Realizing that the ‘Greatest Snow on Earth,’ in its liquid state, could also be floated upon during the summer months to better tolerate the sunshine and heat changed my outlook. No longer is summer a hot, rude interruption to skiing, it’s a time to keep cool and paddle on. When I discovered standup paddleboarding or SUP, Utah’s summers revealed a host of new adventure opportunities.
As an arid and landlocked state, it may not seem apparent that chasing water-dependent recreation in Utah is worthwhile. However, scenic recreation opportunities for paddleboarding, boating, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking abound. Here is a list of paddleboarding destinations that are highly recommended by a former summer recluse. Destinations are ordered (roughly) from least to most difficult, so check each one off your list and enjoy Utah’s wet wonderlands! If you're a beginner, here's a great guide to getting started including some personal tips I've learned along the way.
Deer Valley Resort’s Pebble Beach
For folks just getting started with paddleboarding, Deer Valley's Pebble Beach is the ideal place to get your feet wet. This motor-free zone offers calm water, no current, and a comfortable grassy lounging area with a sandy beach to easily launch. With delicious food options, rentals, and lessons, Pebble Beach is suited for families and newbies to the sport. Make an afternoon of it and go for a float and a picnic before attending an outdoor concert on the lawn at Deer Valley’s Snowpark Lodge.
Tibble Fork & Silver Lake Flat in American Fork Canyon
In 2017, after a $7.3 million restoration project, Tibble Fork Reservoir in American Fork Canyon was doubled in size and now offers a large floating dock and sandy beach. The waters are calm since motors are not permitted and the dock makes launching your watercraft a cinch. Because this small reservoir can get crowded, it’s best to visit on a weekday or in the early mornings or evenings. Bring a little cash as you will owe the U.S. Forest Service a day use fee ($6 last I checked). Hiking and fishing are also options and the Granite Flat Campground is nearby if you want to make a trip out of it. I highly recommend an overnight stay as floating during sunset or sunrise is always a memorable experience. Nearby Silver Lake Flat lies just 15 minutes past Tibble and is larger in size and often less crowded.
Near Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, discover Causey Reservoir, looking like a shard of lightning with three distinct forks branching off a curving prong. Unlike many Utah reservoirs, which are surrounded by roads and buffeted by strong winds, Causey is nestled deep in a canyon about 15 minutes past Huntsville, Utah. The unique canyon walls offer vibrant color and the calm water is never disturbed by motor boats. Noticing a trend here? I always find it more relaxing and enjoyable to seek out water that doesn’t permit motorboats. Besides the noise, it’s always tough, especially for newer paddlers, when you’re forced to battle boat wakes. Avoid recreational tubers at all cost! Beautiful scenery and unique views await exploration at this haven for water lovers.
Mirror Lake in the High Uintas
Perched above 10,000 feet beneath the behemoth of Bald Mountain, Mirror Lake in Utah’s Uinta Mountains is aptly named. Multiple times, I’ve headed up with family for a few days of camping in the Mirror Lake Campground to take advantage of peaceful fishing and floating. Arising before the sun, I’ve paddled through eerie mists and learned why the name Mirror Lake is so fitting. If you are hearty and have an inflatable paddleboard, there are also lots of lakes within a short hike that will offer more privacy. I’ve hiked to paddle Fehr and Ruth Lakes myself. A paddling trip to the Uintas is a solid bet in the summer months if you are looking to escape the heat. The high elevations and abundance of water help you shake the memory of scorching in the city, though be prepared for mosquitos in early summer! Again, motorized boats are not permitted in Mirror Lake, so enjoy incredibly calm water and the beautiful sounds of nature.
Lower Provo RiverFor more experienced and skilled paddlers, you may opt to forgo effort and indulge in a scenic float down the lower Provo River near Sundance Mountain Resort. There are sections of this river that are perfect for river paddleboarding with small rapids and ever-changing scenery. This float takes about 90 minutes and should not be attempted without a life vest and paddleboarding leash. A good starting point is the boat ramp below the Deer Creek Dam. After floating downstream for a bit, take a moment to assess the train bridge that spans the river near the Wildwood area. The pilings can be dangerous, so depending on the water levels and your experience, you may opt to portage around the bridge and continue your float to the take-out point at Vivian Park. Park City SUP offers guided tours if you are nervous about your first river paddle. I recommend using an inflatable, wider, river-specific paddleboard for this type of float to avoid damage to fiberglass or other fragile materials on traditional hard boards. Local's tip: The mountain biking at Sundance is pretty incredible too -- throw your bike in the car for a full day of adventures!
One of my favorite places to head on a balmy winter’s day is the marina at Antelope Island. Not only will you enjoy the Great Salt Lake in utter solitude, there aren’t any bugs around in the winter months. It’s also fantastic in October or November after the first freeze. During one particularly mild February, I went out for a dawn paddle and then rode my mountain bike along the Lakeside Trail. The eerie views of the massive expanse of saltwater are what make this trip so memorable. I suggest witnessing sunset or sunrise on the lake from the vantage point of your paddleboard. Because the water is so saline, the light refracts in unexpected ways. The landscape is so foreign and unique, it is almost as if you’ve been transported to a different planet. There is a freshwater hose located at the marina so you can wash all the crusty salt off yourself and your watercraft when you finish up.
The Great Salt Lake’s Antelope Island
Homestead Crater SUP Yoga in Midway, UtahTo hone your core strength and balance, sign up for a SUP Yoga class with Park City Yoga Adventures inside the Crater at the Homestead Resort in Midway, Utah. The Crater is a geothermal hot spring of 90-96 degrees located deep inside a 55-foot tall, hollow, limestone dome. Sound crazy? Ten thousand years in the making, the Crater has a small hole at the top allowing paddlers to look up and view the sky. The cerulean blue water glimmers in the sunlight and the water is often crystal clear and always warm. The experience of being inside the crater is difficult to describe and even if you don’t want to shell out cash for a yoga lesson, you can opt for a 40-minute soak sans paddleboard at a much lower cost.
A few additional ideas for paddleboarding in Utah include the Daily Section of the Colorado River near Moab, Lake Powell via the Bullfrog Marina, Pineview Reservoir, Flaming Gorge, and Bear Lake. Get your paddle wet and distract yourself during Utah’s long summer days until the snow returns once again.
Quick Paddleboarding Tips
- Life jackets are often required at most of Utah’s waterways. It’s best to always wear a life jacket. Never let children attempt paddleboarding without a properly-sized life vest.
- Paddleboarding isn’t so pleasant when the wind is blowing, check the forecast before you head out; this is especially true if you are just learning! (Here is a good resource.)
- The Utah sun is strong, especially when it’s reflecting off the water! Bring ample sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply often after taking a dunk.
- My absolute favorite paddleboarding accessory is a Lil Sucker drink holder. Each time I paddle I inspire the jealousy of onlookers with this genius little device that creates suction to hold a cold beverage in place on any smooth surface.
- Consider a waterproof case with a lanyard for your phone so you can catch the action.
- I always pack a small cooler, secured with bungee straps on my SUP, filled the brim with fine cheeses, snacks and meats. There’s something so blissful about floating and snacking.
- Rent before you buy! Here's a list of local SUP rental shops: AJ Motion Sports Canyon Sports, Silver Star Ski & Sport and Ski 'N See and Park City SUP.
Looking for other ways to cool off in Utah's lakes and streams? Try casting a fishing rod in search of Utah's FIVE trophy fish.