Some campsites and trails in northern Utah are either snowed in or ‘flooded out’
The mountain tops were flush with snow this winter, and it’s still trickling down. While the record snowpack is filling up Utah’s lakes and reservoirs, it’s also spilling over to treasured outdoor destinations.
Weather-related incidents are prompting extended closures in the state’s northern high mountains and other areas close to bodies of water as snow continues to melt.
The U.S. Forest Service, for example, shut down access to many parts of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, canceling slews of camping reservations along the Mirror Lake corridor.
“We are ruining a lot of people's Memorial Day weekend plans because so many people want to get out and about,” said Brenda Bushell, the Forest Service spokesperson for the Kamas region. “We're ready to go camping. We're ready to be hiking. And it's like, ‘Well, sorry, we're still under snow.’”
On a normal Memorial Day weekend, Bushell said many camping spots in the high elevation are still off-limits. Last year there were about 220 sites open and this year, Bushell estimates only 92 open spots, with 30 of those being first come first serve. Even the lower elevations are still stacked with snow or at risk for flooding.
“It's really going to be an interesting Memorial Day because I think a lot of people still want to come camping, but there's just a little area that they can camp,” she said.
#uwcnf Heber-Kamas Ranger District recreation update pic.twitter.com/s8KNWBX0nP— Uinta-Wasatch-Cache NF (@UWCNF) May 24, 2023
Bushell predicts campgrounds in the upper parts of the Uintas, like Mirror and Washington lakes, won’t open until July. Other designated areas in the lower elevations, like Smith and Morehouse Reservoir, could be available soon.
Timpanogos Cave National Monument delayed opening its trail and tours until late June because of damage caused by the snow, as well as the risk of rock falls.
Even though all of Utah’s 46 state parks are open, some popular hiking and camping trails are closed due to flooding, including the Union Pacific Rail Trail by Park City.
“There are some sections along there where the water has gotten so high that it's impacted some sections of the rail trail,” said Devan Chavez, the public information officer for Utah State Parks. “The water has completely cut off right through the middle of the trail.”
The condition of the trail is “fluid,” meaning it’s unclear when it will re-open for foot and horse traffic.
🌊 Are you ready to explore Utah's state parks? Keep an eye out for flash floods—they can happen suddenly, especially with all the recent water.— Utah Division of State Parks (@UtahStateParks) May 12, 2023
Learn how to stay safe and make the most of your adventure: https://t.co/ySCbmwVdC3 pic.twitter.com/Pb8VvACJVe
Jordanelle Reservoir is another popular spot impacted by high water. While the park is still open to visitors, Chavez said the Rock Cliff Nature Center is closed. The Rock Cliff boat ramp and trailhead parking remain accessible, though.
“We're doing some work over there trying to remove debris and get some water moving,” he said.
North of Jordanelle, at East Canyon State Park, the Mormon Flats group campsite is completely blocked off.
Chavez said the entire campground “has been flooded out.” He added other campsites could be closed as the extended winter has made it harder to get facilities set up. State park officials have to make sure that RV hookups, water stations and bathrooms are able to operate before welcoming the public.
Chavez isn’t sure when any of these recreation spots will open because “they're all very different and they're all also very dependent on the amount of runoff that all of our areas continue to see.”
He advises people to check the state park website for the latest updates. But if the weather is prohibiting recreators from visiting their go-to spots, Chavez suggests “exploring one of the hidden gems of Utah,” like Scofield, Huntington or Millsite State Park.