Venturing to Capitol Reef National Park in a Campervan - Native Campervans

Venturing to Capitol Reef National Park in a Campervan

Capital Reef National Park Campervan Rental Utah Arizona

Are you tired of the big National Park scene? We don’t blame you. The big parks are crowded and often require reservations six months in advance. Maybe you’ve traveled to the big national parks and are looking for somewhere new and exciting, somewhere you’ve never seen before that’s off the beaten path. Do we have the destination for you! In this episode of Native Campervan itineraries, we’re hitting up Capitol Reef National Park for 36 hours! We’re taking you on an adventure of a lifetime. Let’s hit the road!

Day 1 – Are you or are you not going to hit the ground running?

Denver to Capitol Reef National Park
Miles: 428 miles
Time: 6hr 45 minutes

Las Vegas to Capitol Reef National Park
Miles: 327.3 miles
Time: 5hr 15 minutes

Much like Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands, Capitol Reef is in south-central Utah and features towering canyon lands, golden cliffs and domes, and out-of-this-world geologic bridges that are a sight to behold! Fun Fact: Canyon Reef just celebrated its 50th birthday!

This national park is located equidistant from our Las Vegas, NV, campervan pickup and our Denver, CO, campervan HQ. We highly recommend this itinerary for any of our renters picking up at Denver or Las Vegas.

There are tons of activities in Capitol Reef National Park, such as canyoneering, hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, rock climbing, and so much more. You could easily extend your 36-hour campervan adventure to a whole week!

Time to Set up Camp

First order of business: let’s figure out where in Capitol Reef you’re going to park that campervan. Looking for a camp spot with a few more amenities than you’re regular boondocking spot? Try out Fruita Campground.

Fruita Campground is a patch of green in the desert, surrounded by acres of trees and undeniably beautiful grass. You’ll have access to picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and potable water fill stations. This camp spot requires reservations from March 1 – October 31 and is first come, first serve the rest of the year. The best part? This campsite is located inside Capitol Reef National Park. Talk about easy access and maximizing your 36 hours!

If you want to try boondocking or a less populous campsite, Capitol Reef offers two options inside the park: Cedar Mesa Campground and Cathedral Valley Campground. Both sites are free and are first come, first serve. Additionally, if you want a spot here in the summer months, we suggest heading here straight away.

Cathedral Valley is harder to get to, requiring four-wheel drive (if you’re renting from us, you’re in luck!) but is only 36 miles from the visitor center. This site has 6 sites and a pit toilet, but you’ll need to haul in your own water and fire-making materials.

If Cathedral Valley is full or not up to your liking, Cedar Mesa is a great second option. This site is a little closer, clocking in at only 23 miles south of State Highway 24. Cedar Mesa is much higher in elevation than Cathedral Valley, so make sure to bring lots of warm layers even in the summer. Cedar Mesa features 5 primitive sites and a pit toilet, but like Cathedral Valley, you’ll need to pack in your own water and fire supplies. Both sites are accessible by the Red Canyon trail.

Now that you’ve set up your campervan, let’s use the last few hours of daylight to do some ‘splorin in Captiol Reef. Meanwhile, to stretch your legs, we recommend taking a short hike, visiting the petroglyph panel, or picking some fruit from surrounding orchards for your dinner or breakfast!

Short Hikes

Capitol Gorge

Distance: 1.0 mile

On this short, but amazing hike, you’ll traverse through narrow ravines. In the summer, you’ll have the benefit of shade all along the trails. Meanwhile, in the winter, you have the benefit of cooler weather. Overall, the best feature of this hike is the Pioneer Registration, featuring some odd 20 names of early pioneers and settlers carved into stone ranging from the 19th century to 1930.

Cassidy Arch

Distance 1.7 miles

The Cassidy Arch is a 3.1 mile out and back trail, but if you’re running short on time, we highly suggest doing a portion of this hike on your first night.  You’ll get to experience the amazing scenery and rockscapes that Capitol Reef is beloved for. You’ll climb quickly and tower over the arches. If you have time to do the full trail, you’ll get to traverse the famous arch. You’ll literally feel like you’re on top of the world!

