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Ashley National Forest

Ashley National Forest

The Ashley National Forest encompasses 1,384,132 acres (1,287,909 in Utah and 96,223 in Wyoming), with elevations ranging from 6,000 to 13,500 feet. Besides being a beautiful place to visit, there are tons of fun things to do in Ashley National Forest.

Many species of wildlife can be seen in Ashley Forest, if you’re lucky: moose, mountain lion, bear, elk, mule deer, antelope, and bighorn sheep. It’s always a great place for bird watching and fishing.

Although located just outside of Uintah County, the tallest peak in the state of Utah is found in Ashley National Forest; Kings Peak towers at a staggering 13,527 feet!

Ashley National Forest in Autumn

Ashley National Forest History

Until the 19th Century, most of Ashley National Forest remained relatively unexplored, until General William Henry Ashley and a team of fur traders began looking for a trade route to the Gulf of Mexico. Although they didn’t have much luck with their expedition, they were able to cover a lot of ground within the forest and surrounding area.

After exploring one of the rivers within the forest, General Ashley apparently wrote his own name and hung it out on display over the river. From this point on, Ashley Forest had its name. Eventually, this beautiful expanse of land became an official national forest and hot-spot for outdoor recreation!

Things to Do in Ashley National Forest

If you enjoy outdoor activities, Ashley National Forest is the perfect place to explore and enjoy, all year round!

a man stands on a cliff overlooking Flaming Gorge Reservoir

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

You’ll have to travel a little ways out from Dinosaurland/Vernal, but right along the border of Utah and Wyoming is a beautiful reservoir called Flaming Gorge. It’s a fishing, boating, camping, and hiking paradise! Flaming Gorge is a 1.5-hour drive from Vernal, Utah.

Petroglyphs

Ancient petroglyphs, artistic drawings on stone, have been discovered within Ashley National Forest. These petroglyphs are evidence of native tribes that lived and hunted within the forest a long time ago. Taking some time to look at these patches of rock art, preserved for centuries, makes you wonder what life was like for the earliest inhabitants of the area.

Fremont Indian petroglyphs in Ashley National Forest

Scenic Drives Through The Forest

You can take in a lot of the scenery and wildlife in Ashley by road. There are some beautiful drives that you don’t want to miss if you get the chance to visit the forest. Here are three of the main scenic byways through Ashley National Forest.

Red Cloud Loop

The Red Cloud Loop scenic byway is a dirt road about 15 miles north of Vernal. This route offers wonderful views of the Uinta Mountain. Driving Red Cloud Loop will take you through thick trees, open mountain meadows, and past colorful canyon walls, all without leaving your vehicle!

If you want to see the most rugged and varied landscape within the forest, Red Cloud Loop is well worth a drive. The entire stretch is about 70 miles long and takes roughly 3 hours to complete. Make sure to slow down and take it all in!

Nine Mile Canyon Scenic Backway

A drive on the Nine Mile Canyon Scenic Backway is a popular activity for visitors interested in seeing the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs in Ashley National Forest. This area of north-east Utah is regarded as the largest concentration of Fremont Indian rock art anywhere in the world. Among the ancient scenes depicted are figures engaged in hunting, various animals, and some illustrations that seem to represent what life must have been like for the Fremont people.

The rock art is not the only reason to take the Nine Mile Canyon drive. This route also includes spectacular views of cliffs, ancient granaries, rock arches, balanced rocks, and even an old deserted saloon.

Don’t be misled by the name of the backway—the entire drive is about 80 miles long and can easily be made into an all-day trip! Most of the road is unpaved, but smooth driving. There are no gas stations or services available along the backway, so make sure you get what you need before you go. Get ready for an authentic backroad adventure through the old west!

a trail next to Jones Creek in Utah

Jones Hole Scenic Backway

Beginning just 4 miles east of Vernal, the Jones Hole backway takes you right through the heart of Dinosaurland, Utah. Some of the popular spots on the drive include the 2,600 feet view from Diamond Mountain Plateau, the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery, and the drop into the rugged canyon.

If you take the backway, you may want to stop for a bit to take a hike from the road along Jones Creek to see hidden Fremont Indian pictographs and a view of some incredible rock walls. It’s a hidden part of Ashley National Forest that not everyone knows about!

The Jones Hole scenic drive takes about 2 hours over 80 miles round-trip.

Hiking

Needless to say, there is plenty of hiking available in the forest!

Visitors can explore the more than 1000 miles of trail within Ashley Forest to their hearts’ content. There is so much to see!

ATV, Motorcycling and Snowmobiling

Besides the many hiking trails, there are also some trails within Ashley National Forests that are designated for ATV, motorcycle and snowmobile use. Please make sure to keep vehicles on the designated trails while you explore. This is a great way to see the forest with a little added adrenaline.

Cross-Country Skiing

During the winter months, Ashley National Forest gets plenty of snowfall. Many visitors enjoy snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing through the forest trails. To accommodate these cross-country skiers, two different “yurt” facilities are available for overnight rent during the winter.

Fishing

Anglers looking to catch some high-mountain fish can drop a line in any of the many rivers and streams that meander through the forest. Some of the bodies of water in Ashley National Forest even allow the use of motorized watercraft.

a mountain stream in Ashley National Forest

Horseback Riding

Many visitors enjoy experiencing the rugged beauty of Ashley National Forest as the early frontiersmen did—by horseback. Most of the trails are easily navigable and offer some spectacular views of Uintah County. There’s just something therapeutic about taking in nature from the back of a horse.

Camping in Ashley National Forest

While Ashley National Forest has been left relatively undeveloped, the main method available for staying overnight is good old-fashioned camping. Numerous campgrounds can be found all throughout the national forest.

Both designated campground camping and dispersed camping are available. Dispersed camping involves packing in supplies and setting up a camp where none is designated. It’s a more rugged way for knowledgeable visitors to spend time in nature. Group campsites are also available for larger groups staying together.

man brushing teeth while camping in Ashley National Forest

Dinosaurland / Uintah County, Utah Visitor Information

While Ashley National Forest is full of outdoor fun, there are also lots of other great sites and things to do in Dinosaurland that you don’t want to miss out on. Check out the free travel brochures and suggested itineraries we have available to help you plan your trip to Vernal and the rest of Dinosaurland. You’ll never run out of things to do in “The Origin of Adventure”!