Category: Capitol Reef National Park

The Complete Guide to Camping in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah preserves an incredible landscape and history. This beautiful and unique national park features stunning canyons, red rock cliffs, and the geologic wonders known…

Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah preserves an incredible landscape and history. This beautiful and unique national park features stunning canyons, red rock cliffs, and the geologic wonders known as the Waterpocket Fold and Cathedral Valley. Capitol Reef is is named after the large sandstone formations that evoke the capitol domes founds in statehouses across the country.

The park is also incredibly remote, making it the perfect place to do some serious stargazing. In fact, Capitol Reef has been designed as an international dark sky parkGiven all that, we think the best way to experience all that Capitol Reef National Park has to offer is by spending the night in your tent or RV where you’ll experience this beautiful landscape first hand.

Capitol Reef National Park and the surrounding areas have camping options to suit any style. From the national park’s lone developed campground, free primitive campgrounds for those with an adventurous spirit, and endless opportunities for backcountry camping, you’re sure to find the perfect campsite for your next trip to Capitol Reef.

In addition to the campgrounds within the national park you’ll also find great options for RV,  car camping, and tons of free dispersed camping just outside the Capitol Reef National Park boundary.  Needless to say, you’ll be spoiled for options.

Keeping reading to get all the details to plan your perfect camping trip in Capitol Reef National Park

Rock formation in Capitol Reef

The stunning rock formations are just one reason to camp in Capitol Reef National Park.

 

In this Post

 

Capitol Reef National Park Campgrounds

Capitol Reef National Park occupies a long and narrow section of Utah’s canyon country. The park is approximately 60 miles long from north to south, but is only a few miles wide for much of its length. This naturally splits the park into northern and southern districts, with remote terrain separating the two sections.

The main access to Capitol Reef is from Utah State Highway 24, which cuts east-west across the park’s northern district. The vast majority of visitors will arrive on this highway and head to Fruita, the main hub of activity in Capitol Reef National Park.

Temple of the sun and moon in Cathedral Valley

Explore Cathedral Valley by camping at the Cathedral Valley primitive campground in Capitol Reef.

 

There is a single developed campground in Capitol Reef, located in Fruita. In addition to the Fruita Campground there are also two ‘primitive’ campgrounds in the park. These are well-located for exploring the different districts of Capitol Reef, with the Cathedral Valley Campground located in the northern district and the Cedar Mesa Campground located in the southern district.

In addition to these designated campgrounds Capitol Reef is also home to vast backcountry wilderness open to camping that can be accessed by foot. Given the unforgiving landscape of Capitol Reef, these campgrounds are only for the experienced and prepared backcountry camper.

The map below gives you a general sense of where each of the developed & primitive campgrounds are located in Capitol Reef National Park as well as their relation to the surrounding area. 

Map of campgrounds in Capitol Reef National Park

Campgrounds in Capitol Reef National Park. Map courtesy of NPS. (Click to enlarge)

 

All of the campgrounds in Capitol Reef, with the exception of the Fruita Group Campsite, are open year round making a trip any time of year possible. However, keep in mind that it may be difficult to reach the Cathedral Valley and Cedar Mesa campgrounds during inclement weather.

Keep reading to learn more about reserving your campground in Capitol Reef National Park.

Reservations & Permits

The developed Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef accepts reservations from March 1st – October 31st each year. Campsites here are reserved through Recreation.gov and reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Click here to make a reservation for the Fruita Campground via Recreation.gov

In addition, the group campsite at the Fruita Campground which can accommodate groups of up to 40 people requires an advance reservation. The group campsite is open seasonally and reservations can be made up to 12 months in advance via Recreation.gov.

Click here to make a reservation for the Fruita Group Campground via Recreation.gov

The two primitive campgrounds located in Capitol Reef, Cathedral Valley and Cedar Mesa, do not allow advance reservations. Both of these campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis throughout the year. If you’re looking to grab a campsite at either of these campgrounds during the peak season we highly recommend you arrive early as spots tend to fill up on busy weekends!

