Capitol Reef may be the least known National Park in Utah, but incredibly beautiful! Check this article before visiting Capitol Reef National Park.
What is Capitol Reef National Park?
Capitol Reef National Park is one of five national parks in Utah and is located just south of the center of the state. There are no large cities in the area, only small villages. Capitol Reef became a National Monument in 1937 and was named National Park in 1971. In the center of the park, you will find the town of Fruita which was founded in 1880 by a group of Mormons. The Fremont River also runs through the valley.
The landscape of Capitol Reef is characterized by the jagged colored rocks and is a spectacular sight. Due to its isolation and the popularity of Utah’s other national parks, Capitol Reef National Park is never extremely busy.
There are 63 National Parks in the United States. Check out the full list.
Capitol Reef National Park: Practical Tips
What do you need to know before visiting Capitol Reef National Reef?
How to get to Capitol Reef National Park?
Since there are no major cities nearby, it feels like Capitol Reef is located in the middle of nowhere. It’s almost a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City, the nearest major city. Most people visit the park on a road trip in Southwest USA. Coming from Moab (Arches and Canyonlands National Park) it’s a 2.5-hour drive to Capitol Reef. Don’t forget to visit Goblin Valley State Park along the way. It also takes 2.5 hours to get to Capitol Reef when you drive from Bryce Canyon National Park. You will then drive on one of the most beautiful roads in the Southwest of America: Scenic Byway 12.
The park is open 24 hours a day, 356 days a year. Do you also want to visit the visitor center? It is usually closed on public holidays and open between 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM the rest of the year. Check the official website for opening hours during your visit.
Visiting Capitol Reef National Park: how much does it cost?
If you are only driving through the park on Highway 24, you do not have to pay the entrance fee. You only need an admission ticket if you go beyond the Fruita campground. The admission fee is $ 20 per car and is valid for seven days. You can get it at the visitor center or online. There is no checkpoint in the park, but you must be able to show your ticket if a ranger asks you.
Are you planning on visiting more US National Parks? Then it might be cheaper to purchase an America the Beautiful pass. This pass costs $ 80 and is valid for one year in all US National Parks.
What is the best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park?
You can visit the park all year round. Autumn is the best time to visit Capitol Reef. This is when the colors are at their best and they seem even brighter. This is also the best time of the year to pick different types of fruit.
How much time do you need?
Capitol Reef National Park is not a place where you check off a few highlights, the best way to discover the park is on a few hikes. That is why it is smart to spend at least a full day in the park and stay a night. Two is even better. Also, don’t forget to add the time you need to travel to the park since that probably takes at least 2,5 hours.
What to do in Capitol Reef National Park?
Capitol Reef National Park is not a place where you drive from highlight to highlight, the whole park is a sight to see. I recommend that you do the following:
Pick some delicious fruit
Fruita is located in a valley and there are orchards full of fruit trees. The best thing: you can pick your own fruit. The fruit you eat on the spot is free and you have to pay for what you bring out of the orchard. There is a lot to pick all year round and it is clearly indicated at the entrance of the orchard where it is allowed. During my visit (in July) there were many delicious apricots to pick, but there are also orchards with apples, cherries, peaches, and pears. It’s so good!
Learn about the history
Mormons lived in Fruita until the late 1960s. This is not only visible through the orchards, but also there are still some historic buildings in the valley. You can even visit some of them. You can also occasionally encounter old, rusted agricultural materials while you’re hiking in the park.
Spot the deer
There is hardly any place in the US where I have seen as many deer up close as in Capitol Reef. The funny thing: it was effortless, I just had to sit on a bench in the Fruita campground and wait. Especially towards evening dozens of deer passed by on the field behind the campsite. It was a beautiful sight!
Hike the most beautiful trails
The most beautiful places in the US National Parks are usually only visible when you go on a hike and that is also the case in Capitol Reef. There are fifteen beautiful hiking trails in the vicinity of Fruita alone. I myself walked the Fremont River Trail. This is a nice short hike with a beautiful view of the valley at the end.
