Nature & Science

Capitol Reef National Park protects many natural wonders, including geologic formations, unusual plants and animals, and amazing dark night skies.

 
Sparkling river with green banks, colorful cliffs nearby, and blue sky above.

Water in the Desert

Water shapes the landscape, gives life to plants and animals, and determines where people live and prosper.

Night skies in Capitol Reef National Park

International Dark Sky Park

Discover Capitol Reef's dark night skies.

A hiker standing under Hickman Natural Bridge

Geology

Learn about the geologic processes that created the Waterpocket Fold.

Tree-toed proto-dinosaur swim smears fossilized in mud.

Fossils

Learn about the fossil record in Capitol Reef.

Large, rounded black boulders with red cactus flowers in foreground and large red sandstone cliffs a

Basalt Boulders

Discover how these volcanic rocks fit into the Capitol Reef geologic story.

Bumpy black crust covering ground, with a few grasses mixed in.

Biological Soil Crust

Protect fragile biological soil crusts and "don't bust the crust!"

Large bighorn ram with curled horn stepping on black boulders with trees in background.

Wildlife

Discover some of the wild animals that live in Capitol Reef.

Large golden monoliths with blue sky in the background and rocks, plants, and trail in foreground.

Research in Capitol Reef

Scientists monitor many aspects of Capitol Reef, including air and water quality, invasive species, and landscape dynamics.

Pinkish red flowers on long green stems, with green leaves at the base.

Plants

Learn about some of Capitol Reef's plant species.

A gray bird perched on a wooden fencepost.

Species Lists

Find the species lists for plants and animals found in Capitol Reef.

A bright yellow flower with dark brown center.

Plants of the Northern Colorado Plateau

A photo gallery of plants studied by the Northern Colorado Plateau Network.

Large brown rock in cliff, with yellow arrow and some green vegetation.

Stromatolites

Stromatolites are very ancient fossils found in the Navajo Sandstone.

 

Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres in Utah's slickrock country. The park protects a huge geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, a nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth's crust. A diverse landscape with 19 different rock layers and elevations ranging from 3,880 ft (1183 m) to 8,960 ft (2731 m), supports a diverse array of plant and animal life, big and small. Biological soil crust is on the smaller side, containing a tiny ecosystem of cyanobacteria, fungi, lichen, moss and algae. These lumpy black crusts growing on undisturbed ground protect sandy desert soils from erosion. When visiting the park, stay on trail so as not to "bust the crust."

The Waterpocket Fold has been a formidable obstacle for travelers and explorers. The 100-mile stretch of cliffs and canyons limited settlement and the area remains remote by today's standards. A lack of nearby cities has preserved the clear dark skies overhead. Capitol Reef has some of the darkest night skies in the country, and was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. As part of this designation, park staff perform ongoing monitoring of night sky conditions throughout the park.

Additional monitoring of park resources is performed by the Northern Colorado Plateau Inventory and Monitoring Network. This organization conducts long-term inventory, monitoring, analysis, and reporting on key park resources to assess the condition of park ecosystems and develop a stronger scientific basis for stewardship and management of natural resources. At Capitol Reef, the network maintains the park species lists and monitors air quality, climate, riparian and upland systems, invasive exotic plants, land surface phenology, landscape dynamics, landbirds, and water quality.

Fast Facts

  • Area of Park: ~381 square miles (243,921 acres; 98,711 hectares)
  • Highest Elevation: 8,960 ft (2731 m) in Upper Deep Creek drainage
  • Lowest Elevation: 3,880 ft (1183 m), where Halls Creek drainage exits the park
  • Average Warmest Month: July
  • Average Coldest Month: January
  • Average Wettest Month: August
  • Hottest Day Recorded: 104°F (40°C), June 26, 1970 and July 5, 1985
  • Coldest Day Recorded: -9°F (-23°C), January 7, 1971
  • Driest Year: 1973, 3.72 in (9.45 cm)
  • Wettest Year: 1957, 13.78 in (35.0 cm)
  • Total Species in Park: 1,164
  • Amphibians: 5
  • Birds: 233
  • Fish: 13
  • Mammals: 58
  • Reptiles: 16
  • Vascular Plants: 842
  • Threatened, Endangered, or Candidate Species: 8


Utah sensitive species lists are available from the Utah Division of Wildlife and State Natural Heritage Program. Statistics are drawn from IRMA.nps.gov, the Northern Colorado Plateau Network, and the Western Regional Climate Center.

 

Explore Biodiversity

Have you ever taken a picture of a flower, or lizard, or an unusual lichen? You can keep track of the biodiversity you see when you are in a national park, or wherever you go, with iNaturalist. Check out Capitol Reef’s iNaturalist project. Learn more about how you can help document the various life forms in our national parks. Explore Biodiversity in national park sites.
 

Last updated: January 23, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

HC 70, Box 15
Torrey, UT 84775

Phone:

435-425-3791
Recorded park information available 24 hours a day. Phones are answered when staff is available. If no one answers, please leave a message, your call will be returned. Questions may also be sent to care_information@nps.gov.

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