June 12, 2024
Cathedral Valley featured photo

Cathedral Valley featured photo

Capitol Reef National Park is a unique and beautiful place to visit. This guide will guide you in everything you need to know about the park, from attractions to climate to hiking trails.

Capitol Reef National Park: What’s There, Where to See, and Things to do in Utah’s Last Wilderness

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Cathedral Valley featured photo 1
Photo by D. Saparow

Introduction to Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah and is one of the most spectacular and rugged places in the entire United States. It is home to a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust known as the Waterpocket Fold, a unique geologic feature that was formed millions of years ago. The park also includes historical and cultural sites such as the old log schoolhouse and the village of Fruita.

The area was originally inhabited by the Native American Paiute tribe who used the land for hunting, gathering, and fishing. Later, in the late 1800s, European American settlers arrived and established homesteads in the area. The settlement of Fruita, located at the heart of Capitol Reef, was founded in 1880 by Mormon settlers and quickly became a thriving agricultural community.

Today, Capitol Reef National Park celebrates 50 years since it was established in 1971. The park is open all year and offers a variety of activities, including scenic drives, hikes, horseback rides, and jeep tours. It is also home to a variety of wildlife and provides educational opportunities such as ranger-led programs and guided canyoneering tours.

With its stunning landscapes, incredible geology, and rich cultural history, Capitol Reef National Park is the perfect place to explore and experience the beauty of the West.

Things to Do, Things to See

1. Capitol Reef National Park

Visitors to Capitol Reef National Park will find a stunning landscape of red and white sandstone cliffs, domes, canyons, and bridges formed by the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline extending almost 100 miles.

The park also offers a variety of attractions and activities that are perfect for any outdoor enthusiast. From hiking and biking to horseback riding, backpacking, climbing, and even camping, visitors can explore the wonders of nature in the heart of red rock country.

Capitol Reef National Park offers visitors the chance to experience the history of the area with tours of the Fremont Culture Indian rock art and the Mormon pioneer homesteads.

2. Colorado River

The Colorado River is a major river in the western United States, flowing through the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California. It is the primary source of water for the arid regions of the Colorado Plateau, including Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef National Park, and the four corners region of the United States.

The Colorado River originates in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and flows southward for 1,450 miles (2,330 km), forming the Colorado River Delta before emptying into the Gulf of California, in Mexico.

Along its course, the Colorado River passes through the steep and rugged Grand Canyon, one of the world’s most iconic landmarks. It is also the main source of water for the Colorado River Basin, a vast watershed encompassing much of the southwestern United States.

The Colorado River is a lifeline for the many plants and animals that live along its banks and depend on it for their survival. It is also an important resource for irrigation and agricultural use, providing water to millions of people across the region.

3. Thousand Lake Mountain

Thousand Lake Mountain is a popular hike located in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, US. It is known for its breathtaking views over Sulphur Creek Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef National Park, Narrow rivers, and Chimney Rock. The most notable feature of Thousand Lake Mountain is the majestic Cathedral Valley, which is surrounded by towering rock formations, broken towers, and jagged shadows.

Hikers often flock to Thousand Lake Mountain for its dramatic scenery and the opportunity to explore the vast desert terrain. The hike itself is around nine miles and takes approximately five hours to complete. Along the way, hikers will pass by several unique natural features including petroglyphs and Fremont River. At the summit, hikers can take in the sweeping views of Capitol Reef National Park and the surrounding area.

The hike is popular among outdoor enthusiasts due to its challenging and rewarding terrain. It is a great way to explore nature, get some exercise, and take in some of the most beautiful sights in Utah.

Photo of Cathedral Valley Capitol Reef2
Photo by D. Saparow

4. Fremont River

The Fremont River is a perennial river located in the northern part of the Capitol Reef Waterpocket Fold in Utah, USA. It is an important river in the region as it is the source of sustenance for the ancient Fremont culture Native Americans who farmed maize and squash and stored their grain in stone granaries made from black basalt boulders.

