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There are few things that feel better on a hot day than spending the day at the lake. Perhaps it’s a throwback to the days that my parents would take us waterskiing at 6am, or maybe it’s related to the fact that when I add water to the equation, my own kids seem to fight with each other significantly less. Out in the Uintah Basin, temperatures can get really warm in the summer, so that’s a perfect excuse to spend the day out on the water.
Best places to kayak and paddleboard around Vernal Utah
Red Fleet State Park
Red Fleet is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for somewhere to spend the day that’s more than just a lake. Located just north of Vernal, Red Fleet is right in the heart of Dinosaurland, and even gets you up close with it’s own piece of dinosaur history.
Heading down the boat ramp, you can either take your boats all the way to the bottom of the launch, or you can park halfway down on the left side and carry your boats down to the beach area if you just have something simple like a kayak.
The beach at Red Fleet varies widely depending on the year and the water level. When we visited in 2018, the water was lower and the waterfront area had lots of giant slabs of sandstone all over it. In 2019, with higher water, the beach was all sand. There really isn’t a lot of beach area, so you either need to go early and grab a spot for the day, or plan on spending most of the day out exploring the lake (probably the best idea).
Where to see Dinosaur tracks at Red Fleet State Park
Red Fleet is a great lake for paddle sports because it’s really not that crowded with other boats. From the dock by the beach, the first place that you should paddle to is across the lake to the northeast to the tilting slab of sandstone sticking out of the water. Paddle all the way over to the rocks and park your boats for a bit and head up the rocks. Right here is a giant dinosaur trackway with several sets of dinosaur footprints embedded in the rocks. There are some signs posted to show you where to look, but this is a site that all visitors to Red Fleet should see. When you’re done looking at the dinosaur tracks, this is a perfect opportunity to try your hand at some cliff jumping! You’ll be jumping off an angled rock so it’s great for the whole family since everyone can decide how high they are comfortable with. Our 5-year-old was jumping off a section about 2 feet out of the water, whereas his 12-year-old brother was around 15 feet high.
In the afternoons, wind is quite common at Red Fleet, so keep an eye on the weather so you don’t have to spend hours battling the wind to make it back (yes, I met a guy there who did just that).
If you’re looking for a little isolation, some quiet, and a few incredible views, head west from the dock and up the canyon. The lake meanders through several twists and turns below towering sandstone cliffs. In my opinion, this is the real gem of paddling at Red Fleet. We saw herons and ducks along the shore and had several beavers swimming alongside up as we paddled up the lake (which was both amazing and terrifying – they were HUGE!). The water level will determine how far up you can go, and you’ll know it’s time to turn around when the water starts looking a bit stagnant.
More information about Red Fleet State Park:
Red Fleet is a Utah State Park, so you’ll either need an annual pass or have to pay the $7 entrance fee.
When you drive into Red Fleet, the campground is on your right with over 30 sites. The true gem of the campground is the two teepees that can be rented out. Each sleeps 8 people and is a bargain at only $30 per night. One of the teepees can be reserved here, while the other is available on a first come, first served basis.
The northern end of Red Fleet State Park also boasts numerous mountain biking trails for a wide range of abilities. Jazz Chrome Molly is a good intermediate trail that’s 6 miles long that’s a mix of cow path riding and amazing ridgelines. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, check out the Handsome Cabin Boy trail and see if you can tackle its notoriously steep climbs. If your downhill skills are near expert level you won’t want to miss the Jumps and Ladders (Dinotrax) trail with its technical features, big launches and jumps as well as several other man made obstacles. For more information on mountain bike trails at Red Fleet, download the trailforks app.
Paddling at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Flaming Gorge is about an hour north of Vernal on Highway 191. Historically, Flaming Gorge has been a popular destination for both water skiers and anglers. However, with the recent rise in paddle sports, Flaming Gorge has created several paddling trails to show visitors some of the amazing things that they can access by paddling. These paddling trails include the 4 mile Dutch John Trail, the 5 mile Cart Creek Trail, and the 6 mile Kingfisher Island loop. For more information and maps showing these paddling routes, go here.
We took our family to paddle the Cart Creek trail when we were there and loved it. This paddling trail is a great option for families, since it’s out and back, so you can turn around whenever you start to get tired. You can start this paddle from either the Cedar Springs Marina or from the Flaming Gorge Dam Visitors Center (both are about the same distance). Either place you start, you’re paddling east towards the giant white Cart Creek Bridge and continuing up the canyon. As soon as you pass under the bridge, the canyon walls start to rise and the canyon gets more and more narrow. This is a wakeless area so it’s nice and calm and as we were paddling up the canyon, we saw several osprey nests and even saw a few osprey fighting mid-air which was quite the sight.
On the way back, take some time to stop and play under the Cart Creek Bridge. There’s a great cliff you can jump from (depending on water levels…always use caution), as well as some fun rocks for kids to climb around on.
Before you leave Flaming Gorge, I’d recommend stopping at the Dam Visitors Center. If you are there before 4pm they give free tours of the dam, which are supposed to be spectacular (but we got there at 4:10, so I don’t know firsthand).
Another great paddling option from Flaming Gorge is to head down the Green River. Depending on your skill level, you can choose Section A, B, or C – I’ve written up all the details here. The Green River is a great option for kayaks and rafts, and if you’re really skilled at paddleboarding you can try that as well on Sections B or C (note that paddleboarding on moving water is significantly more challenging than on a lake).
More information about Flaming Gorge Recreation Area
Flaming Gorge Reservoir is 91 miles long and is in both Utah and Wyoming. There are several official marinas and boat launches along the lake as well as many unofficial boat launches. Camping is a popular activity along the lake and there are many campsites that you can reserve here. The lake can get busy on weekends and holidays, though because of its size, you can usually find some calmer quiet areas as well.
Where to rent boats in Vernal
There are a few places in town where you can go and rent boats, but we decided to go with Wet and Wild Rentals. I called them up to talk to them about a possible rental, and I was instantly impressed by Daryll the owner. Instead of just asking what boats we wanted, he first asked to know a little bit about our family and what we wanted to do for the day. He asked about the kids ages, personalities, and experience to make sure that we were getting the best combination of boats for our family. While I was on the phone with him, he was texting me pictures of the exact equipment that he was telling me about to make sure that was what we wanted. We’ve booked a huge amount of gear over the years and this was hands down one of the best booking experiences that we’ve ever had. The rates at Wet and Wild were incredibly affordable and to make it easy to get to the lake, all their boat rentals come with a free transport trailer!
Days on the lake with lots of sunshine are refreshing and fun, but I notice that they tend to zap our energy really quickly, so we always make sure that we fuel up with a good breakfast before we head out. Our favorite breakfast spot in Vernal is B Fruity, just north of the Maverick gas station. Their smoothies and acai bowls were some of the best we’ve ever had, and the crepes were a little bit of heaven.
Want to learn about all of the best adventures in Eastern Utah? We’ve written everything you need to know HERE.
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