There’s high compitition amoung Utah’s National Parks. While this park is often looked over by visitors, it makes a great stop on a road trip or the perfect destination for visitors looking to escape the crowds at Zion and Bryce Canyon. Let us introduce you to Capitol Reef, Utah’s most underrated national park. Located in Utah’s southern desert, this National Park offers a sweeping expanse of geological wonders marked by sheer cliffs, winding canyons, and twisted red rock features. While the masses may flock to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, Capitol Reef’s 378 square miles of pristine desert offer endless possibilities for adventure. Capitol Reef’s remote location 137 miles southwest of Moab allows for a plethora of dispersed camping opportunities.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is home to some of the most surreal rock formations in the southwest, some of which are up to 250 million years old. Capitol Reef’s crowning geological feature is the Waterpocket Fold, which runs with parallel ridges for a hundred miles, bending like a breaking wave. Capitol Reef National Park is located 137 miles southwest of Moab and 218 miles south of Salt Lake City. Explore the rest of Southern Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks with this itinerary.
It will take roughly 3 hours and 24 minutes to travel the 218 miles from our Salt Lake City location to Captial Reef National Park.
It takes approximately 8 hours and 40 minutes to drive the 427 miles to Capitol Reef National Park from our Denver location.
It will take you 5 hours and 45 minutes to drive the 343 miles to Capitol Reef National Park from our Las Vegas hub.
Why Rent a Camper Van for a Trip to Capitol Reef National Park?
The perfect blend of mobility and comfort: A camper van gives you unparalleled mobility and comfort and allows you to explore the far reaches of Utah’s southern desert. Traveling in an RV means you are limited on where you are allowed to park, not to mention they are hard to drive. A camper van offers the best of both worlds–camping made comfortable and easy meals on the go. Navigate winding mountain roads with ease, get to remote dispersed campsites, and enjoy all the freedoms of camper van travel.
Easy to drive: Unlike giant RVs, camper vans drive just like normal cars, fit into regular parking spots, and are easy to use both in nature and in the city. Camper vans are unrivaled when it comes to dispersed camping. Access remote campsites and trails in the far corners of the desert and blend in seamlessly while exploring the streets of Moab.
Flexible Camping: Since camper vans don’t require electrical or sewer hookups, you have the flexibility to camp in tent-designated campsites and remote dispersed sites.
Convenient and fun: With dozens of add-ons and several spacious models to choose from, our camper vans make spending the night in nature easy and enjoyable. You can pack everything you need for a multi-day and multi-activity adventure in your van and not waste time setting up a tent or looking for RV-designated camping/ parking.
Preparing for a Trip to Capitol Reef National Park
Sun Protection: The Utah sun is no joke. Bring ample sun protection, including sun hats, sunglasses, UPF clothing, and plenty of sunscreen.
Layers: The weather in the desert can change without warning. The days can be sunny, but the night temperatures can drop quickly as soon as the sun goes down. Remember to bring layers for chilly desert nights.
Water & Food: A camper van allows you to take everything you need on the road. When exploring the desert, always bring more water than you think you need. Escape Camper Vans has everything you need to chef it up on your camping trip, consider adding a kitchen kit to your camper van to complete your booking.
Camper vans fit in almost every standard-sized campsite and don’t require electrical or water hookups, making camping easy.
Dispersed camping vs. campsites: A van makes dispersed camping easy. You can disperse camp for free on federal and BLM land. There are plenty of apps to help you find a dispersed camping site on your route. If you’re considering booking a campsite, either in a national/state park or a private campsite, make sure you book at least a few months before your trip.
Phones & Chargers: Navigation is integral to your trip’s success. Make sure you bring a smartphone or GPS device and a charger.
Downloaded Maps: In the desert, you never know when you’ll lose service. Download offline maps of the region in case you do.
Must-See Sights, Events, and Places in Captial Reef National Park
Go canyoneering: Capitol Reef is home to dozens of slot canyons, many of which you can explore. While you can manage to squeeze through some on foot, others require canyoneering equipment and technical expertise. Hire a local guide and set out to descend some of Captial Reef’s lesser-known canyons.
Take in the views from Panorama Point: Looking for beautiful views off Highway 24? Panorama Point offers just that. The viewpoint offers a birdseye vantage point of the highway and sprawling desert landscape. Look for signs marking Panorama and Sunset Point, turn at the sign, and travel down a gravel road until you reach the parking lot.
Hike the Capitol Gorge Trail: The Capitol Gorge Trail is a moderately difficult 4.5-mile out-and-back that leads hikers through the gorge as red rock canyon walls tower overhead.
Marvel at ancient petroglyphs: Capitol Reef contains a bit of ancient history hidden along Highway 24 in the form of Native American petroglyphs. Park in the small lot located between the Hickman Bridge trailhead and Fruita. A short walk will take you to the viewpoint where you’ll see the ancient figures depicted in a rock face.
Hike the Burro Wash Slot Canyon Trail: As the most popular slot canyon hike in the park, you’ll likely encounter others on the trail, but it’s still worth the trip for the spectacular canyon views. The hike is a 7.6-mile out-and-back that begins as a stroll through an open wash but eventually leads to a narrow, shoulder-width canyon passage. The best time to visit this trail is from March through November.
Explore historic Fruita: Situated in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, Fruita is a historic pioneer town that was founded in the late 1800s. While most of the original buildings are long gone, you can still see the original one-room schoolhouse. The early settlers planted orchards, which remain today and can be picked by tourists.
Take on Cohab Canyon: The Cohab Canyon hike is a 3.4-mile strenuous trek that offers stunning views over Fruita.
