Capitol Reef National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins, Securing Reservations

by Amy Myers

Full of cliffs, canyons, domes and monocline rock layers, Capitol Reef National Park has 100 miles of geological splendor to explore. In order to fit as much of the Waterpocket Fold into your itinerary as you possibly can, you need a comfortable and scenic place to rest your head and regain your strength.

Capitol Reef’s name is a bit more metaphoric than the rest of Utah’s parks. “Capitol” comes from the white dome sandstone creations that mimic the well-known building in D.C., while “Reef” comes from the steep ridgeline of cliffs that resemble the steep drop-off of its underwater inspiration. The name may seem a bit motley, but it’s a testament to how moving the red rock creations within the national park are.

With how much beauty these rigid formations hold, you’ll find it hard to head back to your campsite or lodge room at the end of the day. Luckily, though, Capitol Reef National Park has plenty of options for those that don’t want the adventure to end – even for the night. Whether staying at a campground or staking out close by, these recommendations are just as much an attraction as the park, itself.

Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park, Water pocket Fold from Hall’s Creek Overlook. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Camping in Capitol Reef National Park

Within Capitol Reef National Park, there are quite a few options for camping, but the amenities are relatively the same no matter where you go. You’ll often find picnic tables and a few fire rings, and you may have bathrooms with flush toilets and running water at Fruita Campground. But this is the most luxurious that Capitol Reef campgrounds will get. Cell service is also spotty, and there aren’t any hookups for RVs or campers.

Of course, you won’t really miss either of these front-country comforts once you reach Capitol Reef National Park. No matter where you stake your tent, you’re constantly surrounded by towering canyon cliffs and wide green meadows.

Pro tip: If you’re an early riser, make sure you find a spot with a good easterly view. There’s nothing more magical than watching the morning sun cast a golden glow over the copper landscape.

Fruita Campground – Capitol Reef’s Only Established Campground

  • Location: Fruita Campground, Camp Ground Rd, Torrey, UT 84775
  • Price: $25 per night
  • Number of sites: 71
  • Months open: year-round, weather permitting
  • Nearby attractions: Gifford Homestead, Fruita Barn, Cohab Canyon Trailhead, Ripple Rock Nature Center, Petroglyphs Panel, Hickman Natural Bridge, Capitol Reef Visitor Center, Sulphur Creek Pool
  • Reserve a Fruita site here

Of all the campgrounds at Capitol Reef National Park, the Fruita campground is the most family-friendly and ADA-friendly option. With running water, flush toilets, and accessible campsites, Fruita Campground can accommodate groups of all types.

The campground is also in close proximity to many of Capitol Reef’s most popular attractions. In fact, Fruita Campground connects to several major trails, one of which takes you to the park’s Visitor Center. There are also several orchards, established by pioneers in the 1800s, that surround the area. Here, you can pick a bushel of apples or peaches before checking out at a self-serve station. All money earned from the sales goes back into preserving the orchards for future campers to enjoy.

Primitive Campgrounds

While Fruita Campground doesn’t have too many front-country amenities, Cathedral and Cedar Mesa are even more minimalistic. Considered to be primitive campgrounds, these locations don’t have any running water, and the roads tend to be a bit more treacherous to navigate. For Cedar Mesa, you may be able to get away with taking a 2WD vehicle to the campground, so long as there isn’t a lot of snow or rain. But for Cathedral Valley, 4WD is absolutely necessary.

With the tougher roads and fewer amenities, though, comes a greater sense of seclusion and serenity and the chance to experience the undisturbed wonders of Capitol Reef National Park.

Cathedral Valley Campground

  • Location: Cathedral Valley Campground Rd, Wayne, UT
  • Price: no fee
  • Number of sites: 6
  • Months open: year-round, weather permitting
  • Nearby attractions: South Desert Spring, Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook, Morrell Line Cabin, Cathedral Valley Corral, Gypsum Sinkhole, Lake Creek, Cathedral Valley Overlook
  • Sites are first-come, first-serve

Situated between rows of Pinyon trees and Juniper bushes, Cathedral Valley Campground is nestled in the foothills of Thousand Lake Mountain. The campground derives its name from the surrounding sandstone towers that mimic the romantic structures of a cathedral. The 58-mile-long Cathedral Valley Road tends to be pretty rough on the tires, so if you plan on bringing a camper on your trip to Capitol Reef, you may want to explore other campgrounds instead. The campground, itself, sits 36 miles from the Visitor Center. So, before you head to your campsite, be sure that you have plenty of water and firewood.

Amenities for Cathedral Valley Campground include pit toilets, picnic tables and fire rings or above-ground grills.

Cedar Mesa Campground

  • Location: Cedar Mesa Campground, Torrey, UT 84775
  • Price: no fee
  • Number of sites: 5
  • Months open: year-round, weather permitting
  • Nearby attractions: Red Canyon Trail, The Narrows, Divide Canyon, Bitter Creek Divide, Bitter Spring Creek, Burr Trail
  • Sites are first-come, first-serve

Located in the southern district of Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Mesa Campground has a similar layout and amenities as Cathedral Valley but very different attractions nearby. Directly connected to the campground is the popular Red Canyon Trail, a 4.5-mile trek that gives incredible views of the vermillion geological creations.

