Recreation: Ten good suggestions for late-season Utah camping
As the summer winds down and the first hints of autumn appear, camping at a close-to-home destination or driving a few hours to a favorite place can be an inviting way to spend an evening or two.
Just ask Jon Chu, who came up to the Tanner Flats campground in Little Cottonwood Canyon with sons Cole and Thomas early enough recently to snag one of the 12 first-come, first-served spots at the scenic spot.
He calls this a special place where he enjoys returning to again and again.
"There is a wall of water going down with a nice shady background," said Chu. "You don't hear other people, generators or camps."
The only problem is that reserving a spot on busy weekends can be a challenge. Chu tried in March to reserve spots for two different July weekends and they were already booked.
Tanner Flats campground manager Carolyn Kershaw said sites are almost always available early in the week but reservations are a good idea on the weekends. She said the campground is 15 to 20 degrees cooler at night than the Salt Lake Valley below, and draws not only local campers but also outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. Kerhsaw said she has met campers from The Netherlands and France this year. The campground is scheduled to stay open until mid-October.
"During the week, you can usually find a spot," she said. "But on Thursday and Friday, you need to be here early. There are usually none left on Saturday."
Utahns are lucky to be able to choose from dozens of campgrounds, some private and some operated by public agencies such as the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or National Park Service. In most parts of the state, a camping spot is only a few minutes' drive from home.
Here are 10 Utah campgrounds worth checking out for a late-season outing:
Tanner Flats Campground • Located about 6 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon at an elevation of 7,200 feet, this scenic spot along Little Cottonwood Creek often fills up in the summer months, and reservations at http://www.recreation.gov are suggested. Shaded by pines, aspen, oak and maple, with some spots next to granite outcroppings, the big draw here is the campground's close proximity to bustling Salt Lake County. This is a great spot to escape the heat or enjoy fall colors.
Pine Valley Complex • Campers don't often associate Washington County with alpine mountains. After all, St. George is one of the hottest places in Utah. But this area about 32 miles away from St. George sits in the midst of a ponderosa pine forest and, at 6,800 feet, is much cooler than the surrounding desert. There are 67 sites in Crackfoot, Dean Gardner, Ebeneezer Bryce and Equestrian campgrounds, all situated near Pine Valley Reservoir, which is regularly stocked with trout. Don't miss seeing the Pine Valley Mormon Chapel, one of the faith's oldest, which looks like an upside-down ship. The campgrounds provide access to the Pine Valley Wilderness, the second largest in Utah.
Rendezvous Beach, Bear Lake • Utah's northernmost state park is a popular summer destination, and even with 178 campgrounds, including 101 with hookups for recreation vehicles, this spot requires advance reservations much of the time, especially on the weekends. While sites might be situated too close together for some tastes, the big draw here is a wide, expansive sandy beach and the turquoise blue waters of Bear Lake. Boat and personal watercraft rentals are nearby. Restrooms with showers and flush toilets are available. This is one of the Wasatch Front's most popular places to beat the summer heat.
McMillan Springs • This small campground, one of three Bureau of Land Management facilities located on the remote Henry Mountains, requires some work to find. It is located about 33 miles southwest of Hanksville on the Bull Creek Pass backcountry byway at an elevation of 8,400 feet. With drinking water available, this facility affords a place to get away from the masses. Don't miss the 2.5-mile hike to Mount Ellen, which affords one of Utah's most stunning views. And don't be surprised to see some wild bison in the area as well. Other Henry Mountain BLM campgrounds include Lonesome Beaver and Starr Springs.
Cherry Hill • Those looking for a more urban experience might enjoy staying at this Kaysville campground situated in the midst of an old orchard. With 700 trees on site and 180 campsites, many with hookups, this is a fun place to beat the summer heat. A large water park, swimming pool, playgrounds, miniature golf and a climbing wall promise that the kids will be entertained. And the park is also close to Lagoon theme park in nearby Farmington. Many regard this as the state's best private campground.
Cedar Breaks' Point Supreme • When folks think of National Park Service campgrounds, this one east of Parowan often isn't the first one that comes to mind. But, at an elevation of 10,000 feet, it is one of Utah's highest and thus a great place to enjoy southern Utah's redrock without the heat. The 25-unit facility (10 can be reserved in advance at http://www.recreation.gov) is within walking distance of the spectacular Cedar Breaks Amphitheater. Nearby attractions include Navajo Lake, Dove Creek, Brian Head ski area and Panguitch Lake, as well as numerous hiking trails.
Jordanelle State Park • Located close to both Salt Lake City and Park City, this Wasatch Back park has a beautiful reservoir and offers a variety of camping experiences at the Hailstone and Rock Cliff complexes. Hailstone, with both tent sites and hookups, is the more developed and closest to the beaches. It features a playground and modern restrooms in addition to boat and personal watercraft launches and a concessionaire. Rock Cliff provides walk-in tent sites, where the Provo River enters the reservoir, and a more quiet experience. Those who don't enjoy camping can also rent cabins.
Currant Creek Reservoir • This 133-unit U.S. Forest Service site might be a bit oversized for the nearby small reservoir, but at an elevation of 8,000 feet, it is certainly a good place to beat the late-summer heat or enjoy some fall colors. Aspen, fir and lodgepole pines shade the campground, which is frequented by deer and elk. Fishing for trout at the reservoir can be quite productive; and horseback enthusiasts can hop in the saddle at certain facilities. This is a good spot to enjoy paddling a canoe or a kayak. And, located just northeast of Strawberry Reservoir, it is a fairly close and pleasant trip for Wasatch Front residents.
Palisade State Park • This little Sanpete County reservoir about two hours south of Salt Lake City has been a resort since the 1860s and packs a lot of fun into a small area. Its four campgrounds Arapeen, Sanpitch, Wakara, and Pioneer offer a variety of tent and RV sites, some with hookups, near the banks of a small reservoir, where motorized boats are prohibited. A swimming beach, swimming platforms, canoe and kayak rentals, cabins rented by Utah State Parks, small playground and a beautiful 18-hole golf course offer many delights to families looking for a late-summer getaway. The Skyline Drive, one of Utah's great four-wheel-drive experiences, is nearby.
Mustang Ridge • This ranks as one of the nicest U.S. Forest Service campgrounds on the expansive Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and is a good place from which to base your trip. It is located near the Sunny Cove day use area, which includes a beach and swimming area roped off from power boaters. There is a boat launch for people with larger crafts who want to enjoy fishing, boating or waterskiing on the reservoir. Enjoy activities such as rafting down the Green River below the Flaming Gorge Dam, touring the dam or visiting Red Canyon and its spectacular overlook.
• Many federal campgrounds operated by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service can be reserved at use http://www.recreation.gov. Or call 1-877-444-6777.
• For Utah state park reservations, call 800-322-3770 or log onto utahstateparks.reserveamerica.com.