An Insider’s Perspective
We at the Lodge at Red River Ranch have been living next to Capitol Reef National Park for a long time now. And we’ve learned a thing or two while we’ve been here, which means we have the advantage when it comes to exploring Capitol Reef. We know a few things that the average tourist might not. Which is great, because it means we can help our guests have an awesome vacation here. So here’s a bit of our knowledge – just a few tips and suggestions on how to experience Capitol Reef like a local.
Plan Around the Tourist Season
The on-season begins in late March and ends at the end of October. If you want to have access to all the amenities and restaurants in the area, that’s when you’ll need to come. You won’t be able to grab a burger in Torrey in January. Of course, Capitol Reef is open all year round. But it closes its main campground – the Fruita Campground – the first day of November. However, its two primitive campgrounds are open all year. So if you want to experience the park in the wintertime, and you don’t mind roughing it, you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself. Otherwise, plan on a vacation sometime during the on-season. (Our personal recommendation is either late-April or mid-September, if only for the weather.)
Gas Up Outside Torrey
If you’re coming to Capitol Reef from the direction of I–15 (most people take this route) then you’ll have to pass through several towns before arriving at Capitol Reef. Most important for this discussion are the towns of Loa, Bicknell and Torrey. Torrey is the gateway town to the park, and as such, it can charge a lot more at the pump, because not everybody knows where else to go. But if you’re savvy, you’ll fill up your car in Loa or Bicknell, and you can save a lot doing it. During peak tourist season, gas prices in Torrey can be 50 or 60 cents more per gallon. That adds up, especially in a RV!
Note: If you want to grab groceries for a picnic, then you should also get those at Royal’s Foodtown, the local grocer in Loa.
Shoot! I Didn’t Reserve a Campspot!
If you want to stay a night or two in the Fruita Campground, it’s pretty much mandatory to reserve a spot online. Reservations are done through recreation.gov. But if you make the mistake of thinking you’ll be fine, and you get there and you’re, well, not fine – don’t worry, we have some suggestions. Call the campgrounds in Torrey for prices and availability, or start heading up to Boulder Mountain. There are five campgrounds in the National Forest you can check out. The first, Singletree Campground, is great, although it too might be full. But the next few campsites aren’t usually booked up. So try Pleasant Creek Campground next. It’s still only 30 minutes from the park.
Don’t Just Do Fruita
This is perhaps the biggest mistake that visitors make: they come all the way to Capitol Reef, and they only see the developed section of Fruita. Don’t misunderstand, Fruita is fantastic, and there’s plenty to see there, but it’s really only a small fraction of the park. So if you’re planning a vacation, think about exploring beyond the main section of Capitol Reef. Head down to the Waterpocket Fold and hike in the canyons, or drive the Cathedral Valley loop and check out the monoliths. You will need a high-clearance vehicle to do this (and four-wheel drive can be helpful too) just so that you are aware.
Capitol Reef really is a natural wonder. And the longer we live here, the more we discover about it. Which is good news for our readers, since we’ll keep sharing our insights on our blog. Have fun out there!