Camping at Capitol Reef National Park

Oct 29, 2019 |

Camping at Capitol Reef National Park

By Nathan Paul Swartz

And what better way to explore Capitol Reef than by RV? You can put your hands down, the answer is, “nothing!”

Pencils down as we explore every ounce of camping in the area suitable for RVs, shall we?

Camping in Capitol Reef National Park

If you want to be like the cool kids at the back of the bus, then there’s no substitute for camping directly in the national park itself. You’ll be pleased to know that this is not a multiple-choice test, as there’s only one campground in the park proper, and it goes by the name of Fruita. Remember that, it won’t be on any quiz, but you’ll hear the name often in this area.

With over 70 sites, it isn’t impossible to get into the campground, but it’s advisable you make a reservation from March through October. The rest of the year, the campground is first-come, first-served. If you imagine Utah to be the desert, which it is, note that the winter months still get sufficiently chilly and snow is often on the lesson plan.

Cell phones are useless at Fruita Campground, as far as connectivity is concerned, and it’s dry camping all the way…though they do have showers for campers to use. You’ll be living right in the heart of all of the scenic drives, historic Mormon and Native American heritage, and canyon hiking the park has to offer, and the wildlife on display may even include horses. Towering cottonwoods, pictographs, and endless blue skies set against Utah’s red rock, well, more of an orange hue really, will serve as your daily inspiration to get up and go after it, and while the crowds wait in line at Zion and Arches, you’ll have plenty of room to stretch your elbows into the solitude of middle-of-nowhere turned somewhere.

Free Camping near Capitol Reef National Park

While many a national park-goer may see camping within the park as the ideal situation, the best things in life are free, and that’s a lesson so factual they wrote a song about it.

Immediately west of the national park lies what amounts to a parking lot by the name of Capitol Reef Overflow. It’s technically part of Fishlake National Forest, though it isn’t particularly forested, but for all intents and purposes equates to free camping in the park. Once upon a time, you could camp here for days without another RV or van daring to stop and wonder what you were doing, but more recently it’s become significantly more popular. If you don’t mind being a little further out, a couple of additional free options open up.

Beas Lewis Flat, BLM land, sits on the western edge of Torrey, Utah, the town that serves as Capitol Reef’s nearest point of civilization, with a whopping population of 180 or so. The BLM land is more or less open desert with a few largish pinyon pines and junipers, which pair perfectly with the abundance of views in all directions.

If you don’t mind the 20-minute commute to the park, Sunglow Recreation Site has slightly more tree cover while continuing to paint that perfect Utahan portrait.

In both cases, what you lose in immediate access to the park with your every waking breath, you gain with life in sleepy, but interesting Torrey.

On the eastern side of the park, significantly further from the throws of humanity, five places to camp on BLM land live largely in a cluster, with the requisite outlier refusing to join them as usual.

While the lesser-explored Capitol Reef East and Notom Bullfrog Road are ripe for your early exploratory eyes, the former being located immediately on the Fremont River, bathed in towering cottonwood leaves, and the latter described by one Dutch RVer as “a barren place.”

If you’re not the adventurous type and would prefer the sage wisdom of those who’ve traveled the road before you, more popular destinations have managed to find themselves playing host to RVers as of late. Pleasant Creek has dispersed camping which offers either creekside, shaded spots for those with bigger tires or smaller footprints (such as a tent) as well as larger spots with grander views of the surrounding Utah landscape. Continuing east, there is additional camping along the Fremont River, and like any of the spots along the river, you gain in trees and breeze in the same way you are close to the road that cuts through the mountains along the same path.

Even farther east, though still only 15 minutes or so from the entrance to the park, Caineville Reef may be your best chance at solitude while visiting the park. Think of it perhaps as your own personal Capitol Reef to come home to at the end of the day.

Full-hookups RV Camping near Capitol Reef National Park

Sometimes we just need to plug in and soak up some 30amp power. For those of us who like to know that our sewage can be out the hose as quickly as we can put it in, Torrey, UT has enough RV parks that–when full–provide the potential to nearly double the town’s population.

While The Rim Rock RV Park is the closest to Capitol Reef–and comes equipped with a playground, WiFi, even a restaurant–most of the privately owned RV parks are more or less directly within Torrey. The other three parks in town offer similar amenities–laundry, 20, 30 and 50amp electric, sewer, water, WiFi and epic views–and each then has its own extras.

If you’re the type who loves to be able to walk to town, Sandcreek RV Park is your best bet. Positioned immediately across from Cafe Diablo, where you can start your meal with an appetizer made from rattlesnake, and an easy walk to the burger joints, steakhouse and general store that more or less comprise Torrey, its red roof cabins and roadside manner make it an obvious choice for leaving your car behind when you simply want to explore what this cottonwood-lined Main Street of a town has to offer.

The most luxurious of the three would be Thousand Lakes RV Park, where RV park sports like basketball, horseshoes, even a swimming pool, can help you pass the time between visiting the park, the town and just watching the sun go purple mountains majesty all evening long.

Finally, Wonderland RV Park, about equidistantly positioned on the opposite side of town as Thousand Lakes, makes its claim to fame by adding a volleyball court, the opportunity for some light fishing, and a horse corral to the mix.

Whether you want the full-hookups or not, any of these parks is worth a trip just to explore a dying phenomena in America, the truly small town fortunate enough to be near enough a major attraction like Capitol Reef to be thriving in a way that makes people want to visit it. A little nightlife without the big city, a slice of convenience without the skyline.

Whether Capitol Reef is a just a stopover between exploring the more popular parks, number three on your checklist of all the Mighty Five, or your primary destination, it’s a grand experience and quintessentially Southern Utah.