Flaming Gorge Country
Daggett County Utah
Tucked away in the northeast corner of Utah is the state’s smallest and least populated county, Daggett County, which is home to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. There are only two communities in the county, Manila and Dutch John with a population of less than 900 people.
Stretching 91 miles from high desert terrain on the north end beginning in Wyoming to a forested alpine environment on Utah’s southern end, Flaming Gorge offers a diverse environment with a convoluted landscape that attracts outdoor enthusiasts from throughout the country. The lake is a spectrum of color and scenery located in a region of deep canyons with colors riveling those of southern Utah.
Although the county is sparsely populated it’s full of adventure!
Off-roading in Utah’s Flaming Gorge Country
Our purpose for visiting Daggett County on this particular trip was to shoot photography of OHV trails for the county. We’ve been working with counties and off-road organizations this past year shooting photography and drone arial video of OHV trails and what we discovered very quickly is that Flaming Gorge Country is home to some of Utah’s most scenic and adventurous off-road trails. The trails range from easy routes ideal for families and beginners to more technical trails that will challenge the most skilled riders.
The two trails we explored on this trip are the Sheep Creek Loop (easy) and the Finch Draw Loop (technical).
Sheep Creek Lake Trail
Day 1 – This was a wonderful easy riding trail with multiple stops at canyon overlooks, creek crossings, with Sheep Creek Lake along the way where there is camping and room for camper trailers.
We met our guide and group members going with us at the intersection of Sheep Creek Geological Loop Road and Spirit Lake Road, (known by locals as the Y). From there we rode the Death Valley Trail (apparently, there’s more than one). This section of the route offers amazing views from overlooks that require short walks to see the canyons below. Our stops included views into the Geological loop from Windy Ridge and Tower Rock.
The second half was on the Sheep Creek Lake trail FS166, ending at Sheep Creek Lake. From there we returned to the “Y” on the main Spirit Lake Road. Mind blown; how can it possibly get better? Stay tuned…Day 2!
Finch’s Draw Trail
The first half of Finch’s Draw is relatively friendly, but the last section will test every bit of skill you have negotiating washes, rocks and drops. The first section of trail takes you to an overlook with breathtaking views a thousand feet above Flaming Gorge.
Day 2 – We met at the Manila Landfill Road/Shooting Range. This is the trailhead for today’s ride where there is ample parking for trailers. We started our ride to what we considered the best views of the day, and the entire trip. Our first stop was at the edge of a craggy cliffside overlook 1,000 ft. above Sheep Creek Bay. We’re now above the scene we could see from the Sheep Creek Overlook from the highway where we were the previous day and where we took Milky Way shots the night before. We made an additional stop along the rim to give us a different look of the bay and surrounding landscape.
From the bay overlook we continued on to “Name Rock,” which is a narrow slot the trail passes through where locals have carved their names in the rock walls. The dates that we saw indicate that the names have been etched in the rock in more recent years, certainly not of the pioneer era. At this point you riders have a choice of continuing on the Finch’s Draw trail or take a route back to where we started. The trail to this point has been relatively easy.
Finch’s Draw is where thing get exciting! Rocky crawls and drops with some into pools of water from recent rain that test the skill of each driver that, and as we found out on this day, can break axels and require the assistance of a wench to help your buddy out.
Additional stops included the “Pet Cemetery” where the graves of someone’s beloved dogs are located at the base of a tall, beautiful Ponderosa Pine tree. Before descending to Finch’s Draw at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, we stopped at Finch’s Cave, a large alcove wind carved in the side of hill.
Flaming Gorgeous Sky
On the first day of our trip, we experienced occasional thunderstorms that produced nice puffy cumulous clouds that are ideal for photography and will frequently produce beautiful sunsets. We weren’t disappointed! We shot this photo from a viewpoint east of the dam.
You would have thought we were paparazzi at a Hollywood event the way our cameras were in constant click mode. The colors were fleeting and ever changing their hues and brilliance. It was a magical moment that we’ll long remember.
