The landscape of southern Utah is like no other. With vibrant hues of red and orange and rocks in such delicate and unique formations, it truly feels like exploring on another planet. At Capitol Reef National Park you can see stunning geological features that tell the story of time, be wowed by dramatic monoliths, and stand on delicate arches carved from stone. In this article, we help you discover the perfect boondocking near Capitol Reef National Park to serve as your home base for a fulfilling trip to this special place.
About Capitol Reef National Park
Nestled in the heart of Utah’s red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park offers a captivating blend of stunning landscapes, rich history, and boundless outdoor adventures. This hidden gem showcases towering cliffs, colorful canyons, and the dramatic Waterpocket Fold, a geological wonder stretching for nearly 100 miles.
As you explore the park, you’ll be enchanted by the vibrant hues of the rock formations and mesmerized by the intricate layers of Earth’s history on display. From hiking through narrow slot canyons to marveling at ancient petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of this lesser-known national park, where breathtaking vistas and unforgettable experiences await at every turn.
Capitol Reef National Park has three main entrances that provide access to different sections of the park. Here are the entrances and their locations:
- Fruita Entrance: This is the main entrance to Capitol Reef National Park and is located along Utah State Route 24. It provides access to the Fruita Historic District, where you can explore orchards, historic buildings, and enjoy picking fruit during the harvest season. The Fruita Campground is also located in this area.
- Cathedral Valley Entrance: This entrance is located on the northern side of the park and provides access to the remote and rugged Cathedral Valley. To reach this entrance, you can take Hartnet Road, which is a dirt road suitable for high-clearance vehicles. Cathedral Valley is known for its towering monoliths, vast desert landscapes, and stunning vistas.
- Notom-Bullfrog Road Entrance: Located on the southern end of the park, this entrance is accessed via the Notom-Bullfrog Road. This road connects to Utah State Route 12 and provides access to the southern reaches of the park, including the Waterpocket Fold and the Strike Valley Overlook. This area offers opportunities for hiking, backpacking, and scenic drives.
The Fruita Entrance (the east entrance) is the most commonly used entrance and provides access to the visitor center, campground, and many of the park’s main attractions.
- Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center: open year-round with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day (hours vary seasonally; typically opening between 8am and 9am and closing around 4:30pm)
Best Time To Visit:
The most popular time to visit Capitol Reef National Park is between March to June and September to October when there is less chance of snow or monsoon rains. The park has smaller parking areas that often fill up by 10am, but the park also covers a vast area and it is easy to escape crowds by starting your hikes early or later in the day and exploring longer trails that take you further out into the park.
The least visited areas of the park include the North and South District, which hold the Cathedral Valley and Waterpocket Districts. Deciding on when to visit really depends on the experience you hope to have!
- Spring (March to May): Spring brings pleasant temperatures, wildflowers in bloom, and the park coming to life. The weather is usually mild, with temperatures ranging from 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We found our April visit to be an excellent time for hiking, exploring the park’s trails, and enjoying the scenic beauty, although it was very windy!
- Summer (June to August): Summers in Capitol Reef can be hot, with temperatures ranging from 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Fall (September to November): Fall would be a beautiful time to visit Capitol Reef. The weather begins to cool down, with temperatures ranging from 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Winter (December to February): Winter in Capitol Reef is a quieter time with fewer visitors. The temperatures can drop significantly, with daytime highs averaging between 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Snowfall is possible, especially at higher elevations. If you enjoy solitude and winter activities like snowshoeing, this could be a serene time to visit.
It’s important to note that weather patterns can vary, so it’s a good idea to check the local forecast before your trip. Spring and fall generally offer pleasant weather and fewer crowds, making them popular times to visit Capitol Reef National Park, but spring is also the windy season and can be tougher for hiking and camping.
We had a couple of days (and nights) where the wind was whipping and shaking our fifth wheel and spraying sand around so badly that we opted not to venture into the park. When camping and exploring beautiful outdoor spaces, you are at the whim of mother nature!
