The orchards that lie within a mile or two of the visitor center are evident remnants of the pioneer community of Fruita, settled in 1880. Many varieties of heirloom fruit are found in Capitol Reef's historic orchards.
Latter-Day Saints pioneers planted thousands of fruit trees in the fertile Fremont River Valley. From the 1880s to 1960s, these trees provided food and income to the families who called Fruita home. Apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums dotted each family’s orchards.
Today, the orchards are preserved and protected as part of the Fruita Rural Historic Landscape listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The orchards contain approximately 1,900 trees.
Orchard Management Today
Park staff maintain the historic character of these extensive orchards using heritage techniques. The same flood irrigation ditches pioneers dug in the 1880s water the trees today. Pioneers sometimes lost trees and entire orchards to floods and droughts. Today, the climate poses challenges for managers. Warmer temperatures may cause trees to bloom early or out of sync with pollinators, which could reduce the harvest. The National Park Service maintains the orchards year-round with historic cultural irrigation practices, pruning, mowing, pest management, planting, mapping, and grafting. Preserving healthy orchards remains a central goal for Capitol Reef National Park. For both regional neighbors and international visitors, Fruita will continue to be the "Eden of Wayne County."
Capitol Reef National Park has started an orchard rehabilitation project in the historic Fruita orchards which will continue until 2025. The project initiates much-needed orchard re-planting to maintain the quality and character of the area. The park sought public comment on the project in 2021, and has since completed regrading of the Guy Smith and Cook orchards to improve soil conditions and irrigation. In April 2022, park staff and volunteers planted 260 young peach trees in the Guy Smith orchard. Varieties included early season Red Haven, and late season J.H. Hale and Elberta peaches. The park continued the project in 2023 with 141 cherry trees and 70 apple trees planted in the Cook orchard. Other historic orchards will be planted in the next several years.
Most of these orchards were planted by Fruita residents from the turn of the 20th century up to the 1950's. Until the 1990's, other Fruita orchards were planted with modern commercial varieties to support a popular U-pick operation at the park. The Fruita area features a prime example of a historic agrarian landscape, including 100 acres of orchards and pastures.
Heirloom fruit trees are generally less resistant to drought and disease compared to contemporary varieties. Since designation, park orchards have lost nearly 1,000 trees due to age, disease, and poor soil conditions. Properly preparing orchard soils will improve furrow irrigation, soil structure and nutrient conditions. This will enable young fruit trees to establish vigorous root systems enhancing survival and longevity.
This project is a 'pilot' because knowledge gained during implementation will be used to inform future orchard replanting projects. This approach will permit staff to incorporate lessons learned during the replanting process and adjust to the vagaries of weather, drought, and pests.
Apricots: early March to mid-April
Peaches: late March to late April
Pears: late March to early May
Apples: early April to early May
Apricots: late June to mid-July
Peaches: late July to early September
Pears: early August to early September
Apples: mid-August to mid-October
Depending on how cold (or warm) winters are, blossom and harvest times can vary up to a few weeks earlier or later than the ranges given above. For updated fruit blossom and harvest times, call the park's information line at (435) 425-3791. After the introduction, press #1 for visitor information, and then press #5 for the fruit hotline.
Fruit blossom and harvest times will also be updated on the park's Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Recorded park information available 24 hours a day. Phones are answered when staff is available. If no one answers, please leave a message, your call will be returned. Questions may also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.