Tent in Capitol Reef National Park

 

For those interested in exploring the vast backcountry wilderness in Capitol Reef on a backcountry camping trip you’ll need to secure a free backcountry use permit. These permits can be obtained at the Fruita Visitor Center during normal business hours and are required for any overnight stay in Capitol Reef’s backcountry.

Information on backcountry regulations in Capitol Reef can be found here.

Backcountry wilderness in Capitol Reef National Park

Explore Capitol Reef’s vast wilderness on a backcountry camping trip.

 

What to bring on your Capitol Reef National Park Camping trip

Preparing for your Capitol Reef National Park camping trip involves more than deciding which campground best fits your needs. There is also the important job of making sure you have all the right gear you’ll need to ensure a great trip.

We’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tentsleeping bags, and camp chairs, but below are some of our favorite items specifically for camping in Capitol Reef:

  • Coleman Camping Stove – This camping classic is perfect for Capitol Reef as campfires are prohibited throughout the park.
  • Pop-up canopy – The sun in Utah can be extremely strong. While there is some shade at the Fruita Campground it’s always good to be able to create your own. We recommend bringing a portable shade structure like this one.
  • Portable water container – These portable water containers are a life saver.
  • Cooler – The hot temperatures here make a good cooler essential. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
  • Capitol Reef National Park Map – An essential for any trip, a good map is a must.
  • Capitol Reef Guidebook – A good guidebook will provide insights and information to help you plan your perfect trip to Capitol Reef. We like this guide to all 62 National Parks from Moon Guides. This Capitol Reef Hiking Guide is also a great resource.

When to Camp in Capitol Reef National Park

All three of the campgrounds (just not the Fruita Group site) in Capitol Reef National Park are open year round providing the opportunity for a camping trip throughout the year. However, peak season for camping in Capitol Reef is generally from March 1st – October 31st.

The winter months bring snow and cold temperatures to Capitol Reef, making camping only appealing to the hardcore winter campers out there. In addition, the summer months bring high temperatures consistently reaching into the 90s and 100s during the day in July and August. While you can still camp during these months, you’ll need to be prepared with plenty of water.

Winter in Capitol Reef national park

Winter in Capitol Reef brings snow and tough camping conditions. Photo credit NPS/Chris Roundtree

 

We think the best time to camp in Capitol Reef is during the spring and fall when temperatures are more moderate and you’ll be able to take advantage of the many things to do in the national park.

Find more information on the weather conditions you can expect to encounter in Capitol Reef National Park here. 

Developed Campgrounds

There is a single developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park, located in Fruita. In addition, the Fruita Campground also features a group campsite and has easy access to the majority of services in the national park.

Keeping reading for all the details. 

Fruita Campground

Number of Sites: 71 sites
Fee: $20/night
RVs: Yes, max length of approximately 50′.
Reservations: Available from March 1st – October 31st. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round.
More Information

Tents in the Fruita Campground

The Fruita Campground is a beautiful place to spend the night. Photo credit NPS/Ann Huston.

 

The Fruita Campground is the lone fully developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park. Located just south of the visitor center, the campground sits adjacent to the Fremont River making for an idyllic place to spend the night.

The campground is well located for exploring the Cohab Canyon Trail, Fremont River Trail, as well as the historic Fruita Schoolhouse. Be sure to check out the Park Service’s excellent list of hikes in the Fruita area here and also download the Fruita Area Map & Guide.

The Fruita Campground contains 71 individual campsites and one group campsite. The campground is organized into three loops (A, B, and C) with each loop having access to restrooms. Potable water and a dump station are available near the entrance to the campground. Campsites at the Fruita Campground come well-equipped with a picnic table and fire grate/grill.

Campsites at the Fruita Campground are reservable up to six months in advance during peak season, from March 1st – October 31st each year. Outside of this time frame all of the campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Click here to reserve your campsite at the Fruita Campground

The campground can accommodate both tents and RVs, with multiple sites able to fit campers in excess of 40′ in length. There are also several walk-in tent sites at the Fruita Campground, perfect for those with a smaller set-up. Check out the map linked below for a detailed map of the campground as well as more information on the features of each campsite.

View a map of the Fruita Campground here. 

