Capitol Reef National Park
Guide

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Introduction

In an expansive, evocative world that boasts massive domes, deep canyons, and colored cliffs, “Spectacular” is a perfect word to describe the broad, sweeping sights. The landscape is seemingly endless; a limitless view of twisting, tortured stone. It almost feels like a whole other world at Capitol Reef National Park.

While more frequented parks in the area bring in many with their soaring cliffs, Capitol Reef provides a glimpse into what this land was like when only earth and sky ruled. This park includes all the best pieces of both Bryce and Zion Canyons in a place that is far less crowded. With the rig packed and wheels ready to turn, you’re off for an experience only Utah can provide. Utah’s motto of “life elevated” is appropriate for more than the terrain; it’s a serene, relaxing experience, and a sure choice for the perfect RV getaway.

The park received its name due to the many white Navajo Sandstone domes that liken the nation’s Capitol Building as well as the landscape’s visual resemblance to a reef. There is certainly no lack of geologic formations, and these astounding features take outdoor recreation to a whole other level. While it may require a little more effort to explore the many ins and outs of Capitol Reef National Park, it doesn’t take long to realize that the park provides some of the most incredible layouts in the Southwest.

Open year-round, Capitol Reef welcomes all outdoor enthusiasts to discover more and do more. Time to get parked and get out there!

Park Alerts (2)

[Information] Entrance Fee Increase

Effective January 1, 2019, the park entrance fee is now $20 per vehicle, $15 per motorcycle, and $10 per person.

[Information] Fruita campground reservations

Campsites are reservable from March 1 - October 31. Visit www.recreation.gov to make a reservation. Reservations are accepted 6 months ahead of time. From November 1 - February 28, all campsites are first come, first serve.

RV Rentals in Capitol Reef National Park

Transportation in Capitol Reef National Park

Driving

Major routes, I-70 and I-15, allow for an easy starting point to this backcountry park. Capitol Reef is located just a few minutes west of Torrey, smack dab in the center of Southern Utah. If you’re coming from Salt Lake City, simply take I-15 as if you’re headed toward Vegas. Exit at 188 for US-50 East and follow for just over 24 miles. Turn right onto UT-260 South for another 4.2 miles, then right onto UT-24 East for another 68 miles.

Parking

The Fruita section of Capitol Reef is by far the most accessible, featuring a nicely paved scenic drive and developed campground. Here, you you can park an RV, trailer, or camper. When visiting the Waterpocket Fold, be sure to note that it is a more remote corner of the park and is best navigated with a sturdy, reliable vehicle. Both rig and driver should be ready for more rugged terrain.

Public Transport

Unlike Zion and Bryce National Park, Capitol Reef is not nearly as shuttle-friendly. This National Park requires a good bit of driving to get where you want to go. There is no bus system that operates inside of the park, however, other popular means of getting around (other than car, truck, or RV) are by horseback, bicycling, hiking, and off-roading.

Campgrounds and parking in Capitol Reef National Park

Campsites in Capitol Reef National Park

Reservations camping

Richfield KOA

The multiple award-winning Richfield KOA campground, nestled in Utah’s trail country, is considered one of the state’s best-kept secrets. The campground is quiet, peaceful, and secluded with easy access to Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, Big Rock Candy Mountain, Cove Port Historic Site, Fish Lake, Capitol Reef National Park and the Fremont Indian State Park and Museum. Richfield KOA campground amenities include cable and Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, a pool, a pavilion, a game room, miniature golf, recreational areas, bike rentals, a dump station and a dog park.

Fruita Campground

Descriptions of this campground is often overheard as an “oasis in the desert”. With stays that are adjacent to the Fremont River, this campground hosts 71 RV and tent sites that are surrounded by historic orchards. It’s easy for guests to see why so many flock to this park. Visitors will find a picnic table and fire pit, though no hookups are situated at individual sites. There is an RV dump station and potable water near the entrance to two of the campground loops -- Loops A and B. Fully accessible restrooms are also found here, as the only developed site in the park. Rigs will find backing in to be fairly easy here, especially if you snagged a double wide sites with your reservation. You’ll have access to running water and flush toilets - just no showers. The campground is open all year.