Capitol Reef National Park is located in south-central Utah and is fairly remote, but still easily accessed by car from other major cities in just a few short hours. It is also in the perfect place as a stop in a larger Utah National Park road trip!
- Distance from Salt Lake City, Utah: Approximately 193 miles southeast, 3.5 to 4 hours,
- Distance from Moab, Utah: Approximately 148 miles west, 2.5 to 3 hours
- Distance from Zion National Park, Utah: Capitol Reef National Park is approximately 191 miles northeast of Zion National Park. The drive usually takes around 3.5 to 4 hours, depending on the route and traffic conditions.
- Distance from Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: Approximately 113 miles north of Bryce Canyon National Park, 2 to 2.5 hours
- Distance from Las Vegas, Nevada: Approximately 310 miles northeast, drive usually takes around 4.5 to 5 hours
- Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY) in Moab, Utah: Located approximately 147 miles west of Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands Field Airport is the closest airport with commercial service. It offers flights from Salt Lake City, Denver, and Phoenix.
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) in Salt Lake City, Utah: Salt Lake City International Airport is a major hub with a wider range of flight options. It is approximately 193 miles northwest of Capitol Reef National Park. From the airport, your best bet will be to rent a car in order to make the most of your visit to the park and surrounding areas.
- St. George Regional Airport (SGU) in St. George, Utah: Situated about 245 miles southwest of Capitol Reef National Park, St. George Regional Airport serves as another option for air travel. It offers flights to and from various cities in the western United States and is located close to Zion National Park. This would be perfect for a road trip through Utah’s National Parks, making your way from Zion to Bryce Canyon, over to Capitol Reef, and then to Arches, and Canyonlands!
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking is one way of taking advantage of a variety of free camping in the United States! Typically, this means your RV is self-contained and you can keep your batteries charged on your own accord and have a place to use the bathroom. If you are not self-contained, you must follow leave no trace principles and carry out everything you carried into your campsite and properly dispose of waste.
You can boondock in a wide variety of places, ranging from truck stops, Walmarts, and Cracker Barrel parking lots, to National Forest Roads and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land.
Boondocking is a form of dry camping and is also known as dispersed camping. It is most often thought of as stays in free or low-cost places on public lands without amenities that you might find at an established campground.
Dispersed camping areas are places like BLM Land and National Forests and will typically be split between areas reserved for the purpose of camping and areas where camping is not allowed. Keep an eye out for signage and indicators that sites are meant for camping (like a stone fire ring).
Typically you will also see limitations for how long you can stay in the designated dispersed camping area, with many places now limiting stays to around 14 days to allow time for everyone to enjoy these beautiful places.
Free Boondocking Near Capitol Reef National Park
For us, the biggest draw of boondocking is that it allows you to camp (often for free) in beautiful places with more space and privacy than you would pay top dollar for in a campground. We love being able to rely on our solar setup and inverter to live sustainably off-grid and enjoy the peace and solitude that can often be found on public lands.
This being said, boondocking is not always the most convenient to destinations like National Parks. The amazing thing about Capitol Reef is that there are multiple boondocking and free camping options just outside of the park’s entrance! This allows for the opportunity for free camping with gorgeous canyon views, without having to sacrifice location or proximity to the park!
Capitol Reef Boondocking & Camping Map
Local Water Fill: Phillips 66 Gas Station in Torrey Utah
Local Dump Station: $5 fee for dumping and potable water fill in the Fruita Campground inside Capitol Reef National Park
Getting into the park and navigating through Fruita Campground might be tougher with a bigger rig. We dumped and filled our fresh water tank prior to arriving at our boondocking spot and ended up dumping at our next stop after leaving and found that to be more convenient for us. If you are a smaller rig, you may be just fine to dump in the park, but filling at the gas station should be doable for any sized rig.
Beas Lewis Flat Dispersed Camping
This area is BLM land that is free for public use and camping for up to 14 days. It is open and has several spots and is good for big rigs and smaller RVs, tenters, or vans alike.
Entering off the main road that takes you through Torrey and into the park (Utah State Route 24), it is a dirt road with a few pull-out spots on a bluff to the left, a large open area past the cattle guard, and more spots to the right in and among vegetation.
