Utah's West Desert Region
Part of the Basin and Range Province, long, flat stretches in Utah’s West Desert make you wonder if the earth is really round. (Spoiler alert: it is!) Quartzite cliffs in the Deep Creek Mountains punctuate the perimeter on the west, while the lushly forested Tushar range rises in the east. Grasses, sagebrush, saltbush and junipers pepper the region’s interior. And let’s not forget the free-moving sand dunes — including the 700-foot-tall Sand Mountain in Little Sahara Recreation Area — shaped by southwesterly winds after Lake Bonneville receded.
Speaking of lakes, a drive past Sevier Lake on your way to Great Basin National Park is a stark reminder of just how dry parts of the West Desert are. Most years it's nothing more than a dustbowl; when it does have water, the depth is usually no more than three feet. Yet, the striations visible on the lakebed are raw and beautiful in their own way — as is the rest of the landscape in the area.
You might also see a lone mustang or a herd of wild horses roaming the vast open spaces in the West Desert. It’s not a mirage. But it does help you visualize men on horseback transporting the nation’s mail more than 160 years ago on the Pony Express National Historic Trail, which runs east-west through here. Other points of historical interest include Topaz Museum (think WWII internment camp, not silicate minerals), Fort Deseret, Eureka Ghost Town, Utah Territorial Statehouse, Cove Fort and Great Basin Historical Museum.
Planning Your Trip to Utah's West Desert
Driving Directions to Beaver and Delta
While isolation may be what you seek in the West Desert, it’s still important to know where to find civilization (read: food, fuel and WiFi). Delta is located between Great Basin National Park and Little Sahara Recreation Area on the north end, while Beaver is closer to the Tushar Mountains on the south end. Both gateway cities are historic and hospitable
FROM THE NORTH
Delta is about a 2-hour drive (133 miles) from Salt Lake City. Taking I-15 S to U.S. Route 6 W is the preferred route from downtown SLC. If you’re coming from the SLC International Airport, consider taking I-80 W to SR-36 S and U.S. Route 6 W instead.
FROM THE SOUTH
Beaver is a 1½-hour drive (104 miles) from St. George. Hop on I-15 N and follow it to Exit 109. If you’re coming from the Neon Capital of the World (otherwise known as Las Vegas), it’ll take you about 3 hours and 15 minutes to make the 222-mile drive on I-15 N.
Things to Do
You can’t ride a camel in the West Desert, but you can go skiing or snowboarding. (Yes, really!) Eagle Point Resort in the Tushar Mountains receives more than 350 inches of snowfall annually and boasts 40 runs serviced by a handful of lifts.
Similar to snowboarding (but without the frozen flakes), sandboarding is a popular pastime on Little Sahara’s slopes. Samesies for fat-tire biking and off-roading. Delta makes a great basecamp for rockhounds, while Beaver is an excellent starting point for ATV riders. The diversions are as diverse as the landscape and include:
- Rock climbing
- Wildlife watching
- Touring Caves
- Recreational caves
Don’t own the toys to play in the West Desert? Check out these outfitters offering rentals and tours in the area.
West Desert Region | Photo Gallery
Little Sahara Sand Dunes in Utah
Where to Camp
Utah’s West Desert is all about that base … camp. Rooftop tents are ideal for dispersed camping accessed by remote roads where you wouldn’t dare take a trailer, while lightweight backpacking tents can get you even deeper in the Deeps. But there are also plenty of organized campgrounds where you tow your trailer, take your toys or park your luxury RV.
GREAT BASIN NATIONAL PARK
There are five developed campgrounds in Great Basin National Park. Each has its own picnic table, tent pad and campfire grill, as well as shared vault toilets. The park does not have any shower facilities.
- Grey Cliffs: This is the only reservable campground in GBNP. Visit recreation.gov for current pricing and availability. There are a total of 16 individual and group sites, including quiet streamside spots, dispersed on three different loops. Grey Cliffs Campground doesn’t have potable water, but it does have some of the cleanest, nicest smelling outhouses ever encountered. No need to hold your breath here.
- Baker Creek: Located on a maintained gravel road three miles from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, this campground has 38 sites to choose from. RVs and trailers are not recommended on the upper loop. Potable water is available, weather permitting.
