Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is probably the most underrated of Utah’s 5 national parks, even though it is not the least visited (Canyonlands). The park gets its name from the geological phenomena called the Waterpocket fold. This 100-mile “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust is what gives Capitol Reef its astounding spine-like ridges and spires. The Waterpocket Fold is a trove of cliffs, canyons, domes, bridges and towering spires.
The most commonly visited part of the park runs along the 10-mile Scenic Drive; The Fruita Area. This aptly named part of the park is lush, green and fertile and hosts a thriving orchard of approximately 3,100 trees. Fruita was settled in the 1880’s by Mormon settlers who planted orchards of cherry, apricot, peach, pear, plum, almond, walnut and apples. No more than 10 or so families lived in Fruita at one time and the last resident of the area moved away in 1969. The National Park Service now maintains the orchards and a 200-acre Historic District which includes a small schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop and the Gifford homestead. Visitors are welcome to explore these areas and to stroll through any unlocked orchards and consume any ripe fruit they desire. Harvesting large quantities of fruit is not allowed until the designated “Harvest Season”, and then any produce can be collected for $1/lb.
If you're up for some adventure and have plenty of time, then head to the Cathedral Valley. The Cathedral Valley District of Capitol Reef is accessed by an unpaved 58-mile loop. The Valley lies to the northern edge of the park. Roads can usually be negotiated by high clearance vehicles with or without four-wheel drive, but with common weather events, the road can become extremely muddy and impassable. There are several stunning vistas along the drive with amazing views of the park’s dramatic geological formations, such as: Temple Of The Sun & Moon, Walls Of Jericho, & Glass Mountain.
Another great way to see the majority of the park, including the beautiful Muley Twist Canyon, is to take the Loop-The-Fold Tour. This 124-mile drive runs along the Waterpocket Fold and passes through Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument and Dixie National Forest, which is the largest National Forest in Utah. You can also deviate from the loop and head south to explore Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell.
The number of activities in Capitol Reef are as endless as your imagination, but, to narrow it down, the Switchback Kids have shared a few of their favorite adventures while visiting the park in the early Fall.
So, enjoy the stunning vistas of Capitol Reef, munch on some fresh fruit, and take a hike or two in this interesting and diverse southern Utah national park.