Uintah Basin Road Trip | Day 3 | Kayaking in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area | Sheep Creek Boat Launch to Kingfisher Island & Back | April 2022
On our first morning in Utah, we woke up to find our tent covered in a thin layer of frost. Emerging from our warm cocoon wasn’t easy, but we had big plans for today and knew it was better to get an early start! We were relieved that the wind wasn’t blowing like it had been the day before, and hoped that meant we would have calmer waters for our paddle around Flaming Gorge. (A ranger had told us that some parts of the lake had 3′ waves the day before!)
We drove over to the Sheep Creek boat launch just down the road. I walked Charlotte around, letting her stretch out her legs and sniff wherever she wanted before being cooped up, while Curtis set up the kayak. There were about a dozen trucks in the parking lot, most of which were fishermen who had gotten up much earlier than us. I’m certain we were the only non-motorized boat on the lake this morning, at least that started from this launch.
Once our boat was ready, we grabbed a few things we thought we’d need for the trip — snacks for us, treats for Charlotte, water and a bowl for Char — and set off on our adventure. The initial canyon walls across from the launch were a striking shade of red in the morning light, and I found myself staring at them the whole time we passed by. We had only begun, but we already had a feeling this would be our favorite place we’ve kayaked yet. And maybe this sounds strange, but places like this are why we bought a kayak in the first place — sure, we love kayaking in the lakes around Omaha and on our different vacations, but being desert lovers at heart there’s just something about a mini ‘oasis’ in the dry desert surrounded by red rocks that excites us!
For today’s kayaking adventure, we were paddling counter clockwise around Kingfisher Island, which is only an island because of the Flaming Gorge Dam. Really, Kingfisher is a promnitory between Sheep Creek and the Green River with a low enough saddle that the water level cuts it off from the main plateau. The trip was 6 miles long, which was the longest we’d ever kayaked. The views were spectacular the entire trip, but as we began circling around Kingfisher Island paddling East towards the confluence of Sheep Creek and the Green River, the rock walls around us grew taller and steeper. I marveled at the blue water and the tall cliffs surrounding us, and tried not to think about how deep the lake was beneath us.
The canyon became more narrow as we paddled East to the confluence and then began heading North following the course of the Green River reaching less than a quarter mile or less for almost a mile. My only concern around this part was that a motor boat could speed through here and not see us until rounding a tight bend, but thankfully that never happened. We did our best to stay close to one side as we rounded the corners, which had the added benefit that we could look down into the water and see the cliffs going down deep into the lake. As we began heading Northwest, we caught a bit of headwind causing some light waves, but that was the only “rough” part of the trip.
Charlotte began getting anxious after mile 2 and would occasionally let out a whine. For some reason, she decided to sit facing Curtis instead of towards the front, and she refused to move even though we knew it would make her more comfortable. Thankfully she didn’t have to sit like that for the whole 6 miles — at about the halfway point, we pulled over onto Kingfisher Island to take a break. There is a small campground on the island, which Curtis originally wanted us to camp at but I had vetoed that idea right away (and I’m glad I did — there’s no way we could’ve brought all our sleeping bags that help keep us warm on our little boat, and we needed all the extra warmth we could get!).
We sat down on the rocks and ate snacks — Charlotte was thrilled to learn that we brought not only the peanut butter cookies, but also her own treats. Then we followed a worn path through the campsite and up to a point that gave a great view of the lake and opposite canyon walls surrounding us. There were little cacti starting to bloom, and lots of evidence of deer also being on the island.
After taking in the view and making the most of our time on the island and out of the boat, we walked back and started the last leg of our journey back to the boat launch, crossing over the saddle from Green River to Sheep Creek. Charlotte seemed much happier at this point, and the trip back was all smooth sailing. With the sun higher in the sky, the water appeared to be a much brighter blue/green color that was a stunning contrast with the red canyon walls.
We made it back to the car, the entire trip having taken about 4 hours. (If you’re interested, check out our AllTrails recording here) We then took our time folding the kayak and repacking the car, giving Charlotte a chance to do exactly what she wanted: sunbathe in the parking lot. We eventually convinced her to hop back in the car for some scenic driving.
We drove up UT-44 and stopped at the Sheep Creek Overlook, giving us a gorgeous view of the Southwest end of Flaming Gorge and most of where we had just kayaked. Next, we continued up the highway some more until we came to the forest road leading to Dowd Mountain. We followed the gravel road all the way to the end where we found the Dowd Mountain Overlook. We ended up staying here for almost an hour, enjoying every different view; from the narrow gorge to the East that John Wesley Powell named Flaming Gorge in 1869, to the snow-capped Uintas in the distance to the Southwest. Maybe we even took a little catnap. I had said that I wanted to make this a more “relaxing” vacation, so I guess our interpretation of that is to spend more time at scenic areas when we have them all to ourselves!
Our final scenic stop was on Ute Mountain summit. Curtis had been wanting to visit or hike to a short fire tower peak to get a better view of the Uintas, and this one was exactly what we wanted. The fire tower here was actually the cutest one we’ve ever seen! Unfortunately it was closed, but we still enjoyed what we could see of the Uintas, and Charlotte found herself a nice patch of snow to cool off in.
We had been told that the Sheep Creek Geological Drive was still closed for the season, but because we were able to drive part way through the night before, we decided to try to take that road back to our tent in Carmel Campground. The roads were completely clear and there were no signs indicating the road was closed. We drove through the forest and began our descent into the canyon, making it to just a tenth of a mile from where we had stopped the night before…to find a random gate blocking us from completing the loop. I guess we had been warned at the visitor center, but it was weird that, if we hadn’t stopped and asked, there would have been no indications that the road was closed. Oh well, it wasn’t too far to backtrack back to UT-44, and the views were just as good in reverse. We drove back to our campsite and enjoyed another relaxing evening there — this time with no frost!