The southern Wasatch Front isn't just about skiing. The wonderful lakes and parks near Park City are still some of Utah's best-kept secrets, but they're getting more and more popular by the year. To the northeast is Rockport State Park, a man-made lake that attracts watersports enthusiasts, from swimmers to ice-fishermen, year-round. Not far from Park City is Jordanelle State Park, which is a great boating lake, and Wasatch Mountain State Park, which is Utah's second-largest state park and a major golf destination. Heading southeast from Park City, you'll reach Heber City, whose main claim to fame is its historic steam train. A bit farther afield along U.S. 40 is pristine Strawberry Reservoir, a favorite water playground.
Heber Valley Railroad
For those who love old trains, who want to see firsthand some of the history of the American West, or who simply enjoy beautiful scenery, go for a ride on the Heber Valley Railroad ★★. This 100-year-old excursion train provides an exciting step back into the past, while also offering a fun ride through a delightful diversity of landscapes. Excursions ranging from 1 1/2 to 3 hours are offered on both steam and vintage diesel trains, and a number of special-event trips are scheduled, including murder mysteries, sunset excursions, and the "Polar Express" Christmas trip. Train cars have restrooms, snack bars, and souvenir shops.
The views along the shores of Deer Creek Lake and through beautiful Provo Canyon are wonderful at any time, but fall is one of the prettiest seasons to ride the train, as the mountainsides are decorated with the rich hues of changing leaves -- the reds of oak and maple, and the golds of cottonwood and aspen stand out against the ever-present greens of piñon, juniper, spruce, and pine.
The train depot is in Heber City, 20 miles south of Park City via Utah 248 and U.S. 40. Round-trip tickets cost $24 to $30 for adults, $16 to $20 for children 3 to 12, and $19 to $25 for seniors 60 and older. Rates are higher for special events and meal and entertainment excursions; one-way tickets are also available (call for rates). The summer sees four daily runs, and fewer the rest of year. The ticket office is open daily from 9am to 5pm. For information, contact Heber Valley Railroad, 450 S. 600 West, Heber City, UT 84032 (tel. 800/888-8499, 435/654-5601, or 801/581-9980 from Salt Lake City; www.hebervalleyrailroad.org).
Rockport State Park
Rockport, one of the Utah State Park system's man-made lakes, is a great destination offering a full range of outdoor activities, from windsurfing to wildlife-watching. In the winter, add ice-fishing and cross-country skiing. Facilities at the half-mile-wide, 3-mile-long lake include a marina, a boat ramp and courtesy docks, a picnic area, and camping spots in a variety of settings. The Wanship Dam, at the north end of the lake, is an important water-storage and flood-control dam on the Weber River, which has its headwaters high in the Uinta Mountains.
Getting There -- From Park City, head east on I-80 for about 11 miles to exit 156, then go 5 miles south on Utah 32 along the western bank of Rockport Lake to the access road. The park entrance is at the lake's southern tip. Turn east to the park entrance, and then follow the road around to the north along the eastern bank.
Information, Fees & Regulations -- Contact Rockport State Park, 9040 N. Utah 302, Peoa, UT 84061-9702 (tel. 435/336-2241; www.stateparks.utah.gov). Open year-round, the park has a day-use fee of $9 per vehicle. Pets are allowed, but must be confined or leashed.
Cross-Country Skiing -- Groomed cross-country ski trails run through the open sagebrush, and these offer a better chance of seeing wildlife than the more forested areas in the surrounding national forest.
Hiking & Wildlife-Watching -- A 4-mile round-trip hike takes off from Juniper Campground. This easy, relatively flat walk among juniper and sagebrush offers an opportunity to glimpse mule deer, yellow-belly marmots, badgers, raccoons, weasels, skunks, and ground squirrels. Less visible are elk, moose, coyote, bobcat, and cougar. Birds abound, and sometimes you can spot Western grebes, Canada geese, whistling swans, great blue herons, and golden and bald eagles. More frequently seen are ducks, red-tailed hawks, magpies, scrub jays, and hummingbirds.
