Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden oasis in south central Utah. Amidst all of the red rock are fruit orchards originally planted by Mormon settlers in the 1800s. Before them archaic hunters and gatherers lived in this region along the Fremont River for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. However, Capitol Reef National Park was not set aside specifically to protect this history. It was created to protect a unique geological feature – the Waterpocket Fold – an 87 mile long warp in the earth’s crust.
With narrow roads and only one dog-friendly trail, Capitol Reef might not be the best park to visit with an RV and dogs. But it is still worth driving through if you are in the area. And if you are traveling in a car without pets, definitely add this stop to your list.
There is one dog-friendly trail located within this national park. The trail allows dogs to be walked from the visitors center to Fruita campground and back. Along this route, you can catch glimpses of the orchards, Fremont River, and some historic buildings. But the most beautiful views are not located along this portion of the park. Despite the average views, the dogs still enjoyed stretching their legs. They were more concerned with the new scents and chasing lizards.
The official NPS website also mentions dogs being allowed on the Fremont River Trail from the campground to the south end of Hattie’s Field. When we asked a park ranger, we were told only the trail between the visitors center and the campground. Unfortunately, we sometimes get conflicting information about pet policies. We have found that not all rangers are as well versed in the pet policies as others. Regardless, we erred on the side of caution and did not explore the Fremont River Trail. We also specifically asked about the policy regarding dogs in unfenced or unlocked orchards and were told no dogs in orchards, even though the website says this is okay. Ultimately, we recommend double checking with the park rangers about which policies are enforced at this park.
Additionally, as with most national parks, dogs are allowed along roads open to public vehicle travel, in parking areas, and in picnic areas. Pets must be leashed and can not be left unattended.
There is one developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park, along with two primitive campgrounds and backcountry campsites. The developed campground, Fruita, is located in the historic Fruita district. We walked around this campground and it appeared to have nice sites along the river. Find out more about camping at Capitol Reef National Park here.
If the campgrounds are full, there are many camping options outside the park in nearby national forests and on BLM lands. We personally had stopped at a state park on our way to the campground and stayed on BLM lands in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument the night we left Capitol Reef. In case you are wondering about that state park campground, we wrote about our experience at Green River State Park in our Canyonlands blog post. The BLM area we stayed at was a bumpy undeveloped open area just off of Hole in the Rock road. There are lots of free camping areas in this region, so I recommend speaking with a local ranger for recommendations on the best spot to park your vehicle for the night.
Activities in the Surrounding Areas
One of our favorite hikes of the trip is located about an hour outside of Capitol Reef National Park in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Calf Creek Falls is a popular destination for hikers. There are two sections of hiking trails at this location – Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls. We pulled into the Lower Calf Creek Trailhead around 5pm and just managed to find a spot for our 23 ft RV. This parking lot isn’t really equipped to handle oversized vehicles. If we had come earlier in the day, I doubt there would have been parking for us.
We chose to visit the lower portion of the falls as the lower falls is the larger waterfall, dropping 126 feet into a lovely pool. Even without the great waterfall, this hiking trail would still be worth a stop. Totaling almost 6 miles round trip, this moderate hike winds through rock formations and caves down to reeds along the river. We encountered a few other leashed dogs along the trail. And as a note of caution, this trail can get hot if hiked in full sun during summer months. Bring plenty of water and don’t over exert your dog. But beyond the heat, the trail was very dog-friendly. More information about this hike can be found here.
And if you aren’t traveling in an RV and can more easily traverse unpaved roads, check out the many other trails in this area of Utah.
Capitol Reef is a stunning national park that is well worth the visit. Just know that if you visit with pets, your activities will be limited. But definitely explore the area outside this park. There are many dog-friendly hiking trails within an hour or two of this national park. You won’t be disappointed with this area of Utah.