Capitol Reef National Park

Gifford Homestead in Fruita at Capitol Reef National Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

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A hogback running nearly 100 miles north and south through central Utah is the defining spine of Capitol Reef National Park, but this ruddy landscape offers many more geologic and cultural wonders.

Though the park draws its name from domes of white Navajo sandstone and the angular reefs of rock that reach for the sky, reds, tawny buffs, blacks and browns also paint Capitol Reef. And green, in the form of sweet-scented fruit and nut orchards planted by Mormon settlers late in the 19th century that continue to bear apples, pears, apricots, cherries, plums, mulberries, almonds and walnuts. Those alone are reason enough to visit this national park come harvest season.

But any time of year Capitol Reef is a welcome destination for park travelers. The seasons just require different layerings of clothes. It's really not much different than what the landscape goes through. In fall, the golden-leafed cottonwoods clinging to the Fremont River corridor tint the redrock surroundings with their reflections. Winter brings cold and occasional snowfall that also offers a brilliant contrast to the geology. Spring slowy encourages vestiges of life to erupt across the landscape -- Indian rice grass and needle-and-thread along washes, buds on the fruit and nut trees, pink, yellow and red blooms on pricklypear, fishhook, and claret cup cacti, and vibrant Indian paintbrush. And then summer arrives with its blushing fruit hanging heavy in the orchards.

While the Mormon settlers in the 1870s brought the fruit and nut trees, bringing life to the small valley fed by the Fremont River, this land was cultivated a long, long time before they arrived. The Fremont culture inhabited the region from roughly 600-1300 CE, supplementing what they could hunt down with corn, beans and squash. Though they're long gone, their pictographs and petroglyphs remain.

Just as Fruita attracted the Fremont centuries ago, today it lures the bulk of the park's visitors. The 71-site campground, set amid the orchards, is one of the most beautiful in the entire National Park System and a welcome spot to pitch a tent or park your camper. Spring is a great time to do just that, as the warming weather helps green the landscape, lures herds of deer into the orchards, and sends marmots scampering across the meadows. But early fall just might be the best time to camp, as the harvest is in full swing, with juicy apples, peaches and pears yours for the picking.

As rich and welcoming as the Fruita area is, the rest of Capitol Reef is raw and challenging...and beautiful. This is a long, narrow park, one with rather limited vehicle access. To truly explore it, you need a sound four-wheel-drive rig, a comfortable backpack, or both. There are slot canyons, spectacular stone arches, and rock sentinels that reach for the clouds. It's a park that invites close inspection.

Traveler's choice for: Geology, rock art, camping, hiking, photography, harvest time.

Park History: Capitol Reef National Park

One of Utah’s five national parks, Capitol Reef perhaps is the least known to the greater collection of national park travelers, practically a step-sibling to the other four. Yet that lack of notoriety actually contributes to its wonders, for it's easier to find some solitude and imagine the West of 150 years ago.

Getting Around Capitol Reef

Negotiating Capitol Reef National Park is pretty much straightforward...until you leave the pavement.

Seasons in Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is most accommodating, to humans, in spring and summer, but the other seasons aren't entirely intolerable.

Lodging At Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is one of the few national parks without lodging inside its borders. But nearby Torrey offers a nice range of lodgings, from charming bed-and-breakfasts and modest cabins to chain motels.

Camping At Capitol Reef

There are many incredibly scenic campgrounds in the National Park System, and the Fruita Campground at Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah easily should be in any top 10 list.

Hiking And Backpacking At Capitol Reef

For most visitors to Capitol Reef National Park, short day hikes are a perfect way to explore the park. But there are some incredible backcountry adventures for those looking to explore the hinterlands.

Capitol Reef Wildlife

Despite the seemingly inhospitable landscape that falls within Capitol Reef National Park, there actually is quite a varied wild kingdom here, though you might not see all its representatives.

The History Of Fruita

"Fruita" well-defines the settlement established here along the Fremont River in the 1880s by Mormon settlers, for they quickly nurtured orchards that provided produce they earned a living from by selling it to neighboring communities. Those orchards remain today, among the most tangible, and certainly the most delicious, aspect of the small community's history.

Harvest Time At Capitol Reef

Which is the most-anticipated month for visiting national parks? At Capitol Reef National Park, it has to be September, the month when apples ripen and are ready for picking.

A History Of Apples At Capitol Reef

There's a lot of history growing in the National Park System, some of which you can pluck off a tree. An apple tree, that is. Stroll the orchards of Capitol Reef National Park and you'll be surrounded by the fruits of history.

When You Want A Park To Yourself, Consider Capitol Reef In Winter

Think of Capitol Reef National Park and, if you're familiar with this isolated outpost in Utah's canyon country, you'll likely envision soaring reefs of colorful rock. But few would even imagine battles between mountain lions and lynx.

Capitol Reef Geology

The geology of the Colorado Plateau is fascinating, with its deeply grooved canyons, soaring buttes, and colorful outcrops. Capitol Reef National Park certainly wasn't shorted when this geology was laid down.

Resources For Visiting Capitol Reef

This is where you can find websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books related to the park.

Capitol Reef National Park News

Capitol Reef National Park Receives Gold Tier Dark Sky Designation

Superb opportunities to enjoy the night sky are just one of many reasons to visit Capitol Reef National Park, and that quality has earned some special recognition for the site. The park has been named a “Gold Tier” park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), the highest ranking awarded by that non-profit organization. In doing so, Capitol Reef becomes the seventh unit of the National Park Service to achieve designation as an International Dark Sky Park.

UPDATED: Patagonia Stung First At Arches National Park, Stung Again At Capitol Reef National Park

It seemed like the perfect photo shoot: Two climbers making a "first ascent" on a route in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. Unfortunately for the climbers, not only did they install bolts into the rockface, which is against park system regulations, and also roll rocks down the slope, but they were recognizeable.

Savoring The Fruits Of Fall In The National Parks

There are endless ways to experience our magnificent national parks. We are surrounded by stunning scenery, awash in light and color. Our ears capture the rush of waterfalls in spring and elk bugling in autumn. Scents of crisp air, pines, and wildflowers greet us. Stick your feet into a mountain stream and feel the bonechilling temperatures, or touch the softness of a Pussytoes flower. These types of activities allow us yet another type of experience.

Capitol Reef National Park Images