Capitol Reef RV Travel Guide
Located in the heart of southern Utah’s red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is an adventurer’s dream. The park boasts some of the most dramatic landscapes in the southwest and is the second biggest national park in Utah (Canyonlands is the only one larger). The park gets its name from the white domes of sandstone that resemble the United States Capitol building. Early settlers determined that the long ridges in the park were impassible, much like reefs in the ocean. Combine the two impressions, and you get Capitol Reef.
One perk of this park is that Capitol Reef is often overlooked compared to its more famous National Park neighbors in Utah, so you can have quiet, low-traffic hiking trails almost to yourself while you enjoy slot canyons, cliffs, domes, and bridges. The park is also home to the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (which means a wrinkle on the earth like a step like fold with a steep dip) Capitol Reef is home to one that extends almost 100 miles.
Capitol Reef can be divided into three “districts”: Fruita Historic District, Cathedral Valley, and the Waterpocket Fold.
- Fruita is the most visited section of the park and the easiest to access. It’s here that you’ll find the park’s top attractions, just off the main Highway 24. The visitor center is here, along with historic Mormon homestead buildings and the historic fruit orchard.
- Cathedral Valley is located in the rugged landscape north of Highway 24. The famous Temple of the Sun and Moon is here, as are towering rock formations and some impressive 4WD opportunities.
- The Waterpocket Fold passes through the park north to south, but this name generally refers to the rugged, narrow area south of the Fruita Historic District. The Burr Trail Scenic Byway is the best way to see this section of the park.
We recommend spending at least two days in Capitol Reef to make the most of your time here. But as with most National Parks, you can catch some excellent highlights in just one day.
- If you have half a day, take a drive to Panorama and Sunset Points, Goosenecks Overlook, and the petroglyphs. You should also have time for a hike on Hickman Bridge.
- If you have a full day, hit the spots above plus Scenic Drive and Capitol Gorge Road. You can also take a longer hike or add one more, like Cassidy Arch, Grand Wash, or Cohab Canyon.
- If hiking isn’t your thing, visit Fruita and check out the petroglyphs, the early-1900s Gifford House (try the pie), or the historic fruit orchards. Visitors can even pick the fruit when it’s in season!
- If you have more time, visit Cathedral Valley or Loop the Fold, two of the park’s longer scenic drives.
- Visit the Temple of the Sun and Moon at sunrise or early in the morning for the best colors as the sun shines on the red rocks.
- Wear layers! Temperatures can be wide-ranging even in summer, so bring plenty of layers.
- Download maps and other park details for offline availability. As with many parks, much of the park has little or no cell signal, so plan ahead.
- Fuel up in Torrey. The parks is 60 miles long and has no gas stations to fuel its scenic drives.
Where to stay in the park
The only RV-friendly campground inside the park is Fruita Campground, a 71-site campground that offers dry camping sites only. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit or grill, but no electric, water, or sewer hookups are available. The campground does have a dump station and fresh water fill. Onsite restrooms have running water for toilets and sinks, but there are no showers. The park is reservation-only from March 1 – October 31. During the off-season, sites are first-come, first-served.
Book here: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/272245
Where to stay outside the park
There is lots of boondocking near Capitol Reef, so if you’re set up to dry camp, you’ll find no shortage of free camping options. Just be sure to keep an eye on the weather; this part of Utah can get very hot in the summer and cold in the winter!
Popular boondocking spots include Beas Lewis Flat and Capitol Reef Overflow dispersed camping sites.
Local list of campgrounds by location: http://capitolreef.org/lodging/
- Wonderland RV Park: https://www.capitolreefrvpark.com/
- Offroad RV Resort: https://www.offroadrvresort.com/
- Sand Creek RV Park & Campground: https://www.sandcreekrv.com/
- Thousand Lakes RV Park: http://www.thousandlakesrvpark.com/
Harvest Hosts/Boondockers Welcome:
- Etta Place Cider Winery
Things to do
- Go hiking: Most of the park’s day hiking is in the Fruita Historic District, but you can also get off the beaten path in some of the park’s more remote sections. Experienced hikers can follow slot canyons and even do a bit of swimming. For a complete list of hikes in the park, visit the park’s website.
- Take a scenic drive: Between Capitol Gorge Road, the Cathedral Valley Loop, and Loop the Fold, you can’t go wrong with the scenic drives in this park. On Capitol Gorge Road, don’t miss the Pioneer Register, or marks made on the canyon walls from 18th- and 19th-century Mormon settlers as they passed this way.
