Capitol Reef conjures up visions of tropical coastlines and marine life, which may seem strange for a national park in the center of landlocked Utah. The park’s seemingly impenetrable 87-mile-long kink in the Earth’s crust was dubbed “Capitol Reef” by early settlers, who thought its large white Navajo Sandstone domes resembled the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Visitors are often drawn to Utah’s well-known national parks, such as Arches and Zion, but those willing to venture into this remote part of the state will discover an amazing wonderland of unique rock formations, dizzying slot canyons, ancient petroglyphs, and lush fruit orchards, all without the crowds of the state’s more well-known parks.
Where is Capitol Reef National Park?
Capitol Reef National Park is located in the middle of the Colorado Plateau in south-central Utah. Bryce Canyon National Park is 115 miles northeast, while Arches National Park is 130 miles southwest. The closest major airport is at Grand Junction, Colorado, about 185 miles northeast, while the closest large cities are Salt Lake City, 218 miles north, and Las Vegas, 330 miles southwest.
How to get there?
Take Scenic Byway 12 from Bryce Canyon National Park through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Torrey, where it intersects with Utah 24. You may get to the park by driving east on Utah 24. From the east, take I-70 to the Utah 24 exit and continue west until you reach the park.
Best time to visit
Capitol Reef National Park is best visited in the spring and fall. The weather is usually decent at this time of year, and you avoid the summer throng. The orchards are in blossom from late March to mid-April, while the wildflowers are at their peak from late April to early June.
Due to the possibility of flash flooding, monsoons are common in July and August, prompting some trail and road closures. Fall colours are exceptionally beautiful when flanked by Capitol Reef’s red granite cliffs, and they usually peak around mid-October. Winter is also a great season to visit Capitol Reef, however owing to snow and ice, certain roads and trails may be closed.
Summers at Capitol Reef National Park are milder than in many other southern parks due to its higher elevation. Summer temperatures can be oppressive on the route, so go early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. In the late summer, flash floods can occur, and roads can close due to snowfall in the winter. The orchards are best visited in the fall, and the annual harvest festival is held the third weekend in September.
Although some routes may close due to icy conditions or flash flood warnings, Capitol Reef National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Except for important holidays, the tourist center is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During the summer, the visitor center is open until 6:00 p.m. The Gifford House, which is known for its pies, opens for the season on Pi Day (March 14) and closes towards the end of October. It is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. COVID-19 has limited operations at Capitol Reef National Park. It’s possible that some facilities won’t be available, and staffing may be limited.
Park Entrance Fee
The park costs $20 per vehicle and $10 per person on foot or by bike, with passes good for seven days. Free admission to the park is available to holders of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. Fruit Campground charges $20 per night for spots, whereas Cathedral Valley Campground and Cedar Mesa Campground offer free camping.
Capitol Reef National Landmarks
Capitol Gorge Road
Ancient Fremont petroglyphs
Sulfur Creek Canyon
Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Trails
Cassidy Arch Trail
Chimney Rock Trail
Cohab Canyon Trail
Frying Pan Trail
Grand Wash Trail
Capitol Gorge Trail
Hickman Bridge Trail
Rim Overlook Trail
Halls Creek Narrows
Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail
Where to Stay
The Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in the park. This 71-site campground is surrounded by the historic Fruita orchards and several trails, including the Cohab Canyon Trail and Fremont River Trail, are easily accessed right from camp. Campsites are reservable from March 1 through October 31 and reservations can be made up to six months in advance. All campsites are first-come, first-served for the rest of the year.
The small Torrey town, Utah is located just 15 minutes west of the park visitor center and offers a huge variety of lodging options including RV parks, glamping resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals. You’ll find everything from tiny cabin rentals and decked-out authentic Conestoga Wagons to bed and breakfasts and luxury desert retreats. You can also find additional lodging options in the neighboring communities of Teasdale, Bicknell, and Caineville.