State parks in winter
The winter season brings along lots of snow and frigid temperatures, and that means fun winter activities like snowmobiling and skiing are abundant. And while Utah’s state parks may have to make some adjustments for the winter, what they do not do is close down all together. In fact, there are plenty of fun things to keep an adventurous outdoorsman (with plenty of warm layers) busy throughout the season.
Deer Creek State Park
Dawn Larsen, park manager at Deer Creek State Park, said when freezing temperatures hit the Wasatch Back, Deer Creek closes down its water facilities. That means no flush restrooms or shower facilities.
"We do, however, keep our Chokecherry campground open year-round," Larsen said. "Which offers electricity and sewer hookups. We also have our main ramp open until we freeze or the snow gets too heavy for us to plow the ramp. Our other entrances are also open for fishing or picnicking."
Larsen said Utah’s state parks hold events even in the winter season, which this year includes the Third Annual Quad-fishalon. Deer Creek, Jordanelle, Rockport and East Canyon are participating.
"The Quad-fishalon is a four park fishing event where grand prizes are awarded at each park and there is a grand prize for the individual who catches the biggest three fish at the reservoirs," Larsen said. "[You] can register for [an] individual park or for all four parks."
Larsen said Deer Creek is an amazing fishing reservoir, and even in winter, that is the big attraction.
"Ice fishing is very popular and people usually do well," she said. "We have a Zipline that will be operating at our park during the winter months also. This is a fun activity to do for people who are looking for something a little different."
For information, visit StateParks.Utah.gov/parks/Deer-Creek.
Jordanelle State Park
Jordanelle Park Manager Laurie Backus said entry fees in the winter are reduced to $7/vehicle, or $4/vehicle for seniors. While her park winterizes a lot of its facilities, day use is always open.
"Our campground is open for self-contained camping until it snows so much that we would need to plow," she said. "At that point, we offer self-contained camping at our marina parking lot because that’s the only heated restroom that’s open."
Backus said the park also offers hike-in tent camping at Rock Cliff (on the east side of the reservoir by Francis). She said there is no shortage of winter activities available, like snowshoeing, sledding and ice fishing. She added that staff is also excited to host three Boy Scout Klondike Derbies this season.
"This is where a district will come to the park, spend the night, and perform lots of winter activities and competitions," she said. "They range from 100 to 500 scouts."
Backus said staff is responsible for grooming snowmobile trails in the Strawberry Complex and for plowing several snowmobile parking lots in the Strawberry area all winter long. She said Jordanelle is also particularly well-suited for sledding.
"The park has a lot of hills by design so there’s lots of opportunities," she said. "Many locals walk their dogs or run on the park roads. At 6,000 feet in elevation, it’s a great place to go to get out of the city inversion."
Backus said when ice fishing the most important thing to keep in mind is safety.
"People should check the park reports on ice conditions and then they need to test the ice in shallow locations by drilling holes with an auger," she said. "Warm temps, cracks, and pooling of water are not good things. Some reservoirs have warm springs which can create weak spots. Ice should be at least four inches thick before venturing out on it."
The same goes for sledding.
"Visitors need to check the area and look for any hazards under the snow," she said. "There can be trees, rocks, or picnic tables (depending on where they are). Helmets are recommended. A foot or more of snow is best."
Wasatch Mountain State Park
Wasatch Mountain Park Naturalist Kathy Donnell said individual campsites and golf courses close for the winter.
"However, the two cabins, and three group campsites remain open for Scouts, youth or families who want a winter experience," she said. "Guardsman’s Pass and Snake Creek roads are closed to vehicles over 800 lbs. but open to snowmobiles and muscle-powered vehicles."
Donnell said they rent snowshoes and cross country skis out of the park’s visitor center.
"If we have 18 inches or more of snow we open the golf course to cross country skiing," she said. " F or the brave and dedicated fisherman we continue to rent fishing poles through the winter if the pond isn’t froze over."
Wasatch Mountain is trying something new this year, Donnell added.
"For the first time we will attempt to plow into the Dutch Hollow parking lot," she said. "We will use a snowmobile to groom the Dutch Hollow road and phosphate trail over to the end of our property up Pine Creek Canyon. This trail will be available for snow-bikes and cross country skiing."
Over at Soldier Hollow the Olympic Legacy Foundation offers biathlon courses, cross country skiing and tubing near the day lodge. There are sleigh rides and the park is once again hosting the Ice Castles in that area to craft ice art.
During the winter, Donnell said the park staff does more snowshoeing and family programs to get people comfortable with winter activities.
"We have partnered with the Avalanche Center, SheJumps, and Tree Utah to host programs to get people outside safely and educate them about winter environments," she said.
Wasatch Mountain has an avalanche awareness class from 1-4 p.m. Dec. 12 for those interested, and an Audubon Christmas Bird Count Jan. 2. Tree Utah is hosting a snowshoe tree hike from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Jan. 16, and the Friends of Wasatch Mountain State Park will host their annual moonlight snowshoe hikes on Jan. 22, Feb. 19 and March 18 (if there is enough snow).
Whatever you do, Donnell said, do it safely.
" [When] snowmobiling, make sure machines are running properly and registered, tell someone where you are going even if it is for an hour, and take enough clothes, food and water to stay out for 24 hours if you get stuck or lost," she said. " Take a map to know where you are going. Also take an avalanche beacon and know how to use it .
"For other activities, dress in layers so you can take off a layer if you sweat , tell someone where you are going, and take snacks and water. My motto is, ‘there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.’ People need to be prepared."
For information, visit StateParks.Utah.gov/parks/Wasatch-Mountain.
Rockport State Park
Aaron Hone, a ranger at Rockport State Park, said there is plenty to do there during the winter.
"Instead of fishing from a boat you get to walk on top of the water and go ice fishing," he said. "At Rockport we allow snowmobiles and off highway vehicles on the ice to be used for transportation for people who are ice fishing."
Hone said this year Rockport is leaving the Juniper Campground open, with electrical hookups at each site.
"The water has been turned off and the restrooms are closed at the Juniper Campground so you will need a self-contained unit," he said. "Our dump station is open year-round and we do have potable water available."
Rockport also has four primitive campgrounds open, each with a fire pit, table, pavilion and vault toilets that are cleaned daily.
"Not too primitive if you ask me," Hone said.
Along with the Quad-fishalon, Hone said Rockport will hold its own fishing contest that will run from Jan. 1 through April 30, with over $10,000 in prizes.
Hone added that Rockport is a snowmobiler’s paradise.
"Rockport makes a great launching point for several popular trailheads that are within a half an hour of Rockport," he said. "You can stay at Rockport with your trailer and have a nice fire, enjoy our wonderful campground and wake up the next morning and enjoy the snowmobiling in the Uintas."
Hone said Rockport is great for just about any outdoor winter activity and even suggested wind surfing on the ice.
"It is really all up to your imagination as to what you can do," he said. "And the greatest thing about Rockport is the blue skies. So get out of the city and come visit us."
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