If you’re in South Utah, you have to stop by Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef is full of some of the most mind-blowing views in all of Utah, let alone the US. Camping in Capitol Reef, however, is a whole new experience that every person deserves to try. Spending the night in the wilderness of Capitol Reef can be transformative, but only if you’re truly prepared for what this national park has to offer.
To help you relish in all that South Utah has to offer, we’ve created the ultimate camping guide for you and your trip to Capitol Reef. Whether you need help determining what to bring, where to camp, or what to see, Beyond the Tent is here to help. Keep on reading to start planning your adventure to Capitol Reef National Park.
What to Bring
As much as we’d all love to just pack up a few things and start camping, there are some necessary pieces of camping gear that every camper should have to stay safe, comfortable, and enjoy your trip. From camping gear to cooking tools and emergency equipment, we’ll help you craft your list of things to bring to Capitol Reef.
First thing’s first: how are you camping? Are you backpacking through Capitol Reef, or are you parking your RV and camping in style? Or, maybe you’re pitching your tent and getting closer to nature than ever. No matter how you want to camp, you must decide this style first and then determine your belongings from there.
If you’re tent camping, you must ensure that you have a high-quality tent, as well as sleeping bags and blankets, to guarantee your safety and comfort. Weather-proof tents and thermal sleeping bags are best for keeping you protected from the wilderness around you.
You cannot forget your flashlights, batteries, or heat source, either. Flashlights and extra batteries ensure that you’re able to see no matter what time of the day it is, especially if you have to go out in the middle of the night to use the restroom or see the stars.
Having a hunting knife and a multi-tool as well can be extremely helpful, as you can use it to tie down your tent, cut fishing line, or open a cold bottle of beer at the end of the night. With a camping multi-tool, you have everything you need at the palm of your hand.
For those of you planning on camping for a few days, make sure you have the right cooking essentials! Cooking in the woods is an experience that few get to have, but when you do, you’ll never forget it.
While you’re more than welcome to bring a cooler of prepared foods and drinks, there’s something just so rustic about catching your own food and cooking it up. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, we suggest bringing some outdoor pots and pans to get cooking.
Thankfully, you can buy outdoor cooking kits that have everything you need to make the best food out in Capitol Reef. You don’t want to bring your regular ol’ pots and pans, otherwise, they might get damaged being out in the middle of the wilderness.
Outdoor cooking essentials, though, are made to be much more durable and equipt for use outside. Don’t forget to bring a portable propane stove or heat source of some kind, either! Curious about what you can make out in the woods? We have you covered! Here are some of our favorite camping recipes.
You cannot go camping in just your everyday clothes. When you’re camping, you’re not lounging on the couch or working at your computer; instead, you’re walking on dirt trails, starting a campfire, and pitching tents.
Because of this, you want to make sure you pack clothing that will allow for all of this in comfort and safety. We recommend bringing a few pairs of long-sleeve, form-fitting shirts that keep your arms protected from the sun, bugs, and whatever else Mother Nature decides to bring.
Make sure your pants are made of durable, breathable material that makes hiking comfortable. You want to avoid wearing shorts when hiking or camping, otherwise, you might leave your legs exposed to prickly bushes, cacti, and insect bites. On that same note, make sure you have long, protective socks to keep your feet warm and protected as well.
Even if you’re camping during the summer, bringing some light jackets can be crucial to your trip. You never know when rain might roll in, and in the case of inclement weather, it’s much better to be prepared than not. During the winter, having warm, weather-proof jackets is absolutely vital, as well as warm gloves and hats.
Finally, when you’re camping in Capitol Reef National Park, you should always make sure you have the right emergency equipment on hand. Emergency equipment includes everything from first aid kids to backup lanterns and even thermal blankets and flares. Again, camping out in the wilderness can be a bit unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared for whatever might go awry.
You can purchase full camping emergency kits to have all of these things in one. These kits are compact and have everything you need to stay and safe protected in even the worst situations.
Where to Camp in Capitol Reef National Park
The next step in planning your camping trip to Capitol Reef National Park is determining exactly where you’re going to camp. At this national park, you have two beautiful campgrounds to choose from, both of which are absolutely picturesque.
This beautiful campground is located in the middle of red rock country in South Utah. Fruita Campground is home to incredible hidden cliffs, canyons, and bridges that’ll have your mouth in awe the whole time you’re there.
Here, you can choose from 71 different campsites, all of which are suitable for both RV and tent camping. They also offer various wheelchair-accessible campgrounds in the area, too.
Not far from this campground are various historical areas and miles of gorgeous hiking trails. Break out your camera or your binoculars and take a closer look into the nature around you. Just make sure you treat it with as much respect as it’s giving to you.
Most of this campground is shaded, though you still have the opportunity to bask in the warm desert sun of Capitol Reef. Many campers consider this campground to be an “oasis in the desert,” so if that sounds like your ideal camping spot, go ahead and reserve a spot ASAP.
