An In-Depth Adventure Guide to Capitol Reef National Park

Fast Facts

\\ Year Established: 1971

| History of Capitol Reef National Park

The area of Capitol Reef National Park has been a homeland to people for thousands of years. The Fremont Culture went from being a food foraging group to farmers of corn, beans and squash around 500 CE. Eventually, explorers, Latter-Day-Saint (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 — which you can still see (and eat) today.

| When to Visit

The busiest times to visit are between March-June (spring) and September-October (fall). This is when the weather is the nicest (not too hot and not too cold). But because of that you will have to deal with other visitors, and while the park never gets crazy busy (it isn’t Zion National Park), it can still fill up, especially in the main valley/Fruita area.

| How to Get to the Park

What makes Capitol Reef National Park so special is the feeling that you are way off in the middle of nowhere Utah desert. In fact, you really are. This park is not easy to get to, which in our books, only adds to its appeal.

| What to See

Animals

While at first the park might seem entirely inhospitable and unable to sustain life, in truth, Capitol Reef is a haven for numerous animals, including over 200 types of birds, 50+ mammals, 6 species of snakes (including a midget rattlesnake), and 5 various amphibians.

Plants

Depending on the time of year you visit, you are likely to see the landscape change from being rather bleak and dry, to lush and colorful. Capitol Reef, like many areas of Utah, comes alive in the spring. If visiting during the months of April and May, you will likely encounter various wildflowers; including, the Utah Penstemon (a vibrant red-pink flower), Indian Paintbrush (a bright orange-red flower), and Showy Milkweed (a white-purple flower) as well as many more.

Points of Interest

\\ Fruita: The Capitol Reef area wasn’t charted by explorers until 1872, although people had lived in this region for thousands of years previously. Towards the last half of that decade, Latter Day Saints (Mormon) settlers moved into the region and set up a small town at the junction of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek. While the first landholder was Nels Johnson, soon many others followed. Eventually, a community sprang up and became known as Junction. Mail was even delivered to a central Fremont Cottonwood tree, known as the “Mail Tree” — which still stands in the picnic area today. In 1902 they changed the name of the town to Fruita — after the amount of orchards planted there (and which still stand today).

| Best Adventures

Hiking

Capitol Reef National Park has a large number of hiking trails available, from the easy to the more difficult and all the way to multi-day backpacking trips. Some of the best trails to head out on include:

Canyoneering

We really fell in love with this park because of all the incredible canyoneering opportunities that can be found within its boundaries. For us, canyoneering is one of the best ways to get off-the-beaten-path and explore an area that is likely to be way more wild and untouched. Some of our favorite canyons are:

Biking

Getting out on your bike is a great way to explore the park at a much quicker speed. While you can ride along the trails that criss-cross the Fruita area, we suggest instead heading out on the two dirt scenic roads: the Cathedral Valley Loop and Notom/Bullfrog Road.

| Where to Stay?

Camping Inside the Park

There is only one developed campground within the park, the Fruita Campground. Consisting of 71 sites, this is the most central camping option for the park. Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above ground grill, but there is no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups available. It costs $20 per night.

Camping Outside the Park (BLM)

One amazing thing about Utah, and this region of the state in particular, is the incredible amount of BLM and National Forest land available. For people who might not know, camping is free (about 99% of the time) on BLM and National Forest lands. Capitol Reef National Park is surrounded by both, most notably Dixie National Forest.

Staying in Torrey

The closest town to the park is the small town of Torrey, located 11 miles to the west. Here you can find various RV parks, campgrounds and 2–3 star hotels. This is also some spots to fuel up on gas, grab some groceries or stop at one of the small, locally run restaurants.

Staying in Hanksville

Another option is to drive to Hanksville, located along Highway 24 to the east about 37 miles. About the same size as Torrey, Hanksville is a pretty funky little town. Stop in at the Hollow Mountain gas station — which as the name suggests — is a gas station inside a large hollowed out mountain. There are a couple of hotels available, and a campground on the edge of town. Tip: get your caffeine fix at Outlaw’s Roost, where they serve up some tasty cold brew coffee.

| Must-See Spots Nearby

\\ Goblin Valley State Park: located just over an hour away to the east, this state park is another must-see spot on any Utah road trip itinerary. Stop in to see the world-renowned hoodoos, large rock structures that resemble mushrooms. You can camp, hike, canyoneer and even play disc golf.

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Backroad Packers

Backroad Packers

Two adventurers creating in-depth travel guides to inspire you to slow down and get off the beaten path more.