First-come first-served

Fruita Campground FCFS

The reservation system is something still quite new to Fruita Campground, with most sites still accommodating for first-come, first-serve guests -- so long as a reservation is not already in place. During the peak season, Fruita Campground tends to see a lot of eager faces, so it is advised to get these reservations in early. However, if you've lucked out, and can still find a place to park, be sure you snag it while you can -- that is the beauty of first-come, first-serve. When the off seasons roll around, all sites return to a first-come, first-serve status, with no reservations made available. Sites do not include hookups, however, potable water and flush toilets are provided near the campground entrance. RVs will also find a dump station provided. Fruita Campground has 71 sites, which means you will have plenty to choose from. What are you waiting for? Get your haul parked and get on out to where adventure is waiting for you.

Alternate camping

Primitive Tent Camping

While Fruita Campground will attract all the RVs and trailers, tent campers who are looking for a little more exclusivity can find rest at either the Cathedral Valley Campground or Cedar Mesa Campground -- both within Capitol Reef's realm. Cathedral Valley hosts six sites with picnic tables and fire pits. Cedar Mesa follows a similar set up with five sites that include a table and fire grate. Campers are advised to come prepared, as there is no running water at either location.

Backcountry Camping

This National Park offers many hiking opportunities for bold backpackers and guests who simply enjoy the serenity of exploring areas that are more remote. There are marked hiking routes that lead off into narrowing, twisted gorges and slot canyons, and to spectacular vistas from high atop the Waterpocket Fold. Overnight backpackers are required to obtain a backcountry permit, free of charge, prior to the hike in to the sites. Permits are acquired at the Visitor Center.

Off-Park Campgrounds

The park's main campground (Fruita Campground) is often filled to capacity during Capitol Reef's busy season -- typically April through October. Travelers don't have to be weary about making their way out here, however, as there are plenty of alternative options for stay. Surrounding the park, BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), National Forests, and private campground properties provide other places to park. Traveling outside of the busy season? Be sure you come prepared, as many of the alternate campgrounds -- public and private -- close down during the Winter seasons.

Seasonal activities in Capitol Reef National Park

Spring

Rock Climbing

The rock here is mostly comprised of sandstone and varies in hardness from easily-crumbled Entrada to the much harder Wingate. Wingate cliff walls are where you will find the most popular climbing areas at Capitol Reef. The National Park wasn’t always a hotspot for this sport, but recent years have seen an increase in climbing throughout Utah’s canyons. Natural fracturing has created multiple climbable crack systems that lovers of the sport will find enticing. Climbing in canyon country is certainly not to be taken lightly. More information on rock climbing locations is available at the Visitor Center.

Cassidy Arch Trail

The famed Cassidy Arch is located in the central portion of the park, just within the western walls of Grand Wash. The arch trail is a spur off of the larger Frying Pan Trail, and offers a route that climbs atop the Waterpocket Fold and drops down into the Cohab Canyon. The arch, itself, is worth the trip. Its awe-inspiring beauty can be witnessed from afar, though, getting a view from atop the arch offers fantastic photo opportunities.

Biking

Capitol Reef loves to have its visitors experience the park from all modes of transportation. Four roads are designated for biking, with handouts available at the Visitor Center that identify highly recommended routes. Many parts of the park are protected in order to leave the desert environment undisturbed, so be sure to stick to designated routes. No matter your destination, make sure you come prepared with plenty of water, as finding some along your journey may prove quite difficult.

Horseback Riding

Experiencing Capitol Reef on horseback is an opportunity not all get to experience. Witnessing the beautiful landscapes and remote trails in this unique way will grasp you. The canyon setting is scenic, wild, and rugged - a perfect fit to a famed Western mode of transportation. Discover a different perspective from the sculpted slickrock of the Waterpocket Fold to alpine lakes and meadows of high plateaus.

