Weekend in Flaming Gorge Country

Posted On
Aug 05, 2016
Northern Utah

Weekend in Flaming Gorge Country


Story and photos by Monique Beeley

Oh, what a weekend it was...jam-packed with adventure….yes…worth it?….yes!…hiking, horseback riding, rafting, boating and fishing. All in the high elevation playground appropriately named and designated as Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.  This National Recreation Area…or…NRA….(not to be confused with the other NRA) is a personal favorite for a quick getaway. Living in Park City, we have more than our fair share of outdoor adventure, but the short hop on 1-80 heading northeast to Flaming Gorge, never disappoints.  Joining me for the weekend was my daughter, Kya (6), her friend Morgan (7) and her mom, Janel, who had never visited this area and was excited to check it out and have a personal tour guide navigating the adventure. 


As an outdoor adventurer, photographer and writer (for this magazine) I have first-hand knowledge on many, but not all, (there are still some places left to explore) places in Utah. I absolutely love introducing friends to some of the amazing destinations within the state.


After a short 2.5-hour drive, we arrived at Red Canyon Lodge, owned and operated by my good friend, Mark Wilson.  While chatting with him about our plans for the next two days, our girls looked out the window, fascinated  as a variety of birds perched and snacked on the bird feeders; Evening Grosbeak, Steller’s Jay, Red Crossbill, Pygmy Nuthatch and Mountain Bluebird,  to name a few.   Mark, being an ornithologist, knows his neighbors.


After checking into our log cabin, we had just enough time before dusk to venture out on the Canyon Rim trail directly from our front steps.  The trail circles the East Greens Lake, through the forest and then, as the name states, to the rim of the canyon, high above Flaming Gorge Reservoir.  This 91-mile body of water, with its sprawling 360 miles of shoreline, is the heart of the NRA.


As we paused along the route at the Red Canyon Visitor Center for a “selfie” and to admire the beauty of the shimmering water below, we spotted a tiny boat in the distance.  As we made our way back to the cabin, I was starting to feel relaxed and reconnected with the surroundings, which always happens to me in nature.  My reverie was quickly interrupted by a herd of big horn sheep in the distance; who, noticing us first, stood frozen in place.  I too, froze in my tracks, whispering to the girls to do the same. We all stood silently for a moment to admire these beautiful animals.  Then the girls… oohing and ahhing over the little lambs in the group, broke the silence and they were off, a buck and two does hanging back to make sure we were not in pursuit. Excited conversation filled the air on our journey back, as the girls chatted on and on about their recent animal sighting.


Adorn in full western wear, two little cowgirls were giddy with anticipation as we stood listening to our wranglers, with whom we would be spending the next two hours with. Horseback riding was first on our agenda Saturday morning.  Again, we headed out on the Canyon Rim trail, the air fresh and crisp, the sky deep blue and the smell of pine fragrant, as we made our way…clippity, clopping… down the trail. I turned around many times during the ride to capture the pure joy on my daughter’s face, making my heart sing.  This was the girls’ first, but surely not last, horseback riding adventure and the seasoned wranglers made it a truly memorable experience for them.


Following a quick lunch, and wardrobe change, we headed over to Flaming Gorge Resort, where we rented a raft to float the “A” section of the Green River. New experience #2, for our travelling buddies. Kya and I had done many guided rafting trips, but this, being a DIY river adventure, was new to all.


The raft rental included a shuttle to the river and a pickup 7-miles downstream three hours later.  Section “A” of the Green River flows directly from the Flaming Gorge Dam. Designated as a Blue Ribbon Fishery, anglers worldwide flock here to experience the crystal clear tail waters that are abundant with trout, (only about 12,000 per mile!) in hopes of landing the trophy size fish for which this section of the Green is famous.


No fishing for us today. Just rafting and sightseeing as we float downstream. Janel and Morgan were a bit nervous, but relaxed after we expertly navigated our first class II rapid. And by the time we arrived at the takeout, they were both ready for more river explorations.


Sunday morning we arose early to meet our friend Mark for some lake fishing. Not only does this NRA boast Blue Ribbon fly-fishing on the Green, the Flaming Gorge Reservoir has given up record sized Lake, Rainbow and Brown Trout and Kokanee Salmon.


In the fishing world we were just whetting our appetites, hoping to give the girls a “taste” of catching their first fish…for those keeping track, this would be new experience #3. Growing up, I fished a bit with my dad, but as an adult, it’s not one of my “go to” outdoor pursuits. That said, I really wanted to share this experience with my daughter.  And what an experience it was….I’m going to refer to the photo, here, because it really says it all!


#4 on the new experience list was exploring the waters of the mighty Flaming Gorge Reservoir by motorboat. This again, was something I had experienced with my family growing up, but this was a first for the girls. The sunny August day was a bit unseasonably cool. But that did not stop the girls from taking turns jumping from the back of the boat, screaming and cheering as they hit the water and then quickly swimming back to the boat to do it again….and again.  Finally, the chill of the water got the better of them so we snuggled them up in warm towels. We cruised around the reservoir checking out some of the forested red rock side canyons and then finally stopped for a moment when the visitor center, high above the canyon walls, came into view.  “Look girls” I said, pointing up to the top of the canyon wall, “that was the spot where we all stood on Friday afternoon and now we’re that tiny speck on the water.” They looked at each and said “way up there?”


The drive home was peaceful, the girls weary from the non-stop action. Both fell asleep within the first couple miles. Memories flooded my head, flashing back to all the wonderful experiences we packed into just a short weekend. Overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to share this adventure with my daughter.