Hike the Cottonwood Wash Slot Canyon: This 6.5-mile out and back takes you to one of the park’s best-hidden gems. The Cottonwood Wash Slot Canyon contains rock scrambles, chockstones, and the occasional pool of water, but the obstacles add up to a surreal experience traveling through the canyon. Some spots are so narrow you’ll need to turn sideways to squeeze through.
Camping in Capitol Reef, Utah
Capitol Reef’s windswept canyons and sharp geological features make it one of Utah’s most breathtaking national parks. While the landscape can be compared to that of Zion and Bryce Canyon, the park has its own charm. Enjoy park-maintained campsites, dispersed camping, and private campsites in Capitol Reef National Park and the surrounding desert landscape. For more information on nearby dispersed campsites, click here.
Fruita Campground: As the park’s only developed campground, Fruita Campground fills up quickly. This Utah campground has 71 sites and is open from March 1 – October 31. Located on the banks of the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, this campground is a true desert oasis. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire pit. There’s easy access to potable water and restrooms with flush toilets. Make your reservations here.
Cathedral Valley Campground: This primitive campground is located 7,000 feet above sea level along the park’s Cathedral Valley Loop Road between Juniper and Pinyon forests. The dirt road leading to the campground is a rough drive, but the views of the surrounding desert are well worth it. There is no access to potable water, so pack everything you will need. The high desert can experience huge fluctuations in temperature, so plan accordingly. Check with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center for road conditions before your stay.
Cedar Mesa Campground: Another of the park’s primitive campgrounds, Cedar Mesa is located 23 miles south of Utah State Highway 24 on the Notom-Bullfrog Road. This campground sits at an elevation of 5,500 feet and may require high clearance depending on road conditions. You can check road conditions by calling 435-425-379 or by checking in with the visitor center.
Red River Camp: Red River Camp is a private campground surrounded by red cliffs in southern Utah, just 10 minutes from Capitol Reef National Park. Guests have access to private campsites with fire pits, picnic tables, and restroom facilities. There is no potable drinking water.
Thousand Lakes RV Park: Located just 6 miles from Capitol Reef, with views of the Red Rock mountains, it’s hard to beat the convenience and comfort of Thousand Lakes RV Park. Thousand Lakes offers cabins, RV sites, and tent sites with access to a swimming pool and restroom facilities.
Calf Creek Campground: this small, yet popular campground is located along the creek near the trailhead to Lower Calf Creek Falls. The campground is open year-round. Sites are small but there is access to potable water, toilets, and the nearby trailhead. This campground is first-come, first-serve
Goblin Valley State Park: Nearby Goblin Valley State Park offers comfortable camping within reach of Capitol Reef. Hot showers, flush toilets, spacious campsites, and even a disc golf course are available to campers at Goblin Valley.
Leave No Trace Principles
Whenever traveling in nature, utilize Leave No Trace Principles, meaning pack out everything you packed in, including food waste, trash, camping gear, and anything else you may have brought.
When is the Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park?
Capitol Reef is a year-round destination. Spring and fall make up the busy season and are ideal for hiking and biking, but the park is open to visitors year-round. While the winter may be chilly, it offers a whole new sightseeing experience. If you plan on visiting in the summer, expect extreme heat and limit strenuous outdoor activities to the mornings and late afternoons. In the desert, every season comes with new challenges, from the heat of the summer to the monsoons in the spring and the snowy winters. Make sure you know what to expect when you’re traveling in Utah’s southern deserts.
Summer: While the summer heat in Capitol Reef pales in comparison to other parks in the southwest, the park’s high temperatures should still be taken seriously. Temperatures in Capitol Reef rarely exceed 100°F. Temperatures will likely be in the upper eighties and even into the nineties in the later summer. Flash floods are also common.
Spring: Spring in Capitol Reef is a bit colder than you may expect. Temperatures can be anywhere from the teens to the high sixties. Visitors will be left in awe by the widespread wildflower blooms. Adventures should prepare for the occasional rainstorm. Spring is a great time to visit the Fruita Orchards.
Fall: Fall brings cooler temperatures and plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventure. Expect to find more people on hiking and biking trails. Daytime temperatures will range from the fifties to the low seventies, with nighttime temperatures down to the mid-forties.
Winter: Winters in Capitol Reef are remarkably quiet. By the time the winter comes around, most of the crowds in the park have vanished. Expect moderate snowfall to blanket the desert. Temperatures hover around 10-20°F, and winter weather occasionally causes road closures.
Why Reserve a Camper Van for Your Trip to Capitol Reef National Park?
The perfect blend of mobility and comfort: A camper van gives you the ultimate blend of mobility and comfort and allows you to explore the far reaches of Capitol Reef National Park. While an RV may have a similar level of comfort, you’re limited on where you can park and stay. A camper van offers the best of both worlds–camping made comfortable and easy meals on the go. Navigate winding mountain roads with ease, get to remote, dispersed campsites, and enjoy all the freedoms of camper van travel.
Easy to drive: Unlike giant RVs, camper vans drive just like normal cars, fit into regular parking spots, and are easy to use both in nature and in the city. Camper vans are unrivaled when it comes to dispersed camping. They make accessing remote campsites and trails in the far corners of the desert a breeze without compromising the ability to explore the streets of Moab or Salt Lake City.
Flexible camping: Since camper vans don’t require electrical or sewer hookups, you have the flexibility to camp in tent-designated campsites and remote dispersed sites.
Convenient and fun: With dozens of add-ons and several spacious models to choose from, our camper vans make spending the night in nature easy and enjoyable. You can pack everything you need for a multi-day and multi-activity adventure with you in your van and not waste time setting up a tent or looking for RV-designated camping/parking.
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