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 another planet 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. The 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 offer ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. 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.
Capitol Reef's Fruita Campground offers 71 sites without hookups on a first-come, first-served basis. RV campers can find sites with full hookups at the nearby Richfield KOA campground. Amenities there include cable and Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, a pool, a pavilion, a game room, miniature golf, a dump station, and a dog park.
Open year-round, Capitol Reef National Park welcomes all outdoor enthusiasts to discover more and do more. Time to get parked and get out there!
Major routes, I-70 and I-15, allow for an easy starting point to this backcountry park. Capitol Reef National Park is located just a few minutes west of Torrey, smack dab in the center of southern Utah. While you will be in a beautiful part of the country, it is a far drive from major cities in the area. Salt Lake City is four hours to the north, and St. George is three and a half hours to the southwest. Most roads in the area are well-maintained, but you'll want to exercise caution when on winding, narrow roads, especially if you're driving a big rig.
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.
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-road vehicle.
The multiple award-winning Richfield KOA campground, nestled in Utah’s trail country, is considered one of the state’s best-kept RV camping secrets. The campground is quiet, peaceful, and secluded with easy access to Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, and Big Rock Candy Mountain. 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 is often described 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 site with your reservation. You’ll have access to running water and flush toilets. The campground is open all year.
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. When the off-season rolls 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.
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.
Capitol Reef 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 into the sites. Permits are acquired at the Visitor Center.
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.
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 road is fully paved and accessible by just about any vehicle, with no difficulty if four-wheel drive is involved. The scenic route 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.
The trailhead to Hickman Bridge is located just two miles east of the Visitor Center and offers hikers of all levels of experience 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.
Cathedral Valley has a very scenic back-way that travels over 50 miles to the Northwest, through the northern tip of Capitol Reef. This roadway travels through 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. Roads aren't paved, so, more polished rigs may want to skip out on this excursion. Road conditions will vary widely based on recent weather. When in doubt, guests are always welcome to check in at the Visitor Center for helpful tips.
Open year-round, 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 is usually light. Most of the Cathedral Valley’s visitors drive the almost 60-mile loop clockwise, beginning at Hartnet Road to Hartnet Junction, and continuing 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!
This 11-stop scenic tour is aptly named the Scenic Drive. It includes an entrance fee. 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 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. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return along the same road.
Cool off on a summer's day by hiking and wading along the Fremont River Trail. The first mile of the hike is suitable for all ages and experience levels as it winds along the reeds of the Fremont River, offering plenty of opportunities for wading and enjoying the cool waters. However, once the trail begins its steep climb, only experienced hikers without a fear of heights should proceed. The initial climb takes place on a path carved into a wall of stone and can feature rough footing. Spectacular views await when you reach the top.
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 creates an unforgettable scenic adventure across the Fold.
The native people of the Fremont Culture made their home at Capitol Reef between 600 to 1300 C.E. The petroglyphs carved into the Wingate sandstone have survived as a fantastic and tangible reminder of a history so far beyond us, yet still so near. The panels include a variety of imagery and anthropomorphs, or figures that resemble human beings. They are located along Highway 24, about a mile east of the Visitor Center.
The Homestead is located about a mile south of the Visitor Center on Scenic Drive and is open daily during the peak season and into October. A small parking lot is provided, adjacent to the Gifford yard and larger vehicles are permitted to park 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 early Mormon pioneers.
Nestled in the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park, the small town of Fruita harbors more than 2,500 fruit trees. Some of these trees even date back to the original pioneer settlers. Now a federally owned town, Fruita offers its visitors a fulfilling way to spend the day. Stroll throughout the many orchards while picking 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 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 to 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.
Hikers of all ages and abilities can end the day at Capitol Reef National Park with the Sunset Point Trail. True to its name, this trail leads to spectacular views of Utah's unforgettable sunsets. The short trail begins at a designated parking lot and continues less than a mile round trip with minimal elevation change. Rangers recommend arriving about a half-hour before the sunset to appreciate the gradual color changes as the light from the moving sun bounces off the landscape.
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 sky. Capitol Reef's location far from the light pollution of major cities means the skies are clear and perfect for viewing stars, planets, and meteor showers. Being in full dark is a rare occurrence, so Capitol Reef boasts these stunning nightly views as a perfect complement to the desert landforms.
Hiking at Capitol Reef National Park means plenty of options for every skill level. 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. Be sure to dig deeper into the Cathedral Valley area and 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.
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 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 fun games.
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 nearby. Fish Lake is a premier location for trophy-sized lake trout and rainbows, among others.
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. 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 rainstorms and flash flooding.
The Behunin Cabin is the perfect historic example of the harsh life pioneer settlers experienced in the Capitol Reef region. The cabin was built in 1882 by the Behunin family. After one year, they abandoned the property, driven out by flash floods that destroyed the crops, extreme heat and cold, drought, and swarms of insects. A small parking lot provides access to the cabin and historical information.
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.
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 at Capitol Reef National Park is simple and easily accessible. 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 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.
Experiencing Capitol Reef National Park on horseback is a unique opportunity. Witnessing the beautiful landscapes and remote trails from the saddle 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.
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 end 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.
Chimney Rock is one of the most noticeable landmarks at Capitol Reef National Park. The trail is best for intermediate hikers, covering an elevation of 580 feet and extending for a loop of 3.5 miles round trip. View the evenly spaced strata that look like stripes in the rock formed naturally over years of exposure to wind and water elements. This hike is best tackled in the springtime when temperatures are more forgiving than in the heat of summer.