Fremont River

Distance: 2.1 miles

This trail is located near the Fruita Campground. Hikers will experience the magic of lush greenery in the sea of red earth-rock. This is a fairly easy trail with a heavy incline towards the .8 mile.  We highly suggest carrying anti-mountain lion gear with you, especially if you’re hiking around dusk or early morning. If you love a good sunset, we highly recommend the Fremont River hike.

Petroglyph Panel

The Petroglyph Panel is ideal for our history buffs. This experience allows you to get up close and personal with carvings dated thousands of years ago. There are a few options for petroglyph exploration: McKee Spring, Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs, Club Creek, among others. Depending on what time you arrive in the park, you could make your own Petroglyph tour or follow the Capitol Reef Petroglyph trail.

Fruit Picking

Fruit picking in Capitol Reef National Park is a unique experience. Spend a little while communing with the early pioneers of the area while you stock up on some fresh, fresh fruit. The Orchards in Capitol Reef National Park are mainstays from the early settlers. Capitol Reef allows visitors to pick at the designated “U-Pick Fruit” spots. Additionally, depending on the time of year, you could stock on apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, or plums!

We’ve given you quite a few options to jump-start your first night in the park. However, if you want to skip the first day of activities and relax, consider posting up at your campsite with minimal lights on. Did you know that Capitol Reef is a Designated International Dark Sky spot?  You won’t find better stargazing than Capitol Reef in the Western United States.

Finally, it’s time to get some rest and tackle some more unique Capitol Reef activities tomorrow!

Capitol Reef National Park Campervan

Day 2 – Get your permit; it’s adventure time!

Today is the day to push your limits straight away, and really get to know this rock playground. Unquestionably, our favorite ways to explore the park include canyoneering, rock climbing and bouldering, and heading out on a longer hike. It’s your last full day at Capitol Reef with your campervan, so let’s make it a good one!


Canyoneering should only be done if you’re experienced. There is a lot of technical rope work required in Capitol Reef because of the terrain; canyoneering routes can also include fitting through tight, rugged canyons, swimming, or rappelling. Canyoneer with care, and make sure to grab a permit before you go!

Rock Climbing and Bouldering

There are a number of climbing and bouldering zones in Capitol Reef National Park, some of the most popular are Grand Wash, State Route 24, Scenic Drive, Cohab Canyon, and Chimney Rock Canyon.  Furthermore, just like canyoneering, you’ll need to secure a permit before you head out!

Hiking – Grand Wash Trail

The Grand Wash Trail is one of the longer hikes in Capitol Reef, clocking in at around 4.8 miles. While you’re traveling along this trail, you might be reminded of The Narrows. This is a nice, and easy hike walking along the canyon walls. If you’re looking for something easy and fun, this is the hike for you.

Hiking – Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock is another hike that offers ariel views of the entire park. This hike clocks in at 3.6 miles. The trail is relatively flat aside from a short climb, but some hikers have labeled this climb as strenuous. You’ll take in the sandstone cliffs and have awesome views of the Waterpocket fold. The Waterpocket fold is especially beautiful, and something you shouldn’t miss!

Hiking – Cohab Canyon

Ariel views galore on this 3.4-mile, strenuous hike. You’ll start out in lush, green Fruita and quickly climb through the sandstone rocks, through Cohab Canyon, until you reach either the North or South Overlook. Do both or choose which overlook you prefer; you have all day, after all!

Native Campervan national Park

Day 3 – Back home, tired and happy, we go

Before you leave Capitol Reef to head out and make the drive back to our campervan HQ in either Las Vegas or Denver, we suggest taking one last hike along Hickman Bridge. This 1.7-mile out and back trail is beloved by visitors of Capitol Reef. This hike leads you through natural bridges with beautiful views of natural rock formations and sky-high cliffs the entire way.

We love to see what our campervan travelers get up to; make sure to tag us on social media (@nativecampervans), you could be featured on our social media! Happy campervanning!

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