Fremont River from the Cohab Canyon Trail

The Fruita Campground provides easy access to the Cohab Canyon Trail. Photo credit NPS/Chris Roundtree.

 

Fruita Group Campground

Number of Sites: 1 group site
Fee: $100/night
Capacity: 40 people
RVs: Yes, max length of approximately 50′.
Reservations: Required. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open seasonally from mid-April to mid-October
More Information

Fruita Group Campground in Capitol Reef National Park

The Fruita Group Campground can accommodate up to 40 people. Photo credit NPS/A. Huston.

 

In addition to the 71 individual campsites, the Fruita Campground also features a large, group campsite. Located in a secluded area away from the main campground, the Fruita Group Campsite can accommodate up to 40 campers at a time. You’ll enjoy access to picnic tables, fire grate, and a covered shelter.

The Fruita Group Campground costs $100/night to reserve regardless of how many people are camping and has a limit of 10 total vehicles. RVs are welcome, but keep in mind that anything longer than 27′ will have a difficult time navigating the parking area.

Reservations for the Fruita Group Campground are required and can be made up to 12-months in advance via Recreation.gov. The campground is only open during the peak season, generally from mid-April through mid-October.

Reservations for the Fruita Group Campground can be made here. 

Barn in the Gifford Homestead in Capitol Reef National Park

Explore the Gifford Homestead from your campsite at the Fruita Group Campground.

 

Primitive Campgrounds

In addition the developed Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park features two primitive campgrounds located on the park’s iconic dirt roads. These campgrounds are located in the northern and southern districts of Capitol Reef, allowing visitors to camp and explore different sections of the park.

The primitive nature of these campsites means you won’t find any flush toilets, water taps, or other amenities that developed campgrounds offer. In exchange for roughing it you’ll be treated to a solitude only possible by venturing off the beaten path!

Keep reading to learn more about the two primitive campgrounds in Capitol Reef National Park.

Cathedral Valley Campground

Number of Sites: 6 sites
Fee: Free
RVs: Not recommend.
Reservations: First-come, first-served.
Season: Open year round.

Picnic table in the Cathedral Valley Campground

The Cathedral Valley Campground. Photo credit NPS/ Erik McDonald

 

The Cathedral Valley Campground is located in Capitol Reef’s northern district, known as Cathedral Valley. This stunningly beautiful section of the national park got its name from the sandstone towers that dot the landscape and evoke the forms of medieval cathedrals. Spending the night here will also have you well located to explore the many hikes that take in the incredible scenery of Cathedral Valley.

Situated on the popular Cathedral Valley Loop Road, a 58-mile dirt road that circumnavigates the area, the campground generally requires a 4WD vehicle with high clearance to reach. As such, we don’t recommend trying to camp here with an RV.

The campground has six individual campsites that each feature a basic picnic table and fire ring. There are also pit toilets for the campground. There is no running water available at the Cathedral Valley Campground, so be sure to bring all that you’ll need for your trip. 

All of the sites are free of charge and available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground will fill most nights on busy weekends during the peak season, so we recommend trying to arrive early to secure your site.

Views of the Cathedral Valley

Exploring the Cathedral Valley is a quintessential experience in Capitol Reef. Photo credit NPS/Nielson.

 

Cedar Mesa Campground

Number of Sites: 5 sites
Fee: Free
RVs: Not recommend.
Reservations: First-come, first-served.
Season: Open year round.

The Cedar Mesa Campground is located in the southern district of Capitol Reef National Park. This less explored section of the park is home to several excellent hikes as well as the famous Burr Trail switchbacks. Take advantage of the campground’s location at the start of the Red Canyon Trail, a popular hike in this section of the park.

Cedar Mesa is located on the Notom-Bullfrog Road which ultimately leads to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, south of Capitol Reef. Getting to the campground is typically doable in a 2WD vehicle, although it is always a good idea to touch base with a ranger for the latest road conditions prior to setting out.

The campground has five individual campsites that each feature a basic picnic table and fire ring. There are also pit toilets for the campground. There is no running water available at the Cedar Mesa Campground, so be sure to bring all that you’ll need for your trip. 