Water Activities -- The day-use area, located about 3 1/2 miles north of the park entrance, offers the best swimming. The lake is also popular for boating, windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, kayaking, and fishing. Both the lake and river are home to rainbow and brown trout, yellow perch, and small-mouth bass. Unfortunately, there are no equipment outfitters nearby.
Camping -- A number of RV and tent campsites are located in five areas around the lake. The first campground is to the right of the access road, along the Weber River rather than the lake. Sites are shady and provide easy access to a trail along the river, handy for fishermen. The remainder of the sites lie between the road and the lake, along its eastern bank, and most have vault toilets only. One campground, Juniper, has sites with water and electric hookups, a dump station, and modern restrooms. Sites cost $10 to $20. The park generally fills on weekends, but reservations can be made by calling tel. 800/322-3770 or through the state parks website (www.stateparks.utah.gov).
Jordanelle State Park
Two recreation areas provide access to Jordanelle Reservoir in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains. Both areas are great for boating, fishing, picnicking, and camping. The reservoir is shaped rather like a boomerang, with the dam at the elbow. The Perimeter Trail connects the highly developed Hailstone Recreation Site to the more primitive Rock Cliff Recreation Site. Hailstone is on the terraced peninsula poking into the upper arm just above the dam; Rock Cliff is at the southeastern tip of the lower arm of the reservoir. Hailstone's camping and picnicking areas face the widest part of the reservoir, which is perfect for speedboats, water-skiing, and personal watercraft. The narrow arm reaching down to Rock Cliff is designated for low-speed water use. Trails -- 27 miles of them -- circle the reservoir and connect to other area trails. They're open to hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers.
Getting There -- For Hailstone, from Park City, head east on Kearns Boulevard (Utah 248) for about 3 3/4 miles; at U.S. 40, go southeast 4 miles to exit 8 and follow the entrance road east into Hailstone. From Heber City, take U.S. 40 northwest about 6 miles.
For Rock Cliff, from Park City, continue southeast on U.S. 40 past Hailstone for about 2 miles to Utah 32, then east about 6 miles to the entrance. From Heber City, follow U.S. 40 northwest for about 4 miles, then head east onto Utah 32 for about 6 miles to the entrance.
Information, Fees & Regulations -- Contact Jordanelle State Park, Utah 319 #515 Box 4, Heber City, UT 84032 (tel. 435/649-9540 for Hailstone or 782-3030 for Rock Cliff; www.stateparks.utah.gov). Stop at the visitor center at Hailstone or the Nature Center at Rock Cliff, a nature-oriented visitor center, for information and trail maps. The exhibit room in the visitor center at Hailstone presents an overview of human history in the area.
The park is open year-round at Hailstone, and May through September at Rock Cliff. Day-use hours in summer are 6am to 10pm; October through March, 8am to 5pm. The visitor centers are open April through September from 9am to 6pm. The day-use fee is $10 per vehicle (or $7 for Rock Cliff only).
In order to protect the abundance of wildlife, particularly birds, pets are not allowed at Rock Cliff. They're welcome at Hailstone, but must be confined or leashed. Bicycling is permitted on established public roads, in parking areas, and on the Perimeter Trail.
Hailstone Recreation Site
At Hailstone are three camping areas and a group pavilion, along with a swimming beach and a picnic area available for day use. The 76-slip marina offers camping, picnicking supplies, boat rentals, a small restaurant, an amphitheater, boat ramps, a wheelchair-accessible fishing deck, and a fish-cleaning station.
Outdoor Pursuits -- A concessionaire at Jordanelle Marina (tel. 435/655-9919; www.jordanellemarina.com) rents ski boats, jet skis, and fishing boats.
Camping -- Hailstone's three camping areas have walk-in tent sites, RV/tent sites without hookups, and RV sites with water and electric hookups. Facilities include modern restrooms, showers, a small coin-op laundry, and a playground. Cost is $16 to $20. For reservations, call tel. 800/322-3770 or log on to the Utah State Parks' website (www.stateparks.utah.gov).
