Wandering the West
June 29, 2010
Chances are, unless you explore to the end of every Utah road, that you’ve never been to, or even heard of, Fish Lake. It sits 8,850 feet up in the Fish Lake National Forest and, at six miles by one, is the largest natural mountain lake in the state. It is drop-dead gorgeous, gleaming blue in a basin of aspen and pine, with water so clear you can watch your lure’s action deep down.
If you’re lucky, that lure will attract rainbow trout, splake, tiger muskies, yellow perch, or if you’re good, or good and lucky, lunker Mackinaw lake trout, which can grow to fifty pounds and fight like they’re a hundred. The macs here grow so well that the locals throw the ten pounders back, calling them "pups."
If you divide Utah into equal thirds from north to south, Fish Lake would be exactly on the line two thirds down the state and dead center. That doesn’t make it too convenient to the Wasatch Front or Back, but that keeps the crowds down.
Nor is fishing the area’s only charm. The boats here tend to be small and quiet, making it a great place to peacefully paddle a canoe or kayak. The water also attracts scuba divers who are equipped to stand the high-altitude mountain water. There are also hiking and bike trails to explore nearby. Consult Forest Service maps before coming or upon arrival.
The Forest Service maintains several campgrounds and there are two resorts Lakeside, with 24 RV pads, and Fish Lake Lodge a vintage log beauty right out of the architecture of the western national parks, with cabins for rent. Pioneer builders started laying the massive logs in 1928, but didn’t get it finished until 1933. There’s a big rock fireplace and a huge central lobby with lofty ceilings where you might find a band and a dance on a summer night.
Haul your boat or rent one (the prices are shockingly reasonable), or just pull up a lawn chair with your summer read. Shore fishing is said to be good as well. And take time to explore more of the Fish Lake Forest. The road to the lake, Utah State Road 25, is a designated Scenic way that climbs steadily through the forest to the upper basin containing the lake. From the lake, surrounding peaks rise to 11,000 feet. The Fish Lake National Forest itself is more than a million acres, nearly half the size of Yellowstone.
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The only town of any size in the area is Richfield, and west of Richfield on I-70 there’s an interesting, and fairly new state park dedicated to area archaeology. The park displays artifacts salvaged from the construction of I-70, which ran right through an 80- structure Fremont village dating from 1000 to 1300 A.D. You can take hiking trails behind the museum leading to rock-art panels that cover parts of the walls of Clear Creek Canyon.
If your interest is in more modern history, check out the old mining town of Marysvale, south of Richfield on U.S. 89. Residents there have designed an auto and hiking tour of mining ruins in the area called the Canyon of Gold. The scenery isn’t bad either, with side hikes to places like Bullion Falls and mine ruins like the Bully Boy Mine. The first treasure was gold, found in the streams. When the streams were panned out, miners had to dig underground to find more. Here’s a completely useless fact gleaned from a Canyon of Gold website: One ounce of gold can be made into a wire .000005 thick that could be drawn 62 miles long.
The Richfield area is kind of a pass-through area, except for those who know of the shining blue lake that’s high up on the plateau, and the roads and trails that penetrate the Fish Lake National Forest. Explore them in summer for the lake days, and in the fall for the golden aspen against the green pine trees and blue sky.
Writer, filmmaker and author Larry Warren has made the West his beat for the past three decades. He is the general manager of KPCW.
THE VITALS: Park City to Fish Lake 165 miles
Insider tip: Take your mountain bike or horse and ride the Pelican Canyon Trail, starting from the lake at 8,850 feet and topping out at the mountain top at 11,000 feet.