Following the American Civil War, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also settled in the Fremont River valley and established various towns, such as Fruita, Caineville, and Aldridge. Besides agriculture, the river valley was also home to mining operations in the early 20th century, producing limestone and uranium.

The river is also a popular camping destination due to its proximity to Capitol Reef National Park. The park requires reservations to secure a spot and offers visitors access to ancient sites such as Fremont Indian rock shelters, pictographs, and grinding stones.

5. Hikes and Trails

In the Capitol Reef National Park, there are a variety of hiking trails and activities available to explore and enjoy. The most popular activities include: auto touring, biking, camping, climbing, fishing, hiking, historic and cultural site visits, horse camping, horseback riding, picnicking, and wildlife viewing.

There are trails for all levels of difficulty, from short and easy hikes to long and strenuous backpacking trips. Trails like the Cassidy Arch Trail, Chimney Rock Trail, Capitol Gorge Trail, Hickman Bridge Trail, Cohab Canyon Trail, Frying Pan Trail, Grand Wash Trail, Rim Overlook Trail, Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail, and Halls Creek Narrows are all popular.

For backcountry hikers, a permit is required. Dogs are allowed on leash along roads and in certain picnic areas, and are not allowed on hiking trails or in the backcountry.

A variety of permits are available for activities like canyoneering, rock climbing, backpacking, group activities, and commercial tours.

6. Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden gem in south-central Utah filled with stunning red rock landscapes, canyons, domes, and bridges. There are plenty of attractions and activities to explore in the park, such as admiring the red and white bands in the sandstone cliffs or taking in the sweeping vistas of the seemingly endless landscape.

You can also explore Cathedral Valley, or take in the beauty of winter in the park. For those with an adventurous spirit, the park offers plenty of activities including hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, mountain biking, four-wheeling, and camping. You can also go fishing, boating, and rafting in the nearby Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. No matter what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find something to explore in Capitol Reef National Park.

Cathedral Valley
Cathedral Valley Photo by D. Saparow

7. Fruita Campground

At Fruita Campground, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities such as camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing, swimming, birdwatching, and exploring the orchards. The campground also offers a unique opportunity to access the main attractions of Capitol Reef National Park, such as the Fruita Schoolhouse, the Fremont River, and the Cathedral Valley District. Additionally, visitors can enjoy a sunset at the Fruita Barn, visit the nearby Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, and experience the nearby primitive campgrounds and backcountry permits for even more exploration.

8. Monuments and Landmarks

Washington, D.C. is home to some of the most iconic monuments and landmarks in America. The most well-known of these is the Washington Monument, a 555-foot obelisk erected to honor the first President of the United States, George Washington. Also found in the city is the Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to the 16th President of the United States, as well as the Vietnam War Memorial and the Korean War Memorial, which pay tribute to those who served in both wars. Other monuments and landmarks found in the city include the U.S. Capitol Building, the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Jefferson Memorial. These monuments and landmarks offer visitors a chance to experience the history and culture of America and honor those who fought for freedom and justice.

9. Life in the Desert

The desert climate of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, US is characterized by dry, warm weather and significant nighttime temperature drops, particularly from November to March. Daytime temperatures in July and August typically reach 90°F (32°C), dropping off to the low 60s F (16°C) at night. Winters are cold, with overnight lows dropping to 20°F (-7°C) in December and January, and temperatures only rising to the low 40s F (5°C) during the day. The park receives an average of 7 inches (180 mm) of precipitation annually, mostly in the form of thunderstorms during the summer monsoon from July to September. Snow is possible from October to May, with the highest likelihood in December and January.

The vegetation of the park features a variety of desert plants, such as sagebrush, upland grasses, piñon pines, junipers, bristlecone pines, cottonwoods, willows, and wildflowers. Invasive exotics such as tamarisks and Russian olives are also present along the streams.

