Uintah Basin Road Trip | Day 4 | Hiking around Flaming Gorge NRA | Hiking & Kayaking in Red Fleet State Park | April 2022
We woke up the morning after our kayak trip in Flaming Gorge to find that the wind had returned. Listening to our weather radio also confirmed that today would be cooler with stronger winds, and we were even more thankful that we had such a perfect day to kayak the day before. Today, we decided to focus on hiking, and then drive South to the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.
We started our morning by driving to the Red Canyon Overlook and Campground further East from where we explored yesterday. After parking near the visitor center, we first walked out to the viewpoints overlooking the Green River, then began hiking the Canyon Rim Trail headed East. While hiking this short trail, we saw both a marmot and a bighorn ram on or close by the trail. Both of them stood their ground and watched us as we calmly and quickly did our best to continue on without interrupting their morning. We’re so thankful that Charlotte doesn’t care that much about wildlife and doesn’t do anything to provoke them!
Besides the wildlife, our hike was quiet, peaceful, and uneventful, and we loved the different vistas of the narrow canyon, the Green River, and the contrast of the red cliffs with the snow capped Uintas in the background. This canyon is actually what gives the entire region its name, as John Wesley Powell called the red cliffs ‘Flaming’ as he passed through it on his Colorado River expedition.
After that, we continued driving East and stopped at the Cedar Springs Marina. When Curtis was planning the kayaking portions of this trip, he had planned a second kayak trip potentially for this morning that would have started here and gone out to the narrow canyon to the East underneath the Cedar Springs Bridge and back. But standing on the boat ramp watching the waves come rolling in confirmed to us that it wasn’t a good idea to kayak today. When driving across the Cedar Springs Bridge, we saw the canyon and were a little disappointed to not get to kayak in there, not the least because the waves were considerably less in the canyon — if only there were a way to put in safely right into the canyon and not face the waves of the lake… Oh well, we’ll return someday!
We then stopped to see the Flaming Gorge dam. Curtis checked out the visitor center, then we all walked up the stairs to the higher viewing platform. Charlotte was freaked out by how high up the viewing area was, the gusting wind, and how big the dam was, that she didn’t allow us to stay long.
At last, we began our drive South on US 191 (which happens to be our favorite US highway!). The plan was to drive to Dinosaur National Monument near Jensen, UT and camp near the Green River in one of the campgrounds in the Monument. I had a couple of hikes saved along the drive since it was only about an hour and a half away. It wasn’t too long into the drive before we began losing elevation — and we were hopeful that being lower in elevation would mean the temps would be a little higher, and we could avoid the predicted snow that the NWS on our weather radio kept mentioning.
The first hike I had saved was on BLM land just North of Red Fleet State Park. There were two hikes here that interested us, one that led to dinosaur tracks and another that went around Battleship Rock. However, when we arrived we found the area was pretty busy, mostly with mountain bikers, so we decided to hike the Dinosaur Track trail because it was for foot traffic only.
Hiking this trail brought back so many great memories of other hikes we’ve done in Utah and Arizona. The feeling of walking on sandstone and dry desert ground made me so happy. However, the air wasn’t as dry as you’d expect for the desert — the sky was growing overcast and it almost felt humid, which made us wonder if we would actually be rained on today.
The trail gradually lost elevation until it took us down to the side of Red Fleet reservoir, where the dinosaur tracks were. The tracks here weren’t as obvious as the ones we saw in New Mexico last December, but that doesn’t mean the hike was a bust — obviously we were just happy to be hiking in the desert, but we also quickly became interested in this lake. We noticed right along the bank where we were standing that there was a large cave which, while not that deep, looked like it’d be fun to kayak into. Right away we agreed that we wanted to kayak here, so we turned around and started making our way back to the car. The trip back was a bit slower since it was uphill and a little too warm for Charlotte’s liking, but with enough breaks and water we made it back to the trailhead.
We drove over to Red Fleet State Park, having done hardly any research about the park beforehand, and asked the ranger a few questions before making our decision. The entrance fee was $10, but we learned that camping here was only $15 which included the entrance fee. We took a look around and saw that while there were a few RVs at hookup sites, the walk-up campground was completely empty. There weren’t any official trails here, but the scenery was stunning and we wanted to really take our time kayaking around the reservoir. So we decided to change today’s plans and camp here instead of Dinosaur NM. We don’t often make spontaneous decisions like this, but it just felt right — and in the end, we weren’t disappointed at all!
Curtis set up our kayak, and we began our little paddle around the reservoir. There were some other paddle boarders around the cave, so we decided to start with kayaking around up the canyon to the West. The entire lake was peaceful and quiet besides the paddle boarders, but we chose to go West rather than East because the canyon walls were taller and the views were more impressive.
We spent an hour paddling slowly through the reservoir, savoring every view. Charlotte didn’t seem to mind us taking our time, and even fell asleep for the first time while riding. We went as far back as we could, until we almost got stuck in the shallow water and had to turn around. Again we took our time and headed back to check out the cave. We heard from one of the paddle boarders that this was the lowest he’d ever seen the reservoir, and that normally the ‘cave’ was almost completely underwater! On one hand this was unfortunate because it meant we couldn’t go further up the canyon, but on the plus side it meant you could go further into the cave. I later heard that this area is referred to as “Little Lake Powell,” and while we haven’t kayaked there (and barely spent any time there) I can see why, and was so glad we decided to take the time to enjoy it!
After we were done kayaking, we packed up the kayak and then began setting up our campsite. Once we were settled, I hung out at the tent with Charlotte and let Curtis go for a little stroll on the sandstone. He made his own track up to the top of a short sandstone ‘hill’ with overlooks of the lake and the ‘Red Fleet’; a collection of red rocks which look like the masts of ships and give their name to the area. From the top of the hill he followed the sandstone ridge around our campsite. I was able to watch his progress and tried unsuccessfully to get Charlotte to look, though she seemed to smell him every now and then since he was upwind from us.
When Curtis returned, Charlotte seemed to have regained all her energy, so we decided to walk her around the park some more. We knew there weren’t any official trails, so we just wandered down to the lake and then along the “beach.” We then noticed some worn foot paths, and decided to follow them. They took us back along the reservoir and to a few different coves. We stopped at a few points to just sit and enjoy the views. It became very obvious how low the water was here from where the high water mark was.
Finally, we returned to our tent for the night. It was definitely warmer here than it had been the past few nights, but it also finally rained on us for a bit. Besides that, we slept well and enjoyed our quiet night all alone in the campground.
We were so glad to have found this spot and that we had taken the time to enjoy it — we even decided that this is our new favorite state park! Of course, we recognized that part of what made our experience so great is the fact that it was still shoulder season and likely nowhere near as busy as it could be in the summer. The campground is well developed, but the campsites are pretty close together so we likely wouldn’t have been so relaxed had all those sites been taken. This all just confirmed to us how great shoulder season travel is though — even though the weather was sometimes less than ideal, we were making the most of each day and were enjoying being able to see these beautiful places all by ourselves!