All of the sites are free of charge and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Burr Trail switchbacks near the Cedar Mesa campground

The Burr Trail Switchbacks are approximately 45 minutes from the Cedar Mesa Campground.

 

Backcountry camping in Capitol Reef National Park

For the adventurous, a backcountry camping trip in Capitol Reef National Park is the perfect opportunity to explore this vast wilderness. The park’s remote terrain provides the chance for solitude and an experience that can’t be found at the developed or primitive campgrounds in Capitol Reef. However, a backpacking trip here is not for the inexperienced. Be sure you are prepared for this unique environment and follow the national park guidelines for backcountry camping, outlined below. 

A backpacking trail in Capitol Reef National Park

 

Backcountry Use Permit

Anyone planning to spend the night in the Capitol Reef backcountry is required to obtain a free, backcountry use permit. These permits are available at the Fruita Visitor Center during normal operating hours.

By registering, you’re letting the NPS and rangers know about your trip length, approximate camping locations, and who is in your group should something go wrong.

We can’t overemphasize how important this step is! If something were to go wrong, it is essential that the Park Service has this information about your trip.

Backcountry Regulations

The following backcountry regulations should be observed by anyone venturing into the Capitol Reef backcountry, especially those planning an overnight trip:

  • Limit group size to no more than 12 people.
  • Camp away from roads and out of sight of trails or other campers.
  • Properly dispose of all human waste.
  • Campfires are prohibited in the Capitol Reef backcountry.
  • Pets are not allowed on any trail or in the backcountry.
  • Always prace Leave No Trace principles.

Click here for a full list of backcountry regulations in Capitol Reef National Park

Sandstone ridge

 

Where to go backpacking in Capitol Reef

Once you’ve got the basic regulations for planning a backpacking trip in Capitol Reef down you can move on to the fun part: planning your trip!

While you can technically backpack and camp anywhere within the park boundaries, the park service has an excellent list of recommended backpacking trips, outlined below:

A hiker explores the Halls Creek Narrows

Exploring the Halls Creek Narrows on a backpacking trip. Photo credit NPS.

 

Capitol Reef National Park Camping Must Know

The following sections contain all the basic information you need to ensure you have a great time camping in Capitol Reef National Park.

Campfires in Capitol Reef

Campfires are permitted only in the provided fire rings and grates at the Fruita Campground as well as the Cathedral Valley and Cedar Mesa primitive campgrounds. The fire must be contained within the provided fire pit/grate and should not be left unattended.

It is also important to ensure that any wood you bring into the park is properly sourced, as firewood can introduce invasive pests that can cause irreparable damage. Do not gather any existing wood from the national park.

Firewood is available for purchase from the Gifford House, near the Fruita Campground.

There are no fires allowed in the Capitol Reef backcountry, so plan to bring a camp stove if backpacking.

Wildlife

Capitol Reef National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife that inhabit this unique ecosystem. The rugged nature of Utah’s canyon country means that many of these species have adapted to live where water can be scare and the terrain unforgiving. Campers should be especially aware of the following:

  • Rock squirrels: This is mammal you are most likely to encounter on a camping trip in Capitol Reef. They are commonly found near the Fruita area and are known to try to snack on your camping supplies!
  • Snakes: Capitol Reef is home to a wide variety of snake species. Snakes are most active at night, but be sure to always be scanning the trail and near campgrounds for them. The only venomous snake found in Capitol Reef is the Midget Faded Rattlesnake, which are very common throughout the park.
  • Desert Bighorn Sheep: This incredible species was successfully reintroduced to Capitol Reef National Park in the 1990s. Spotting a bighorn sheep as they move effortlessley along a cliff face is a truly spectacular sight!

You can find more information on the wildlife of Capitol Reef National Park here.

A desert bighorn sheep in Capitol Reef

A desert bighorn sheep in Capitol Reef. Photo credit NPS/Nielson.

 

Pets

As with many national parks, Capitol Reef has strict guidelines on where you are allowed to bring a pet. Pets are permitted at all three of the designed campgrounds in Capitol Reef. Pets are also allowed in the following places:

  • The trail between the Fruita Campground and Visitor Center
  • On specific portions of the Fremont River Trail
  • Parking & Picnic Areas
  • Within 50′ of roadways

Please keep you pet on a leash at all times and remember that pets are not allowed in the backcountry or on any hiking trails in Capitol Reef National Park.

