Do you have an appetite for adventure? A trip to Flaming Gorge Country will leave you feeling satiated in any season, but winter is especially filling. Start light and come back for seconds. And thirds. Heck, make as many trips as you want. There are more outdoor winter activities to choose from than there are days in a weekend. And unlike a culinary buffet, putting a lot on your vacation plate won’t leave you in need of a long winter’s nap. Instead, you’ll feel energized and enraptured by your winter getaway.
Where exactly is Flaming Gorge Country? Up and to the right. (Otherwise known as northeast.) Not so far north that you see a jolly man wearing a fur-trimmed suit who’s eaten a few too many cookies. You need a latitude adjustment. And don’t go too far east either. Stop long before you hit the Atlantic. Think northeast Utah. Though the 91-mile reservoir straddles two states, reaching its long, aquatic fingers into both Wyoming and Utah, we’re partial to the portion in Daggett County.
About 90% of the land in Daggett County is managed by state or federal agencies. Translation: It’s a smorgasbord of recreation in the midst of a mashup of stunning scenery. Snow-capped mountains. Pine forests. Charcoal-colored rocks. Crimson cliffs. Sapphire water. Flaming Gorge Country could very well be the love child of St. George and the Wasatch Mountains. And somehow, the crazy combination works … in much the same way as dipping hot french fries in chocolate soft serve from the dessert bar does.
The communities surrounding Flaming Gorge, Manila and Dutch John, are about a 3.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City. But unlike that megalopolis, Manila and Dutch John are sparsely populated. There might just be more wildlife here than there are people. Less than 500 locals share the landscape with wintering elk, antelope, deer, rabbits, foxes and even a bull moose or two.
Of course, fish are also abundant in Flaming Gorge Country. The stretch of the Green River that emerges from the reservoir is a designated Blue Ribbon trout fishery. Assuming you’re equipped with more than Ernie’s famous fishing call, you can expect it to feed hard year-round. There are more fish per mile here than anywhere in the United States. Field & Stream has also hailed the Green River as one of the most beautiful trout rivers in the country. It’s especially stunning in the winter as the clear water glides gracefully between walls of fi-yah, the red rock dotted with determined evergreen trees dusted with fresh powder. And the place is less peoply in the winter than in the summer months. It’s also colder, so you’re gonna need some neoprene. There are several outfitters/fly shops in the area if you want more gear (or recommendations). Guided trips are also available.
The water doesn’t freeze on the southern end of the dam’s aquatic scribble, making all types of angling possible in the winter. There are also several different types of trout found in Flaming Gorge Reservoir — rainbows and tigers and browns … oh, my! — as well as smallmouth bass and kokanee salmon. If it’s ice fishing your heart desires, head north. The water up there usually ices over by late December or early January.
Hooking a beautiful trout beneath the frozen layer of Flaming Gorge is a popular pastime on any given day. But what about those unattractive burbots? Catch as many of the bottom-dwelling serpentines dubbed “the ugliest fish in the world” as you can during the annual Burbot Bash. The ice-fishing tournament held the last weekend of January, is intended to rid the waters of the illegally introduced species negatively affecting other game fish. In addition to serious cash prizes, there’s also an expo and fish fry at Burbot Bash.
After all that angling, you’re gonna wanna warm your buns. Like any good winter vacay buffet, Flaming Gorge Resort has a variety of accommodations to choose from, including motel-style rooms with fireplaces. There are some pretty sweet suites with jetted tubs on its menu of accommodations as well.
Time your trip right and you can also attend Snow Rally during your stay at Flaming Gorge Resort. The event is held annually in mid-January. (The 2022 Snow Rally is scheduled for January 15-16.) Watch drivers race old-time cars around a snowy dirt track as they try to avoid strategically placed hay bales. Keep the vintage vibe going by bringing a toboggan and sliding down designated sledding hills found on the resort’s 54 acres. Or keep it modern and use an inflatable tube. Round out your day with some hot BBQ for dinner followed by a bonfire. Snow Rally is one of the most unique, fun winter activities in Utah. And it’s family friendly.
Daggett County receives an average of 48 inches of snow each year. There are countless miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails waiting to be explored.
Bear Canyon is a short 3-mile groomed loop with tantalizing views of the dam that’ll leave you hungry for more. It’s perfect for those who are new to these outdoor winter activities, whereas the varying terrain on Dowd Mountain Trail is better suited for intermediate or advanced skiers or snowshoers. If you’re up for more, reserve an overnight stay in Grizzly Ridge Yurt in Ashley National Forest and explore the snowy slopes in the surrounding area.
Prefer horsepower to your own power? Unplowed scenic backways in Flaming Gorge Country become shared routes for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. Take a spur trail and you might find yourself flying through an alpine meadow or making a careful ascent to drink in views at an alpine lake 8,000-10,000 feet above sea level.
Get your fill of fourth-season fun in Flaming Gorge Country. Start planning your winter getaway today!