Monday, March 16, 2020

Exploring the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

Exploring the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest (UWCNF) encompasses over 2 million acres of diverse landscapes, including Northern Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, parts of southeastern Idaho, parts of southwestern Wyoming, and seven protected Designated Wilderness Areas. It is one of the most-visited forest areas in the nation.

The forest is divided into eight districts, each with its own supervisor’s office, attractions, recreation options, and unique geology/ecology. Many of the recreation options are maintained by volunteers. Although some areas may be closed to pedestrian and automobile traffic during the winter for safety reasons, the UWCNF is full of winter sport options and recreation opportunities during the summer months too, so no matter your interests, you'll be able to find something you love.

mountainside with pinetrees

Spending Time in Nature

There are hundreds of hiking trails throughout the eight districts of the forest of varying length, difficulty, and solitude. Some of the top trails are Mid-Mountain and Wasatch Crest, while Eagle Rise is recommended for families or beginning hikers. With a little bit of research and navigation skills, you can create a hike perfect for your skill level and desired length.

There are over 450 miles of road and mountain biking trails for all skill levels, and guided biking tours are available for visitors. This is a great way to see the scenery of the area. You can rent a bike and helmet and receive a two-hour personalized tour based on your skill level. Experienced bikers visiting in the winter can also explore fat biking–recommended for those with some prior conditioning.

Horseback riding trails are abundant in the UWCNF, and professionally guided tours are available for all experience levels. This is a great way to try something new and take in the stunning scenery.

Although much of the UWCNF is dark and secluded enough to enjoy starry nights, a county park just outside of the Ogden Valley is a certified International Dark Sky Park if you are interested in stargazing.

The UWCNF contains 69 caves, many of which are open to the public for exploring and guided tours. The main highlight is the Timpanogos Cave National Monument, which contains 250 acres of land including three limestone caves and is located in American Fork Canyon. There is a 1.5 mile hiking trail available to access the caves, and ranger-led tours are provided throughout the summer for those interested in learning more.

If you prefer to explore the UWCNF at a more leisurely pace, there are dozens of parks and wildlife areas that are open to the public, allowing you to spend time in nature and possibly observe some wildlife. One of the highest-rated parks is Spanish Fork River Park.

mountains overlooking placid lake

Scenic Byways

The UWCNF is home to two National Scenic Byways—Logan Canyon and Nebo Loop. There are also four State Scenic Byways within the forest—Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Mirror Lake Highway, and Ogden River. Each varies in distance, length, and recreation opportunities available, and the National Scenic Byway website maintains that information in addition to the highway numbers and maps of the areas.

Scenic byways are a great way to explore larger stretches of the forest without exerting yourself like hiking or biking would require. They are perfect for colder months or questionable weather, though some of the byways may closed for snow.

man and boy sitting and fishing


If you have a Utah state fishing license, you can enjoy both harvest and catch-and-release opportunities throughout the forest. The lakes of the High Uintas and the Logan, Weber, Ogden, and Provo Rivers are some of the top spots to go fishing in Utah, and all are located within the UWCNF. Each contains diverse species of fish, so be sure to do some research before picking a destination. If you are traveling with children and are interested in introducing them to fishing, Strawberry Reservoir is a family-friendly option. For the more experienced anglers, ice fishing is offered at many of the lakes and reservoirs across the forest. If you have the cold-weather gear and the know-how, winter fly fishing is another popular activity. In addition, many of these bodies of water have designated areas for swimming, boating, canoeing, and kayaking in the summer months.

snowy mountains overlooking forest

Winter Sports

Utah is famous worldwide for its skiing, and the UWCNF is no exception. Four of Utah’s top ski resorts—Brighton, Alta, Solitude, and Snowbird—are all hosted within the forest. If you are interested in snowshoeing, there are five trails available for public use of varying difficulty. This is a great way to get some exercise and take in the scenery.

The UWCNF is also popular among cross-country and backcountry skiers with some navigation skills. There are many trails available as well as guided tours. For those looking to explore the forest in a more recreational setting, private dog sledding expeditions led by teams of rescue dogs are available for reservation.

Hunting and Shooting

Hunting is a traditional pastime in this region and is also a way to help the Forest Service manage wildlife populations in the area. Pay attention to seasons and licensing regulations before visiting, and always practice hunting safety guidelines. For your awareness, there are permitted sheep and cattle grazing in the National Forest to maintain watershed lands.

You can also practice target shooting at many different areas within the forest or receive small group instruction to shoot clay pigeons at Park City Trap Shooting, a private range located just outside of Park City.

Over one million people live in close proximity to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest (UWCNF), and it is incredibly popular with visitors all year round. The varied recreation options throughout the forest provide plenty of options, no matter what you are looking for. The UWCNF is not just winter sports haven; any nature buff, outdoor enthusiast, or vacationing family will be able to find something to do. A trip to the UWCNF is an excellent opportunity to learn something new—like shooting, biking, horseback riding, or hiking—and a refuge in the beauty of nature. No matter when you choose to visit, plan ahead to spend lots of time outdoors safely.