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Camping in Capitol Reef

Camping in Capitol Reef

Posted in: Outdoor adventures on July 21, 2019.

You’ve Got Three Options

If you’re planning on spending any time in Capitol Reef, you might want to camp in the park for a night or two. It can be fun to make a fire, grill some hot dogs, and sleep beneath the desert stars. (Plus you can always shower and clean up at your next hotel.) If this sounds like fun to you, then you’ve got three options of where to camp in Capitol Reef. Let’s walk you through them:

Trees shading numerous campsites and RVs

Part of the Fruita Campground. Photo via outdoorproject.com

1. Fruita Campgrounds

This is, by far, the most popular choice. The Fruita Campgrounds are really nice, with shade trees, full RV-hookups, fire-pits, the works. They have well-maintained restrooms with flush toilets located throughout the campgrounds. The tent areas are all on flat, grass lawns. It really is a great place to spend the night. Especially if you’re camping with kids or bringing your RV. The campsites are surrounded by orchards. And there’s even a river and trail right behind the campground, plus an amphitheater for events.

There are three loops, A, B, and C, for you to camp on, with about 70 campsites available in total. It costs $20/night for each site. Check out time is at 11am. And (this is a new feature, folks) you can now make reservations at recreation.gov for dates between March 1 and October 31. (If you want to stay at the Fruita Campgrounds during the other four months of the year, it’s first-come-first-serve.)

A final note: the Fruita Campgrounds fill up fast. So online reservations are basically mandatory during the summer months.

Mountains and trees with a desert overlook

The view near the Cedar Mesa Campground. Photo by Andrew Wojtanik via liveandlethike.com

2. Cedar Mesa Campground

This is a much, much smaller campground. It’s located about an hour south of the Capitol Reef Visitor Center in the Waterpocket Fold section of the park. It has only five campsites with fire rings and tables, one pit toilet, and no running water. (So bring plenty of your own.) But what it offers is easy access to nearby canyon hikes – including Red Canyon, located right behind it – and a beautiful view of the surrounding desert. So while Cedar Mesa Campground isn’t nearly as developed as Fruita, it’s still a pretty good spot to spend the night. Especially if you don’t mind it a little rough.

There is no fee to stay at this campground. But it is first-come-first-serve, with no way of knowing if it’s full until you get there. However, in our experience, it’s not usually full, even during the summer months.

Red sandy cliffs and mountain views near the campground

The view near the Cathedral Valley Campground. Photo by Red River Ranch.

3. Cathedral Valley Campground

It’s a similar story at the Cathedral Valley Campground. There are six sites with fire rings and picnic tables, and one pit toilet, with no water. It’s located in Cathedral Valley (as the name suggests), at the far north end of the park, which makes it a convenient place to sleep if you’re planning on driving the Cathedral Valley Loop, and want to break up the journey. (Or even just a good place to eat lunch.) There are some very cool overlooks near the campground, and it’s a beautiful place to stay. But it’s not the most comfortable.

Just like the Cedar Mesa Campground, there’s no fee to camp here. But you can’t reserve it ahead of time either. But, it too seldom fills up. So there’ll probably be a spot for you, if you decide to camp here.

A final note: this is the hardest campground for the service vehicles to reach. Consequently, it gets serviced the least. Just something to keep in mind.

An orange tent with dramatic views of red cliffs in the background

Backcountry desert camping. Photo by Patrick Hendry via unspalsh.com

Ok, Ok. So There’s a Fourth Option

Technically there is another way to camp in Capitol Reef: backcountry camping. There are some advantages to this style of camping, of course. But there are also trade offs. You can’t start a fire, you need a permit, it’s probably not for kids, etc. But if you are thinking of exploring the park in depth and across multiple days, then it might be a good option. You should check out this page here. It’ll explain what you need to do, and what you can expect, when you go backcountry camping.

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