10. Rock Formations and Slopes

Joshua Tree National Park is home to a variety of rock formations and slopes, ranging from white domes of Navajo Sandstone to yellow Carmel Formation carbonate and more. The Wingate Sandstone is composed of sand dunes from an ancient sea, while the Kayenta Formation consists of thin-bedded layers of sand deposited by slow-moving streams. The Navajo Sandstone is composed of huge fossilized sand dunes from a massive desert. The Carmel Formation is made up of gypsum, sand, and limey silt, while the Entrada Sandstone is composed of sandstone from barrier islands/sand bars in a near-shore environment. The Curtis Formation is made of conglomerate, sandstone, and shale, while the Summerville Formation is composed of reddish-brown mud and white sand. Finally, the Morrison Formation is composed of mud and sand in channels, on lakebeds, and in swampy plains. I can find all of these rock formations and slopes in Joshua Tree National Park.

capitol reef cathedral district trail
capitol reef cathedral district trail

What to see and things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

1. Lake Powell and Colorado River

Capitol Reef National Park is situated along the northwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau, stretching for 70 miles from north-northwest to south-southeast. It is home to the 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold, a monocline formed by Earth’s crust, as well as a variety of other geological features.

The park is home to Lake Powell and the Colorado River, two of the most popular attractions in the area. The lake provides stunning views of the red rock formations, while the river offers opportunities for rafting, fishing, kayaking, and more. Other attractions at Capitol Reef National Park include the Burr Trail; a 67-mile backcountry route that winds through sandstone canyons, the Sulphur Creek Canyon, and the Grand Wash a 1.2-mile dirt road that leads to a trail overlooking Cassidy Arch.

The park also offers a variety of cultural attractions, such as the petroglyphs, the old log schoolhouse, the village of Fruita, and the Capitol Reef Visitor Center and Museum. Visitors to the park can also take advantage of the ranger-led programs, special events, and other educational opportunities.

2. Capitol Reef National Park

The attractions and activities in Capitol Reef National Park are plentiful, offering visitors a chance to explore the area’s unique landscape, rich in red and white sandstone cliffs, monoliths, canyons, ridges, and buttes. Visitors can explore Cathedral Valley, a remote area of Capitol Reef that is home to unique geologic features such as the Glass Mountain, the Temple of the Sun, and the Temple of the Moon. Hike the park’s challenging trails, including the Grand Wash, the Hickman Bridge, and the Capitol Gorge. Go off-roading through the park’s backcountry, or take scenic drives like the Notom-Bullfrog Road and the Burr Trail. Fish on the Fremont River, or take in some of the spectacular views of the Waterpocket Fold. Visitors can also take advantage of a variety of camping, lodging, and dining opportunities in the park.

3. Hikes in Sandstone Cliffs

Capitol Reef National Park is home to some stunning sandstone cliffs and plenty of hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. The most notable is the eight-mile Scenic Drive, which abuts steep sandstone cliffs and requires an entry fee of $20. Other popular hikes in the park include the Cassidy Arch Trail, Chimney Rock Trail, Capitol Gorge Trail, Hickman Bridge Trail, Cohab Canyon Trail, Frying Pan Trail, Grand Wash Trail, Rim Overlook Trail, Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail, Halls Creek Narrows, and Strike Valley Overlook. The shortest hike in Capitol Reef is the Sunset Point Trail, which is approximately 0.4 miles long and leads up to a breathtaking overlook of goosenecks. These hikes offer fascinating views, a chance to explore ancient petroglyphs, and plenty of opportunities to marvel at the spectacular natural landscape.

4. The Narrows

The Narrows is a popular attraction located in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, US. It is a narrow canyon with towering sandstone walls that are full of colorful and intricate patterns. The Narrows offers visitors a stunning and unique experience, as well as an opportunity to explore a geological wonder. The canyon is a result of millions of years of erosion and tectonic shifting, creating a seemingly endless array of colors and shapes.

