The American West has so many countless iconic parks and miles of scenic highways to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start when planning your road trip. But with its magnificent natural beauty and convenient location, Flaming Gorge, Utah should be on any traveler’s radar.
The Flaming Gorge is situated in a geographically and geologically diverse part of the West. The surrounding country offers an eclectic mix of high mountains and steep red rock cliffs and canyons. In the spring, neon foliage and blooming cactus dot the rust-colored hills. While the high season for visitors is peak summer (from mid June to the end of August), locals say that a secret sweet spot is September and early October, when the crowds are thinner and there’s still plenty of sun and summer warmth. And later in the fall, you’ll be treated to some gorgeous leaves and moody skies as the high desert slips slowly into winter.
This story was created in partnership with Flaming Gorge Country.
Regardless of when you’re exploring the American West, Flaming Gorge is a perfect centrally located stopover on the classic American national park road trip. With Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument to the east, Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks to the south, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks to the North, Flaming Gorge’s cold water and countless opportunities for aquatic recreation offer a refreshing escape after some hot desert exploring or strenuous hikes in the mountains. And being a bit more off the beaten path, you’ll enjoy some respite from the crowds and traffic that plague some of the more better-known attractions in the region.
Here are a few ideas for how outdoorsy, adventurous travelers could structure a trip to Flaming Gorge, either as a stand-alone destination or as part of a longer road trip.
Day 1: Set Up Camp
Arrive and set up camp at Red Canyon Campground. With lots of big Ponderosa pines throughout, you’ll likely be able to find a shady spot to pitch your tent or park your camper. Red Canyon Campground is first come, first serve, but don’t worry if you can’t find a spot there, as the Flaming Gorge has no shortage of excellent camping in the immediate vicinity. Sheep Creek Bay Campground is another excellent option to consider.
Day 2: Paddleboarding
Stand up paddleboard on the reservoir. Rent paddleboards from Lucerne Valley Marina and explore one of the Flaming Gorge Paddle Trails. Check out the Kingfisher Island Loop for a pre-mapped route that is suitable for novice paddlers. Over a total of 6 miles, you’ll circumnavigate Kingfisher Island while being treated to dramatic views of the area’s geology and wildlife. Make sure to pack plenty of food, water and sunscreen—you’ll be out on the water for a while.
After finishing the loop and returning your boards, head over to The Snag Bar and Grill for an après boat bite to eat and some live music.
Day 3: Take in the Views
You’re camped in a beautiful spot, so take a morning to breathe it in! Hang your hammock between two Ponderosas and read a book, or head down to the reservoir to catch some rays. When your batteries are recharged, hop in the car and check out some of the many scenic drives and overlooks that are within arm’s reach of your campsite. Sheep Creek Geological Loop takes about an hour and is definitely worth the drive. If you and your car are up for 4 miles of dirt road, the infrequently visited Dowd Mountain Overlook is a must. And luckily for you, you’re camped less than a mile from Red Canyon Overlook, one of Flaming Gorge’s most stunning views. Catch sunset there before heading back to your campsite to soak in a pitch-black view of the stars.
Day 4: Day Trip To Red Fleet State Park
Day trip to Red Fleet State Park. You’ll drive about 45 minutes south on Flaming Gorge National Scenic Byway on US 191. Red Fleet is home to incredible overhanging sandstone cliffs and preserved dinosaur footprints located just a 1.5 mile hike from the road. Before heading back up to Flaming Gorge, you can drive 12 more miles to the south to check out Vernal, Utah, a town of about 10,000 people and one of eastern Utah’s population hubs.
Day 5: Attend A Rodeo
If you’re in the area during the second week of July or on Labor Day (an American holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September), grab a ticket to the rodeo. Watching some Cowboys in action at The Cow Country Rodeo (July) and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (September) is an exciting way to experience one of the most unique parts of America’s agricultural tradition.
Day 6: Pack Up & Hit the Road
Pack up and hit the road. You can re-up on fuel and supplies in Manila before leaving. And no matter the direction of your drive out, you’ll be treated to some final departing views—in true Flaming Gorge fashion.