Capitol Reef National Park in Utah boasts some of the most beautiful rock formations and geological wonders in the West, including the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the Earth that stretches for 100 miles.
It is also one of the best choices for visitors to go hiking. Its 150 miles of trails lead to canyons, natural arches and bridges, waterfalls and rock carvings. The park also includes the largest orchards in the National Park system, and many visitors prefer to visit in spring, when the landscape is reminiscent of AE Housman’s poem:
The most beautiful of the trees, the cherry tree now
hangs with flowers along the branch,
And talk about the race in the woods
Dress in white for Easter.
The elevations in the park range from 3,800 feet to 8,200 feet, but in the main area of the park, Fruita, it is around 5,500 feet. Here you will find the visitor center and the starting point for visiting the park’s orchards. All orchards are located within a mile or so.
Most of the orchards were planted by Mormon pioneers who lived here from the late 1800s through the 1950s. Like Fruita’s rural landscape, the park preserves more than 1,900 trees using heritage techniques such as gravity-fed ditch irrigation used in the 1880s. Pruning, mowing, pest management, grafting and mapping are ongoing activities.
The park was designated a national monument in 1937 and gained national park status in 1971. Since then, the orchards have lost around 1,000 trees to disease, age and poor soil. To maintain their original character, the park last year implemented an orchard rehabilitation pilot project that will continue until 2025. The park has also classified, aerated and fertilized 4.6 acres in its Guy Smith and Cook orchards. New trees of historically appropriate varieties will be planted this spring. Properly prepared soils will greatly improve the likelihood that young fruit trees will thrive for years to come.
There are two ideal times to visit the park’s orchards: when the trees are in bloom and, of course, during harvesting. As the trees bloom and bear fruit at different times, it feels like some kind of fruit tree festival from April to September. Right now, regular cherry, apricot and peach trees are blooming, a shower of beauty that typically lasts until mid-April. The show doesn’t end then: Pears and apples have started blooming now and usually do so during the first week of May.
Time is a determining factor from year to year, and flowering and harvest times are approximate, as they can vary a few weeks before or after each year. For up-to-date information call the park information number at 435-425-3791 to be transferred to the fruit hotline. Press 1 for visitor information, then press 5 for fruit hotline.
The harvest time for cherry trees is generally from mid-June to early July, apricots from late June to July, peaches and pears the first week of August to early September. Apples are often at their peak from early September through mid-October.
At the entrance to each orchard open for harvesting, there is a self-service payment station, a scale and a sign with fruit prices. The park provides manual pickers and ladders to reach the fruit. Download or collect a map of the orchard at the visitor center or on the website (www.nps.gov/care). U-Pick Fruit signs are posted when fruit is ready for harvest in a particular orchard.
Expect daily high temperatures in April in the Fruita area to be around 65 degrees with lows of around 39 degrees. In May, daily highs are on average 74 degrees with lows of 48 degrees.
There is camping in the park at Fruita Campground by reservation from March to October at www.recreation.gov. In winter, it is on a first come first served basis. Alternatively, there are campgrounds, lodgings, restaurants, and a market in the nearby town of Torrey.