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Fishlake National Forest: It’s Even More Magical Than You Know

Utah’s Fishlake National Forest is home to pristine lakes, vast stands of quaking aspen, exquisite canyons, high mountain peaks, & more.

The Fishlake National Forest is Spectacular – Let’s Visit it With Respect.

fishlake national forest utah
Fishlake National Forest Utah

You’re probably aware that Utah is famous for its red rock cathedrals, places like Arches & Zion National Parks – but have you heard about its national forests?

Pristine lakes, vast stands of quaking aspen, beautifully carved canyons, high mountain peaks, and countless recreational opportunities make up the spectacular Fishlake National Forest.

One of my favorite parts about visiting this forest is that it can seem like you have it practically to yourself. Compared to many national parks which are often overcrowded, the Fishlake National Forest is a dream!

With the support of Visit Utah, we set out to document this incredible national forest. The results were nothing short of awe-inspiring.

We should also note that Visit Utah asks travelers to plan and prepare so they can keep these forests Forever Mighty. There’s something we can all get behind!


About Our Travels to the Fishlake National Forest

fishlake national forest utah
Oak Creek Campground | Fishlake National Forest

I visited the Fishlake for the first time about 5 years ago with my brother Jim and have crossed through the forest many times since on different trips to other Utah parks and forests. In 2020 we set out to create a film that highlighted all the Fishlake had to offer.

We drove countless forest roads, hiked nearly a hundred miles of trails, boated, climbed, drove OHV vehicles, and so much more. Needless to say the Fishlake is incredible.

Fall is the season we chose to focus on for the film because of the incredible foliage displays the forest has to offer. Any visit to this forest and it’s giant groves of aspen practically commands you to return in the fall. I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint.


Fishlake National Forest Guide


About the Fishlake National Forest

sunrise fishlake national forest utah
Hunts Lake in Autumn | Fishlake National Forest

Situated in the heart of Utah, the Fishlake National Forest is home to pristine lakes, vast stands of quaking aspen, beautifully carved canyons, high mountain peaks, and countless recreational opportunities.

The Fishlake serves as a powerful testament of the importance of protecting Utah’s wild places so they stay Forever Mighty.

You could fit every single national park in the state of Utah (all 5) inside the Fishlake National Forest and still have over half a million acres to spare. That’s how massive this forest is.

The forest also boasts an incredible amount of recreational opportunities, many of which you cannot find in the National Parks.

RELATED: Manti-La Sal National Forest: The Forest As Beautiful as Utah’s Parks

Recreational Opportunities

  • Mountain Biking
  • Climbing
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • OHV Driving (ATVs, Dirt bikes, etc)
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Boating (kayaking, canoeing, motors, etc)
  • and so much more

RELATED: ALL of Utah’s National Parks RANKED


Things to Know Before You Visit

Map: We used this one.

Downloadable Visitor Guide (courtesy USFS)

Entrance Fees: There are no entrance fees to get into the Fishlake National Forest. This is pretty typical for national forests. Some areas are designated fee areas but by and large no fees are required here. If you’d like to be on the safe side you can purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks or online here). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee (annual pass).

Fire Safety: Keeping the Fishlake pristine is easier than you think and it starts with fire safety. Fireworks are never a good idea on National Forests as they routinely start blazes. Be sure to check with the forest’s official page to learn more about current fire restrictions.

Native Artifacts: The Fishlake is home to some incredible native sites, many of which include artifacts. Please respect these places and leave them how you found them. Altering these sites in any way (including taking artifacts) is illegal – so just don’t do it.

Visit with Respect: We need to keep this forest Forever Mighty. View Visit Utah’s educational hub to make sure you’re prepared for this experience, including Leave No Trace principles, how to backcountry camp, fire safety and more.

Sunscreen: For many of us visiting national forests in the summer means lots of sun. Seriously, some of these parks can zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.

Insect Repellent: You hope not to need it, but you want to have it. We typically bring an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us just in case.

Dogs are allowed in national forests including the Fishlake.


Details About Fishlake National Forest

Location: Central Utah

Closest Cities: Monroe, Richfield, Salina, Fillmore, Beaver, Torrey (among others)

Established: July 1, 1908

Size: 1,461,226 acres

Native Land: Hopi, Navajo, Northern Ute, Pueblo of Zuni, Southern Paiute, Ute Mountain Ute

Entrance Fees: Free


Fishlake National Forest Map

Fishlake National Forest Map
The Official Fishlake National Forest Map (courtesy USFS)

Ranger District Maps

Fillmore Ranger District Map | Fremont Ranger District Map | Beaver Ranger District Map | Richfield Ranger District Map


Where is the Fishlake National Forest?