In addition, I have heard good stories about the Hickman Bridge Trail, the Chimney Rock Loop, and the Cohab Canyon Trail. Ask a ranger for the best trails during your visit or check this website.
Go camping in Capitol Reef National Park
Even if you are not a camper, I would try to spend a night at the Fruita campground. This is perhaps the most beautiful campground in Southwest USA. The campsite is beautifully situated in the valley between the fruit trees (great for breakfast, lunch, and for dessert!) And there is a large lawn on the west side. You will undoubtedly see a lot of deer here, especially in the morning and in the evening.
Since there is no light pollution, this is a great spot for stargazing. This is also a good place to see the Milky Way and you may even see shooting stars!
Discover the beautiful places along the Scenic Drive
There are several roads in Capitol Reef National Park that are great for a scenic drive. The official Scenic Drive (starting at the Fruita Campground) is a must-see and if you’re ok with going off-road, there are also a few unpaved roads worth checking out, such as Cathedral Road.
In addition to the roads in the park, the roads around the park are also beautiful to drive. For example, also drive a stretch of highway 24 east of Capitol Reef and Highway 12 from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Learn about the park from the rangers
If you want to learn more about the park, you can always contact one of the rangers. You can of course find them at the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center. Here you can also buy souvenirs and watch a movie about the creation of Capitol Reef National Park.
In addition, you can often attend a lecture in the evening in the amphitheater (which is outside, next to the campground). You might even see some deer strolling around. A beautiful sight!
What’s the best place to stay during your visit to Capitol Reef National Park?
Camping in the park
I mentioned it before: camping at the Fruita Campground is one of the best things to do in the park. This campground is open all year round. You can reserve a spot in advance for a stay from 1 March to 31 October. You can do this six months in advance via this website.
From November 1 to February 28 it is a first-come, first-serve campsite.
Where to stay in Torrey
Are you unable to secure a spot on the Fruita campground or do you really don’t like to go camping? Then you can also spend the night in the village of Torrey, which is only a fifteen-minute drive from Fruita. On Booking.com you can find several accommodations in different price ranges. These are a few recommendations:
- Capitol Reef Resort: sleeping in a wigwam or covered wagon, how cool is that?
- Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse: choose to spend the night in a comfortable hotel room or sleep in a covered wagon.
- Austin’s Chuckwagon Motel: the place if you want to sleep in a real American (western) motel.
Would you rather not sleep in a hotel but rent a cabin? Check VBRO.
Traveling to Utah
After reading this article, are you looking forward to a trip to the Southwest of America or are you already orienting yourself completely? Great idea!
If you arrange your trip yourself, you will at least need a plane ticket and transportation. Capitol Reef National Park is located quite far from most international airports, so visiting the park as a part of a larger road trip is recommended. Airports that you can easily fly to from Europe are Salt Lake City, Denver, and Las Vegas. The cheapest airline tickets can usually be found via Skyscanner.
In addition, you naturally need a car or an RV. It’s a matter of looking and comparing often to find the best deal.
For Europeans, it’s smart to reserve ahead through a European website. In that case, you’ll know that all necessary insurance is included.
A few good organizations to rent a car or an RV are:
- AutoEurope: a great website to reserve a car when you’re traveling to the US from Europe. I usually find the best deals here.
- Rentalcars.com: good deals on rental cars for Americans and Canadians.
- RVshare: one of the best websites to rent an RV.
Read more about Arches National Park and traveling in Southwest USA
Do you want to have more fun or learn more about this beautiful region in the US? Then I can recommend these travel guides:
Fodor’s Utah: With Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks
DK Eyewitness Southwest USA and National Parks
I wrote many articles about traveling in the US on this website. You can find them all on this page. Are you going on a trip to Southwest USA? Then these articles might also be fun to read:
- 35 Best Books on National Parks + other gift ideas (2022)
- Visiting Arches National Park: a must-see in Utah
- Zion National Park Travel Guide – tips for your first visit
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