Full Moon Walk

As a part of the Dark Sky Project, Capitol Reef is an ideal location for budding astronomers, hobbyists, and professionals alike. These guided walks are a perfect way to continue a Summer evening. The climate is perfect this time of year for a hike that will help to provide a whole new perspective of the park. It is advised to always check posted bulletin boards or inquire at the Visitor Center for exact dates and meeting locations.

Summer

Night Sky Tour

Summer evenings are perfect for embracing the night’s splendor, especially at Capitol Reef National Park. The park is a part of a collective International Dark Sky Park system that promotes the natural beauty of the night and the sky’s endlessness. Being in full dark is a rare occurrence, so Capitol Reef boasts these stunning nightly views as a perfect complement to the desert landforms.

Backcountry Hiking

Capitol Reef has so many options for the hiking enthusiast. If you’re one who enjoys exploring remote areas - this is your destination. Twist your way through gorges and canyons to spectacular vantage points. Some popular backcountry destinations include Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons and Halls Creek. That’s not all, though. Be sure to dig deeper into the Cathedral Valley area and spots toward Fruita to find more destinations for a backcountry getaway. If you’re not sure if a hike will match your time schedule and/or skill level, it’s best to check in with the Visitor Center first.

Ripple Rock Nature Center

The Ripple Rock Nature Center is located just south of the Visitor Center, on Scenic Drive. The center is open from the end of May throughout August and offers free activities for children of all ages. Here, kids can pioneer safely and learn more about the park’s history. Activities at the center include learning how to and pretending to milk a cow, learning how to use a prehistoric grinding stone, identifying fossils, and playing all sorts of fun games.

Fishing

The Fremont River offers pristine, blue waters that are perfect for fishing enthusiasts. The river flows off of Fish Lake Mountain and cascades through the countryside. The desert canyons of Capitol Reef National Park allow the river to pick up rich sediment and further building blocks for life, then the waters flow downstream to rest as the Dirty Devil River. The park doesn’t offer much for sport fishing, though, some of Utah’s best can be found just nearby. Fish Lake is a premier location for trophy-sized lake trout and rainbows, among others.

Off-Roading

Off-road enthusiasts are always advised to keep their vehicles only on designated routes throughout Capitol Reef National Park. There are many winding, rugged routes that lead to spectacular scenic areas and many of the park’s boastful vistas. Experiencing such views can only be done off the beaten path. As these road areas are not actively maintained, it is best to always check in with the Visitor Center before venturing out. Road conditions can change drastically during the Summer months with monsoon-like rain storms and flash flooding.

Fall

Grand Wash Gorge

The Grand Wash cuts its way through the upper portion of the Waterpocket Fold and connects the Scenic Road to Highway 24. The wash is fairly level and offers an easy hike that is a little over six miles roundtrip. Visitors can hike the same way back once Cassidy Arch is reached, but there are alternative routes. If you’re really feeling the hiking spirit and have come well-prepared, continue onto the Cassidy Arch Trail, the Frying Pan Trail, and then down into Cohab Canyon. This route will land hikers back toward Highway 24 and makes for an even more scenic adventure across the Fold.

View Petroglyphs

The native people of the Fremont Culture had made their home at Capitol Reef. This was a time between 600 to 1300 C.E., and the petroglyphs carved into the Wingate sandstone have survived as a fantastic reminder of a history so far beyond us, yet still so near. The panels include all sorts of imagery and anthropomorphs (figures that resemble human beings). They are located along Highway 24, about a mile east of the Visitor Center.

Gifford Homestead

The Homestead is located about a mile south of the Visitor Center on Scenic Drive and is open daily from 8am until 5pm. The Gifford Homestead stays open all the way through October, with some variations for closing dates. A small parking lot is provided, adjacent to the Gifford yard and larger vehicles are permitted to part at the picnic area. Here, you will find a vast selection of books, historic postcards, dried fruits, jams, jellies, local baked goods, homemade ice cream, and more. Other items for sale here include reproductions of household tools that were used by Mormon pioneers. It’s a great way to come home with a taste of the past.

