As we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Utahns and tourists alike are eager to get outside. Our state is known around the world for its spectacular outdoor amenities, for all seasons and ages. While our “Mighty 5” national parks get much of the attention for their beauty and outdoor opportunities, visitors are pushing the parks to record-setting attendance and overcrowding. Fortunately, there are a number of state parks mere minutes away from Utah’s urban core for locals to skip the lines and get outside. Below are our top picks for Northern Utah state parks.
Wasatch Mountain State Park
Located 50 minutes from Salt Lake City, Wasatch Mountain State Park is a 23,000 acre preserve nestled within the Wasatch Back near Heber City and Midway. As Utah’s largest and most developed state park, Wasatch offers year-round amenities and a number of recreational opportunities for beginner, intermediate, and expert outdoor enthusiasts. The park was also host to some events for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, including cross-country skiing and biathlon. The park can be reached from the Wasatch Front from either Provo Canyon to the south (via Provo) or Parley’s Canyon to the north (via Park City). Directions, hours, and accessibility can be found on the state park website.
Wasatch Mountain State Park hosts two 36-hole championship golf courses offering scenic views of the Wasatch mountains: Soldier Hollow, and Wasatch Mountain. Each course has been ranked as among the most popular and affordable golf opportunities in Northern Utah. Each course is suited for all skill levels and is open for play late spring through early fall.
Hiking and Mountain Biking
There are roughly 30 hiking, mountain biking, horseback, and other trails throughout Wasatch Mountain State Park for all skill levels. Visitors can enjoy any distance horizontally (ranging from 1.5 to 16.7 miles) and vertically (ranging from 5,551 to 10,219 feet above sea level). Other locations both inside and near the park can be great for trail running depending on your skill level.
During the winter months, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of activities, including snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, tubing, winter biathlon, and in-line skating facilities. Soldier Hollow (host to several winter Olympic events) offers the longest tubing lanes in Utah (spanning over 1,200 feet). Children and adults alike can enjoy the amenities, while seasoned athletes can hit the 16 miles of cross country ski trails. One notable trail includes the Olympic section and is considered one of the most challenging in the world.
Where to Stay
Multiple camping and lodging opportunities are scattered throughout Wasatch Mountain State Park. For the more adventurous traveler, 139 campground facilities with varying amenities can be reserved at low cost. These facilities include the Cottonwood, Mahogany, and Oak Hollow Loops. Cabins and group pavilions (for larger group gatherings) are available year-round for rent (Even while campgrounds are closed during the winter months). More information on fees, schedules, and availability can be found on the park website.
Red Fleet State Park
Overshadowed by large warship-like rock formations, Red Fleet State Park is a Utah destination sure to please any traveler. Red Fleet is located three hours east of Salt Lake City near the city of Vernal, but you won’t mind the scenic drive. The park features a sizable reservoir, fossil and prehistoric discovery, hiking, mountain biking, camping, and more. Directions and hours of operation can be found on the state park website.
Hiking & Mountain Biking
Red Fleet State Park has numerous hiking and mountain biking trails nearby (Varying from sandy ravines to sandstone slickrock). The most popular trail Dinosaur Trackway leads to Jurassic era dinosaur footprints near the waterfront. A person can cliff jump from the ledge of the footprints while taking in the views of the surrounding landscapes. Mountain Biking options are nearly endless with options for beginners to experts. Be aware that a nearby mine occasionally conducts blasting which temporarily closes some of the trails. This information is posted at the trailheads.
Camping at Red Fleet State Park is a great way to experience this unique recreation spot. One developed campground provides accommodations for tents, trailers, or campers. Other features include flushable toilets, electricity, and drinking water.
For campers desiring more primitive camping, the BLM does permit undeveloped camping on the north side of the state park. This location has fewer people and closer proximity to mountain biking and hiking trailheads
Fishing and Water Sports
Red Fleet State Park has a section of water located within tower sandstone cliffs. This area is completely wakeless and is generally reserved for non-motorized use. Kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and canoes provide great perspective to the scenery. Many of these can be rented right at the state park. Motorized boats are welcome to pull surfers, wakeboarders, and skiers alike through the rest of the park.
Fishing at this Utah State Park is fun. Easily accessible shoreline provides anglers with many different fishing opportunities. Multiple fish species inhabit the lake including trout, bass, and bluegill. Fishers can bring their catch to a gutting station to clean their fish. A valid Utah fishing license is required.
This region of Utah is renowned for fishing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. Consider these locations on your drive out. Be sure to visit 7-11 Ranch Restaurant in Vernal (one of Utah’s oldest restaurants) for delicious home cooking. See our other Utah restaurant recommendations here.
We hope you enjoyed our top picks for Northern Utah state parks!