Capitol Reef Country is known for its incredible geography, including the backdrop of high-altitude forests that add incredible greenery to the scenery and provide cool relief from summer heat.
Fishlake National Forest
Fishlake National Forest covers more than 1.4 million acres, with the Fremont River Districts surrounding the Capitol Reef communities of Loa, Bicknell, Teasdale, and Torrey. Here you’ll find gorgeous aspen groves encircling lush alpine meadows and lakes. Fish Lake is the largest freshwater alpine lake in Utah and peaks in the Fremont River District reach up to 11,633 feet. The lowest point in the forest is 6,380 feet at the junction of Highway 24 and the Capitol Reef National Park boundary.
The Fish Lake-Johnson Valley Area covers 13,700 acres and includes one of Capitol Reef Country’s true gems, the 2,500-acre Fish Lake. There are six developed campgrounds and three resorts in the Fish Lake Recreation Area. It’s a great base camp for enjoying all the fresh mountain air and recreation the forest has to offer, including backcountry hiking, OHV trails, snowmobiling, horseback riding, bird watching, wildlife viewing, elk hunting, and trophy fishing. Fish Lake is famous for its trout, splake, and world-class Mackinaw known to grow up to 50 pounds.
Thousand Lakes Mountain covers about six acres of the eastern section of Fishlake National Forest, just northwest of Capitol Reef National Park. The nationally acclaimed Paiute ATV Trail winds through 250 miles of scenic forest terrain. Scenic drives are exceptional here, including the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway, and the Fishlake Scenic Byway which winds through the Fish Lake Basin for nearly 30 miles at 8,850 feet in elevation. The western shore of Fish Lake was part of the Old Spanish Trail.
There’s a bit of interesting history that goes hand in hand with Fish Lake’s natural beauty, which has beckoned visitors for thousands of years. Once the fishing and hunting grounds of the Ute Indians, territorial fights broke out in the mid-19th century between the Utes and the settlers. The Black Hawk War broke out in 1865. In 1873, a Mormon delegate came to Fish Lake to broker a treaty. In 1889, the Fremont Irrigation Company purchased Indian water rights to Fish Lake for a mere 500 pounds of flour, nine horses, a steer, and a suit. A decade later, President McKinley created the Fish Lake Forest Reserve so the lake could be owned and enjoyed by all Americans. Today, Fishlake National Forest is managed by the USDA Forest Service.
Dixie National Forest
Dixie National Forest stretches across Utah for 170 miles, with three national parks and two national monuments in or near its boundaries, including Capitol Reef National Park. The Escalante Ranger District is known for its high timbered plateaus, mountain lakes, open meadows, and aspen groves. Dixie National Forest’s peak elevation of 11,322 feet is at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain, one of the highest elevation plateaus in the U.S. There are dozens of lakes, especially above 10,000 feet, and with all that water it goes without saying that the fishing is great. Game fish include brook, brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout.
Outdoor recreational opportunities are plentiful and diverse. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, hunting, camping, skiing, snowmobiling, boating and more…you’ll find it all in the Capitol Reef area of Dixie National Forest.
Hell’s Backbone and Box Death Hollow Wilderness Area fall within Dixie National Forest’s boundaries in Capitol Reef Country. Hell’s Backbone scenic drive passes through the slickrock desert, aspen and pine forests of Dixie National Forest between Escalante and Boulder. There are incredible views of Box Death Hollow Wilderness Area’s vertical Navajo sandstone cliffs and canyons over the course of the 35-mile drive. Fishing is plentiful around “The Box” area of Pine Creek and in Sand Creek, where you may even see mule deer, elk, and even a cougar now and then. There are nine miles of trail along The Box, but stick to the trail in this remote wilderness area.
The wildlife in Dixie National Forest is as diverse as the terrain, which allows for many wildlife species. Keep an eye out for bobcat, cougar, wild turkeys, antelope, the Utah prairie dog, and the soaring golden eagle. Big game hunting for elk and mule deer are a big draw.
Dixie National Forest is a “multiple use” forest, which includes wildlife habitat protections, controlled burns, timber production, and other management projects. The Dixie National Forest heritage program is dedicated to interpreting and preserving the rich archaeological history of the Capitol Reef area, including petroglyphs, pictographs, and prehistoric artifacts.