Flaming Gorge has it all: dramatic scenery, wildlife and waterborne fun
By Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin
Anyone creating a screensaver of “beautiful outdoor Utah images” will usually include a “Holy Trinity”: an arch in Moab, a skier ripping through triple-digit inches of powder in the Wasatch mountains and a scenery shot taken from above Flaming Gorge.
While Utah has multiple waterways that deliver stunning vistas, perhaps none is better known or more often photographed than the “flaming” red and yellow cliffs running down to the Green River (the “gorge”), named by explorer John Wesley Powell in 1869.
The beautiful and historically important Green River runs for 730 miles through southwest Wyoming into Utah where it eventually meets up with a giant dam created in the 1960s. The convergence of the river and the 91-mile-long lake created by the dam now offer an endless variety of water and outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in one spot.
Whether you spend your time on the water or above the water looking in, Flaming Gorge makes for a captivating weekend getaway from the Wasatch Front. Consider the following itinerary designed to help you enjoy the water sports to the maximum.
SLC to Dutch John
We recommend two routes to travel from Salt Lake City to Flaming Gorge. One route is about a four-hour drive and takes you through Evanston and Rock Springs, Wyo., before turning south toward the reservoir. The other keeps you in Utah, traveling east to Vernal before heading north toward the state line and the reservoir. The second option takes about 30 minutes longer. Why not enjoy different scenery by taking one in and the other out? We’ll start the trip by remaining in Utah on the southern route.
Take Interstate 80 east out of Salt Lake City just past Park City and exit onto U.S. Route 40. About two hours in, U.S. 40 becomes U.S. Route 191 that takes you through the town of Myton. This is a good place to stop for dinner at the Hideout Steakhouse (8400 S. Parriette Road, Myton, 435-646-3500, HideoutSteakOnAStone.com). Hideout has trademarked the phrase “steak on a stone,” and every slab of beef—New York, filet, ribeye, T-bone, tri-tip—is cooked on a stone heated to 500 degrees right at your table.
After leaving Myton, it’s about a 90-minute drive to Dutch John, a town located on the southeast end of the gorge. At Red Canyon Lodge (2450 W. Red Canyon Road, Dutch John, 435-889-3759, RedCanyonLodge.com), you can stay in your own cabin that includes a porch to sit on the evenings enjoying the quiet breeze.
Another accommodation option is Flaming Gorge Resort (1100 E. Flaming Gorge Resort, Dutch John, 435-889-3773, FlamingGorgeResort.com), where the offerings range from classic motel rooms to one- and two-bedroom suites to large trailers that can host groups.
Wherever you end up staying, check out the breakfast menu in the Flaming Gorge Resort Restaurant before heading out on Friday morning. The pancakes and French toast come with homemade peach, strawberry or raspberry preserves.
Whether you spend a day on or in the water, the choices are many. Heading west out of Dutch John, get on U.S. 191 and you’ll come upon the Flaming Gorge Dam Visitors Center (435-885-3135, FS.USDA.gov or FlamingGorgeCountry.com), a good spot to get information about the area while enjoying a fantastic view of the 502-foot-tall dam that was completed in 1962. There are daily free guided tours that let you look inside the dam.
Continue west along the southern edge of the gorge, and in a couple of miles, you’ll arrive at Cedar Springs Marina (2675 N. Cedar Springs Road, Dutch John, 435-889-3795, CedarSpringsMarina.com), the southernmost of three marinas along the gorge. The other two are Lucerne Valley Marina on the Utah-Wyoming border and Buckboard Marina located farther north in Wyoming.
Cedar Springs is a spot where you can rent anything from a paddleboard to an 18-foot ski boat to head out on the water. If you’re interested in kayaking or floating the Green River, there is an access point just 3 miles away. The area is a playground for boating, waterskiing, windsurfing, biking and more.
Sunny Cove Swim Beach (5 miles from Dutch John on the north side of the gorge) is a kid-friendly spot for those who want to take a dip in the cooling waters of the gorge.
As one of the most “gorgeous” reservoirs in the West, Flaming Gorge is also one of the country’s premier fishing destinations. The waters below Flaming Gorge Dam in the Green River are known as a legendary tail water fishery. The optimal water temperature and flow has created a world-famous Blue Ribbon trout fishery.
