Hitting Scenic Byways and Backways – Flaming Gorge, Utah

Mellow sightseeing day trips in Flaming Gorge country is just what the doctor ordered, after our last few frenetic stops.  The home base here was at Pine Forest RV Park in Dutch John, Utah (Steve’s review here), which was central to our sightseeing adventures.  Virtually every road we drove was designated a national or state scenic byway or backway.  What a great way to enjoy and explore the area as my knee continues to mend – although I know I’ve missed a lot of good hiking trails!


When a place has a catchy name such as Flaming Gorge, we wonder how that name came about.  In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell and his men saw a red gorge that looked from a distance like it was on fire due to the way the sun hit it.  We discovered three spots during our auto hikes of the area that we thought manifested that play of light; Red Canyon overlook, Sheep Creek overlook and Antelope Flats – where Powell thought the water appeared to be flaming.

Red Canyon
Red Canyon frames the reservoir
Sheep Creek Overlook
Sheep Creek Overlook off of Highway 44
Flaming Gorge
Flaming Gorge is best dramatized at Antelope Flats.  Doesn’t it look like the gorge is flaming?

The heart of this country is the 91-mile long reservoir – also called Lake Flaming Gorge – created by Flaming Gorge Dam which spans the Utah and Wyoming border.  With more than 300 miles of shoreline for water activities, the Utah section of the lake winds through colorful narrow canyons, while the Wyoming portion is wider and surrounded by high sagebrush deserts.  The Flaming Gorge Recreation Area is a popular Utah attraction, although we were happy to see that it wasn’t overrun by people during our stay.

Lake Flaming Gorge
A small section of the 91-mile Lake Flaming Gorge

Of the many byways and backways here, we chose four for our roadway adventures; Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway (green line on the map), Sheep Creek Geologic Loop, Spirit Lake Backway (pink line) and Red Cloud Scenic Backway (red line). The route we took as we moved our home base from Vernal to Flaming Gorge was also part of the scenic byway.

Flaming Gorge byways

Flaming Gorge-Uinta National Scenic Byway

This drive traversed a wide variety of landscapes.  It was a full-day trek that crossed the Wyoming/Utah border while winding through high desert, astonishing rock formations and the glistening eastern flank of the Uinta Mountain peaks.

Art Gallery of Time
Art Gallery of Time overlook – Wyoming Hwy 191
Cart Creek Bridge
Cart Creek Bridge on Hwy 191 spans the reservoir

We stopped at Flaming Gorge Dam, just up Hwy 191 from our campground.  Impounding the Green River and creating the reservoir behind it, the dam stands 502 feet above its foundation, and 448 feet above the river.

We joined a free tour (our favorite kind!) which gave us an up-close view inside and around the structure.  It was built to provide water storage, with hydroelectric power capability added halfway through the project.  Completed in 1964, it took six years to build and 12 more years  for the reservoir to fill behind it.


Unseasonably high temperatures during our stay caused excessive runoff into the reservoir, so we were able to view all of the generators running plus water cascading through the dam’s two 72-inch water gates – a rare occurrence.

Flaming Gorge Dam
The rushing water from these pipes was deafening!

This poster caught my attention:

Colorado River Plumbing
A good illustration of why so little water if any makes it to the Gulf of California nowadays

Crossing the Utah/Wyoming border, we stopped for lunch at Rock Springs, WY.  Then we continued to the Wild Horse Scenic Loop, which was a bust.  We didn’t see a single one of the 250 wild horses that roam this vast 392,000 acre area while driving the 24-mile gravel road that exited at Green River, WY.

Wild Horse Scenic Drive
In search of a wild horse – none over here!
Wild Horse Scenic Loop
Finally a wild horse!  Oops, just a lone fat sheep in the middle of nowhere

Next we took Hwy 530 south and continued along the west side of Lake Flaming Gorge. Going through Manila, we took Hwy 44-E  back to the campground.  It was a long 200+ mile driving day, but we enjoyed each overlook showcasing the splendor of the gorge.

