Exploring Capitol Reef National Park & Canyonlands

Of all the national parks we visited last month, we spent the least amount of time in Capitol Reef and Canyonlands.  We just didn’t have the time and had to make a decision.  Each park was en route to our overnight destination and we thereby had time only to see the highlights and complete the Junior Ranger books.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef’s rich cultural history dates back to early hunters and gatherers and more recently Mormon pioneers who settled the area in the 1800s. Around 500 CE, Fremont Culture changed from food foraging groups, to farmers of corn, beans and squash. Petroglyphs etched in rock walls and painted pictographs remain as sacred remnants of the ancient Indians’ saga. Explorers, Mormon pioneers and others arrived in the 1800s, settling in what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, and peaches.

If you visit Capitol Reef National Park and have the time, I would suggest checking out their Family Fun Backpack available at the visitor center.  The pack is full of pioneer games and tools to read a contour maps, identify night constellations, and improve your bird-watching skills. The Ripple Rock Nature Center is open in the summer months.  Here kids can explore spin wool, make cornmeal on a prehistoric grinding stone, and learn to identify fossils.

Our Highlights at Capitol Reef

  • Stopped at the visitor center and watched the park movie
  • Toured the the historic Gifford Homestead
  • Enjoyed a fresh baked fruit pie
  • Drove the Scenic Drive
  • Took the Junior Ranger pledge
  • Visited the petroglyph panel and historic schoolhouse

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park was impressive.  I think we were more in awe of the canyon here than we were of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  The pictures don’t even do it justice.  The park is divided into four districts by the Green and Colorado rivers: the Island in the Sky, the Maze, the Needles, and the rivers themselves.  Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits, this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possesses remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem.

As The Island in the Sky is the most accessible district, offering expansive views from many overlooks along the paved scenic drive, this was the only district we had time to explore.  The Needles District offers more of a backcountry experience, requiring some hiking or four-wheel driving to see the area’s attractions and The Maze is a remote district requiring considerably more time and self-reliance to visit.

Like Capitol Reef, Canyonlands National Park also provides families with the opportunity to borrow an Explorer Pack. These packs contain binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide, a notebook and more.  In addition, the Canyon Country Outdoor Education program has developed numerous curriculum packages for grades 1-6.

Our Highlights at Canyonlands

  • Stopped at the visitor center and watched the park movie
  • Drove the Scenic Drive
  • Took the Junior Ranger pledge

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

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