The Fishlake National Forest is located in central and southern Utah over 4 different ranger districts featuring different topography.

Fishlake Ranger Districts

  • Fillmore Ranger District
  • Fremont Ranger District
  • Beaver Ranger District
  • Richfield Ranger District

Getting to the Forest – Directions & Location

The Fishlake National Forest is spread out with different ranger districts all over central and southern Utah. Getting to the forest depends on which part you’re trying to access.

Best Airport: SLC – Salt Lake City International Airport

The best way to get to the Fishlake is typically flying into Salt Lake City (SLC) and driving to the forest.

Depending on which part of the forest you are trying to visit will determine the drive time but typically somewhere from 2.5 hours to 5 hours depending on which part of the forest you’re headed to. To get to Fish Lake (the forests namesake) takes about 3 hours.

RELATED: UTAH National Parks ROAD TRIP: An Epic Guide + Overlooked Spots


Video

WATCH: We produced this 3 minute visually stunning film on the Fishlake National Forest.

About the Video

Larger than all of Utah’s national parks combined, the Fishlake National Forest features pristine mountain beauty.

To make this film we spent weeks in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest during the end of September and beginning of October to try and catch the spectacular fall foliage. Of course, we were not disappointed!

Whereas most of Utah’s National Parks do not have much in the way of fall foliage (except for Zion & Capitol Reef), the Fishlake has some of the most breathtaking autumn beauty anywhere in the world.

RELATED: 14 BREATHTAKING National Park Videos to Inspire Your Next Trip


Seasons & Weather

fishlake national forest utah
Evening light in Autumn on the Fishlake National Forest.

The weather on the Fishlake National Forest is pretty variable with four very distinct (and beautiful) seasons. Spring is chilly and rainy but vibrant, summer is hot and dry, Autumn is cool and colorful, and Winter is cold and snowy.


Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Fishlake National Forest is during Fall when the forest has sufficiently cooled down, crowds are down, and the foliage is stunning.

The Fishlake is a very overlooked and lesser traveled fall destination which means most of the forest you’ll have to yourself.

I recommend visiting between late September and mid-October for the peak fall foliage.

RELATED: 16 STUNNING Things To Do in Death Valley


Fishlake Seasons

Spring on the Fishlake National Forest

fishlake national forest utah
Fishlake in Spring

Spring is a great time to visit the Fishlake as temperatures are cool, crowds are down, and the deciduous parts of the forest come back to life.

As a rule of thumb, the later into Spring the better the weather will be which means more accessible forest recreational opportunities.


Summer on the Fishlake National Forest

fishlake national forest utah
Fishake in Summer

Summer is a great season to visit the Fishlake National Forest. Temperatures range from warm to downright hot so make sure to pack and dress accordingly.

Summer is the most popular time to visit the forest so crowds will be up but still nowhere close to what you will see in the national parks.


Fall on the Fishlake Sal National Forest

fall foliage fishlake national forest
Pando Aspen Tree | Fishlake National Forest, Utah

Fall is the best time of year to visit the Fishlake. Crowds are down during the fall and the autumn foliage is world-class.

The forest are full of aspen groves that explode with golds, yellows, and oranges. Fish Lake (the actual lake) is a great spot to soak in the leaf-changing season and admire Pando (more on that below).

RELATED: 10+ Must See National Parks This Fall (A Stunning Guide)


Winter on the Fishlake National Forest

Winter is cold and snowy on the Fishlake National Forest. If you love winter sports then you can find plenty of great winter recreation opportunities all over the forest.

NOTE: Visiting the forest in winter requires a high-level of preparedness and self-sufficiency. This is not an entry-level experience!


Best Things to Do On The Fishlake National Forest

1. Go Fishing on Fish Lake (the forests namesake)

fishlake national forest utah
A fisherman tries his luck on Fish Lake

Fish Lake is the lake for which the forest is named. The lake itself rests in a high mountain valley and is home to some great fishing! The lake is stocked regularly with trout and other game fish.


2. Visit Pando, the Oldest Living Organism On the Planet (maybe)

fishlake national forest utah
Pando Clonal Aspen Tree on the Fishlake National Forest

Pando is one of the world’s largest and oldest living organisms (possibly the oldest!). It’s a clonal aspen tree meaning all of the trunks you see in the grove stem from a single seed.

