Barker Recreation Area

For Memorial Day weekend, Zach and I made reservations at a campground in the Teton Valley. We’ve been wanting to go back since our visit last fall and thought it would be a great kick-off to summer. However, two weeks before Memorial Day I received a phone call from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest District informing me that they were pushing the campground’s opening date to June 2 because of snow. So we needed a plan B. I checked the forecast and realized that southern Utah would still be quite pleasant instead of the flaming heat I had expected. So we switched our focus and decided to go south.

I ended up making a reservation at a campground in Dixie National Forest, known locally as The Dixie. Comprised of almost 2 million acres, The Dixie is Utah’s largest national forest. It stretches across 170 miles of southern Utah putting it within sight of 3 national parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and several state parks. In addition to all of that, The Dixie has plenty of outdoor recreation to offer and is a great destination in its own right.

Aspen-lined drive as we hit higher elevations

We camped on Boulder Mountain, a 50,000 acre high-elevation plateau with tons of small alpine lakes. There are several campgrounds to choose from across Boulder Mountain but since we were arriving on the Saturday of a holiday weekend, I decided to make a reservation. I ended up choosing Barker Recreation Area, near the town of Escalante. I thought it would make a great base for exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante. What I didn’t realize until the day before we left was that the campground was 2.5 miles outside of town and then 16 miles down a dirt road – not really an ideal base after all. Still, it ended up being a great campsite.

Barker sits at 9,300 ft. making it an ideal spot for summer camping. Since we were there at the beginning of summer, it did get fairly cold our first night but felt wonderfully crisp in the mornings. Similarly, since it was the beginning of the season, the aspens around our site didn’t have their leaves yet, but the campground maintained its seclusion and ended up being rather empty. On our second night, there was only one other site occupied!

Near the campground are Upper and Lower Barker Reservoirs. Upper Barker has a day use area for fishing or picnicking, along with a couple of trails that branch off to other reservoirs and lakes nearby. We took our camping chairs there on our last evening and set up with dinner and homebrews to watch the sun set.

We watched several beavers swim across the reservoir

Lower Barker is less accessible, though not by much. It’s only a short walk from a parking area and trailhead. On Sunday morning we took advantage of the hiking trails there. From the map and directions at the trailhead we were able to follow a few different trails to create a loop to several reservoirs and alpine lakes. We were the only hikers and almost the only souls, save for two fisherman who had camped by one of the lakes. I’m not quite sure of the mileage but it was a great peaceful hike, and I wasn’t at all mad that we weren’t down in the slot canyons of Grand Staircase like everyone else.

Starting out by the trailhead

On the dock at Lower Barker Reservoir

Joe Lay Reservoir

We followed the trail first to Lower Barker and Joe Lay Reservoirs, then circled up to follow a portion of the Great Western Trail which took us to Yellow and Flat Lakes. We made a short detour to Blue Lake – where we saw the fishermen – and then wound back down to Lower Barker. It was a really pretty hike through aspen and spruce trees, open green meadows, and around alpine lakes. I’d definitely do it again; take a hammock, read by a lake, listen to the birds.

Two wild turkeys ran in front of us here


Yellow Lake

Blue Lake

Flat Lake


Back at Lower Barker



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