- See the petroglyphs: The Fremont Culture lived in Utah for about 1000 years and left petroglyphs behind. You can see them along Highway 24, accessible by two wooden boardwalks. Bring a pair of binoculars to help you get a closer view.
- Ride your bike: Bikes must stay on designated roads and are not allowed on hiking trails in the park. For detail on where you can ride, check out the park website here.
- Visit Fruita: The Fruita Historic District is the heart of the national park. Visit a 19th-century schoolhouse, learn about early pioneers at Gifford House, or pick fruit off the tree in the historic fruit orchards.
Permits and closures
Backpacking, canyoneering, rock climbing, and bouldering in the park all require a free permit.
The Hartnet and Cathedral/Caineville Wash Roads were damaged by flooding in 2022 and are closed at the junction with State Route 24. For updates, check back here.
Great episode in one of our favorite national parks! The blog is excellent and packed with great info..
Michelle Sewell says
Another great episode. I wanted to drop a quick note to let you know that we will totally appreciate the blog when travelling to the areas you are writing about. Before our summer trip to your area this summer, we watched your previous videos…. for the third or fourth time, but who’s counting, and took notes. This will be way more helpful, so please know that you are creating an invaluable tool for the rest of us – thank you.
On a secondary note, after crossing some of the same roads this summer that you travelled in this episode, it is both exciting to watch and learn about but bittersweet as well – a little hard to watch. We so want to be back there and experiencing all of those amazing places. We were in the area for around ten days in July, but it was not enough. It was just enough time to know what we were missing.
Thank you much for all you do.
Rob & Michelle Sewell
Jimmy S says
We love watching each week.. We plan to retire very soon and your shows are very beneficial. Keep up the great work.
Melissa Knerr says
Thank you for the park guides. They are very helpful with all the packed information.
I absolutely love your videos. There are so many things that we have (and love) that you guys have recommended. In fact we are in Cedar City, UT right now and this episode couldn’t have come at a better time! We’re heading to Cedar Breaks National Monument tomorrow. We are in a class C motorhome and aren’t towing because we’re not retired and have to keep moving if we want to see places further from home. I’m going to check out if we an drive our motorhome through Capitol Reef and if we can, we’ll go there next. Thanks so much for all that you share!!
Nicki A Harmon says
Thanks so much for the Blog with all this great info. Anyway you can create a print button? Would love a neat and tidy Travel Guide for our file and to bring along on our trip. Thanks for all you do! We did all three parks in Washington this May/June . Can’t wait to relive it though your trip!
Okay, I have the tip of the century for you folks who love to arrive at campgrounds in the dark. I cannot take credit for this because I just learned about it from a friend, but it is AMAZING! Two words: two lanterns. Use one lantern at the right side of the campsite driveway and one on the left side. That way, you know your target for backing in is in between those two lights! Brilliant!!
We’re headed to Utah this fall so thanks for the video on Capitol Reef. And in anticipation of next week’s video, I hope you love(d) Stanley! It’s one of our favorite places ever!!
Love that tip! We don’t plan to arrive after dark anywhere but I’m packing an extra lantern just in case! We are leaving for Utah next week as well! Even more excited after watching this video! Been on my bucket list for over 10 years😎
Thank you. This is so helpful.
Cathleen A Bond says
Thanks for the information, we happen to be going there in June 2023. I love following you on your adventures, I have learned so much from you guys <3
Michael L Brant says
We were blown away by Capitol Reef, surely one of the least-visited NPs – and we didn’t leave I-70!
We were literally blown away. Pebbles from the sides of The Slot fell on our car and MH, but little damage – we were trying to evacuate with 65 MPH gusts.
After I left Utah, it occurred to me (duh!) that all of the the Mighty Five are wind erosion features, which does seem to imply that Utah has significant winds. You know, winds that carve sandstone, limestone, and granite! Such winds!
We stopped at an overlook, and read the monument plaque in which a new Mormon bride cursed any man who would bring his bride to such a place! We had stopped in sheer exhaustion from battling the winds, and understood her completely!
I’d also like to recommend Mountain Press’ excellent “Roadside Geology of Utah”. (There are such guides for most of the states now, and they explain the geology you see, as exposed in road cuts!) Well-illustrated and mapped, and readable from middle school and up.