is the boundary of the state land is not clear. To get to Balancing Rock park as shown on the map below, cross the barbed wire fence wherever you can, and hike north about .35 miles to your destination.

Here is a map showing the track I took to the hoodoo:


Google Map showing the route to Balanced Rock near Boulder, Utah

To view the map in Google Maps please click anywhere on the map above.

  • Click to download a KML file of the entire area (Note - in IE Right Click and choose Save Target as)
  • Click to download a GPX file of the entire area (Note - in IE Right Click and choose Save Target as)
  • Balancing Rock is clearly labelled on the USGS 24K topo map Boulder Town available below.

    Boulder Mountain has a great many lakes accessed from spur roads off of Highway 12. In late September when the Aspen are changing the views from Highway 12 as it crosses the mountain are wonderful. Snow as early as mid September is possible but the road is regularly plowed and is normally open throughout the winter. You can also access the Boulder Mountain area via the South Draw Road which runs from the end of the paved section of the Scenic drive all the way to Highway 12. Both ends are marked "Pleasant Creek". This road can be difficult even for 4WD vehicles and is not open in the winter. The town of Boulder is a good place to stay in the area, Boulder Mountain Lodge and Hell's Backbone Grill are both excellent though pricey - reservations are needed at both, well in advance for the lodge. The town of Boulder is midway between Capitol Reef and the Escalante National Monument.


Boulder Town Index Map

Boulder Town Area Topo Mop

USGS 24K Topo Maps for the town of Boulder and vicinity can be downloaded in a variety of formats by clicking or right clicking in the table to the right (or below):


The Castle in Capitol Reef National Park

The Castle

Strike Valley Overlook in Capitol Reef National Park

Strike Valley Overlook

Poplar trees at the picnic area in Capitol Reef National Park

The Picnic Area

Fremont River Waterfall Capitol Reef National Park

Fremont River Waterfall

Twin Rocks in Capitol Reef National Park

The Twin Rocks

The view from Panorama Point in Capitol Reef National Park

Panorama Point

Temple of the Sun and Moon in Capitol Reef National Park

Temple of the Sun and Moon

The Bentonite Hills in Capitol Reef National Park

The Bentonite Hills

Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook in Capitol Reef National Park

Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook

The South Desert Overlook in Capitol Reef National Park

South Desert Overlook

Balancing Rock Hoodoo near Boulder, Utah

Balancing Rock