Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is home to some of the West’s finest rock formations and geological wonders, including the Waterpocket Fold, a 160-kilometer ridge of Earth.
It is also one of the best hiking choices for visitors. Its 150 miles of trails cross slot canyons, natural arches and bridges, waterfalls and petroglyphs. The park also includes the largest fruit orchards in the national park system, and many visitors prefer to visit in the spring, when the scenery is reminiscent of A. E. Housman’s poem:
The most beautiful of trees, the cherry tree now
Is hung with the flower along the branch,
And stands about the ride in the woods
Wear white for Easter.
The elevation of the park ranges from 3,800 feet to 8,200 feet, but in the main area of the park, Fruita, it is around 5,500 feet. This is where you will find the visitor center and the starting point to visit the orchards of the park. All orchards are within a mile or more.
Most of the orchards were planted by Mormon pioneers who lived here from the late 1800s through the 1950s. As a rural Fruita landscape, the park nurtures over 1,900 trees using heritage techniques such as gravity-fed ditch irrigation used in the 1880s. Pruning, mowing, pest control, grafting, and mapping are ongoing tasks.
The park was designated a national monument in 1937 and was granted national park status in 1971. Since then, the orchards have lost around 1,000 trees due to disease, age and poor soil. To retain its original character, the park implemented a pilot orchard rehabilitation project last year that will continue through 2025. The park has also leveled, aerated and fertilized 4.6 acres in its orchards Guy Smith and Cook. New trees of historically appropriate varieties are being planted this spring. Properly prepared soils will greatly improve the likelihood of young fruit trees thriving for years.
There are two ideal times to visit the orchards of the park: during the flowering of the trees and, of course, during the harvest. Because the trees flower and bear fruit at different times, it looks like a kind of fruit tree festival from April to September. At this time, cherry trees, regular apricot trees and peach trees are blooming, a shower of beauty that usually lasts until mid-April. The show doesn’t stop there: the pears and apples have started flowering now and usually do so until the first week of May.
Weather is a factor from year to year, and flowering and harvest times are approximate, as they can fluctuate a few weeks earlier or later each year. For up-to-date information, call the park information line at 435-425-3791 to be transferred to the Fruit Helpline. Press 1 for visitor information, then press 5 for the Fruit Helpline.
The cherry harvest period is generally from mid-June to early July, apricots from late June to July, peaches and pears from the first week of August to early September. Apples are often at their peak from early September to mid-October.
A self-paying terminal, a scale and a sign indicating the price of fruit are located at the entrance to each orchard open for picking. The park provides hand pickers and ladders to reach the fruit. Download or pick up a map of the orchard at the Visitor Center or on the website (www.nps.gov/care). U-Pick Fruit signs are displayed when fruit is ready to be harvested from a given orchard.
Expect daily April highs in the Fruita region to be around 65 degrees with lows around 39 degrees. In May, daily highs average 74 degrees with lows at 48 degrees.
There is camping in the park at Fruita Campground by reservation from March through October at www.recreation.gov. In winter, it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. Alternatively, there are campsites, accommodation, restaurants and a market in the nearby town of Torrey.