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.
What other campground can you name that is centered in orchards dating to the turn of the century, and which is cupped by soaring red-rock cliffs?
Pitch your tent or park your camper here in spring and you can enjoy blossoming apple, cherry, peach, and apricot trees. Show up in September and you can harvest some of the fruit fresh for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Just don't get in the way of the mule deer that also browse the orchards for snacking.
The Fruita Campground offers 71 sites for $10 a night (or a mere $5 a night if you hold a Golden Age/Senior Pass or Golden Access/Access Pass), all first-come, first-served, which means you should try to arrive by mid-morning to snag a site. Somehow we lucked out when we pulled into the campground at 6 p.m. on the Saturday before Easter Sunday and still managed to find a site, but that sort of timing probably should not be your reference guide.
The year-round campground is carved into three loops, A, B, and C, with C seemingly the most desirable as it extends deepest into the orchards. Each site has a picnic table and grill, and some have campfire rings, so if a fire is mandatory be sure to arrive early so you can search out a site with one. Speaking of fires, when available the park offers free firewood, which is stacked in bins in the campground. Thanks to the campground's location in the orchards, which also have towering cottonwoods in some spots, shade is in ample supply.
There is an accessible site in Loop B, and there also is a nice group site that can handle up to 40 campers and which is set apart from the other loops. There are no hookups for RVs in the campground, but there is a dump station and potable water.
There also are restrooms with flush toilets, sinks, changing tables for babies, and forced-air hand driers, but no showers. Though restrooms are very clean, they are a bit odd in that no soap dispensers exist.
The campground host is at the entrance to Loop A, and can tell you where you might find some available sites in the three loops.
This campground is well located if you're not planning to backpack in the park. Hiking trails are within easy reach, with the Fremont River, Cohab Canyon, Frying Pan, Cassidy Arch, and Grand Wash trails all nearby. The trail to Hickman Bridge, an arch, is just north of the campground across Utah 24 (but early in 2013 it was closed due to a landslide).
Also across Utah 24 is the original Fruita Schoolhouse and some nice rock art panels left by the Fremont Culture about 2,000 years ago.
Closer to the campground is the old Gifford Homestead with its iconic barn. The Giffords' house today stands as a museum and store, and inside you'll not only find handmade items similar to those the Mormon settlers crafted, but also homemade pies.
The park's Visitor Center is a mile from the campground, and in it you'll find a nice bookstore, souvenirs, restrooms, and a water spigot. The Fremont River also flows nearby, providing both a soothing background sound and fishing if you have a Utah permit.
During the busy seasons, this campground can resemble a city park, with youngsters darting around on their bikes, people walking their dogs, and Frisbees floating through the air.