This past Labor Day weekend, my husband and I went to Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey, Utah. For those of you that haven’t heard of Capitol Reef, it’s one of Utah’s famous “Mighty 5” National Parks, along with Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, and Bryce Canyon.
Capitol Reef is probably the least visited of the five parks, and some even refer to it as a “hidden gem” due to the fact that it’s not very busy. Still, I was a little concerned the park would be slammed given that we were visiting over a holiday weekend. To my surprise, the trails were quiet and serene, traffic was non-existent, and parking was abundant.
But the highlight of the weekend was hands-down, the campground! Oh. My. Goodness. It was SO BEAUTIFUL! Before I dive in to my full experience, I thought I’d share an overview of what you’ll love, and a few things you might not love about Fruita Campground.
It’s drop-dead gorgeous!
Pick fresh fruit
Free drinking water
There are two trailheads walking distance from the campground
Capitol Reef has low foot traffic compared to Zion and Arches
Free shows in the amphitheater and guided hikes, courtesy of the Visitor Center. Check with them for the day’s schedule of events.
You have to book it months in advance. Only developed campground
The “walk-up sites”
No individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups
No data/cell service (we have Verizon)
You might be underwhelmed with Capitol Reef after visiting Zion and Arches. I suggest hitting up Capitol Reef first if you’re visiting multiple national parks in Utah.
Ok, now let’s go in depth on the points above (+photos!)...
Fruita Campground is easily the most beautiful developed campground I’ve ever visited. It’s located inside Capitol Reef National Park, so the scenery is top-notch. No matter which campsite you get, you’ll be surrounded by towering red cliffs and historic orchards where you can pick fresh fruit (more on that below) among herds of deer. It’s idyllic!
The campground features:
64 RV/tent sites
7 walk-in tent sites
Fire pits, grills, and picnic tables
A reservation system
I reserved one of the walk-in tent sites, not realizing what “walk-in” meant. Basically, the 7 walk-in sites are located in an open grassy area with a few trees, a good distance from where you park your car. This wasn’t a huge deal, but it did mean that we had to literally walk our camping gear from our car to our campsite, which was about 25-50 yards away. I would recommend booking a regular site if you have the option, especially if you camp with heavy gear.
Which brings me to my next point…
Whether you want a walk-in tent site or regular RV/tent site, you have to book it early! Fruita Campground is the only developed campground inside Capitol Reef National Park and it fills up fast. For reference, I booked our September 2018 reservation in January 2018. There are a few first-come, first-serve sites, but I don’t recommend taking the risk.
The campground’s bathrooms were surprisingly clean and well maintained, but they lack showers. Personally, I can go a couple of days without showering if I bring some baby wipes along with me. If you’re someone who absolutely needs to shower each morning, you can do so at the Chuck Wagon General Store in Torrey. I didn’t do this, but I believe it costs about $6.
(Side note: The general store carries a pretty good variety of produce and packaged foods, including some organic options!)
Ok, enough about bathrooms. Let’s discuss my absolute favorite thing about the campground… It’s called FRUIT-a for a reason!
Fruita Campground is located in the Fruita historic district, which is chock full of apple, pear, and peach orchards. Depending on the season, visitors are able to walk into the orchards and eat fresh fruit at their leisure!
We had just missed peach season and the apples weren’t ready yet, nor were the pears. We decided to walk through the orchard anyway and noticed that many pears had already fallen from their trees, so we considered those fair game. Hey, if we didn’t eat them, the deer certainly would have!
The pears were tart, as you can see by the expression on Will’s face!
You can find filtered drinking water near the bathrooms and also at the Visitor Center. This is a huge perk, because the park recommends drinking 1 gallon of water per person, per day, in Capitol Reef (it’s the desert, after all). But who wants to bring 6+ gallons of water with them? That’s so much plastic. We arrived with two 1 gallon jugs, and refilled them throughout the weekend.
Fruita Campground also offers free firewood, although, we never took advantage of this. If you’re interested, it’s available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Ok, now let’s discuss the real reason you’re considering a trip to Capitol Reef National Park: the hiking! One of the most popular trails in Capitol Reef National Park is Hickman Bridge, and you can actually access the Hickman Bridge trailhead via the Cohab Canyon Trail which is right across the street from Fruita Campground. This is very convenient because you don't have to worry about parking — just walk over to the trailhead from your campsite.
My favorite hike, however, was Sunset Point at sunset (no surprise here). It's a very easy, laid-back hike with surreal 360 degree views of Capitol Reef. Plan to arrive 30-60 minutes before sunset for the full experience.
If you’re not a big hiker, you’re in luck because Capitol Reef offers so much more than trails!
Take a scenic drive through Capitol Gorge (60 minutes round trip)
Watch the sunset at Sunset Point
Visit the Gifford House for freshly baked cinnamon rolls and pies
Pick fresh fruit from a Fruita orchard
Take a dip in the Fremont River
Catch a geology talk, guided hike, or evening program. Stop by the Visitor Center for more details.
Book a canyoneering trip, guided backcountry hike, or ATV/Jeeping tour with an adventure company.
And finally, I have to end this post with one important tip: Capitol Reef is beautiful and definitely worth a visit, but some people feel completely underwhelmed by Capitol Reef after visiting Zion and Arches National Park. If you’re planning to visit multiple Utah National Parks in one epic road trip, I recommend seeing Capitol Reef first.