One of our main goals during our road trip was to visit some of the lesser-known national parks throughout the west, one being Capitol Reef National Park. Arguably, Capitol Reef is often overshadowed by its neighbors – Arches, Canyonlands & Zion. Like the neighboring parks, Capitol Reef is made up of beautiful rock formations and alluring hidden spots. Yet, Capitol Reef is what I like to think of as the laid back brother to the other Utah parks with fewer people and less congestion. Unlike Zion, where you can only drive into the park a few months out of the year, you can meander on the 8-mile scenic drive through the Waterpocket Fold at your own pace and imagine what it was like when the first settlers staked claim to the land. Interestingly, the Waterpocket Fold country was the last territory to be charted in the contiguous 48 states and it’s clear that the park is rich in history to this day, preserving the small historic district of Fruita.
Driving out to Capitol Reef, it truly feels like discovering a hidden refuge from the outside world; the outskirts of the park not yet over-commercialized like so many of the other parks. Although the region has been occupied throughout thousands of years evidenced by the petroglyphs in the park, it was in the 1800’s that pioneers and other settlers came to the region. In 1880, the first homestead was staked in Fruita, undoubtedly an unique area of the park. Fruita is made up of a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, orchards, the Gifford House (now a store and museum) along with the modern day Visitor Center off of Highway 24. The one room schoolhouse was built around 1896 and remained in operation until 1941 when the number of residents in the area declined. The park ultimately became a national monument in 1937 and a national park in 1971.
The orchards still produce a variety of fruit throughout the year such as apples, peaches and cherries and depending on the harvest season, visitors are welcome to pick and eat the fruit free of charge while in the orchards. If you wish to take the fruit with you, there’s a small fee. At the Gifford House, you can also buy delicious mini homemade pies and ice cream. This was the only place during our visit that there was a line outside because of the limit on the number of people allowed inside the small farmhouse at a time.
There is also a large dog friendly park with doggie bags available and a path that connects the Visitor Center off of Highway 24 to the Gifford House where dogs are permitted to walk. As with many national parks, dogs are not allowed on the trails aside from developed areas, but since the park is slightly more dog friendly given the grassy park, we would give a pet-friendly rating of 3.5 out of 5. (Let me also explain that one of our dogs (our poodle/cocker spaniel mix) refuses to go to the bathroom any where besides green grass unless she absolutely has to, so that’s why grassy areas are a big plus for us.)
Additionally, there is a campground in Fruita where dogs are permitted and reservations can be made online through recreation.gov for camping between March and October. Right past the campground is the entrance to the paved scenic drive at which point a park entrance fee of $20.00 is required.
During our visit, the campground was full so we decided to stay at the Rim Rock Inn in Torrey, UT, only minutes from the park. Although there wasn’t really any green areas for the dogs, the style and location of the motel made up for it. The motel sits on a beautiful bluff overlooking the valley and harkens back to the old west.
Exploring in the evening, as the sun set to the west, the rainbow of layers came alive like a watercolor painting; the lines and contours fitting perfectly together. The last of the light reflected off distant clouds; the road twisting and turning easily, up and over and around.
There weren’t many people at Panorama Point looking out to the horizon – a handful at most. It was peaceful and a reminder of why it’s worth being on the road.
The next day, we explored Fruita, ate some delicious pie and drove the 8-mile scenic drive out and back through the Waterpocket Fold along with stops at Goosenecks Overlook and Sunset Point.
While the gift shop was open at the Visitor Center, the exhibits were not and masks were required inside all buildings. Also note, regardless of Covid restrictions, all of the buildings close every day from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM for lunch so if you’re hoping for a piece of pie or a souvenir, it’s good to plan around the closure. We learned the hard way and had to wait.
Simple yet comforting, it was a nice day spent in Capitol Reef. I would imagine our experience was similar to what it was like back in the day visiting the national parks before they were overrun with cars and tourists. More than anything, although the terrain is much different, Fruita reminded me of spending time at my grandparents’ farms in eastern Oregon, where time moves a bit slower and the focus is on the simple things, like picking fruit or baking a pie. Theses places easily pull a person out of the chaotic world most of us live in today and remind us that we all came from a time very unlike our own.
- Pet-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
- Entrance fee to 8-mile scenic drive through Waterpocket Fold: $20.00
- Rate to camp at Fruita Campground: $20.00 per night
- Great place to watch the sunset in the park: Panorama Point or Sunset Point
- Buildings close from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM every day
- Cost of pie: $4.00 per mini pie (flavors vary)
- Cost of single serve homemade ice cream: $1.50