Escaping Provo: three getaways you haven’t heard of yet

A mountain lake in the Uinta Mountain Wilderness. The Uinta Mountains are the tallest mountain range in Utah. (Walker Vellinga)

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Island Park and Uinta Mountains are three under-the-radar destinations for students who want to get away from Provo for a long weekend.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is a park located between Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab in southern Utah. It is approximately a four and a half hour drive from Provo. It was established as a state park in 1963 and covers a total area of 3,370 acres, according to the Utah state parks website.

A view of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park from a distance. The park is approximately 232 miles from Provo. (Skyler Ence)

The park is a massive desert full of sand dunes. The park’s main attractions include off-road vehicle driving with dune buggies, ATVs and dirt bikes, but the park also attracts many campers and hikers.

Former BYU student Skyler Ence said he visited Coral Pink Sand Dunes while he was attending BYU and now travels there every year with his family.

“It’s the best,” Ence said. “We camp out in the campground and go four-wheeling for a few days. We absolutely love it there.”

The dunes are a constantly changing and shifting landscape, as the dunes can move up to 50 feet per year. The park is visited by more than 50,000 people every year. The southern Utah temperature and desert landscape provide a stark contrast to Provo. 

Island Park, Idaho

Island Park is a small city located in eastern Idaho with a population of less than 300 people. It is approximately a five hour drive from Provo. The surrounding mountains attract many campers, hikers and ATV riders. Island Park Reservoir is a boating, kayaking, swimming and fishing destination.  Many people travel there to fly fish and raft in Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.

Brady Smith, a BYU graduate student, has visited Island Park regularly for years.

“About every summer when I was growing up, my family would go to Island Park for about a week,” Smith said. “We would go fly fishing up by an area called Upper Coffee Pot. The fishing was awesome and we had a blast.”

Smith also said he has traveled to Island Park with some friends while at BYU and said it was a perfect weekend getaway.

Kayaker Savannah Rea enjoys the water at Island Park Reservoir. Island Park is approximately 286 miles from Provo. (Bailey Sargent)

In the winter months, it is especially well-known for snowmobiling. According to the Visit Idaho website, there are over 950 miles of groomed trail styles. According to the Northwest River Forecast Center, the park had over 100 inches of snow at the end of February.

The area known as Island Park is a large crater or caldera called the Henry’s Fork Caldera which was created by the same hotspot that created Yellowstone. Today, the area is well established, with paved roads and easy access to cabins and hotels as well as campsites.

Uinta Mountains

The Uinta Mountains are an east-west chain of mountains located in northeastern Utah. This Rocky Mountain subrange is the tallest mountain range in the state, with the tallest mountain in Utah, Kings Peak, sitting at an elevation of 13,528 feet.

Backpacker Jake Vellinga admires the view of the Uinta Mountains. The mountain range is approximately 131 miles from Provo. (Walker Vellinga)

The Uinta Mountains are an approximately four hour drive from Provo. However, much of the area is designated as a roadless wilderness where vehicles are prohibited.  The area is popular for fishing, hiking, backpacking, horse packing, hunting and ATV riding.  In the winter, the area is open for snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Because of the limited vehicle access, the area has been well preserved and is private and secluded. Most of the Uinta Mountain Range is contained within the Ashley National Forest. The area includes 460,000 acres and is the largest wilderness in Utah. Over 2.5 million people visit the Ashley National Forest each year for outdoor recreation.

Utah adventurer

Advertising student Chase Johnson has traveled to all three of these destinations. Listen to the podcast below to hear his advice for an upcoming adventure.

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