Highway 44
Beautiful green mountains along Hwy 44
Sheep Creek Overlook
Sheep Creek Overlook on Hwy 44
Sego Lily
Sego Lilies were abundant here
Unita Mountain Range
The Uinta Mountain Range is the tallest in Utah, and the only one with an East-West orientation
Red Canyon Overlook
Flaming Gorge Reservoir framed by the Red Canyon, viewed from the visitor center
Big Horn Sheep
Nice earring, Miss #13

Sheep Creek Geologic Loop

This backway took us through some dramatic geologic features.  Despite our recent experiences with spectacular rock formations in southern Utah, we were still in awe of these.  More than a billion years of geologic history is showcased on this loop.  What’s unique here is that the formations are labelled, allowing folks to identify specific ones from the map and relate to what they’re seeing.


Another interesting feature here is what’s called the Uinta Fault, which runs for more than 100 miles along the north slope of the Uinta Mountains.  One formation that really got our attention was the extremely twisted rock layers along the upper part of the loop we drove.

This whole mountainside was severely twisted

Spirit Lake Backway (pink line)

The Spirit Lake backway spurred off the Sheep Creek Geological Loop.  It’s a dirt road that winds through pine and aspen forests, and wildflower-filled meadows.  The alpine vistas of the High Uintas was a gorgeous backdrop as we moved along.

Steve was disappointed that the tower was closed and he couldn’t go to the top
Deer and Fawn
A new family strolls in a meadow
Uinta Mountains
The Uinta Mountains still had plenty of snow

Red Cloud Scenic loop (red line)

This drive crossed broad meadows, aspen groves and a sea of lodgepole pine forests.  The vibrant wildflowers along the road made me force Steve to stop several times so I could capture them.



Ashly National Forest
I took a rest from all of the auto hiking 🙂

Back at the campground we had lots of entertainment – a herd of cows passing through, marmots scurrying around our site and birds stopping by for a snack.

A magpie and marmot check each other out
Herd of Cow
Hairy Woodpecker
A hungry Hairy Woodpecker

Steve had a conversation with one of the locals:

Yellow-bellied Marmot
Does this coat make me look fat?

The Flaming Gorge landscape is aptly named, and there is plenty of room to play in this beautiful scenic place.  But our week came to an end, and it was finally time to say goodbye to Utah.




  1. Beautiful pictures, our one day auto tour gave us just a taste for this wonderful area, hope to be back one of these days.

  2. I am so happy to see you able to do so much despite your knee. You are really making the best of it. Beautiful pictures. Love the one of you at Sheep Creek Overlook and the great shot of the Hairy woodpecker. The poor Colorado River. I wonder how long before there just isn’t any water to float. That would be an economic downturn. Sorry to hear you having hot temperatures. That seems to be a common theme even in places I expect to be cool in summer. Bummer about the Wild Horse loop.

  3. So cool that you guys traveled so many of the scenic byways of the Flaming Gorge! Thanks for taking us with you. 🙂 This is an area we’ve not yet explored, but now we’re intrigued. Seems like the perfect area for auto-hiking as you recover from your injury. The poster depicting the plumbing of the Colorado River Basin is fascinating.

  4. This is such a beautiful area. It was fun to revisit through your eyes:) When we got up to the Fire Lookout Tower, they were just closing up because they got a call to head out to another state to fight wildfires. Love the mom and her twins:) I believe you are caught up…wahoo!!

  5. You should just stay inside the RV and not walk around so much with that bad leg. You are just going to make it even worst. I’m kidding!!! I’m just pulling your leg (pun intended this time, Ooops). Geez, bionic woman, you get so much scenic views even with a bad knee. Admirable, and inspiring!

  6. Beautiful. I remember stopping by Flaming Gorge back in the 1980s when we lived in Utah, but we must not have done much there as my recollections of it are quite vague.

Comments are closed.