Utah is becoming more and more widely-known as a major destination for outdoor recreation. The vast mountain ranges in the north offer world-class skiing and hiking, and the south is singular for desert vistas. But you don’t have to go far outside the state’s capitol city to get to some of the best camping in the state.
We put together a list of some of the best places to pitch a tent around Salt Lake City. If you want to get out in a hurry, check out these great camping spots.
Know Before You Go
Access and Red Tape
Getting up into the hills around Salt Lake doesn’t take much in the way of time or effort, but there are a few things you should be aware of before you take off. First, most of the land east of Salt Lake, encompassing the Wasatch Mountains and beyond, is managed by the Forest Service. This means you can camp at “dispersed” sites, where fire rings already exist, for free.
However, it’s important to follow USFS guidelines on dispersed camping, including packing out waste, avoiding waterways and roads, and following all rules regarding campfires. Of course, this also means following the Leave No Trace code of outdoor ethics. It’s incredibly easy for natural places located near large population centers to be permanently marred by carelessness. Taking care of these serene, and surprisingly easy-to-access places keeps them as they are, so that future generations can enjoy them as well.
It’s also important to note that despite the area’s elevation, Utah on the whole is generally recognized as being a desert. The summers can be stiflingly hot, so plan accordingly. Remember to bring a water purifier, and wear long sleeves or sunscreen. The best season for camping around Salt Lake is probably the early fall, when temperatures start to drop, without being uncomfortable at night.
Packing It In
Lastly, as you look through our list of camping spots, you’ll probably notice that several require a short hike in. Some of the best spots to pitch your tent in the Wasatch Mountains are short overnight backpacks, requiring slightly more commitment than car camping. This is a great opportunity for people who want to get into backpacking to get their feet wet, without committing to multiple nights or huge distances. In addition, you won’t be so isolated that you can’t just hike out. We can solidly guarantee that the payoff you’ll get out of the approach to your campsite will be worth the effort, several times over.
Stunning Camping Spots Around Salt Lake City
#1 – Lake Blanche
Not necessarily the biggest standout of the scenic spots to pitch a tent around Salt Lake, but without question the most photographed lake in Utah, and for good reason. Lake Blanche is the classic picture of an alpine lake. Placid waters surrounded by sparse subalpine fir trees and slabs of granite worn smooth by ancient glaciers, overlooked by craggy peaks. It’s not hard to fall head-over-heels in love with a landscape like this.
The hike in is a 6.9 mile out and back, rated moderate for difficulty. This is a good distance for an introductory backpack with a huge payoff. There are several flat shelves situated around the lake, providing prime real estate for your tent away from the water. While in the basin around Lake Blanche be sure to keep an eye out for some of the Wasatch’s charismatic wildlife. Pikas, mountain goats, moose, and porcupines are all common throughout the upper elevations of the peaks outside Salt Lake.
#2 – Red Pine Lakes
In the same vein of superb mountain lakes, the Red Pine Lakes are a wonderful place to overnight. The area surrounding the lakes features a wide alpine basin ringed by jagged peaks. This trail is often used to summit the Pfeifferhorn, the eighth highest peak in the range. You could easily tackle the hike to the lakes and set up camp, and then summit the mountain before descending in the morning, adding a little extra adventure to your outing.
Where Red Pine Lake shines over Lake Blanche is smaller crowds. However, this is partly due to the trail being steeper and more strenuous, though shorter, than the Lake Blanche Trail. Round trip, the hike to Red Pine Lake is 5.5 miles. Adding the objective of summiting the Pfeifferhorn increases the total distance to 9.6 miles, and a total of over 3,500 feet of elevation. Regardless of whether you choose to hike the Pfeifferhorn, be sure to take a slight detour to Gloria Falls. It’s only a short distance out of the way, but well worth the time.
#3 – Albion Basin Campground
Even if you don’t feel like hiking in, there are still beautiful alpine valleys in the Wasatch you can camp at. One fantastic option is Albion Campground, a drive-up camping area managed by the Forest Service. The campground is located on Alta Ski Resort, and has the some amazing scenery, along with great wildflower blooms in the summer. You can also go for a short hike from the campground to Secret Lake, which is tucked on a high shelf above the basin.
You can camp at Albion Basin for up to seven days at a time, and single campsites go for $21 per night. Additional cars are subject to an $8 fee. These fees fund the labor-intensive task of maintaining both the campground and the road, which takes you all the way up to 9,500 feet! Given the bang for your buck and ease of access, Albion Basin may be some of the best car camping you can do in Utah.
#4 – Antelope Island
Antelope Island is a lonely, desolate stretch of land located in the southwest corner of the Great Salt Lake. There are miles of trails for hiking and biking over the rocky hills peaks of the island, and beyond them, the huge expanse of the Great Salt Lake seems to stretch on forever. Antelope Island is also a prime spot for wildlife watching, populated with antelope and bison. It’s a unique spot with enough rugged, stoic character to leave you stunned.
The island is one of Utah’s State Parks, accessible by a road over a manmade causeway. There are three campgrounds on the island, providing a good spread of options for spending the night. Campsites go for either $20 or $40 per night, depending on which you choose. Similarly, the amount of room and privacy you have will vary depending on which campground you choose
#5 – Timpanogos Basin
Mount Timpanogos is probably the most striking mountain in the Wasatch Range, as well as the second tallest. It’s prominent knife ridge is visible from parts of the Salt Lake Valley and overlooks the entire Utah Valley. The mountain guards a vast limestone cave, which you can tour in the summer, and is surrounded by hiking trails. But if you’re going to camp on Mt. Timpanogos, the best place to do it is Timpanogos Basin.
Set below the imposing cliffs of the upper mountain, the basin stretches out in lush, green hillsides dotted by firs. Camping there is a dream, but you’ll have to put in a little work to get there. The hike in is around 10 miles and is rated as difficult. Adding the summit to the hike increases the total distance to 15 miles, a worthy objective for those looking to tackle a large peak in the Wasatch. Either way, you won’t be fighting crowds here, in fact you may just have the valley to yourself.
“A Low Place In High Mountains”
The name of the Wasatch is somewhat up for debate, but many think the word refers to a high pass between the steep, majestic peaks that lord over Salt Lake City. Climbing into these high places and sleeping in the low points between them is a salve for the soul. When you arrive and see the alpine in all its natural beauty, you’ll feel it for yourself.