Written by and photo credits to: Carrie Klauk
The drive to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Northeast Utah is a wide-open, high-desert, beautiful-but-abandoned-looking part of the state. We drove west from Laramie, Wyoming, on I-80, exited at Green River, Wyoming, then went 44 miles south to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir Recreation Area in Ashley National Forest. In late July, the road was an easy-going two-lane highway that dipped closer to sea level with brown, dusty terrain and interesting rock formations on either side of the road. We saw no signs of life—only a pin to the left on our GPS, indicating the "Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport." Eventually, we spotted the Green River to our left and the Flaming Gorge in the distance with mountains that stretched as far as we could see.
We spent three nights at the Lucerne Campground in Manila, Utah. The park features 140 sites, with electric hookups going for $31/night and non-electric for $22/night. Loops A through D contain electric hookups, a picnic table, a fire pit and a large driveway; Loop D also has tent pads. Loops E and F are non-electric but contain picnic tables and a firepit. The flush toilets and shower buildings are in every loop and feature a drinking water spigot. The showers were clean and separate from the toilets and located outside the building in individual rooms that bolted shut.
The only way to book a site is through recreation.gov. The campground is open from May through September each year, with booking availability beginning in November the prior year. Because we booked late in the season, we could secure a spot for only one night and hoped we could get a couple more nights in the first-come, first-served sites. When we arrived at check-in, we tried to reserve two more nights, but the park was full, and they advised us to try again in the morning when the office opened.
Our first night was at site A12, directly on the shoreline with a path leading directly to the water. This site seemed to be one of the prime spots: large, clean sites, quiet and closest to the marina with a large open field next to us. Families of deer and antelope roamed in the area and walked the campground fearlessly and without bothering the sites.
We brought a 14-foot inflatable tandem kayak that we walked down our private path to the water and paddled around the reservoir to watch the sunset. To the left was the Lucerne Valley Marina, and straight across was the Green River access.
The next morning, we arrived at the front office right as it opened and secured a spot for the next two nights in B16: an electric site that was a couple of steps away from the showers and restrooms. This site was in the middle of the loop but still a short walk to the water. Unfortunately, our inflatable kayak couldn't take the heat of the desert and melted on the beach while we moved into our second campsite. We called the marina to see which watercrafts they had available, but because they are also first-come, first-served, we were out of luck for the day.
Luckily, we brought an inflatable paddleboard, so we took a short drive to the Lucerne Swim Beach. The beach was less than 2 miles away by car but could be a shorter distance walk from the campground on a direct hiking trail. We paid $5 at the fee station and spent the day on our beach chairs and paddling around a large cove in the reservoir.
The next day, we woke up early to get to the marina right as it opened at 8 a.m. to rent a paddleboard for $65 and a kayak for $85 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. We paddled to the beach closest to our campsite, left the watercrafts on the beach while we ate breakfast, and settled the dogs and packed food for the day.
The other side of the reservoir was about a mile away. We shared the water with powerboats, wakeboard/waterski boats, jet skis, fishing boats and other personal watercrafts. We felt safe, and the bigger boats had no problem spotting us. After arriving at a beautiful private cove, we paddled around, witnessing the landscape. The mountains and watercolors change at different times of the day and look completely different up close. We parked our boats on a desolate beach to explore and eat lunch.
The water got rougher as we paddled toward the Green River, but the journey was worth it. Once we turned the corner, the water was a deep, emerald green against the red and orange mountains beaming out of the water. We stayed close to the side because this was a play area for fast boats and wakeboarders, but the scenery and horizon were breathtaking and beautiful.
We returned our kayak and stand-up paddleboard at the marina and walked back to our RV to find a potluck party at the group site near us. Fishermen and women worked all weekend to catch trout and kokanee salmon to cook it up for their friends and family—a yearly trip for them. Because RVing and camping is the best way to travel alongside some of the most generous people, a man named Mike from Connecticut walked up to our site with a big smile and a plate of freshly deep-fried kokanee salmon he caught that afternoon. It was delicious!
Lucerne Campground is a clean, beautiful, large property. Although there isn't a designated dog area, it is a very dog-friendly place with lots of ground to cover with your pup. For three nights, we walked the campground after dinner and watched the sunset over the Flaming Gorge.
Manila, Utah, and the surrounding areas contain fossils and ancient soil. As you drive out of the campground and head south, there are signs and pull-offs to read and explore the types of species that once roamed (or swam) that area. Manila is about three hours from the Dinosaur National Monument and is a stunning drive that helped us appreciate our earth and country's history.