As far as boondocking near Capitol Reef near the west entrance of the park, this is our favorite option as we found it to be less crowded, it has stunning views of colorful cliffs, is only minutes from the park and Visitor Center, and is fairly easy to find a level spot.
It was a bit unlevel and required navigating potholes, but our spot out in the back of the boondocking area gave us expansive views and plenty of privacy. The only downside was that this area was exposed and left us taking on the wind without any buffer. There were some nerve-wracking moments some nights as our slides shook and the wind howled!
We recommend figuring out the direction the wind is blowing and setting up your RV into the wind to help limit some of the effects.
As this is a dirt area, it is important to be mindful of the weather. Rains could lead to mud and cause some problems getting in and out. In the dry windy spring season, we found it to be VERY dusty so you can also expect to leave with a lot more dirt and sand in your RV or camper than you arrived with. It’s part of the experience!
There are no amenities so you must carry in and carry out and come prepared to be completely self-sufficient!
If you are visiting Capitol Reef as part of a larger Utah road trip, there are also awesome FREE boondocking spots near Bryce Canyon National Park in the Dixie National Forest and free camping not far from Zion National Park that are also worth checking out as you plan your trip!
Capitol Reef Overflow Dispersed Camping
If you were to drive past the entrance for the Beas Lewis Flats dispersed camping area and continue towards Capitol Reef, you will run into the Capitol Reef Overflow dispersed camping.
While this free boondocking area is even closer to the west entrance for Capitol Reef, it can be very crowded and the spots closer to the road are more like a parking lot or parking area than an open space where you could spread out and camp with privacy.
This spot would be best used as a brief overnight stay if you plan to visit the park for a limited time, or may be better during slower seasons when it is not as busy.
Pit toilets have been installed for use in this area.
Notom-Bullfrog Road Dispersed Camping
Located in the southern region of Capitol Reef National Park, you’ll find roughly a dozen or so spots where you can set up camp in the desert landscape with deep canyon views along Notom-Bullfrog Road. The road to the free camping area is rough, so a smaller trailer may be best suited here.
Capitol Reef East Dispersed Camping
Free sites on the east side of Capitol Reef with lower spots by the river and upper spots atop a steep rocky hill in an open lot. This spot will be closer to the Cathedral Valley District and Bentonite Hills and may offer more solitude than boondocking on the busier west entrance of the park.
Other Local Camping Options
If you would prefer to stay in Capitol Reef National Park, get more remote and off the beaten path or prefer an RV park with more amenities, there are also plenty of other camping options as well!
National Park Campgrounds
Fruita Campground: A paid campground in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park and close to the Gifford House (which is known for its delicious pies). This would be a perfect spot to stay among the beautiful trees in Fruita Valley and be able to walk to several trailheads right from your campsite
- 71 sites that are reservable from March 1 – October 31
- Restrooms with running water and flush toilets; no showers
- All sites offer dry camping (no hookups), with the exception of a couple of accessible sites that have electrical hook-ups for medical devices
- Sites offer picnic tables, fire pits, and grills
- Click here to reserve your site on recreation.gov
These camping options will be best suited for high-clearance vans, truck campers, tent campers, or those with small trailers.
- Cathedral Valley Campground: Located in the Cathedral Valley District about 36 miles from the Visitor Center, where a 4X4 high clearance vehicle is usually required. A primitive, free campground with 6 sites, each with a picnic table and fire grate. There is a pit toilet, but no water is available.
- Cedar Mesa Campground: Located on NNotom-Bullfrog Road, up at about 5,500 feet in elevation. 5 free primitive sites with a picnic table and fire grate. There is a pit toilet, but no water is available.
If you plan to camp at the Cathedral Valley Campground or Cedar Mesa Campground or are interested in driving out into the Cathedral Valley District on the Cathedral Valley Loop Road (which we highly recommend if you have the chance), you can check road conditions by calling 435-425-3791. Press #1 for information, and then #4 for road conditions.