Primitive Campgrounds: Cathedral Valley
Along with the modern campground we discussed above, Capitol Reef also offers two different primitive campgrounds for campers to choose from. For those of you looking to get even closer to nature and disconnected from the technological, modern world, these campsites are absolutely ideal.
The Cathedral Valley Campground is open-year round for campers who manage to access it. Getting to this campground is an adventure in and of itself, and if you’re in a vehicle, you’re going to need high-clearance four-wheel drive.
But, once you do make it, this spot is more than worth it for some private, secluded camping in Capitol Reef. At 7,000 ft. in elevation, you’re sure to experience views that you likely wouldn’t elsewhere.
This campground won’t cost you anything, and there are six sites to choose from. Here, you’re 36 miles from the Visitor Center, so if you’re new to the national park, we’d recommend staying a bit closer. For those familiar with the area, this is a great spot to truly soak in what Capitol Reef has to offer.
Along with Cathedral Valley, you can also stay at the Cedar Mesa primitive campground. This campground is a bit easier to access than Cathedral Valley, but you’re still far away enough to experience proper privacy. Cedar Mesa has five free sites and is first-come, first-serve.
Here, you’ll have direct access to Red Canyon trail, a trail that stretches almost five miles through the incredible canyons of Capitol Reef.
On this hike, you’ll be surrounded by Juniper, Cottonwood trees, and huge sandstone walls. This picturesque hike may be a little tiring, but when it winds up right back at your campsite, you’ll be feeling incredibly lucky to be camping in a place like this.
Sights to See at Capitol Reef
With all the historic beauty that Capitol Reef offers, there are just some sights that you cannot miss. Even though every inch and every angel of this national park is just as stunning as the next, we’ve briefly discussed three of our all-time favorite sights here at Capitol Reef.
Fruita Historic District
The Fruita Historic District is one of the best places to take the whole family. This area is bursting with history, being home to some of the first Mormon settlers back in the late 1800s. Today, the site is lush with fruit trees and orchards, allowing you to pick your own fruit completely free.
Whether you want fresh apples, peaches, pears, cherries, or even apricots, you can find these here, waiting for you to pick them, at the Fruita Historic District. After you’ve found your fruit, sit down on one of the nearby picnic tables and watch the wild deer, birds, and other small animals live their lives in Utah’s beauty.
Sunset Point trail is an incredibly brisk hike that truly showcases the stunning nature and rock formations that Capitol Reef has to offer.
The trail is right alongside sharp 500-ft drop off into the Sulphur Creek, offering incredible views and adrenaline-pumping turns. Whether you look down, up, or beside you, you will be in awe at the red rocks all around you.
As the name suggests, you should try taking this hike during sunset. Then, the views will be even more spectacular than you could ever imagine. Don’t forget your camera!
Grand Wash Trail & Cassidy Arch
Both the Grand Wash and Cassidy Arch Trail are historic trails in Capitol Reef that every camper should check out. When combined, these trails create an incredible 7.5 mile-long adventure through some of the most wondrous spots in all of Utah.
While the Grand Wash Trail is easy and perfect for everyone in your family, the Cassidy Arch Trail is a bit tougher, so you should only combine these two if you’re really looking for a challenge.
Wildlife & Weather
Finally, before you head out into the wilderness of Capitol Reef National Park, you need to make sure you take into consideration two things: the wildlife and the weather.
When it comes to the wildlife, you can expect to see reptiles of all kinds, hundreds of bird species, and mammals big and small. If you’re worried about large predators, the only animals you really need to be concerned about are mountain lions.
Thankfully, these guys tend to hang out high up on the mountainsides, but do keep in mind that you’re in their home when visiting. In general, you must be respectful of the wildlife in Capitol Reef.
The weather in Capitol Reef National Park is another factor you must consider before taking off. This completely influences what you pack, what you wear, and even where you camp. Thankfully, like most of South Utah, Capitol Reef’s weather tends to be mild. During the winter, you’ll experience highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s, while the summer brings hot temperatures ranging from 90-100°F.
Plan well, pack accordingly, and be ultra prepared for your trip out to Capitol Reef National Park. The best way to enjoy your time out in nature is to be prepared for the wilderness and truly learn to embrace it as best as you can. After all, when is the next time you’d be able to wake up to the sight of BigHorn sheep?
For more national park camping guides and other advice on venturing out into the woods, check out what else Beyond the Tent has to offer.
- About the Author
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Hey there, I’m Ryan, the face behind Beyond The Tent.
With decades of camping experiences, my journey into the wilderness began on the rustic trails of a farm in southern Minnesota, where my childhood was filled with explorations and camping by a picturesque river.
My family’s adventures across the United States, from the majestic Colorado mountains to the serene national parks and the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota have given me a broad perspective. With each journey, whether in state parks or private encampments, and through the homely comfort of our camping trailers, we’ve amassed a trove of stories, experiences, and invaluable camping wisdom.