- Lower Lehman Creek: If you hate backing your trailer into awkwardly angled campsites, Lower Lehman Creek is the place for you — six of its 11 sites are pull-throughs. Two spots are also handicap accessible. This is the only campground in GBNP that is open all year. Potable water is available during warmer months.
- Upper Lehman Creek: Located one mile up the road from its lower counterpart, this campground has 24 campsites, most of which are streamside. It boasts beautiful views and offers easy access to the Lehman Creek Trailhead, which is located inside the campground.
- Wheeler Peak: You might want to take some Dramamine before heading to this campground. It’s located at the end of a steep, narrow 12-mile road that winds its way up the mountain. Vehicles longer than 24 feet are not allowed. At the top, you’ll find 37 campsites, one of which is wheelchair accessible. As for the views? Amazing.
Primitive campsites are also found in GBNP along Snake Creek Road and Strawberry Creek Road. The Strawberry Creek Campground is closed until further notice for fire recovery, however. There are a few hotels outside of the park’s boundaries but most people prefer to sleep under the stars inside this GBNP, a designated International Dark Sky Park. On a clear night you can see planets, meteors, star clusters and galaxies with the naked eye.
TUSHAR MOUNTAIN RANGE
There are several quiet campgrounds waiting for you in the Tushar Mountains, a mere 10-15 miles from Beaver. Make reservations at recreation.gov. A few faves include:
- Tushar Lakeside: Nestled in a mixed forest of aspen and conifer, this campground has several individual sights and three large group areas. Amenities include flush toilets, potable water, a lake platform and a sand volleyball court. Ace.
- Kents Lake: Shady sites abound at this forested bivouac located adjacent to the 50-acre lake. Kents is stocked with trout and allows boats with small trolling motors (the only lake on Beaver Mountain to do so). Shore fishing is also fun.
- Anderson Meadow: Known for its high mountain scenery and intimate setting, this campground has eight single sites and two multi-family sites. Each has a prep table, picnic table and campfire ring. Potable water is also available.
- Lebaron Lake: In addition to excellent fly fishing, this small campground has direct access to a network of ATV trails on the west. Each of the 11 single sites and the sole group site have tables and campfire rings. There is a shared vault toilet, but drinking water is not available here.
Primitive campsites and dispersed camping areas also dot the Tushars. Many boast easy access to hiking trails, mountain bike loops, rivers and alpine lakes.
LITTLE SAHARA RECREATION AREA
Unlike other places in the West Desert, the campgrounds within Little Sahara are not for solitude seekers. It’s one of the most popular OHV destinations in Utah. Things get rowdy here, especially on Easter, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. A total of 255 non-reservable campsites are available in four improved campgrounds found in different riding areas in the recreation area.
- White Sands: The most picturesque campground in the recreation area, White Sands is perhaps the most coveted as well. Just shy of 100 campsites are nestled in the juniper and it offers direct access to the dunes. Amenities include a fenced play area, drinking water and flush toilets (vault during winter months).
- Oasis: Paved parking pads for trailers and motorhomes combined with an RV dump station and drinking water make this campground the most developed in Little Sahara. Choose from 114 sites and enjoy immediate access to the dunes from Oasis.
- Sand Mountain: This may be a primitive campground, but it’s proximity to the hill-climbing mecca of the same name makes it a rockin’-‘round-the-clock party spot. Sand Mountain has three paved parking loops, tent spaces, drinking water and vault toilets. It also serves as a staging area for daytrippers.
- Jericho: This campground was originally designed as a picnic area with shade structures. It now serves as an overflow area and is ideal for large groups. Like White Sands, it has a fenced play area for the littles. Jericho also has an amphitheater, drinking water and flush toilets.
Dispersed camping is also permitted in Little Sahara, providing you “Leave No Trace.”
Other Lodging Options
If you prefer to stay in a hotel or shower the sand out of … well, you know where ... Beaver has a smattering of chain hotels including Comfort Inn & Suites Beaver, Best Western Paradise Inn and Econo Lodge Beaver. You can also find cabins and other vacation rentals in the Tushars. Delta has a couple of budget hotels and motels as well.
Wherever you stay, however you play, the West Desert is a great place to get away.
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