Planning a Trip
Capitol Reef National Park is 120 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon National Park, 204 miles northeast of Zion National Park, 224 miles south of Salt Lake City, and 366 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. The park straddles Utah 24, which connects with I-70 both to the northeast and northwest.
Those coming from Bryce Canyon National Park can follow Utah 12 northeast to its intersection with Utah 24, and follow that east into Capitol Reef. If you're approaching the park from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Four Corners region, follow Utah 276 and/or Utah 95 north to the intersection with Utah 24, where you then head west into the park.
The closest major airport is Walker Field, about 200 miles east in Grand Junction, Colorado (tel. 970/244-9100; fax 970/241-9103; www.walkerfield.com), which has direct flights and connections from most major cities on Allegiant, America West Express, Delta/Skywest, Frontier, Great Lakes, and United Express. Car rentals are available at the Grand Junction airport or in Grand Junction from Alamo (tel. 970/243-6626; www.alamo.com), Avis (tel. 970/244-9170; www.avis.com), Budget (tel. 970/244-9156; www.budget.com), Enterprise (tel. 970/242-8103; www.enterprise.com), Hertz (tel. 970/243-0747; www.hertz.com), National (tel. 970/243-6626; www.nationalcar.com), and Thrifty (tel. 970/243-7556; www.thrifty.com).
For advance information, contact Capitol Reef National Park, HC 70 Box 15, Torrey, UT 84775 (tel. 435/425-3791; www.nps.gov.care).
The visitor center is located on the park access road at its intersection with Utah 24. A path alongside the access road connects the visitor center with the campground, passing the historic Fruita blacksmith shop, the orchards, and a lovely shaded picnic ground. The visitor center, open daily from 8am to 4:30pm (extended hours in summer) year-round, has exhibits on the area's geology and history as well as a 10-minute introductory slide show on the park. You can ask the rangers questions, get backcountry permits, pick up free brochures, and purchase books, maps, videos, postcards, and posters.
Books and maps are available from the nonprofit Capitol Reef Natural History Association, Capitol Reef National Park, HC 70 Box 15, Torrey, UT 84775 (tel. 435/425-3791, ext. 113 or 115; www.capitolreefnha.org).
Fees, Regulations & Backcountry Permits
Entry into the park (for up to 7 days) costs $5 per vehicle or $3 per person on bike or foot. Free permits, available at the visitor center, are required for all overnight hiking trips into the backcountry.
Bicycles are prohibited in the backcountry and on all hiking trails. Feeding or otherwise disturbing wildlife is forbidden, as is vandalizing or upsetting any natural, cultural, or historic feature of the park. Because park wildlife refuse to follow park rules regarding wildlife diet, campers should be especially careful of where they store food, and should dispose of garbage promptly. Dogs, which must be leashed at all times, are prohibited on all trails, more than 100 feet from any road, and in public buildings.
Seasons/Avoiding the Crowds
Although Capitol Reef receives less than 550,000 visitors annually -- making it among the least-visited national parks in the West -- it can still be busy, especially during its peak summer season. For this reason, the best time to visit is fall, particularly October and November, when temperatures remain warm enough for comfortable hiking and camping, but are not so hot that they'll send you constantly in search of shade. You also don't have to be as cautious about flash floods through the narrow canyons as you do during the July-through-September thunderstorm season.
Hikers should carry plenty of water, especially in summer, and watch out for rattlesnakes. Although not abundant, the Western rattlesnake has been seen in the rocks of the Grand Wash and around Fruita. Snakes prefer to avoid people, but will strike if cornered.
Afternoon thunderstorms in July, August, and September can bring flash floods, which fill narrow canyons without warning. Steep-walled Grand Wash can be particularly hazardous -- avoid it whenever storms are threatening.
Rangers present a variety of free programs and activities from spring through fall. Campfire programs take place most evenings at the outdoor amphitheater next to Fruita Campground. Topics vary, but could include animals and plants, geology, and human history in and of the area. Rangers also lead hikes and walks and give short talks on history at the pioneer Fruita Schoolhouse and the Mormon homestead. Schedules are posted on bulletin boards at the visitor center and campground.
Kids can become Junior Rangers or Junior Geologists -- they'll learn to map ancient earthquakes, inspect water bugs, and so on. The entire family can join in, too, by borrowing a Family Fun Pack at the visitor center.