The Narrows is a popular attraction due to its unique and awe-inspiring beauty. The canyon’s narrow walls provide visitors with an immersive experience and the opportunity to explore at their own pace. Visitors can take in the sights from the top of the canyon or venture down into the depths of the canyon, where they can observe the unique formations and colors up close. In addition, the Narrows offers visitors a chance to explore the area’s unique wildlife and flora.

The Narrows is a popular destination for photographers and nature lovers alike. Its narrow walls make for an ideal backdrop for photographs and the colors and formations create an unforgettable experience. Furthermore, the canyon’s remoteness and lack of crowds make it a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In short, the Narrows is a popular attraction in Capitol Reef National Park due to its unique beauty, lack of crowds, and immersive experience.

5. Petroglyphs and Ruins

Petroglyphs and ruins in Capitol Reef National Park are ancient carvings and etchings on rocks dating back to between 600 – 1300 AD by the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people. These petroglyphs can be found in locations throughout the park, including 1.5 miles east of the visitor center, just off US-24, the Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway. The carvings depict everyday life, such as hunting and farming, as well as religious rituals. In addition to the petroglyphs, Capitol Reef is home to Pectols Pyramid, a 180 million year old natural monument made of Navajo sandstone. These ancient ruins offer an exciting window into the world of the indigenous people who once inhabited Capitol Reef.

Cathedral Valley River Ford
Cathedral Valley River Ford

6. Fremont River Scenic Drive

The Fremont River Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park is an 8-mile stretch of pavement abutting steep, sandstone cliffs and is noted for its breathtaking views. Along the way, visitors can pull-off and spot petrified wood, burgundy-hued hoodoo towers, solution pockets, and slot canyons. After passing the Capitol Dome protrusion, visitors can hike to Hickman Bridge, a 133-foot arch across the Fremont River, and further to Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs for a sweeping view of the surrounding panorama. Those who are interested in the area’s history may visit the Fremont River, where Native Americans once irrigated crops of maize and squash and stored their grain in stone granaries. There are also two free primitive campgrounds in the park for those who want to stay overnight.

7. Information Centers and Tours

At Capitol Reef National Park, visitors can explore a variety of activities and attractions, including Auto Touring, Biking, Camping, Climbing, Fishing, Hiking, Historic & Cultural Sites, Horse Camping, Horseback Riding, Picnicking Wildlife Viewing, and Be Prepared Your Safety. The park also has two information centers, a Visitor Center and a Museum, both open year round (except on major holidays). The Visitor Center is located just off UT-24 and is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (or until 6:00 p.m. in the summer). It provides information, maps, books, displays, and a slide program for visitors. The Museum, located just down the road, showcases the geology, archaeology, and history of the area. For those looking to learn more about the park and its environment, the Natural History Association Bookstore and Capitol Reef’s social media channels provide additional resources. There are also travel guides and brochures, tips for visiting in the busy spring and fall seasons, and more information on current conditions. Finally, visitors can also find 11 hotels, 5 hotels and 20 hotels within the park.

8. Fruit-picking and Orchard Season

Fruita Orchards in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, US offer a unique experience for visitors to harvest various fruits–cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, or apples-from early March to mid-October for a fee. This is a great time to visit the park and enjoy the stunning landscape of Cathedral Valley and the historic district of Fruita. In the summer, temperatures can be uncomfortably hot on the trail, so try to hit the trail early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. Flash floods are a risk in late summer, and roads occasionally close to snow in winter. Fall is the best time to visit the orchards and pick fruit, and the annual harvest festival typically takes place the third weekend in September.

