A Fruitful Stay in Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is on the northern edge of the Grand
Circle of National Parks. Somewhat remote, and perhaps not as well
known as some of the other parks, it encompasses a 100-mile natural
upheaval in the earth’s crust known as the Waterpocket Fold.
The Navajo call the area the Land of the Sleeping Rainbow, an
accurate depiction of the many hues of the landscape of Capitol Reef.
The “capitol” comes from the white domes of Navajo sandstone that
resemble capitol building rotundas, and the “reef” comes from the rocky
cliffs that are a barrier to travel, like coral reefs.
We enjoyed our visit – in fact, we had a “fruitful” stay, in more ways than one:
- For one, we enjoyed the remnants of the 1880 Mormon settlement of
Fruita. There is a restored one-room schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop.
The historic Gifford homestead displays period furnishings and has a
shop that sells handmade items and delicious homemade pie and ice cream.
The day we went, they had apple, peach, blackberry and cherry pie –
don’t miss this fruity treat!
- We stayed at the Fruita campground, a lovely and
shady campground with restrooms, grills, trash receptacles, picnic
tables and an amphitheater. There is a dump station and water, no
hook-ups. As of Aug 2006, the nightly fee was $10 for a site, available
on a first-come, first-serve basis, with an RV-length limit of 45 feet.
Deer pay a visit throughout the day, as do the non-native, but very
interesting and attractive birds called Chukars.
- We went peach picking in the Fruita orchards.
Now owned and maintained by the National Park Service, the Fruita
orchards are the most obvious signs of the former pioneer settlement.
They hold approximately 2700 trees – apple, peach, pear, apricot and
cherry, and a few plum, walnut, mulberry and almond trees. During
picking season, you can stroll through the orchards and eat as much ripe
fruit as you want. A reasonable fee is charged for fruit picked and
removed from the orchards, which helps offset the cost of maintaining
this historic landscape.
- We took advantage of the Capitol Reef Visitor Center.
There are a few exhibits and a large relief map of the vast area around
the Waterpocket Fold. We picked up information on exploring Capitol
Reef including tips from the rangers and brochures on the geology,
hiking trails, orchards, historic Gifford House, etc.
- As always, we appreciate the ranger programs. We spent one
evening on a ranger-led hike in Cohab Canyon and would recommend it. We
attended the ranger-presentation on Capitol Reef geology in the Visitor
We also timed our visit to see the petroglyphs on Route 24, so
that we were there for the ranger talk about “rock art” and the people
of the Fremont culture that lived here between 700 and 1250 AD.
We hiked several trails in Capitol Reef National
In the summer, starting out early can make all the difference in hiking
enjoyment. Another tip is to look out for the rock cairns, which are
small stacks or rocks that have been placed to mark the trail in places
where you are traversing rock and there is no discernible path.
Here are the trails we hiked in Capitol Reef (none of these are loops, they are trails where you return the same way you came):
- Cohab Canyon: We did this hike with the ranger and hiked about 2miles
round trip. The complete trail is a 3.5 mile round trip. We think it
was worth it to go with the ranger – we learned a bit about park geology
and climbed around in a small slot canyon.
- Cassidy Arch: 3.5 miles round trip, this is a steep climb to high
cliffs, ending in an arch that you can stand on. Once you get to the
top and find the arch, you can walk around to a vantage point that gives
you a straight-on view for pictures of fellow hikers standing atop the
arch. Legend has it that Butch Cassidy had a hide out around this
area, hence the name. Good hike, worth the climb.
- Golden Throne: 4-miles round trip. Another
strenuous climb with some nice panoramic views. The name Golden Throne
refers to a rock formation that you can see from the top, which is
interesting, but should not be the point of making the climb (you can
also see Golden Throne form a stop along the Capitol Gorge dirt road).
The highlight of this hike for us was that we spotted big horn
sheep immediately when we started the hike, and again, several times as
we made the climb. Note that we were at the trailhead early in the
- Capitol Gorge: 2-mile round trip hike in a narrow
wash bottom. This level trail has a few petroglyphs and a place on the
canyon wall where pioneers have carved their names, called the Pioneer
Register. We were not overly impressed with this hike. The climb to the
Tanks (water pockets in the rocks) was not worth the effort. We do
think that the drive along the Capitol Gorge dirt road is worth making.
- Rim Overlook & Navajo Knobs: Excellent hike involving a strenuous
climb. We combined the Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs trails for a
9-mile round trip. The first part of the hike is the Rim Overlook
Trail, 4.5 miles round trip, lots of climbing with fantastic views.
Going up the trail, you get views of several rock formations including
the park namesake, Capitol Dome. At the top, you can sit on a ledge and
look out at the orchards, campgrounds and south.
- If you continue to
the Navajo Knobs, it is another 4.5 miles round trip, with more climbing
uphill and then scrambling up to the top of the “knobs” (rocks). The
reward is a stupendous 360 degree panorama. We started out early in the
morning and had the benefit of shade up to just beyond the Rim
Overlook. After that, it was a matter of getting to the next juniper,
pine tree or boulder large enough to provide a bit of shade. The climb
down was pretty much sun-baked, save for passing clouds. But the views
were worth it!
We made a few scenic drives:
- The drive from Torrey to the turn-off for the Capitol
Reef Visitor Center is beautiful to begin with. Route 24 winds past
rock formations such as Chimney Rock, Twin Rocks and the Castle.
- The Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive is
about 10 miles one-way (return on the same road for a total of 20
miles). It goes from the Visitor Center past the Fruita campground and
south along the western side of the Waterpocket Fold. It is worth it to
take the two dirt side roads off the Scenic Drive: Grand Wash and
- Just north of the Visitor Center and headed east
on Route 24 are the Historic Fruita Schoolhouse, the Petroglyphs, an
orchard, Behunin Cabin, the trailhead for Hickman Bridge/Rim
Overlook/Navajo Knobs, a waterfall on the Fremont River, and the
Notom-Bullfrog Road. The Notom-Bullfrog Road goes all the way south
meeting up with the Burr Trail and continuing to Bullfrog Marina on Lake
Powell. Since we had already driven a part of Burr Trail we just drove
the paved section of Notom Road, enough to appreciate the interesting
perspective of the eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold.
- We didn’t get to them, but there are other
backcountry roads to be explored in Capitol Reef National Park. In the
northern section are Cathedral Valley and The Temples of the Sun and the
We left Capitol Reef reflecting on homemade pie and panoramic vistas …as well as a stash of peaches for the road.
More on our Utah RV Travels:
- Beyond Capitol Reef: More of Southwest Utah: Colorful spots abound!
- Cedar Breaks: Wildflowers and a change from summer heat.
- Zion National Park: Highlights include the climb to Angels Landing.
- Bryce National Park: Our trip to the land of the hoodoos.
- Scenic Byway 12: We boondocked off the beaten path.
- Arches National Park: Fun formations as we begin our adventure with special pal, “Hike”.
- Canyonlands National Park: An expansive area to explore.