Though nature did not make the four Wasatch Back reservoirs closest to Park City—Deer Creek, Echo, Jordanelle, and Rockport—we’re sure glad mere mortals did. Few summertime pastimes are sweeter than spending a clear-as-a-bell day at one of these mountain-rimmed oases. Pursuits at each range from sailing and riding a wakeboard behind a powerboat to open-water swimming and fishing—or simply relaxing on the shore. In addition to providing a cool reprieve, this picturesque foursome also anchors our watershed and serves as home to numerous fish and other species. So when you go, please treat each with care. (For details about camping, which is available at all four reservoirs, visit stateparks.utah.gov/activities/camping.)
With stunning views of Mount Timpanogos and hugging the road between Heber City and Sundance Resort, Deer Creek Reservoir is about as accessible as it is scenic. It took 17 years to build the Deer Creek Dam and Reservoir, completed in 1955 as part of the Provo River Project. But only fishing was allowed there until 1971, when the state park opened. Now, in addition to boating, swimming, fishing, and camping, Deer Creek is home to the Uinta Kiting kiteboarding school and Zipline Utah’s Screaming Falcon zipline tour. The water is lovely at Deer Creek; be sure to stop there for a swim after hiking Stewart Falls or mountain biking at Sundance Resort. Don’t forget your lawn chairs, however; two big snow years in a row have backed the beach right up to the parking lot. After your dip, warm up in the sun as you watch sailors navigate Deer Creek’s reliably strong afternoon winds.
Get there: Deer Creek Reservoir is 23.5 miles from Park City via US 189/US 40 toward Charleston/Sundance Resort. Day-use fees are $10 per vehicle (up to eight passengers), Monday through Friday; $15 on the weekends. Dogs are not allowed in the day-use areas. 435.654.0171
Though it’s the oldest of the four reservoirs profiled here, Echo Reservoir (filled by the Weber River since 1931) transitioned from privately run to Utah’s newest state park in 2018. The 18-site campground at the reservoir’s south end, which was closed all last summer for renovations, will open this summer and has been renamed Dry Hollow (to dissuade its previously raucous reputation, perhaps). New flushable toilets and shower facilities are scheduled to open this summer as well; portable bathrooms will be used until they are completed. For a truly adventuresome day, ride the 28-mile length of the Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail from Park City to Echo Reservoir. Or sign up for one of Utah’s most popular endurance events, the Echo Triathlon and 10k, the former of which includes a swim in the reservoir, a run along the Rail Trail, and a pedal up the nearby Echo Canyon. Improvements to look forward to in 2021 include a new entrance, paved parking for 100 boats and 60 cars, and the addition of 10 cabins available for nightly rental.
Get there: Echo State Park is 27 miles from Park City. Take Interstate 80 east to the Coalville exit. Follow the Echo Dam Road along the east side of the reservoir to the state park. The day-use fee is $6 per passenger vehicle (expect an increase when the restroom facilities are complete) and $4 for a walk-in/bicycle. 435.336.9894
The Jordanelle is the big dog of Wasatch Back reservoirs, both in terms of physical size and the huge crowds that typically flock there all summer long. (Visitation was just shy of 600,000 in 2019.) Like Deer Creek, the Jordanelle is fed by the Provo River. The Jordanelle Dam, constructed from 1987 to 1993, holds 320,300 acre-feet of water, which covers the former small towns of Hailstone and Keetley. The Jordanelle State Park opened in 1995. Anything you can do on the water goes there: Park City SUP, the Park City Rowing Academy (801.245.9351), and Park City Sailing all are based at this reservoir. At the Hailstone area, the marina offers all sorts of watercraft rentals (jordanellerentals.com). In nonpandemic times, kids play on the floating Aqua X Zone wibit, and families fill the sandy beach. Eschew the crowds by hiking or pedaling the 15-mile Perimeter Trail, a dirt two-track running along the northern and eastern shores, connecting Hailstone to quieter Rock Cliff recreation area (home to the nature center).
Get there: The Hailstone entrance ($15 admission per car) is 6 miles from Park City along US 40 toward Heber City. The Rock Cliff entrance ($10 admission per car) is 22 miles from Park City via US 40 to River Road/SR 32 east toward Francis. 435.649.9540
You’ll find many of the same amenities offered at Jordanelle, but with a fraction of the people, at Rockport. Until 1952, when the Bureau of Reclamation began buying the property there to build the Wanship Dam, 27 families lived on the land now occupied by the reservoir. Before the area was flooded, some of the town’s buildings were moved to the Pioneer Village at Lagoon Amusement Park. Now at the marina and convenience store, you can rent jet skis, power boats, paddleboards, kayaks—even inflatable water trampolines. Over the winter the Cedar Point Campground was converted into a day-use area—a much more diplomatic use of that area’s lovely sand beach. Along with boaters and beach-goers, Rockport’s cold water temps provide an ideal fish habitat, making it popular with anglers as well. An unusual amenity is the 3-D archery range: targets that look like mountain lions, bears, and turkeys along the Lakeview Trail. As of press time, the Rockport Dam Jam, a popular bluegrass and acoustic festival, is scheduled for August 3–10, 2020.
Get there: From Park City, take SR 248 to Brown’s Canyon Road. Head left on SR 32 at Peoa and follow the signs to the state park. Daily admission to the state park is $12 per car (up to eight people). 435.336.2241
Au Naturel Cool Down
Reservoirs, of course, are not the only places to take a dip along the Wasatch Back. More than 1,000 lakes dot the landscape in the nearby Uinta Mountains, the entrance of which is just 15 miles from Park City in Kamas. Many require a hike, but some—including Mirror and Moosehorn Lakes—are accessed right off the Mirror Lake Highway, a 42-mile-long road bisecting the Uintas. For more info, check out Mel Davis’s High Uinta Trails, all versions, the definitive guide to the Uintas.