9. Helicopter Tours

What are the options for helicopter tours in Capitol Reef National Park? There are a variety of ways to explore the beauty of Capitol Reef, including auto touring, biking, camping, climbing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and travel guides and brochures. If you are looking for a unique and thrilling experience, you may want to consider taking a helicopter tour of Capitol Reef. Permits are required for overnight backpacking, and there are 11 hotels to choose from in the area. Tips for visiting in the busy spring and fall seasons are also available. Helicopter tours offer stunning aerial views of the area and provide an unforgettable way to explore Capitol Reef.

10. Camping and Hiking

The camping and hiking options in Capitol Reef National Park include auto touring, biking, camping, climbing, fishing, hiking, historic and cultural site exploration, horse camping, horseback riding, picnicking, wildlife viewing, backpacking, canyoneering, and rock climbing.

With one developed campground, two primitive campgrounds, and vast backcountry options, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, both ranger-led and self-guided. There are even orchards planted by Mormon pioneers maintained by the National Park Service, where visitors can harvest fruit from early March to mid-October for a fee.

A permit is needed for overnight backpacking and certain other activities, such as canyoneering and rock climbing. Popular hikes include the Cassidy Arch Trail, Chimney Rock Trail, Capitol Gorge Trail, Hickman Bridge Trail, Cohab Canyon Trail, Frying Pan Trail, Grand Wash Trail, Rim Overlook Trail, Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail, and Halls Creek Narrows.

Photo by D. Saparow2
Photo by D. Saparow2

FAQ

What is Capitol Reef National Park?

Capitol Reef National Park is a national park located in south-central Utah. It covers an area of 241,904 acres (978.95 km2) and is approximately 60 miles (97 km) long on its north-south axis and just 6 miles (9.7 km) wide on average.

It was established in 1971 to preserve the area’s colorful canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths. It is part of the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long up-thrust formation along the Fremont River, and is characterized by its whitish Navajo Sandstone cliffs with dome formations. The park is home to a variety of natural resources, such as cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges, as well as a wide range of wildlife species.

What attractions are in Capitol Reef National Park?

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, US, offers a myriad of attractions to explore. The rugged western landscape of the park is perfect for a western adventure. Visitors can drive along the scenic drive, visit the Visitor Center and Museum, hike the trails, and check out the old log schoolhouse, village of Fruita, and the Waterpocket Fold; a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust known to geologists as a monocline.

For the more adventurous, the park also offers guided canyoneering tours, horseback and jeep tours, free geology talks, guided hikes, and dark sky tours.

The Fruita section of the park is the most accessible, featuring a paved scenic drive, campgrounds, many hikes, and even orchards.

The Waterpocket Fold and Cathedral Valley offer more remote scenic routes, plus hiking and backpacking among gigantic monoliths.

What are the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park?

A must-see for any visitor is the Waterpocket Fold, the mind-blowing landmark of the park. In addition, you can explore the park’s pre-historic resources and fossils, enjoy the star-gazing opportunities, go canyoneering, take a guided tour, go horseback riding, or take part in interpretive programs at the visitor center.

Other popular activities include hiking on the various trails such as Cassidy Arch Trail, Chimney Rock Trail, Capitol Gorge Trail, Hickman Bridge Trail, Cohab Canyon Trail, Frying Pan Trail, Grand Wash Trail, Rim Overlook Trail, Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail, and Halls Creek Narrows.

For those looking for serenity and solitude, Capitol Reef’s sprawling red rock hiking is ideal. And don’t forget to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass, which grants you admission to all registered sites and is a great value for US travel!

What is the landscape of Capitol Reef National Park like?

The landscape of Capitol Reef National Park is like a planet unto itself, with its seemingly endless desert rock and twisted terrain. It is a rugged Western landscape of impressive sandstone formations, with a 100-mile-long monocline, a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust extending from nearby Thousand Lakes Mountain to the Colorado River, now Lake Powell.

Visitors can explore the various trails, including the scenic drive, and take in the remarkable views of towers and pinnacles, domed formations, and lush fruit orchards.