Rock Cliff Recreation Site
Rock Cliff contains three walk-in camping areas; picnic tables; the Nature Center, which offers maps, environmental programs, and exhibits on the various habitats of the area and how man's activities impact them; and the Jordanelle Discovery Trail, a boardwalk interpretive trail that winds through the Provo River riparian terrain.
Birding -- Rock Cliff offers great opportunities for birding ★, with more than 160 species either living here or passing through, and eagles and other raptors nesting in the area. Situated as it is among numerous riparian wetlands, Rock Cliff is designed to protect these sensitive habitats. Trails and boardwalks traverse the area, and bridges cross the waterways at four points, enabling you to get quite close to a variety of wetland life without inadvertently doing any harm to their habitats.
Camping -- The recreation area has three walk-in campgrounds with 50 sites and two modern restrooms with showers. These sites are more nature-oriented than those at Hailstone and are scattered over 100 acres, providing great privacy. Cost is $16. The site doesn't have any areas for RVs. For reservations, call tel. 800/322-3770 or log on to the Utah State Parks' website, www.stateparks.utah.gov.
Wasatch Mountain State Park
The second-largest of Utah's state parks (after Antelope Island), at 21,592 acres, Wasatch Mountain State Park is also Utah's most developed state park, and among its most popular. This year-round destination is well maintained, well serviced, and easy to enjoy, and it just keeps getting better. This is a terrific golf and camping destination, and trails are continually being expanded to meet the demands of hikers and mountain bikers. In winter, a network of groomed cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails lead from the park into the surrounding forest, and both cross-country-ski and snowmobile rentals are available. Wasatch Mountain's rangers offer a variety of instructive and interpretive programs. Fall is the best time to visit: The incomparable juxtaposition of rich reds, ochers, and deep evergreens will exceed your wildest imaginings.
Getting There -- It's about 5 1/2 miles from Heber City to the park: From downtown, turn west on Utah 113 (100 South) to Midway; following signs for the state park, jog north on 200 West, then west on 200 North, and finally north again on Homestead Drive. The visitor center is located on Homestead Drive (where it becomes Snake Creek Rd.), in the park.
Information/Visitor Center -- For advance information, contact Wasatch Mountain State Park, P.O. Box 10, Midway, UT 84049-0010 (tel. 435/654-1791; www.stateparks.utah.gov). The visitor center, on Homestead Drive (where it becomes Snake Creek Rd.), also serves as a lounge for golfers. It's open daily from 8am to 5pm and includes a large mountain-lodge-style room with comfortable seating. Rangers are on hand to discuss park activities and provide trail maps and other information.
Fees & Regulations -- The day-use fee is $5 per vehicle. Pets are welcome in the park, but must be confined or leashed.
Ranger Programs -- Interpretive programs take place most Friday and Saturday summer nights at the amphitheater, and a junior ranger program is offered Saturday mornings. The stocked pond adjacent to the visitor center provides fishing fun for children 15 and under in summer; call for details.
Cross-Country Skiing -- A 7 1/2-mile Nordic ski track, with both diagonal stride and skating lanes, is laid out on the golf course. Neither dogs nor snowmobiles are allowed on the track, which is open from 8am to 5pm. At the southern end of the park, Soldier Hollow (tel. 435/654-2002; www.soldierhollow.com) was the 2002 Olympics site for biathlon and cross-country-skiing competitions, and is available for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing, and other nonmotorized winter sports; in summer, mountain biking and horseback riding are popular. Cross-country skis are available for rent at the golf course pro shop; cost is $19 for a full day and $14 for a half-day.
Golf -- With a USGA-sanctioned 36-hole, par-143 course, golfing is the most popular pastime here. Ten lakes are scattered throughout the tree-lined fairways, and the views of the lovely Heber Valley are grand. Facilities include a full-service pro shop, driving range, practice greens, and a cafe. Fees for adults are $15 for 9 holes, $29 for 18 holes. For juniors and seniors, the fees for 18 holes are $22 and $24, respectively, and $27 on weekends. Carts are available for an additional $12. Tee times may be reserved (tel. 435/654-0532 or 801/266-0268) a week in advance. Another 36 holes, at the Soldier Hollow Golf Course at the southern end of the park, opened in summer 2004. Greens fees are the same as above; call tel. 435/654-7442 or 801/261-4733 for tee times.
