Capitol Reef National Park: A Fruit Picker's Paradise!
It's easy to think of Utah as a parched desert landscape with dry sand and crumbling sandstone cliffs, and to a degree, you wouldn't be wrong. Along with a handful of other parks scattered across the state, Capitol Reef National Park preserves stark yet beautiful landscapes that typify the arid southwestern desert. But Capitol Reef has another, greener side: thriving fruit orchards that have survived more than 130 years in this harsh place.
Apple orchards in the Utah desert
The orchards of Capitol Reef National Park lie within a mile or two of the visitor center, where they have stood since the late 1800s. They are remnants of the tiny settlement of Fruita, Utah, a pioneer community that first took root here in the desert in 1880, but never grew beyond a handful of families at any time during its long history.
The settlers of Fruita needed cash crops as well as subsistence crops, and the thousands of fruit trees they planted met both of those requirements. The 3,000-plus trees reflect a different era of agriculture, producing dozens of fruit and nut varieties. The last permanent residents of Fruita moved away in 1969, but the trees continue to bear fruit to this day.
Unique heirloom produce
Some of the crops produced in Fruita include varieties of apples, pecans, and peaches that are very different from anything you'll find in a modern supermarket. Among the bounty you'll find in the orchard, keep an eye out for these unique fruits and nuts:
- Apples: Along with common varieties like Ginger Gold, McIntosh, and Empire, the rare heirloom apple varieties can be found in the Capitol Reef orchards. These include Ben Davis apples, which were first developed in 1799 and, despite their unremarkable flavor, were known to stay fresh for more than a year after picking. The apple orchards also produce a variety known as Capitol Reef Red, which grows nowhere else in the world.
- Apricots: Two heirloom apricot varieties are available, Chinese Sweet Pit and Moorpark.
- Peaches: Among the many peaches that grow in the orchards, you'll find Elberta (perhaps the most popular peach on the market today), along with Rosa, a rare variety that is only available at three nurseries in the U.S.
- Pecans: Known as native pecans, the pecans that grow at Capitol Reef National Park are uncultivated and have a rich flavor. However, they are not widely grown due to their thick shells and small size.
The orchards at Capitol Reef National Park also offer almonds, cherries, grapes, pears, plums, quinces, and walnuts.
Seasons for fruit picking in Utah
The fruit orchards at Capitol Reef National Park are open to the public, and visitors come at various times throughout the year to see the fruit trees in bloom and to pick fruit to take home.
Seasons for fruit picking include:
- Cherries: June 11–July 7
- Apricots: June 27–July 22 (early), and July 18 (regular)
- Peaches: August 4–Sept. 6
- Pears: August 7–Sept. 8
- Apples: Sept. 4–Oct. 17
During the appropriate seasons, you will find some orchards marked for picking, while others are open for viewing only. Ladders and hand-held fruit pickers are provided—please do not climb these historic trees—along with self-pay stations where you can pay for your harvest. Scales, plastic bags, and signs listing fruit prices are located near the entrance to each open fruit orchard.
National parks are full of surprises, and Capitol Reef National Park is a perfect example. Prime apple picking season (September to October) is a perfect time to experience this truly unique park.