Fishlake National Forest (Forest Service Campground)
- Singletree Campground: Located among the Ponderosa Pines and Aspen up at an elevation of 8,200 feet near scenic US Highway 12, this campground offers some sites that are suitable for larger rigs, open spaces, and paved roads. It offers flush toilets a dump station and potable water, as well as wifi available for $5.
- Single sites are $20/night
- Click here to reserve a site here through recreation.gov
Private Campgrounds & RV Parks
- Wonderland RV Park: Located at the junction of Scenic Byway 24 and All American Highway 12, three miles away from Capitol Reef. RV sites, tent sites, cabins and amenities including wifi, laundry facilities, and restrooms with showers. Water and electric sites starting at $44/night, full hookup sites starting at $48/night.
- Thousand Lakes RV Park: Full hook-up sites with utilities including water, electricity, and sewer and deluxe cabin options as well. They have restrooms, showers, a laundry facility, pool, and a small camp store. Red rock mountain views, spacious sites, and direct access to Fishlake National Forest. Open April to October; rates start around $55/night
- Sand Creek RV Park & Campground: RV, tent sites, and cabins 5 miles west of Capitol Reef National Park. Full hook-up sites with free wifi starting around $57/night
- Sleepy Hollow Campground: Located on the east side of the park, this park offers a quiet location with 30 spots under large shade trees with partial hookups and amenities including restrooms and a dump station. (no website available, call for rates)
Best Things To Do When Visiting Capitol Reef
Camping is a great way to immerse yourself in the unique views and stunning geology of Capitol Reef National Park. During your stay, there are several great areas in the park to explore ranging from scenic drives to hiking!
Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Capitol Reef that we recommend checking out:
- Drive at least part of the Cathedral Valley Loop Road to visit the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. These interesting rock formations and the uniquely colored Bentonite Hills can both be found near and along the roughly 57-mile loop that cuts through a remote area in the north of the park
- Drive Capitol Reef’s Scenic Drive, a 7.9 mile paved road, suitable for passenger vehicles. It takes about an hour and half roundtrip to drive along with exploring the two dirt spur roads, Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.
- Check out the Fruita Historic District and the Gifford House for iconic views, photography opportunities, and pie!
We are avid hikers and absolutely loved the landscape and vibrant colors in Capitol Reef. These are a few of our favorite hikes we completed during our trip:
- Cassidy Arch Trail (3.1 miles): (Shown below) a great hike that takes you past a great arch and an option to head up to an overlook over Fruita Valley
- Navajo Knobs Trail (9.1 miles): Our favorite trail! Long and strenuous, but stunning views of the valley and water pocket fold
- Hickman Bridge Trail (1.7 miles): Another great natural arch and an easier hike. This is a popular trail. You can also look down onto Hickman Bridge from along the Cassidy Arch Trail
- Cohab Canyon Trail (3.0 miles): A great trail that takes you through a canyon and out to beautiful views of the park
Guided Tours & Activities
For even more adventure and exploration in and around Capitol Reef, consider a guided tour! Tours are a great way to learn more about the area or be able to sit back and enjoy the experiences, without having to be in the driver’s seat.
Fulfilling Travel Tips
As you venture into the breathtaking landscapes of Capitol Reef, we encourage you to slow down, connect with nature, and savor every moment.
Take the time to listen to the whispers of the wind as it dances through the towering rock formations, observe the vibrant colors painting the delicately crafted landscape, and let the serenity of this remarkable place rejuvenate you. Consider taking a mindful hike, allowing your steps to sync with the rhythm of the trail, and immerse yourself in your moment to moment experience. Pause at overlooks to reflect on the immense beauty that surrounds you and contemplate the rich history etched into the rocks.
By mindfully exploring Capitol Reef National Park, you can unlock the transformative benefits of nature’s embrace and create lasting memories that are truly fulfilling. Let the park’s magnificent landscapes guide you towards self-reflection, inspiration, and a deeper connection with the natural world.
We also highly recommend adding these nearby destinations and experiences to your next road trip or travel bucket list:
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (we only drove through and can’t wait to get back to explore more)