Looking for fun and unique things to do in Capitol Reef National Park this fall? A visit to the park’s orchards is a must this time of year!
Many first-time visitors to the park are surprised to learn that there are real, operational fruit orchards located within the national park’s boundaries. Given that national parks are designed to protect and preserve our country’s precious natural landscapes, the presence of man-made orchards can seem a little out of place. But alongside preserving the natural landscapes, our national parks also seek to preserve our own history in these regions.
Planning a visit to one of the best Southern Utah resorts this fall? Keep reading to learn what you need to know about visiting the orchards and making the most of your trip.
A History of Capitol Reef National Park’s Orchards
The orchards of Capitol Reef were planted by settlers who arrived in the area in the 1880s. These early settlers were far from Capitol Reef’s first inhabitants.
Evidence suggests that Native Americans, often called the Fremont People, first arrived in the region sometime around 700 AD. These tribes were hunter-gatherers and disappeared from the area sometime around 1250, likely due to severe droughts that plagued the region. Two other groups of Native Americans, including the Southern Paiute and the Utes, arrived in the area around 1600 and stayed until early European settlers drove them away in the 1800s.
These settlers likely arrived in the region in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the area was officially mapped. Soon after, towns began to sprout in the region that now encompasses Capitol Reef. This included the town of Fruita. Settled by Latter-Day Saints pioneers, Fruita was located in the fertile Fremont River Valley. Families of pioneers planted a variety of fruit trees, including apples, cherries, pears, plums, apricots, and peaches.
Generations of farmers continued planting and tending to these orchards until the 1950s.
Becoming a Part of the National Park
In 1937, Capitol Reef National Monument was formed. However, at this time, the town of Fruita was located out of the park’s boundaries and continued to be privately owned and farmed. However, as visitor numbers to the national monument increased following World War II, the National Park Service sought to expand it. Working piece by piece by purchasing individual farms, the town of Fruita slowly became a part of Capitol Reef throughout the 1960s.
Then, in 1971, President Richard Nixon signed a bill that created Capitol Reef National Park.
After Fruita was purchased by the National Park Service, many of the structures were torn down. The orchards, as well as a schoolhouse and a few barns and homes, including the Gifford House, were spared.
Until the 1990s, the trees located in the Fruita orchards were planted using modern commercial varieties of trees. These are not resistant to drought and disease and have suffered over the years. In fact, since the park was created, over 1,000 trees were lost due to disease, age, and poor soil. However, starting in the 1990s, the park service began a pilot program that seeks to use more new knowledge to plant trees that are more equipped to thrive in the area.
Visiting Capitol Reef’s Orchards
Not only are Capitol Reef’s orchards still maintained today, but guests can visit them to stroll the rows of trees and even pick fruit to take home.
There are four varieties of fruits that guests can pick today, including apricots, peaches, pears, and apples. Harvest season for some fruits begins in June and runs through October for others. The harvest seasons in Capitol Reef are as follows:
- Apricots: late June to mid-July
- Peaches: late July to early September
- Pears: early August to early September
- Apples: mid-August to mid-October
During the harvest season, “U-Pick Fruit” signs are posted in orchards that are open for picking. Visitors can wander the orchards and pick fruit. Then, head to the self-pay station located near the entrance to the orchards. Here, you can weigh and pay for your fruit. All proceeds from fruit sales goes towards preserving the historic Fruita orchards.
Orchards that are located within a fence are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, and unfenced orchards are open from Dawn to dusk. There are a few rules that guests should follow while in the orchards, including:
- Do not pick unripe fruit. Signs posted at the orchards will let you know which types of fruit are available for picking at that time.
- Any fruit that you pick must be paid for.
- Never climb any of the fruit trees. Ladders and hand pickers are available to help you reach fruit high up in the trees.
- Do not put up hammocks or slack lines on the historic fruit trees
- Pets are allowed in the orchards but must be kept on a leash.
In addition to picking fresh fruit, you can also stop by the Gifford House to purchase fresh fruit pies, jellies, and jams, many of which are made from locally-picked fruits.
The Best Things to Do in Capitol Reef This Fall
Picking fruit from the Fruita orchards is always one of the best things to do in Capitol Reef during the Fall season! And staying at the best Southern Utah resorts makes it easy to plan a visit — or several — to the orchards during your next trip!
Now is a great time to book your Fall visit to Cougar Ridge. Right now, when you book 3 or more nights at Cougar Ridge, you’ll receive a 15% discount on your entire stay! Book today to take advantage of this great deal this season!