Capitol Reef National Park   |  Byron Harward

Capitol Reef National Park Orchards In Fruita

Capitol Reef National Park lies in the heart of Southern Utah red-rock country. The amazing array of cliffs, canyons, arches and domes in the Waterpocket Fold — a geographic wrinkle in the earth — draws more than a million visitors a year. But amid this harsh landscape, there’s a surprising bit of nature that doesn’t quite fit most people’s expectations of the region. The orchards of Fruita, located just a few miles from the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center, are both a throwback to the early pioneer days and a reminder that there’s more to this area than towering stones. 

Many of the orchards are open to the public, and you can pick your own fruit when it's in season. Visiting the orchards is a welcome outing on any trip to Capitol Reef National Park, with or without the fruit in season. Here’s a quick guide to discovering this little known — and often edible — gem.

Capitol Reef National Park Fruita

Settling in Fruita

In the 1880s, pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in what is now the north-central part of the national park, creating a small community that originally went by the name Junction. They started planting trees for both food and income. By the turn of the 20th century, they were successful enough that the town’s name was changed to Fruita, and it became known as the Eden of Wayne County due to its large orchards that thrived amid the Fremont River Valley. Apples, cherries, apricots, pears, peaches and plums were just some of the fruits that did well in this environment. 

The small community continued until 1955 when Fruita was purchased by the National Park Service (NPS) to be part of Capitol Reef National Park. While there are a few buildings that remain from the original settlement, such as the Gifford Homestead, what stands out to most are the orchards, which remain a part of the “historic landscape” preserved here. 

The NPS has maintained the orchards since it acquired the property, using the same heritage techniques as the pioneers who planted them. The flood irrigation ditches dug in the 1880s are still being used, and the staff for the NPS practice pruning, pest management, planting, mapping and grafting in a similar fashion to a hundred years ago. The central goal is to preserve a healthy orchard.

Apples are among the many varieties of heirloom fruit found in Capitol Reef's historic orchards.

Photo: Austen Diamond

Capitol Reef's Hickman Bridge is a 133-foot natural bridge that features stunning canyon views.

Photo: Andrew Burr

Capitol Reef is home to towering sandstone structures and impressive canyons, but it also holds many ancient petroglyphs.

Photo: Leah Hogsten

How To Visit Capitol Reef’s Orchards

The orchards are open for visitors to explore any unlocked grounds and even consume ripe fruit on their visit. In the spring, the area is a popular spot to see the blossoming fruit trees. While the dates will change each year depending on the climate, the cherry, apricot, peach and pear trees generally blossom March to April, and the apple trees are usually April to May. 

The NPS has a wealth of information on the fruit varieties that are available in the park. To get specific fruit blossoms and harvest times, you can call the Capitol Reef information line at 435-425-3791 (press #1 for visitor information and #5 for the fruit hotline). Also, follow the park’s Facebook and Twitter feeds for details.

Harvest Season & Picking Fruit

The orchards begin producing fruit as early as June when the cherries start to arrive. Fruit may not be picked until the designated harvests start, and you’ll see signs in the orchards that note which are open for picking. 

You must pay for fruit that’s picked. A self-pay station — with scales and price listings — is located at the entrance to the orchards. Climbing fruit trees is not permitted, and ladders and fruit-picking tools are available to help visitors with the harvest. Visitors are also asked to bring their own bags for collecting. 

Like the blossoming, the harvest varies from year to year. But in general, you’ll find it follows this schedule: 

  • Cherries: Mid-June to early July
  • Apricots: July
  • Peaches: August
  • Pears: August
  • Apples: September thru mid-October

The park’s retail store found in the Gifford Farmhouse sells locally made pies, jams and ice cream from mid-March through October.

Photo: Matt Morgan

Tips for your Visit

Roaming the orchards is a highlight of any visit to Capitol Reef. Here are some ways to get the most out of your trip. 

  • Only pick ripe fruit from the orchard with a “U-Pick Fruit” sign on display.
  • Fenced orchards are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Unfenced orchards can be visited from dawn to dusk. 
  • Never climb the trees. Use the ladders and picking equipment that’s provided. 
  • Fruit trees are easily damaged. Never attach hammocks, slacklines or ropes to them.
  • Leashed pets are permitted in the orchards. 
  • Do not touch any objects hanging from tree branches (apart from the fruit), including insect traps and pheromone disruptors. 
  • Stop at the park’s retail store found in the Gifford Homestead kitchen, to purchase locally made pies, jams and ice cream.
  • Enjoy the rest of the park as well. The orchard is located near the park’s Fremont petroglyphs and the Hickman Bridge, a 133-foot natural bridge that features stunning canyon views.
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