Winter Road Trip: 3 Days of Chilly Adventures in Utah’s Flaming Gorge Country

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, located between Utah and Wyoming, has attracted visitors for years. The area spans 200,000 acres consisting of majestic mountains and valleys. Major Powell gave the gorge its name in 1869 when he saw the sun reflecting off its red rocks, creating a fiery glow.

It features a massive reservoir that is an excellent venue for boating, fishing, jet-skiing, house boating and other water sports during the summer. But when winter comes, Flaming Gorge takes on a whole new personality. Those red rocks get a thick layer of snow, and the rivers and lakes freeze, enhancing the area’s beauty while providing a diverse experience with a dramatically different backdrop.

The reservoir itself is just over 90 miles long and becomes a focal point for winter activities. Visitors come to Flaming Gorge in the colder months to ride snowmobiles, do cross-country skiing, spot wildlife and take in the area’s natural beauty. With so much to offer, you may be wondering where to start. Follow our three-day itinerary for some fun ideas.

Remember that you need to prepare to travel around the recreation area in winter. A four-wheel-drive vehicle, snow chains, or snow tires is recommended. Always check the current weather conditions and forecast to know what to take with you.

DAY 1 – SNOWMOBILING OR SNOWSHOEING

Snowmobiling is an excellent way of exploring the area around Flaming Gorge in the winter if you have your own gear. Head to the Uintah Basin Snowmobile Complex for the best experience. Here, you have access to over 75 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and one of northern Utah’s favorite snowmobile playgrounds. The complex is located south of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.

The U.S. Forest Service office provides trail guides and travel maps of groomed and ungroomed trails and areas open to snowmobiles that meander through the pine forests and open meadows. One of the favorite snowmobile trails is the Elk Park/Don Hatch Memorial Trail. On this route, you will ride through a section of towering ponderosa pines and get incredible views of the mountain peaks, the reservoir and the Red Canyon Overlook.

Hiking through the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area in Utah. Photo Courtesy of Galyna Andrushko.

Alternatively, head for the trailheads for a snowshoeing adventure. Rentals are available at the Red Canyon Lodge. From there, explore various trails, including the Red Canyon Rim Trail, which is 9 miles total, leading to a scenic overlook with dramatic views of the lake. Explore as much or as little as you’d like before returning to the lodge. Other areas to explore include Elk Meadows, East McKee and Taylor Mountain. But remember to stick to the mapped routes in order to respect private property rights.

For dinner, head to Green River Grill & Steakhouse at Dutch John Resort. Menu items range from handmade pizzas to delicious burgers that will fill you up after playing in the snow.

DAY 2 – WINTER FISHING

After an active day of snowmobiling or snowshoeing, slow down on day two. And what better way to enjoy a tranquil day outside than experiencing the area’s excellent fishing spots?

One of the best areas to fish is in the Green River, just below the Flaming Gorge Dam. This fishing spot is a blue-ribbon fishery that continues to operate all year. Whether you are a streamer or dry-fly angler, you’ll be sure to reel in a catch of the day. This is a peaceful area and provides the opportunity to fish with no one else around. Often, it is just you and the osprey circling the skies above you. If you’re looking for a guided experience, check out Old Moe Guide Service for year-round fly fishing trips.

Winter fly fishing on the Green River in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Photo Courtesy of Green River Fly Fisher.

You can also fish in the reservoir during the winter. Head to the south end, where the water doesn’t freeze, to catch rainbow trout. But if you fancy something different, head further north to fish through the ice.

The icy parts of the reservoir give you the chance to catch burbot, which was illegally introduced into the water. This invasive fish is unwelcome in the reservoir, so the locals and government agencies promote burbot harvesting. As a bonus, these sneaky fish happen to be delicious, so you can really enjoy your catch.

Visit the area on the last weekend in January for the Burbot Bash, an annual three-day ice fishing festival in Manila, Utah. This fun event helps preserve the world-famous Flaming Gorge fishery. You can expect prizes and a fish fry during the tournament.

DAY 3 – CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

After a day on the water or ice, a great way to follow it up is by stretching your legs on cross-country skis. Flaming Gorge has plenty of winter trails that give you unique perspectives of the area.

While more challenging than snowshoeing, cross-country skiing is a rewarding and excellent way of getting some exercise in the open air. The miles of groomed trails will surely provide you with a route that suits your fitness level.

Winter at Flaming Gorge in Utah. Photo Courtesy of Cliff Hall.

During your cross-country ski tour at Flaming Gorge, you can expect to see an abundance of wildlife. The trails expose you to lone Bull Moose roaming the landscape, as well as herds of wintering elk. So get your camera ready for some unique Instagram content.

Rent your cross-country skis from Flaming Gorge Resort and prepare to head out into a winter wonderland. Beginners will enjoy the three-mile Bear Canyon Trail, which travels through forested areas, ending with stunning views of the reservoir. For a more challenging adventure, consider the seven-mile Swett Ranch Loop, which brings you to a scenic and historic pioneer ranch. Here, you’ll find great opportunities for wildlife viewing, so keep an eye out for elk and moose!

At the day’s end, return your rentals and enjoy a hearty meal at the Restaurant at Flaming Gorge Resort. The extensive menu features everything from hand-cut steaks to gluten-free and vegetarian options.

Where to Stay Near Flaming Gorge

There are plenty of cabin rentals near Flaming Gorge that are the perfect way to unwind, relax and get cozy after a day of exploring the vast landscape. Some of our favorites are Red Canyon LodgeR HideoutSweet Lorraine’s B&B and Flaming Gorge Resort.

IF YOU HAVE TIME…

If you have some spare time due to bad weather or fancy taking the scenic way home, extend your trip by exploring Flaming Gorge’s scenic byways. The Uintas National Scenic Byway is over 200 miles long, cutting between Rock Springs, Wyoming and Vernal, Utah. There is plenty to see, so you can take your time visiting the Flaming Gorge Dam & Visitor Center, Red Canyon Overlook & Visitor Center and Firehole Canyon, just to name a few noteworthy stops. You can also get to the Sheep Creek Geological Loop, a 13-mile loop that provides opportunities to see bighorn sheep and visit Dowd’s Gravesite.

As you drive along Highway 191, you will see signs describing the area’s geography. They also indicate the fossils you may see when roaming around the various stopping points. This section of the byway is known as the “Drive Through The Ages,” as you will discover the earth’s history, including dinosaur bone fossils.

The great thing about these scenic drives around Flaming Gorge is that you can spend as much or as little time as you want. A drive can take a few hours, or you can make a day of it.

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