Hiking & Wildlife-Watching -- Pine Creek Nature Trail is just over a mile in length and encompasses three smaller loops. Many songbirds make their homes in the trees along the trail, so watch for Steller's jays, chickadees, wrens, robins, and Western tanagers. You might also see the tracks of mule deer along the creek, where they come to forage. From the large parking area in Pine Creek campground, follow the half-mile trail to the Pine Creek trail head, which lies just north of the Oak Hollow loop. The trail begins at an elevation of 6,100 feet and climbs 220 feet, crossing Pine Creek four times and traversing several boulder ridges. The trail guide describes some of the plants you'll see on this hike. Don't attempt the trail after a rain, as it becomes quite muddy and slick. No bikes or motorized vehicles are allowed. Be sure to take water, a sun hat, and binoculars. Literature describing the plant and animal life of the park is available at the camp manager's office near the entrance to the campground and at the visitor center.
Mountain Biking -- An 18-mile loop affords great fun for mountain bikes. The road leaves the visitor center and heads west, winding through magnificent wooded country and offering occasional breathtaking views of the valley.
Snowmobiling -- The park's 90 miles of groomed trails, very popular among snowmobilers, take you into Pine Creek, Snake Creek, and American Fork canyons. Warming stations are located at the clubhouse and visitor center.
Camping -- Four camping loops in the Pine Creek Campground provide a total of 139 sites, including about 80 that are off-limits to tenters. All have modern restrooms, and all except Little Deer Creek, the smallest loop, have showers. Some sites are nestled among trees and are quite shady; others are more open. All except Little Deer Creek have paved parking pads, water, electricity, picnic tables, and barbecue grills; some also have sewer hookups. A dump station is located near the entrance to the campground. Camping fees are $13 at Little Deer Creek and $20 to $25 in the other three loops. Reservations are advised and can be made by calling tel. 800/322-3770 or through the state parks website (www.stateparks.utah.gov).
Located along U.S. 40 in the eastern portion of the Uinta National Forest, the jewel-like Strawberry Reservoir is a terrific water playground offering amazing fishing, as well as boating, hiking, and mountain biking. It's also great for cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, and snowmobiling in winter.
Utah's premier trout fishery -- indeed, one of the premier trout fisheries in the West -- Strawberry Reservoir is home to huge cutthroat and rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, so it's no surprise that fishing is the number-one draw. Fishing boats with outboard motors are available at Strawberry Bay Marina (tel. 435/548-2261; www.strawberrybay.com); call for current rates.
Strawberry Reservoir has four marinas, with the largest at Strawberry Bay. This is the only one that provides year-round services, including a restaurant and lodging at Strawberry Bay Lodge (tel. 435/548-2500; www.strawberrybay.com), with rooms for $63 for one full-size bed to $210 for a suite with four queens; the others offer limited services.
Campgrounds are located at each of the four marinas on the reservoir. Sites in the Strawberry Bay and Soldier Creek campgrounds have hookups; Aspen Grove and Renegade do not. The fee is $17 per vehicle. Boat ramps and fish-cleaning facilities are located adjacent to each campground. Reservations can be made for a limited number of designated campsites by contacting the National Recreation Reservation Service (tel. 877/444-6777; www.recreation.gov).
To get to Strawberry Reservoir from Heber City, drive 22 miles southeast on U.S. 40 and turn south onto the access road. After about a half-mile, you'll come to the USFS visitor center for Strawberry Reservoir.
For information, contact the Heber-Kamas Ranger District, 2460 S. U.S. 40, P.O. Box 190, Heber City, UT 84032 (tel. 435/654-0470; www.fs.fed.us/r4/uwc), or stop by the Strawberry Visitor Center (tel. 435/548-2321). Day use is free in some parts of the complex, but there's a $5 fee in most areas.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.