Capitol Reef, the middle segment of Utah’s “Mighty Five,” is perhaps its most underrated park. We found Cap Reef to be delightful for its abundance of hiking opportunities, its lovely campground and for the pie! You see, pie is strength and if you like pie, visit this park!
The Gifford Farmhouse is located adjacent to the Fruita Campground and sits amongst a fruit and nut orchard. Dewey Gifford sold his homestead to the National Park Service in 1969. The kitchen of the Gifford residence was converted into a Natural History Association sales outlet, which sells locally baked fruit pies. For a modest fee, you can sink your teeth into the tastiest of pies, which will give you strength to explore this lovely park! If you prefer to eat fruit right off the tree, you are welcome to stroll about the orchards and pick a peach, a pear, a cherry or an apple and eat the ripe fruit as you mosey about the grounds!
Although the pie at Cap Reef is delicious, most recognize this park for its Waterpocket Fold. The Fold is a 100-mile long wrinkle in the earth’s crust that was formed over 50 million years ago. The rock on the west side of the fold was lifted more than 7000 feet higher than those on the east exposing a variety of colorful geologic layers. Access to the Fold is gained in the southern section of the park via dirt road. The soaring white Navajo sandstone domes (pictured above) are what contributed to the naming of this park. These domes resemble capitol building domes. The reef portion of the park’s name comes from the rocky cliffs created by the Waterpocket Fold (pictured lower left). Rocky cliffs, like a coral reef are barriers to travel. Hence the name Capitol Reef.
When to visit: Capitol Reef is open year-round. The summer months are warm. Spring and fall are ideal for hiking. The elevation at the Fruita Visitor Center is 5500’ so winters are cold. What to do: Capitol Reef offers a wide variety of outdoor activity including camping, hiking, biking, backpacking, backcountry horseback riding and more. Like Canyonlands, Capital Reef also has a nice display of ancient Indian petroglyphs that are easy to access.
Trails to hike: In the Fruita area, you’ll find fifteen day hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Capitol Gorge, Goosenecks, Grand Wash, Fremont River and Sunset are all rated “easy.”
Where to stay: There are no restaurants or lodges within the park boundaries. The Fruita Campground hosts 71 campsites with picnic tables and fire pits. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets but no showers.
Trivia: “Waterpockets” are basins that form in many of the sandstone layers as they are eroded by water. These basins are common throughout the fold, thus giving it the name “Waterpocket Fold”.