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.
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.