Stop in at the Visitor Center and Museum, and visit the old log schoolhouse and village of Fruita. It is an incredible experience to view the grand and colorful geologic features and witness the sheer magnitude of the sky and desert rock.

Where is Capitol Reef National Park located?

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, approximately 115 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon National Park and 130 miles southwest of Arches National Park, with the closest major airport being about 185 miles northeast, in Grand Junction, Colorado. It is a few minutes west of Torrey and is accessible by air or car from Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Grand Junction.

What type of terrain can you find in Capitol Reef National Park?

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah and consists of 378 square miles of rugged western terrain. Features such as imposing sandstone formations, towering rock ridges topped by towers and pinnacles, and monolithic dome-shaped formations can be found in the park. The landscape also includes scenic drives, hiking trails, and visitor centers and museums.

The park borders Fishlake and Dixie national forests to the northwest and west, respectively, and is adjacent to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the southwest and south, respectively.

What are the best hiking trails in Capitol Reef National Park?

If you’re looking to explore the natural beauty of Capitol Reef National Park, then you’ll find plenty of great hiking trails to choose from! Here are 10 of our favorite trails in Capitol Reef:

  1. Cassidy Arch Trail (located in the Fruita area of the park)
  2. Chimney Rock Trail (in the scenic drive)
  3. Capitol Gorge Trail (in the Waterpocket Fold area)
  4. Hickman Bridge Trail (in Torrey)
  5. Cohab Canyon Trail (in Cathedral Valley)
  6. Frying Pan Trail (in the Fruita area)
  7. Grand Wash Trail (started from the Capitol Gorge Road)
  8. Rim Overlook Trail (in the Fruita area)
  9. Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail (in the Waterpocket Fold area)
  10. Halls Creek Narrows (in the Cathedral Valley)

Each of these trails offers spectacular views and unique hiking experiences, so make sure to explore them all during your trip to Capitol Reef National Park!

20150505 20559 5472 x 3648 PANO
20150505 20559 5472 x 3648 PANO

Is there camping in Capitol Reef National Park?

Yes, there is camping in Capitol Reef National Park. The Fruita Campground is the only established campground in the park, offering 71 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers. (Limited or no hook-ups – dump station and water available.)

Primitive camping can be found further into the park at Cathedral Valley Campground and Cedar Mesa Campground.

Backcountry campsites are also available and require a backcountry permit which can be picked up at the park’s visitor center.

What is the climate at Capitol Reef National Park?

The climate in Capitol Reef National Park is generally a cold semi-arid climate with mild temperatures throughout the year. During the summer season (June to September), temperatures typically reach the high 80s/low 90s and there is the possibility of monsoons, which can lead to closed roads, flash floods, and icy slopes.

During the winter season (October to March), temperatures are mild but can drop significantly at night, so it is important to bring appropriate layers. Spring (April to May) and fall (September to October) offer sunny and mild weather, which is perfect for outdoor activity.

Are there any special events in Capitol Reef National Park?

Yes, Capitol Reef National Park offers special programs and events throughout the year. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including educational talks and lectures, hikes, guided tours, and special celebrations. Each season, the park hosts a range of special events, including wildflower walks, ranger programs, astronomy nights, and other activities. Check their website or call the Visitor Center at 435-425-3791 for more information.

Happy Trails,

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“Diving into” Capitol Reef National Park | Underrated & Overlooked Landscapes & Orchards!

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Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is an American national park in south-central Utah. The park is approximately 60 miles (97 km) long on its north–south axis

Cathedral Mountain (Capitol Reef National Park)
Cathedral Mountain is a 6,924-foot (2,110 m) summit located in Capitol Reef National Park, in Wayne County of Utah, United States. This remote erosional

The Castle (Capitol Reef National Park)
in Capitol Reef National Park in Wayne County, Utah, United States. This iconic landmark is situated 0.5 mi (0.80 km) immediately north of the park‘s visitor

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