How to enjoy fall in Flaming Gorge
By Louis Arevalo
It’s easy to understand how some people fall in love with the wild and diverse landscape surrounding Flaming Gorge during the summer months—the magic of autumn in the gorge continues the spell. During the months of September, October, and November, Flaming Gorge offers a refreshing and uncrowded alternative to more crowded destinations.Visitors can witness wildlife at their best, enjoy superb boating, take advantage of exhilarating river fishing, prime hunting season, and soak up scenic drives filled with peak fall foliage.
Flaming Gorge was named during John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition of the Green and Colorado Rivers when the crew saw the sun reflecting brilliantly off the crimson buttes rising high above the river. The fall season affords boaters a chance to experience the very same landscape that rises from the sage plains of Wyoming and flows into the Uinta Mountains of Northeastern Utah. With over 350 miles of shoreline, the lake offers a lifetime of exploration and doing so by boat is still one of the best ways to see the region.
The blue ribbon waters of the Green River—running below the 500-foot Flaming Gorge Dam— offer anglers fast and steady fishing. On cool afternoons, try lobbing hoppers and other terrestrials near the river banks for good chance of hooking a healthy and hungry brown trout. Warm fall days are frequent and insect hatches are still common so be sure to bring a few dry flies. If fishing isn’t your idea of a good time, the Little Hole Scenic Trail is a fantastic out and back hike that follows the river between the dam and the Little Hole boat ramp (seven miles downstream). With very little elevation gain, this trail is ideal for most folks. Whether you are fishing, hiking, or picnicking on the river you are sure to witness otters frolicking in the water and osprey soaring above.
The arrival of fall to Flaming Gorge also means hunting season to many. The high desert country on the north end of the lake is prime pronghorn habitat. Higher up in the foothills of the Uintas, mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk are found in abundance. Ashley National Forest provides hunters with hundreds of miles of ATV trails. For the serious trophy hunters Little Mountain, south of Rock Springs, offers some of the best mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk hunting found in the region.
Wildlife enthusiasts will find that a visit to the Gorge during the fall months is well worth the journey. The big horn sheep found in Red Canyon begin gathering for their annual rut. Near the Red Canyon Visitor’s Center you can witness the male sheep promenade, glare, and eventually butt heads, proving their prowess to potential mates. And the bighorn are not the only ones in rut. Elk too get into the swing and with it comes bugling. A bugling bull elk during their annual rut is something everyone should experience. Near sunrise or sunset the elk are most vocal and while you may not see these beautiful animals, you can listen. Check with the staff at the Red Canyon Visitor Center for the best place to tune in.
Camping in Flaming Gorge is not to be missed during fall. With over 400 developed campsites and countless primitive sites, you are sure to find the perfect spot. Buy an extra bundle of wood and after the sun sets, let your gaze drift upward and experience one of the darkest night skies in the west.
All roads in Flaming Gorge are scenic and during the fall months they showcase prime landscapes. The Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway combines Highways 44 and 191 between Manila and Vernal, Utah. This drive will have you traveling through sweeping vistas filled with wildlife, photogenic scenic pullouts, and impressive geologic features. The Sheep Creek Geologic Loop— a 13-mile drive found off of Highway 44—is sure to have you stopping at every pullout to admire the folded earth of the Uinta Fault and the brilliant leaves of the cottonwood trees. Another bonus of the Sheep Creek is the option to finish or begin at the Sheep Creek Nature Trail, found at an inlet to the reservoir. Here, witness the flaming red bodies of thousands of kokanee salmon swimming upstream to lay eggs. Before the snow falls be sure to make your way up to Spirit Lake, a 17-mile spur off of the Sheep Creek Loop, to take in alpine lakes and groves of vibrant aspen, all guarded over by beautiful mountain peaks.
For anyone looking for a break from the daily grind and wanting to recharge, pack up the car and head this way. With long sunny days and cool, clear nights, fall in Flaming Gorge could be the best time to visit.