Capitol Reef National Park

Fremont River Trail

The Fremont River Trail is a little more than a mile in length. The first one-half mile of the trail is an easy, level walk along the river. This section is firmly packed and is usable for wheelchair visitors. The last portion of the trail is a moderately strenuous climb to an overlook 800 feet above the valley floor.

Walk along the trail until you come to the park amphitheater, situated in a grove of fruit trees. The first orchards in Fruita were planted in the 1880s by Nels Johnson, the community's first permanent settler. Nurtured by a mild climate, fertile soil, and abundant water of the nearby river, the fruit trees flourished. Horse-drawn wagonloads of fruit were hauled out of the valley to neighboring towns. There the harvest was exchanged for grain and supplies. Today, the National Park Service manages the orchards, which total more than 2,500 trees. A network of ditches is used for irrigation; this same method was used by 19th century Mormon settlers and by their predecessors, the Fremont Indians, some 700 years earlier. Cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, and apples are the main crops and are available to the public for picking in season.

Continue past the amphitheater, around a sweeping bend in the trail. The wood rail fence to your right overlooks the Fremont River, named for explorer John Charles Fremont, who traveled near this area in the 1850s. From its source in the mountains to the west, the Fremont River winds through broad meadows and sheer-walled canyons on its way to the Colorado River (Lake Powell). Water-thirsty willow, rose, cottonwood, and tamarisk crowd the narrow channel margins, a ribbon of green slicing through a desert world of reds and browns. Without the river, neither these plants nor the orchards could survive.

Follow the path across a wide, concrete irrigation ditch and enter the meadow beyond. Immediately ahead are three large trees. These stately trees are Fremont Cottonwoods. Silhouetted against a backdrop of brilliant blue sky and red cliffs, these gently rustling cottonwoods are the essence of a Capitol Reef autumn.

At the far end of the meadow, the trail passes through a narrow fence opening. Beyond, it winds through a corridor of pungent sagebrush, a zone of transition between river and desert. The path emerges at the base of the cliff. From here, it will be a steady, one-half-mile climb to the overlook.

About 300 yards up the trail, the river and service road on its far side squeeze to their closest point. The trail continues its steep ascent in the shadow of the Moenkopi wall. Reaching the top of the cliff face, it levels off. From here, the trail cuts sharply around the backside of the cliff; a short series of switchbacks climbs to a rock cairn marking the trail's end. If you retrace your steps back to the river, it is possible to walk up the river into the Fremont River Gorge. This is a strenuous hike, eventually leading you to Utah Hwy 12. This, by itself, is an all day hike requiring a shuttle.

From the Visitor Center, drive or walk one mile down the Scenic Drive to loop B of the campground.

There are no numbered signposts on the trail. Descriptions of stops, which are keyed to recognizable features, are given on this page.

If you are hiking in the summer, take water with you and wear a hat. While this is an enjoyable trail at any time of day, you may find it more comfortable to hike during the cooler early morning or evening hours.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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