The size and scale of Pando is hard to fathom and is often mistaken for forests. According to the BBC, the clonal tree’s footprint is larger than Vatican City and has over 50,000 trunks.

As far as the actual age of the tree goes it’s hard to know for sure. Estimates range widely from several thousand years old to tens of thousands of years old.

Note: Pando is currently suffering from a number of human-introduced factors that are contributing to its rapid decline. Please be respectful of this ancient forest and do not disturb the trees in any way that could further harm them.

3. Take a Ride on Horseback

fishlake national forest utah horseback riding
Horseback Riding on the Fishlake National Forest

A great way to see the forest is on horseback. The Forest Service caters to this with equestrian campgrounds and a bevy of equestrian trails. If you’re interested in what the forest has to offer by way of our equine friends, check out their horse page.


4. Take A Scenic Drive on One of the Forest’s Many Roads

fishlake national forest utah
Highway 137 on the Fishlake National Forest

The Fishlake National Forest is home to some of the most scenic drives in America. In the fall you’ll see all of the trees along the drive explode with yellow and orange aspen leaves.

A few of our favorite drives include:

  • Highway 25 around Fish Lake
  • Monroe Canyon Road (dirt – AWD minimum)
  • Highway 137 past Kent’s Lake

5. Go For a Scenic Bike Ride

fishlake national forest utah
Biking around Fish Lake

Biking is another popular activity on the Fishlake. One of the most popular places to go for a ride is around the Fish Lake Shoreline Trail. The full loop is 26 miles long but most folks just do one side or the other which breaks it in half.


6. Hike Through An Aspen Grove

fishlake national forest utah
A hiker in brilliant grove of aspen near Fish Lake

The Fishlake is full of some of the most stunning groves of quaking aspen trees found anywhere in the world. Jim and I enjoy any opportunity to hike amongst these special trees and admire their paper white bark and beautiful autumn foliage.

Unfortunately some folks take it upon themselves to carve their names into these trees which severely damages them and in many cases leads to the trees untimely demise. Please don’t be that person!

It’s so important to visit these places with respect and encourage others to do the same so that we can continue to have special places outdoors.


7. Take Advantage of the World Class OHV Paiute Trail

fishlake national forest utah
An ATV on the Paiute Trail

One of the most popular activities on the Fishlake National Forest is off-road or OHV vehicle driving. The forest is full of incredible OHV roads and opportunities, none so renowned as the Paiute Trail.

According to the BLM, the Paiute Trail is over 275 miles long with over 1000 miles of side trails. Sounds like endless possibilities.

For the latest OHV road maps visit the BLM website.


Where to Stay – Camping & Lodging

fishlake national forest utah
Oak Creek Campground on the Fishlake National Forest

Camping & Campgrounds

The Fishlake is home to 29 developed campgrounds, lots of dispersed camping, as well as cabins for rent.

Beaver Ranger District
Fillmore Ranger District
Fremont River Ranger District
Richfield Ranger District

For more about camping on the Fishlake National Forest visit the USFS camping page.


Lodging

There are several cabins for rent on the national forest – for more info on those visit the USFS cabins page.

I recommend camping on this spectacular forest. If you’re set on staying inside a hotel with all of the creature comforts, your best bet will probably be in Richfield & Torrey.


Driving the Fishlake

fishlake national forest utah
Fishlake Roads & Driving

I highly recommend a 4WD vehicle if you plan on visiting the Fishlake. This forest has a surprising amount of road access but many of them are high clearance or 4WD only.

Yes, you can get by with a high-clearance vehicle in most of the forest but make sure to read the maps before entering a road you’re unsure about. The forest service does a pretty good job of marking the roads that absolutely require 4WD.

With that being said, these roads are some of the most beautiful in America. Pack your camera and soak in the views!

flat tire fishlake national forest
Me with my nice flat tire (1 of 2) in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest

NOTE: We popped not one, but two tires while visiting the forest! I’m going to chalk it up to a run of bad luck but drive carefully and always have a plan!


Photos

Photos of Fishlake National Forest.


Nearby Attractions

  • Zion National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Dixie National Forest
  • Fishlake National Forest
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park

Summary | Leave us a Comment!

That’s a wrap folks! Hopefully you feel like you’ve got a good handle on your next trip to the Fishlake National Forest. Please leave me a comment below and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Hope to see you on the trails sometime soon!


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Will Pattiz

Co-founder of More Than Just Parks. Husband. Conservationist. Currently living in NYC.

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