With the summer drawing to an end, the cool National Forests of Utah are beckoning travelers to reconnect in the alluring, crisp weather and fall foliage easily accessible in the state’s National Forests. As Utah author Terry Tempest Williams eloquently put it, “Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”
With more than nine million acres of National Forests, and their stunning Designated Wilderness Areas, these lush, nature escapes offer high-mountain lakes, meadows, and woodlands waiting to be discovered by adventure seekers. Below is a selection of sample Utah National Forest itineraries by region.
Ashley National Forest
Located in Northeastern Utah, Ashley National Forest covers more than 1.3 million acres and ranges from 6,000 feet to over 13,500 feet in altitude. Not to be missed is Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, including the section of the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam. This rugged wild land stretches from Wyoming’s high deserts, where herds of antelope play along the lake shore, to the forested slopes of Utah’s Uinta Mountains. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is the most popular attraction, with cool surface water even during the “heat” of summer, and excellent for trophy trout fishing. A diverse land of scenic beauty, Flaming Gorge lends itself to many memorable outdoor adventures. Those looking to sleep beneath the stars can camp out, while those looking for a rustic, roofed stay should check out Red Canyon Lodge and choose from ponderosa or alpine cabins.
Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
Located in Northern Utah, the Uinta Mountains were named after the Ute Indians. The High Uintas Wilderness envelops the wild core of this massive mountain range. Characterized by the highest peaks in Utah, more than 1,000 natural lakes, and a unique alpine ecosystem, it is among the nation’s most outstanding Wilderness areas. Now, Uinta is best known as an award-winning, local micro-brewery out of Salt Lake City. The Uinta Brewing Company serves world class full-flavored, craft-brewed beer such as the Cutthroat Pale Ale after Utah’s state fish and Kings Peak Porter after Utah’s highest peak, Golden Spike Hefeweizen. U.S. Highway 150, a national treasure, and formally designated the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, is one of the most beautiful high mountain drives in the U.S. The paved highway stretches 42 miles through mountains and forest, from Kamas, Utah, to Evanston, Wyoming. Those looking for a challenge will want to hike King’s Peak, Utah’s tallest mountain at 13,500 feet.
After a day of extreme activity, head to renowned Park City to be pampered at one of the many five-star resorts or luxury boutique hotels, like the new Washington School House. A stroll down Park City’s Historic Main Street is a quintessential afternoon delight and may result in a celebrity sighting or two.
Only minutes from Salt Lake City, Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Canyons offer spectacular hiking, biking, rock climbing, camping and fishing. The 15-mile long Big Cottonwood Canyon is home to the Wasatch Crest Trail, one of the best single track mountain biking trails in the western U.S.
Head back to Salt Lake City after a day of adventure and choose from a plethora of modern accommodations, from Salt Lake City’s only AAA Five Diamond Hotel, The Grand America Hotel to the stylish boutique property from Kimpton, Hotel Monaco.
Manti-LaSal National Forest
A diverse landscape comprised of a rainbow assortment of sandstone canyons, mountaintops, meadows, lakes, and streams, the Manti-La Sal National Forest crosses from Central to Southeastern Utah. Officially designated “Wilderness” by the United States Congress in 1984, the Dark Canyon Wilderness area is an especially “cool” spot. With great stone arches, old-growth ponderosa pine, aspen groves, meadows, hanging gardens and high country deserts, visitors stand in awe of steep, terraced sandstone walls that shade the canyon in morning and late afternoon, giving the “Dark Canyon” its name. Tucked away in the cliffs, travelers will delight in discovering the Ancestral Puebloan structures and rock art. Stay overnight at the Desert Rose Inn in Bluff and dine out at the San Juan River Kitchen, serving wholesome, home grown Southwestern fare. Add an extra day or two to explore the San Juan River and drive through the Valley of the God’s to Gooseneck’s State Park.
Fishlake National Forest
Central Utah’s Fishlake National Forest features majestic stands of aspen encircling open mountain meadows that are lush with a diverse community of forbs and grasses. The eponymous Fish Lake, from which the forest takes its name, is the largest natural mountain lake in the state and offers trophy trout fishing and bird watching. The mountains of the Fish Lake are a source of water for many of the neighboring communities and agricultural valleys in the region. Elk, deer, black bear, cougar and moose can be found on the Forest, as well as wild turkey and mountain goats. Groups looking for a luxurious, a once in a lifetime experience will want to book a bespoke stay at Cougar Ridge Lodge, in Torrey. Not to be missed is Capitol Reef National Park and local favorite watering hole Café Diablo at the entrance.
Dixie National Forest
Headquartered in Cedar City, Dixie National Forest occupies almost two million acres and stretches for about 170 miles across southern Utah, spanning the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River. The Ashdown Gorge Wilderness shares the western and northern borders of the desert-like Cedar Breaks National Monument, and displays eroded, multicolored Wasatch limestone, meadows, and forestland including a significant stand of Bristlecone Pine, known as the Twisted Forest, in the northern corner. “Bristlecones” are among the oldest living life-forms known to man and many of the trees which exist within the Wilderness were living during the time of Christ. The area is also home to a diversity of wildlife that includes mule deer, yellow-bellied marmots, chipmunks and golden-mantled ground squirrels. After marveling in the Wilderness, end the day with spectacular sunset at Cedar Breaks National Monument, standing above 10,000 feet on a cliff edge surrounded by lush forests and flower-covered meadows. The DoubleTree Resort & Spa by Hilton Brian Head offers cycling, hunting and jogging.