Pick Fruit in Fruita

Nestled in the park, the small town of Fruita harbors more than 2,500 fruit trees. Some of these trees even date back to the original Mormon pioneers. Now a federally owned town, Fruita offers its visitors a fulfilling way to spend the day. Stroll throughout the many orchards, pick all sorts of fruit, and eat tasty morsels fresh from the trees. It’s such a refreshing way to get a taste of fall. But, be sure to pack a few layers of clothes. Temperatures can fall fairly quickly as October approaches.

Ranger Programs

Ranger Programs are offered daily, starting in May, by park staff. A variety of topics await, with an emphasis on the landscape’s geology and Fremont culture. Daily topic talks usually run close to 20-30 minutes and are completely free of charge. It’s best to check in with the Visitor Center for details to ensure changes have not been made to the schedule. If getting up early isn’t in the stars for this trip, you can attend an evening talk instead. Topics and times will vary more with these evening talks, with many lasting close to an hour. The interpretive programs are a way to immerse yourself in the park’s history.

Winter

Loop-The-Fold Tour

Most visitors that travel to Capitol Reef’s southern portion of the park end up driving the 124-mile loop, or at least various sections of it. The loop tour is a self-driving tour that may, at times, be restricted by weather. However, winters are fairly light in precipitation; just be prepared for a bit of mud. Most of the way is fully paved and roads are accessible by just about any vehicle, with no difficulty if four-wheel drive is involved. It’s a scenic route that makes its start at the Visitor Center. There are many opportunities for hiking and backpacking along the way, so be sure to plan this route with some extra time.

Hickman Bridge

The trailhead to Hickman Bridge is located just two miles east of the Visitor Center and offers hikers of all levels a scenic trek to a large, alluring, natural arch. The trail isn’t particularly long or difficult to navigate, yet provides access to the amazing sights of the Nels Johnson Natural Bridge (a miniature bridge) and Hickman Bridge, itself. The trail passes underneath Hickman Bridge’s arch and swings south, down to the bluff. It’s a fantastic overlook of the Fremont River.

Mother Nature’s Temples

Cathedral Valley has a very scenic back-way that travels a over 50 miles to the Northwest, through the northern tip of Capitol Reef. Those that take on these travels are met with dramatic formations with equally dramatic names. As the main attractions along the entirety of the Northern desert drive, the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon are certainly worth the added efforts. It's advised to come prepared with both a vehicle, and a driver, that are ready to take on the rugged roads. These aren't paved, so, more polished rigs may want to skip out on this excursion. Road conditions will vary widely and are based on recent weather. It is best to plan a visit to these spire-like formations when weather conditions have been favorable. When in doubt, guests are always welcome to check in at the Visitor Center for helpful tips.

Cathedral Valley Loop

Open year-round with the park, the Cathedral Valley District offers sensational sights and geological landmarks you won’t want to pass up the chance to see. Road conditions can vary quite a bit, depending on recent weather patterns, though, most vehicles (even without four-wheel drive) can negotiate the roads without difficulty. A winter drive may meet you with some mud, but precipitation usually stays light around this time of year. Most of the Cathedral Valley’s visitors drive the almost 60 mile loop clockwise, beginning at Hartnet Road to Hartnet Junction, and continued to Cathedral Road before returning to Highway 24. You are sure to come across multiple side trips along the way, so be prepared for some extra stops!

Scenic Drive

This 11-stop scenic tour is aptly named the Scenic Drive. It includes a $15 entrance fee, and is worth every penny. Geologic formations abound, and with so many different layers of the park becoming exposed with each mile, the drive provides an intimate view of a journey through time. The Scenic Drive takes its visitors along a 7.9 mile paved road. This expanse includes dirt spur roads that lead off to Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. As long as weather permits, all passenger vehicles, including RVs up to 27 feet, are able to pass along these routes -- both paved and rugged. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return along the same road.

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