Capitol Reef National Park’s best sights along Route 24 scenic byway are varied–you’ll find the expected stunning vistas to historical buildings, petroglyphs and a small but amazingly photogenic waterfall. Utah State Route 24 drops westward from the broad mountain valley near Torrey onto Sulphur Creek, with dramatic rock formations soaring to the horizon. A huge amphitheater of stone rings the basin, with formations such as Twin Rocks, Chimney Rock, and the Castle glowing in deep red and yellow tones. Ahead, the canyon narrows as the Fremont River slips between the cliffs to carve its chasm through the Waterpocket Fold.
Take in the incredible view from Panorama Point, 2.5 miles west of the visitors center on the south side of Highway 24. Follow signs south for 250 yards to Panorama Point and views of Capitol Reef, the distant Henry Mountains to the east, and looming Boulder Mountain to the west. The large black basalt boulders were swept down from Boulder Mountain to the reef as part of giant debris flows between 8,000 and 200,000 years ago.
On a gravel road one mile south of Panorama Point are the Goosenecks of Sulphur Creek. A short trail leads to Goosenecks Overlook (elevation 6,400 feet) on the rim for dizzying views of the creek below. Canyon walls display shades of yellow, green, brown, and red. Another easy trail leads 0.3 mile to Sunset Point and panoramic views of the Capitol Reef cliffs and the distant Henry Mountains.
Historic Fruita School
Remnants of the pioneer community of Fruita stretch along the narrow Fremont River Canyon. The Fruita Schoolhouse is just east of the visitors center on the north side of Highway 24. Early settlers completed this one-room log structure, housing grades one through eight, in 1896. Mormon church meetings, dances, town meetings, elections, and other community gatherings took place here. A lack of students caused the school to close in 1941. Although the schoolhouse is locked, you can peer inside the windows and take photos.
Farther down the canyon, 1.2 miles east of the visitors center on the north side of Highway 24, are several panels of Fremont petroglyphs; watch for the road signs and parking area. Several mountain sheep and human figures with headdresses decorate the cliff. You can see more petroglyphs by walking to the left and right along the cliff face. Stay on the trail, and do not climb the talus slope.
Behunin Cabin is 6.2 miles east of the visitors center on the south side of Highway 24. Elijah Cutlar Behunin used blocks of sandstone to build this cabin in about 1882. For several years, Behunin, his wife, and 11 of their 13 children shared this sturdy but quite small cabin (the kids slept outside). They moved on when flooding made life too difficult. Small openings allow a look inside the dirt-floored structure, but no furnishings remain.
Fremont River Waterfall
Near the end of the narrow sandstone canyon, a small waterfall, created when the Fremont River was rerouted in 1962 to accommodate the highway, attracts photographers. The river twists through a narrow artificial crack in the rock before making its final plunge into a pool below. Take the sandy path from the parking area to where you can safely view the falls from below.
The pool beneath the falls used to be a popular swimming hole, but water dynamics have changed over the years; the National Park Service closed it to swimming in 2011, when three people almost drowned because of the extremely heavy flow and strong currents. Parking is 6.9 miles east of the visitors center, near milepost 86, on the north side of Highway 24. This area is closed during the warmer months and opens again when it’s too cold for people to be tempted to swim.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Zion & Bryce.