Starry Starry Night
Later that evening on the way back to Manila where were staying we could see that the clouds cleared out and that the possibility of a starry sky would open up. Utah is known for its dark sky having more International Dark Sky destinations than anywhere else on earth. Not having the designation doesn’t mean your sky isn’t as dark and beautiful, it just means you haven’t gone through the trouble of jumping through the hoops get it.
Flaming Gorge isn’t an official dark sky destination, but its sky is every bit as dark and beautiful, and we found a perfect spot at Sheep Creek Overlook where we shot daytime photos earlier that day. To our surprise, the Milky Way was out and in full display. Surprised because it was only 10:30 PM! Generally, we have to wait until the early morning hours to catch it.
Just above us was a turn on the highway where we could catch the headlights of the cars passing with the Milky Way in the background. What a perfect ending to an amazing day.
Other Things to Do
We’re all about adventure and outdoor recreation, it’s what we do, photograph and promote. It’s not just a job, it’s our passion. There is no better office!
Although we’ve traveled through Flaming Gorge Country and have spent time here, we’ve never explored it like we did on this trip. However, we only scratched the surface of what’s available here. Additional trips will be required. Here’s a sampling of a few of the things you can do here.
Fishing – Without saying, Flaming Gorge is best known for fishing. Not just fishing but for catching big fish, record breaking fish!
Flaming Gorge reservoir and the Green River below the dam are blue ribbon fisheries making them a popular destination for anglers from throughout the country, summer and winter. The river is considered one of the premier tailwater trout fisheries in the Western United States with an estimated 10,000 fish per mile.
Flaming Gorge Country is an outdoor playground with numerous outdoor adventure opportunities on land and water.
River Rafting – In addition to being a popular fishery, the Green River offers scenic float trips and adventurous white-water rafting. Single and multi-day trips begin at locations below the dam and flow through Dinosaur National Monument where the Yampa River joins the Green at Steamboat Rock in Echo Park.
There are numerous places to hike along the river that offer rafters additional opportunities to explore and enjoy the beauty of this region.
Biking – Mountain bike on a variety of trails from desert to high alpine. Cyclists will find variety that will suit all levels.
Hiking – There are hundreds of miles of trails with many conveniently along the Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway. There are short easy interpretive nature trails and others more challenging in the highlands of the High Uintas Wilderness.
Boating & Paddling – The best way to experience Flaming Gorge is by boat. You can experience the diversity of changing terrain while fishing, watersports or simply sightseeing. There are a number of places where you can boat camp and where you can spend an afternoon from shore.
Boating is also a great way to see wildlife from Osprey searching the lake for their next meal to Desert Bighorn Sheep near the shore and along the craggy cliffs.
For the non-powersports types, Flaming Gorge is popular for human powered activities such as kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, both being popular activities here.
There are a number of places to eat and sleep in Manila and at Dutch John. We can honestly recommend what we experienced firsthand.
Basecamp for us this trip was Manila, which is a small seasonal town with limited lodging and restaurant options. In addition to a convenience store, there is a small grocery store/hardware store/gift shop that carries most of the essentials needed while traveling.
Flaming Gorge / Mania KOA Journey – This is a good place to stay if you have an RV or would like to rent a small cabin without the amenities of a hotel room. We stayed in cabins that are basically four walls and electricity. Bring your own bedding. The cabins are clean and that’s what we needed and enjoyed the simpleness. There is a bath house where you can shower and brush your teeth. Manila, Utah Campground | Flaming Gorge / Manila KOA Journey
Browning’s Cafe – This was a recommendation given to us, so we gave it a try. Browning’s offers typical small town cafe style food, which we found tasty and satisfying. We like eating where the locals eat, this is it. You can find information on the travel website listed above.
The best websites we’ve come across for travel information for Flaming Gorge is Welcome to Flaming Gorge Country! and for Manila is Welcome to the Town of Manila, Utah (manilautah.com)