In addition,  it is important to take proper precautions when bringing a pet to Capitol Reef. This includes bringing plenty of water for them and never leaving them unattended in a car.

For a complete list of regulations related to pets check out the Capitol Reef National Park website here.

Where to get supplies

Capitol Reef National Park is incredible remote with no major towns in close proximity. Thus, stocking up on camping supplies before your camping trip is essential. It is especially important to be sure you’re well equipped with plenty of water given the lack of water sources in the national park. Luckily, there are a few small towns that provide some essential services near Capitol Reef National Park. Check out your options below:

  • In the park
    • There are no major services located within Capitol Reef National Park. The only store resides in the Gifford House which sells local craft goods, some very basic food items, and firewood. The store only operates during peak season.
  • East of Capitol Reef
    • Hanksville, Utah: Hanksville is located approximately 45 minutes east of Fruita along State Highway 24. Here you’ll find a basic grocery store, a few gas stations, and a handful of restaurants.
  • West of Capitol Reef
    • Torrey, Utah: Located just 8 miles west of Fruita, Torrey is likely to be your best bet for any last minutes camping supplies. The town features an excellent outdoor store, grocery store, and several gas stations.

 

Camping near Capitol Reef National Park

Spending a few nights camping in Capitol Reef National Park is an experience not to be missed. However, given the somewhat limited options within the national park it is always possible that you’ll arrive only to find all the campgrounds full.

Don’t let that deter you, though, as there are plenty of great camping options outside of Capitol Reef National Park. Check out your best bets for RV campgrounds, car camping, and free dispersed camping near Capitol Reef National Park below.

RV driving towards Capitol Reef National Park

 

RV campgrounds near Capitol Reef

Those camping in an RV will have plenty of options just outside Capitol Reef National Park. RV campgrounds are generally found along State Highway 24 on both the west and east side of the national park. Learn more below.

RV Campgrounds East of Capitol Reef National Park (Caineville & Hanksville)

The following campgrounds are all located to the east of Capitol Reef National Park:

Sleepy Hollow Campground – Caineville

Number of sites: 30
Fee: Varies
Capacity: None stated
RVs: Yes
Reservations: Recommended. Call 435-456-9130
Pets: Allowed

The Sleepy Hollow Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River just off State Highway 24. From here it is only a short drive, 20 minute drive to the heart of Capitol Reef. The campground gets excellent reviews for the beautiful views and very friendly owner. Highly recommended.

 

Duke’s Slickrock Campground & RV Park- Hanksville

Number of sites: 49 RV site + 30 tent-only sites
Fee: $35/night for RV sites and $20/night for tent sites
Capacity: None stated
RVs: Yes, full hookups available.
Reservations: Recommended. Visit website here to reserve. 
Pets: Allowed

Centrally located in Hanksville, UT, Duke’s Slickrock Campground is a great option for those looking for an RV campground with great services and amenities. You’ll be a bit further from the national park here (30 minute drive), but in exchange you’ll have access to laundry facilities, free WiFi, and an on-site restaurant.

 

RV Campgrounds West of Capitol Reef National Park (Torrey & Hanksville)

Wonderland RV Park- Torrey

Number of sites: Plenty!
Fee: Varies. More information here. 
Capacity: $42/night for RV sites, $20/night for tent sites
RVs: Yes, full hookups available.
Reservations: Recommended. Visit website here to reserve. 
Pets: Allowed

The Wonderland RV Park is located on the eastern edge of Torrey, UT putting you extremely close to Capitol Reef National Park. This large campground features a variety of campsites to accommodate all types of RVs, including sites with full-hookups. In addition, there are dedicated tent-only campsites. Amenities include free WiFi, shower and laundry facilities, and free cable tv.

The campground gets great reviews for its clean facilities and stunning location.

