The coolest canyon you’ve never heard of

posted in: Utah, Wyoming | 0

The coolest canyon you’ve never heard of

Looking at maps is one of my favorite activities. Why?

  • Because I dream of all the places I want to go (a continually expanding list)
  • Because seeing the big picture helps in planning road trips
  • Because I get a better understanding of the territory I’m going through
  • Because they help me discover cool new places to visit!

This awesome canyon, Flaming Gorge, is a case in point. I only got here because I saw it on a map! And if that doesn’t make map-reading worthwhile, I don’t know what does. πŸ˜‰

The Flaming Gorge… Wonder how they came up with that name? πŸ˜‰

The coolest canyon you never heard of

I didn’t even know about Flaming Gorge until I saw it on a map. How did I fail to know about this splendid spot?

It’s not a national park, so doesn’t get on the lists that way. And I guess most of my travels in Utah have been in the southern part of the state. With places like Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches down south, there’s a lot of competition as far as wonderful places to explore!

But way up in the northern part of Utah (and stretching into southern Wyoming) lies the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, and it’s a pretty amazing place, too!

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Utah
Flaming Gorge Reservoir beckons water sports lovers

All about the Flaming Gorge

The name “Flaming Gorge” seems pretty appropriate when you look at the photos, but it’s due to John Wesley Powell (of Lake Powell fame). When his party was exploring the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869, and passed through this canyon, he remarked on the “brilliant, flaming red of its rocks.” Now his words have been immortalized! πŸ™‚

Since then, the Green River has been dammed, creating the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which stretches for 91 miles, reaching way up into Wyoming. This is now a popular place for boating, and a beautiful spot, for sure. Seeing the canyon from down at lake level, with those walls towering overhead, gives a totally different experience than being up top, camping at Flaming Gorge and looking down.

There are two very different visitor centers, both of which can offer info on camping at Flaming Gorge. The one by the dam is run by the Bureau of Reclamation, and is focused on the dam and the lake. If you want boating info, this is the better source. Meanwhile, up in the forest overlooking the gorge, is the Red Canyon Visitor Center, run by the Forest Service. If you want info on hiking around the area, this is your best bet.

Camping at Flaming Gorge, Utah

There are numerous options for camping at Flaming Gorge and around the lake, but the one that got my attention was the Canyon Rim Campground. Why would I want to stay at some other big campground if I could stay right by the canyon rim, with a spectacular hiking trail outside my back door?


The Canyon Rim Campground is the place to be, in my book. It’s fairly high elevation (7,400 ft), so a perfect destination in the heat of the summer (when all those places down south are broiling)!

The high elevation is perfect in summer, but closed in winter! The season here is from May to early September. For exact latest dates, see here…

This is a small campground, but when I visited on a Sunday in late August, I had no trouble finding a spot. There are only 16 sites total, and most of them are designed for tent camping, not RV camping. If you’ve got a tent, there are some glorious places!

For those of us with RV’s, I saw about 6 places here that looked good. I had a choice among them, and picked the one closest to the rim and the hiking. (Of course!)

Sites here are spacious, so you don’t feel crowded at all. They have massive fire rings, which archaeologists will probably find 1,000 years from now. πŸ˜‰ There are also picnic tables, and stands where you can set your grill (rather than the traditional elevated fire grills).

Camping at Flaming Gorge Utah, Canyon Rim Camppground

The campground has pit toilets, which were really clean, with toilet paper and even air fresheners. There is drinking water available, but no hookups. It does cost $20/night (higher than my favorite price of free!), but I think it’s worth it for a rim-side camp in such a gorgeous place! I couldn’t see into the gorge from my back window, but it was just steps away.

A big surprise was cell service! I wasn’t expecting any out here in the forest, but I had sporadic 3G cell service with T-Mobile. It’s not the greatest, but enough to let me take care of some things, and more than I was expecting!

It’s a small campground, but they do take reservations. I had no trouble getting in without one, but if you’re shooting for a weekend or holiday, a reservation is probably a good idea. Reservations here…

Hiking the rim at Flaming Gorge, Utah

Of course, best of all is that the Rim Trail goes right by this campground. It passed about 100 feet from my vehicle – close enough for easy access, far enough for privacy. You can follow the trail all the way to the Visitor Center, and pick up info there to plan the rest of your hiking adventures.

Zennie camping at Flaming Gorge Utah
Zennie parked in our spot at the Canyon Rim campground

The rim trail is about 4.5 miles in total, and it’s just one astonishing view after another. The canyon is about 1,700 deep, and there are places where you can sit right on the edge, with the view laid out below you. I must have taken 100 photos, because you think it can’t get any better, and then it does!

There are so many places that you’ll want to just sit for awhile, and let it all soak in – the sunshine, the canyon views, a boat passing far below, the afternoon breeze… It’s heaven!

View near campsite, camping at Flaming Gorge Utah
The morning light brings a softer look

If you do the hike at different times of day, you’ve got the changing light, which adds another level of enchantment. Morning is softer and bluer, while late afternoon brings the reds alive, and the long slanting shadows as evening arrive. When I got back to my camp after a late hike, a deer walked right through, as if paying me a visit.

There are plenty of other places for hiking and wildlife viewing too, within a short drive of the campground. Stop at the visitor center, and they can give you maps and info.

Canyon Rim Campground – Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Ashley National Forest
Official campground. Small campground with a gorgeous setting, right by the rim of the gorge. About 6 places suitable for RVs. Picnic tables, fire rings, grill stands, clean pit toilets, and spotty T-Mobile cell service.

Rating: 5 *****
Altitude: 7,400 ft
GPS: 40.8825, -109.54944
Price: $20

Questions? Comments?

Have you tried camping at Flaming Gorge, or hiking, boating, or just hanging out? Any tips on other places in the area that you’d like to share? Let us know in the Reply section below, and thanks! πŸ™‚

I stayed at this campground as part of my Summer Chill-Out road trip around the western US. For more info on other places I visited during this journey, see the Summer Chill-Out Road Trip Recap.

PHOTO CREDITS: Deanna Keahey

Deanna sunset

Hi! I’m Deanna, creator of Uphill Zen. I’m currently yondering around North America with my 1986 Toyota motorhome, Zennie. What makes my heart sing is travel, adventure, and the awe-inspiring wonders of nature. Finding ways to share that joyous spirit is what this is all about.

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