The weekends remaining between now and first snowfall are numbered, to say the least (and with 2020’s ever-increasing unpredictability, it could really happen at any time). In the interest of mental health and fresh air, we recommend taking advantage of Utah’s stunning, ridiculously accesible backcountry and getting at least one more outdoor overnighter under your belt before the frost forces us all back inside. We’ve whittled down our list of fav spots to a few, each relatively close by and ideal for a night or two spent under the stars*.
It’s simple: grab your gear, gas up, and get ready to Thoreau your days away...
1. Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons: Spruces Campground near Brighton Resort is a favorite for group camping and is one of the biggest (and most amenity-heavy) in the area. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Albion Basin (near Alta ski area) has postcard-worthy majestic mountain views. Of note: city watershed restrictions in both Little and Big Cottonwood prohibit dogs in the canyons, even if they remain in your vehicle. Distance, <30 minutes
2. Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area: Reservations to this boater-friendly spot are highly recommended on weekends and through spring-summer months. One of the hidden delights of this area is the great variety of dispersed backcountry camping available throughout the Ashley National Forest, with high-clearance vehicle access to cool mountain woods or secluded spots overlooking the Green River (and the bonus of not having another soul in sight). Distance, 3 hours
3. Moab: Dead Horse Point State Park is a great alternative to the crowds descending on Willow Flat Campground in Canyonlands and the Devils Garden Campground in Arches. The BLM maintains a couple dozen first-come, first-served campsites around Moab: if you’re really, really lucky, you might be able to snag a mid-week camp spot at tiny Fisher Towers–only five spots, all of them beautiful. Nearby: La Sal Mountain Loop road offers access to a few campgrounds administered on National Forest land; they fill up fast, but the Warner Lake Campground accepts reservations. Distance, 4 hours
4. Mirror Lake, High Uintas: Camping season begins when snowplows can get in to clear the roads (usually around July 4th) and ends as soon as the flurries start flying again in the fall. Spectacular alpine hiking and backpacking abound, and the smattering of natural, glacier-formed high mountain lakes are easily accessible from campgrounds at Lilly Lake, Mirror Lake, Butterfly Lake, and Trial Lake. Check out early-season Sound of Music-worthy alpine wildflowers near the Christmas Meadows and China Meadows campgrounds on the Wyoming side of the ranger district. Distance, 2 hours
5. San Rafael Swell: “The Swell” is named for the geologic upheaval that formed a giant dome of rock millions of years ago: eons of wind and water erosion that followed carved some of the West’s most dramatic–and ruggedly beautiful–sandstone landscapes. Popular spots here for camping include Goblin Valley, and The Wedge (aka the “Little Grand Canyon,” with dry camping and spectacular views available on the edge of the canyon). Cell service is notoriously iffy in this remote place, and make sure to top off on fuel and water before you head into the area, especially if you aim for more remote dispersed camping on BLM lands. Distance, 4 hours