With ecosystems that vary from the 14,000 foot peaks in the Uinta Mountains to the whimsical desert sculptures of Goblin Valley, to the earthly oddity that is the Great Salt Lake, Utah has almost anything a camper could want. Want lush forests and fish-filled lakes? They’ve got that in spades. Want the serenity of ancient weathered rock formations? That’s here, too. Small town atmosphere? Ghost towns? Olympic Winter Sports? Check, check, and check.
One of the first things to know about camping in Utah is that it has five National Parks, making it rank third in the country for these majestic wonderlands, just behind California and Alaska. For starters, there’s Arches, which delivers exactly what it sounds like: beautiful red rock arches carved in every nook and cranny of this desert park. Canyonlands has all the grandeur and colors of the Grand Canyon, but mixes it with an abundance of prehistoric Native American ruins and pictographs. Capitol Reef is a mass of towering cliffs, winding canyons, like the crest of some snaking dragon. Zion is truly heaven on earth with its emerald pools, narrow slot canyons, and some of the best hikes in the state. And then enigmatic Bryce Canyon, whose stone pillars made the canyon’s namesake refer to it as “One hell of a place to lose a cow.”
But let’s say that your version of a magical camping vacation is a lake or river with fish waiting to bite your bait and either get caught-and-released or maybe fried up over the open fire. If fly-fishing is your thing, the Provo River can’t be beat: a blue-ribbon trout fishery with thousands of brown and rainbow trout, some over 18 inches. Or in northeastern Utah, get out on a boat on the Green River and see if you can snag some of those beautiful trout beneath the Flaming Gorge Dam. And, of course, the largest cutthroat ever caught in Utah was pulled out of Strawberry Reservoir, weighing in at 27 pounds. And how could you go wrong with a place named Fish Lake? Full of perch and trout (including huge lake trout), they’re just waiting for you.
Or if your camping plan is more to just look at the wildlife and let them be, there are many places in the state for you birders and wildlife photographers. A great start is Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge at the north end of the Great Salt Lake, with over 70 species of birds including pelicans, ibis, plovers, stilts, teals and swans. To see one of Utah’s most accessible wild bison herds, camp at Antelope Island in the center of the lake. In addition to the majestic bison, you can see deer, antelope, bighorn sheep and coyotes. And if you take the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, and make a few stops along the road--you can camp right on the side of the road in most places--you can catch a glimpse of mule deer, elk, moose, black bear, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, river otters, and even cougars.
And you can travel east to Dinosaur National Monument, or west to the West Desert to camp in some of the highest rated areas for dark sky stargazing. Whatever you’re looking for in a camping adventure, you’re going to find it in one of Utah’s myriad natural wonderlands. The hardest part of the trip is going to be convincing yourself to leave.