 

Sandcreek RV Park & Campground – Torrey

Number of sites: 15 RV sites + 12 tent-only sites
Fee: Varies. More information here. 
Capacity: None stated
RVs: Yes, full hookups available.
Reservations: Recommended. Visit website here to reserve. 
Pets: Allowed

The Sandcreek RV Park & Campground is located on the western side of Torrey, putting you in a convenient location for accessing Capitol Reef National Park. This smaller campground has just 15 RV sites which makes for a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. Campers have access to free WiFi, showers, and laundry facilities.

Storm clouds over Capitol Reef National Park

 

Car camping sites near Capitol Reef National Park

If you’re looking for car camping sites near Capitol Reef National Park you’ll have a few good options to choose from. In addition to the campgrounds listed below, car camping is permitted and recommend at all of the campgrounds listed in the RV camping section above.  Keep reading below to see what your best bets are for car camping near Capitol Reef.

Car camping near Capitol Reef

 

Fishlake National Forest

Number of Sites: Singletree (31 sites), Upper Pleasant Creek (16 sites), and Oak Creek (9 sites)
Fee: $10 – 20/night
Capacity: None stated.
RVs: Yes, but check individual campsite pages for length restrictions. Not recommended at Oak Creek.
Reservations: Only for Singletree Campground. Reserve here. 
Pets: Allowed.

Map of campgrounds in Fishlake National Forest near Capitol Reef.

The campsites in Fishlake National Forest make a great car camping option near Capitol Reef. Map credit NPS.

 

Just south of Torrey, UT on the western edge of Capitol Reef National Park sits Fishlake National Forest. There are three developed campgrounds here that make a great option for those looking to car camp prior to their visit to Capitol Reef National Park.

The first and largest of the three campgrounds is the Singletree Campground, which can accommodate larger RVs in addition to tent campers. Reservations are recommended here. Traveling a bit further south along Highway 12 will bring you to the Upper Pleasant Creek and Oak Creek Campgrounds. These are more basic and are best suited to tent campers.

Free dispersed camping near Capitol Reef National Park

Your final option for camping near Capitol Reef National Park is to find a free, dispersed campsite on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or United States Forest Service (USFS) land adjacent to the national park. If this appeals to you you’re in luck, as Capitol Reef National Park is practically surrounded by this public land with tons of free camping opportunities.

Much of this land is overseen by the BLM and USFS which manages hundreds of thousands of acres of public land throughout the country and generally allows for ‘dispersed camping’ on it. You can find more information on dispersed camping on BLM land here.

The park service provides the handy map below that shows the different areas surrounding Capitol Reef National Park that is open to dispersed camping and we’ve highlighted some of our favorites below.

Map of dispersed camping areas near Capitol Reef National Park

There are tons of options for dispersed camping near Capitol Reef National Park. Map credit NPS.

 

Dispersed Camping West of Capitol Reef

There is an abundance of public land that allows for free dispersed camping on the west side of Capitol Reef National Park. These areas are primarily located in Fishlake National Forest and are concentrated south of Torrey, UT on State Highway 12 as well as just north of State Highway 24 between Torrey and the national park boundary.

The most popular of these campsites is located just north of Highway 24 around mile marker 73. Find more detail here on FreeCampsites.net. 

For those looking for a bit more privacy, the dispersed camping along State Highway 12 south of Torrey tends to be a bit more secluded.

As always, please be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping.

Be sure to contact the Dixie/Fishlake Ranger Office if you have any questions about dispersed camping on the west side of Capitol Reef. They can be reach at (435) 836-2811.

Dispersed Camping East of Capitol Reef

On the east side of Capitol Reef dispersed camping is available on BLM land immediately adjacent to the park. You’ll find good free campsites located along State Highway 24 as well as south along Notom-Bullfrog Road.

There is a large site just south of the highway on Notom-Bullfrog Road that gets good reviews. Find more information on this free campsite here.

Along State Highway 24 this campsite on BLM land gets good reviews for its beautiful river views.

As always, please be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping.

The NPS recommends contacting the Henry Mountain Field Station to inquire about dispersed camping on BLM land near Capitol Reef National Park.

Have a great trip!

That’s it! We hope you’ve found all of the information on camping in Capitol Reef National Park in this post helpful and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or had a great time out camping!

Red sandstone cliffs in Capitol Reef

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