For those staying at Red Canyon Lodge, their onsite fly shop offers equipment or guide services for fishing on the Green River. Meanwhile, Flaming Gorge Resort has been running its own guided fishing trips for nearly 40 years.
Either way, get ready to land some lunkers, from a variety of trout to bass and burbot. Lake trout weighing more than 50 pounds have been caught! Below the dam, the Green River offers world-class fly fishing. Brown trout reeled in on the Green average 15-17 inches long, and are often larger.
The river waters below the dam are also popular for floating, whether by raft, canoe or kayak (read more about this on p.22). Rental and guide trips are available.
Whatever you end up doing on the water during the day, you can continue on the water in the evening when you make your way back to Cedar Springs Marina to Snag Bar and Grill (2685 N. Cedar Springs Road, Dutch John, 435-889-3795, CedarSpringsMarina.com), a floating restaurant that also features a full bar. It claims to be the “best cantina by a dam site” and is also a spot to listen to live music while enjoying burgers, tacos and views of the water.
Dutch John to Manila
This is a day for discovering the beauty of the area either through hiking, biking or driving.
If driving out of Dutch John, a good route to follow is Utah State Route 44 west (which combined with U.S. 191 is designated the Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway) and make stops along the way for great views of the water. It’s a 30-minute drive to Red Canyon Visitor Center (1475 Red Canyon Road, Dutch John, 435-889-3713, FlamingGorgeCountry.com), which offers information with great views. You can continue north to the Utah town of Manila, a border town about an hour from Dutch John. The highway numbers change from 44 to Wyoming Highway 530 as you cross the Utah-Wyoming border. WY 530 follows the Green River up to the town of the same name. The entire drive takes two hours, and there are plenty of places to marvel at the beauty of the river rushing by along the way.
If you’re heading through Manila in the morning and feel like stopping for breakfast, try The Gorge Reel and Grill (244 E. Highway 43, Manila, 435-565-3799), which serves breakfast daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Whatever you decide to order, make sure it comes smothered with their popular chile verde.
Want to go out and hike or bike? The Red Canyon Rim Trail is one of the area’s most popular routes since it runs 1,700 feet above the river. The trail starts at the Red Canyon Visitors Center and the length can vary from 2 to 9 miles, depending on your schedule and fitness level. The single-track trail can be used for biking, and a trail offshoot takes you right by Red Canyon Lodge where you can rent bikes and pick up food for the trip at the onsite grocery store.
Whether you drive, hike or bike, at the end of the day, head back to Manila to Browning’s Corner Cafe (18 E. Highway 43, Manila, 435-784-3088, FGMotel.com), where state routes 43 and 44 intersect. The popular café is noted for its fried chicken and 20 different flavors of shakes, but if you stop by on Saturday nights after 5 p.m., you can finish a beautiful day with a gorgeous slab of prime rib.
Manila to Salt Lake City
Find your way north to Interstate 80 in Wyoming. If you took highways SR 44 and WY 530 west of the river the day before, try staying to the east on U.S. 191, and you’ll get to the town of Purple Sage and I-80 in about an hour. From there, driving west on the interstate will take you through the towns of Green River and Evanston and across the state line. In about two hours, you’ll come to Exit 155 for the Utah town of Wanship.
Here, you’ll find High West Distillery (27649 Old Lincoln Hwy., Wanship, 435-649-8300, HighWest.com). While Park City is home to the much-celebrated saloon and restaurant operated by High West, Wanship is the place where they actually distill their award-winning whiskies, ryes and vodkas. On Sundays, you can take a tour, buy a bottle to take home (yes, really, there are places for alcohol sales in Utah on the Sabbath) or have brunch or lunch in their kitchen and tasting room. Highlights from the food menu include a cast-iron trout sandwich served on rye bread made by local Vosen’s German bakery or the Refectory Burger, which features a proprietary blend of bison and beef.
After leaving Wanship, the drive back to Salt Lake City is about 40 miles (or 40 minutes) on I-80, giving you time to reflect on Flaming Gorge’s beauty and vistas on the way home.