Cedar Mesa Campground sits on Notom-Bullfrog Road which isn’t quite as treacherous as Cathedral Valley Road. On good days, you may be able to make the trip to the five campsites with a 2WD vehicle, but it’s best to check with local park rangers to be sure your ride is up for the task.

Backcountry Camping in Capitol Reef National Park

If the primitive campgrounds are both full, there’s no need to fret. Capitol Reef National Park has quite a few backcountry options to choose from. The park has a wide variety of backpacking routes with varying difficulties. If you’re a speedy backpacker, you can complete some of the easier trails in just a day. Other trails will take at least one overnight in the national park’s backcountry.

Here are some of the beginner-friendly backpacking routes you can take:

  • Pleasant Creek
  • Spring Canyon
  • Lower Mully Twist Canyon
  • Upper Mully Twist Canyon

For the pros who know their way around canyon-country national parks, Burrow, Cottonwood and Sheets Gulch are great options for a more challenging journey. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a longer trip through the park, the Halls Creek Meadow route takes roughly three to four days. It’s not quite as difficult as the pros-only trails, but it will test your stamina in the backcountry.

In order to access the backcountry trails, you’ll need to get a backcountry permit. You’ll also want to invest in at least one water purification system to ensure whatever source you use is safe to drink. While exploring Capitol Reef’s backpacking trails, avoid swimming, bathing or otherwise polluting any water sources. Also keep an appropriate distance from significant biological, living soil as well as archaeological and historical features to ensure that future visitors and wild residents can continue to enjoy the landscape.

Unique Lodging Close to Capitol Reef National Park

Of course, roughing it in a desert landscape isn’t for everyone. Whether you have little ones that aren’t ready for the camping challenge or if you just prefer a temperature-controlled environment, the towns surrounding Capitol Reef National Park have plenty of lodging to choose from.

Additionally, if you decide to pick a resort, hotel or cabin further away from the park’s entrance, you’ll likely be closer to one of Utah’s remaining four national parks. If you pick a venue on the western side of the park, you’ll be closest to Bryce Canyon. To the east, you have the Canyonlands and the Arches. And southwest is Zion.

This gives you the advantage of a wider variety of canyons, geological formations and archaeological wonders without too much of a drive in any direction.

Capitol Reef Resort

  • Location: Capitol Reef Resort, 2600 UT-24, Torrey, UT 84775
  • Price: $119 – $359
  • Months open: cabins and rooms open year-round, teepees and wagons open late May through September
  • Nearby attractions: Cook’s Mesa Trailhead, Pandora’s Box Slot Canyon Trailhead, Sulphur Creek Trailhead, Chimney Rock Trailhead, Mummy Cliff, Panorama Point, Sunset Point
  • Reserve a teepee, wagon, cabin or suite here

The Capitol Reef Resort is typically the first choice for lodgers looking for more than just a place to lay their heads at the end of a long day. Not only does the resort have western-inspired decor in its cabins and rooms, but it also has actual outdoor teepees and frontier wagons for a truly inspired trip to the national park.

While the teepees and the wagons both incorporate authentic 19th-century elements, both lodging options have modern amenities like detached private bathrooms, coffee maker, iron, hair dryer and even air conditioning. As for the resort’s more traditional options, you can expect the same amenities plus a flat-screen TV, private balcony or veranda and a mini or full kitchen.

The Lodge at Red River Ranch

  • Location: The Lodge at Red River Ranch, 2900 UT-24, Teasdale, UT 84773
  • Price: $219 – $369
  • Number of cabins: 15
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Cook’s Mesa Trailhead, Pandora’s Box Slot Canyon Trailhead, Sulphur Creek Trailhead, Chimney Rock Trailhead, Mummy Cliff, Panorama Point, Sunset Point
  • Reserve a cabin here

Similar to the Capitol Reef Resort, the Lodge at Red River Ranch provides an environment where you can feel connected to the wild west. Instead of teepees and wagons, though, the Lodge’s main attractions are its bison that live on 20,000 acres of “pristine pasture land.” From behind the fenceline, guests can admire and photograph (without flash) the magnificent bovine as they graze and sunbathe. The Lodge only asks that you don’t feed or approach any of the animals on the grounds.

As for the rooms themselves, each one is decorated with authentic, antique furniture and art. Amenities for all 15 rooms include fireplaces, wifi, balconies, private bathrooms and air conditioning. The whole lodge has access to a hot tub, guided fishing opportunities, game and book nooks and a three-story Great Room where guests can mingle and relax after exploring Capitol Reef National Park.

Red River Ranch also has a restaurant on site that serves made-to-order breakfast, sack lunches and catered dinners for larger groups. So, all you need to worry about is which Capitol Reef attraction you want to see next.