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Hiking, fruit picking ‘Capitol’ idea in Utah park

Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah is probably best known for its main geological feature, the Waterpocket Fold, a wrinkle in the earth that extends nearly 100 miles. But the park also boasts wonderful hiking opportunities on about 150 miles of trails to see slot canyons, natural arches, bridges and petroglyphs. Elevations in the park range from 3,800 to 8,200 feet, but the hub of the park, Fruita, is at around 5,500 feet.

First-time visitors might want to start with the 7-mile scenic drive that travels south from the visitor center. The road takes you by the Gifford Homestead, worth a stop just for the homemade ice cream and fruit pies, and after that the road travels along the Waterpocket Fold down to the Capitol Gorge Trail.

This easy trail was the main east/west road until 1962, when Utah State Route 24 was constructed. The trail is about 2 miles round trip and you’ll travel through a sandstone canyon with prehistoric and historic inscriptions and many natural tanks and water pockets. Another fine trail is the 1.8-mile round-trip Hickaman Bridge Trail, which takes you past petroglyphs and then up to the 133-foot natural stone bridge. Then there’s the Fremont River Trail, a 2.6-mile, moderately strenuous round trip with great views of the Waterpocket Fold.

What many people are surprised to know is that the park is also home to the largest holdings of fruit and nut orchards in the National Park Service. Thank the pioneers who settled Fruita in the early 1880s, taking advantage of the Fremont River to irrigate their fruit and nut tree orchards. They used the orchard’s bounty not only in their own homes but for bartering and as cash crops.

There are some 3,100 fruit and nut trees including favorites such as peach, cherry, apricot, plum, pear and apple. Depending on the fruit, from now until mid-October, various trees will either be in spectacular bloom or ready to harvest. The great news is that visitors can benefit from the bounty for a small fee and a little hand picking. This is all made easier with ladders, hand-picking tools and self-serve pay stations. While you’re in the orchards, feel free to eat as much as you want.

Of course, Mother Nature doesn’t adhere to a firm timeline, but the fruit trees have already flowered, or are flowering now, with expected harvest dates for cherries the first to second week of June through early July, apricots from late June through third week of July, pears and peaches from early August through early September and apples from early September through Oct. 17.

For more information on the park and updated harvest dates, call 435-425-3791 or visit http://www.nps.gov/care.

Average daily high temperatures in May and June are in the high 70s and low 80s, with nights dipping down into the 40s and 50s. Dress in layers for the cool mornings, bring a hat, sunscreen, hiking boots or sneakers with good tread. Bring a few dollars in cash for self-serve fruit picking.

Plan on at least two nights camping or in nearby lodging. Restaurants, cafes, a market and gas stations can be found in Torrey, 8 miles west of the park.

For additional information, visit http://www.recreation.gov and http://www.capitolreef.org.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

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