The Colorado River and Lake Powell mark Garfield County’s eastern boundary. In the northeast, the Henry Mountains—the last range within the continental US to be mapped—include several 10,000-foot peaks. The Sevier River system runs north through Western Garfield and the Escalante River empties into the Colorado.
Traces of the two major prehistoric cultures—the Fremont and Anasazi—dot the land. Modern tribes who used the land include the Southern Paiutes and the Utes. The first white settlers made the difficult trip from Beaver and Parowan over the mountains to Panguitch (the present day county seat) in 1864. The territorial legislature created the county in 1882 and named it after assassinated President James A. Garfield. Boulder was the most isolated town in Utah until the mid -1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps workers built a road from Boulder to Escalante.
Vast rangelands and large forested areas made cattle ranching and lumber the major economic activities. The creation of Bryce Canyon National Park in 1928 increased the importance of tourism to the local economy. Large sections of Capitol Reef National park and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area also lie within Garfield County. The Upper Valley oil field in central Garfield has been a sizeable oil-producing area