For Memorial Day weekend I reserved a campsite at Joe’s Valley Reservoir in Manti-La Sal National Forest for two nights. Zach and I were interested in going back in warmer, sunnier weather, and Ryan and Lisa agreed to join us. We thought it would be nice to go somewhere closer for a change too. This would have worked perfectly if the entire Wasatch front wasn’t also leaving town on Friday afternoon. We sat in the worst traffic we’ve ever encountered on I-15. What should have been a 2.5 hour(ish) trip became 3.5. We had it better than Ryan and Lisa though – they got stuck behind a five-car pileup. Zach and I arrived at our campsite around 7pm and had ample time to set up before dark. It was a gorgeous evening, and the reservoir was more captivating than we had remembered.
When I first had the idea to go to Joe’s Valley for Memorial Day, I quickly reserved the last available campsite with a view of the lake. Recreation.gov doesn’t usually have good site photos and the campground map is incredibly basic, so it was hard to know what we were actually getting. But I lucked out and our site was actually really great. It sat up off the road and had a pretty nice view of the reservoir. Plus, we had nice cover from our neighbors.
Joe’s Valley is well known for fishing, miles of OHV (off-highway vehicles) trails, and bouldering. There are several hiking trails in the national forest, but I wanted to stick close to the reservoir. We ended up doing part of a CCC trail on the east side of the reservoir. It was much steeper than anyone expected, so we went roughly a mile and 1,000 ft. in elevation before we turned around. (I would have gone farther, but the group overruled me.) One unexpected benefit was a nice overlook of the reservoir and valley below. We got off trail several times at the beginning of the hike, so on our way back down we took care to build extra cairns to signal route changes and at one particularly deceiving junction, Ryan blocked the path going the wrong direction and Zach built an arrow out of rocks. I doubt many people use the trail, but maybe it will help the next hikers!
After our hike, we recuperated with lunch and beers. Zach and I decided to go down to the shore to stake a spot to relax and try out his new inflatable kayak. Ryan and Lisa opted to hang out at the camp site and meet us later. Zach and I found a great spot in a small cove. The wind had picked up quite a bit which made paddling the kayak slightly more difficult when trying to return to the shoreline. Otherwise, it was a pretty nice afternoon. The turquoise waters were stunning though still quite cold. Truman was brave enough to get in but wouldn’t swim far. He was pretty concerned when either one of us started paddling away and would run after us along the shoreline.
Unfortunately, dark clouds to the west continued to move into the valley. By the time Ryan and Lisa made it down to the shore, the wind had picked up significantly and the sun had disappeared. We returned to the campsite and remained there for the rest of the evening. Though it seemed like it might rain, it never did, and we were able to sit outside all evening next to our fire.
It rained sporadically overnight and I expected to wake up and pack in the rain. Instead we woke to a beautifully sunny morning. Our reservation was valid until 1pm, so we figured if the weather remained pleasant we might as well enjoy a leisurely breakfast, pack up, and then hang around in the hammock. We knew thunderstorms were in the forecast for the rest of the weekend, but they were supposed to start in the afternoon. Of course, as soon as Ryan and Lisa drove away, as I reclined in the hammock with Truman, a few drops fell from the sky. Then, suddenly, it was hailing! I made a dash for the car to put Tru in the front seat, and then Zach and I made a final sweep of the campsite. Thankfully we had already packed up our tent and the majority of our belongings. We were grateful to be driving away as other campers were taking cover from the hail/rain/slush.
Joe’s Valley was a nice weekend getaway. It’s not too far from the city and the reservoir is simply gorgeous. Even though it was Memorial Day weekend, there weren’t many people and it was easy to find a secluded spot on the water. My only complaint was the abundance of OHVs in the campground. It’s not something we’re accustomed to, and we didn’t like it. It disrupts the solitude, and Truman absolutely hates them. We haven’t really encountered them on this level before, so I’m hoping it was a one off.