Capitol Reef National Park does have a fairly large campground with facilities, but this cozy spot is nearly always at full capacity during the peak summer tourism season. Unless campsite reservations were made well ahead of time, the chances of finding an empty spot at the end of a long day can be slim to nil. There is a psyche involved with mainstream National Park tourism that causes visitors to focus on National Park camping options and nothing else, which compares to only buying front row tickets for a superstar concert. This kind of tunnel vision often causes mainstream tourists to ignore other public land camping options when making vacation plans.
Tourists tend to meander through southern Utah because there are so many majestic destinations to experience. Staying on schedule can be a real chore in this region, especially when campsite reservations are made ahead of time without realizing the driving distances involved. In this case, showing up for a campsite reservation a day late is the same as being a dollar short. Those who do not know about the dispersed camping options will inevitably sleep in the car on the side of the road or they will end up camping in a motel room that charges grossly inflated seasonal rates. Doing such a thing will certainly result on missing out on some great camping experiences that can be found just outside the National Park.
Both the Fishlake National Forest and Caineville BLM border upon Capitol Reef along Highway 24, which is the main touring route in this National Park. Both of these vast public lands offer dispersed camping areas next to the big park just off the highway, which is a nice convenience. The Mile Mark 73 National Forest Dispersed Camping option is located near the west entrance and a previously published article describes this cozy little spot. The other option is the BLM dispersed camping along Notom Road, which can be found at the east entrance of the park. Both of these local dispersed camping options are recommended by the National Park Service Rangers in the visitor center. The rangers do provide maps, directions and advice as well. For this reason, when in a pinch for a camping spot at Capitol Reef, the visitor center should be the first place to go.
Notom Road is paved all the way to the BLM Dispersed Camping Areas at Pleasant Creek, so this option is easy to get to. There are a couple of creekside camping areas, but these spots fill up quick because RV campers and passenger cars can easily access these campsites. Just south of Pleasant Creek are a couple of dirt roads that head east, which offer even more dispersed camping options. These dirt roads start off smooth near Notom Road, but they do get rougher the further one goes. If you drive a high ground clearance vehicle, you will find more camping options in this part of the Notom BLM Dispersed Camping Area.
I actually found a good campsite with a great view on one of the dirt roads on the south side of Pleasant Creek and oddly enough, there was not one other camper in sight! The Notom BLM campsites overlook the white dome rock formations that Capitol Reef is famous for, so it does not get much better than this. The plan was to camp overnight, then get an early start on touring Notom Road into the southern end of Capitol Reef all the way to the Burr Trail. Notom Road is paved part way, then it turns into a rough dirt road in the back country. No RV campers are allowed on the dirt road section near the Burr Trail Switchbacks, which is something to keep in mind if you drive a land yacht. The dirt road section of Notom Road goes through a few silt beds too, so a 4x4 is best suited for this scenic drive after the pavement ends.
For those who have never boondocked before, there are no fees and there are no reservations involved with dispersed camping. Camping at existing sites is the rule of thumb, so all that a visitor needs to do is look for a rock fire ring or a bare spot on the ground to call home for the night. The dispersed camping pack it in, pack it out rules are easy to follow. Leaving the campsite cleaner than how you found it is really the way to go.
The lack of toilet facilities in dispersed camping areas is what causes most people that do not own an RV to balk. Investing in an expensive portable sanitation system to satisfy regulations may not be a good choice for those who need to maintain a tight budget, but there is a thrifty option that experienced boondockers swear by. A plastic five gallon bucket partially filled with kitty litter along with a tight sealing lid is enough for personal emergency situations and the waste can be dumped in a pit toilet while touring later in the day. This is the cheap way to satisfy sanitation requirements in dispersed camping areas where digging a sanitation hole in the ground is not allowed.
The Notom Road BLM Dispersed Camping Area is a nice choice for those who do not make reservations at the main campground inside Capitol Reef National Park. This is a good spot to be when planning a tour of Notom Road, Bullfrog Ferry Crossing or the Burr Trail, which runs through the Canyons region of the neighboring Grand Staircase-Escalanted National Monument. Many more camping options can be found along these trails in the south end of Capitol Reef and the further you go, the easier it is to escape from the big crowds!
Leave no trace!
Donations help the Destinaton West project continue into the future!
Go Fund Me!
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies