Utah

10 Best Utah Lake Camping Destinations for a Weekend on the Water

best lake camping in utah
Sand Hollow State Park. // Photo: Shutterstock

With almost 30 lake-filled state parks and countless alpine reservoirs across the Wasatch and Uintah mountain ranges, the Beehive State offers ample opportunities to plan a lake camping trip on warm summer days.

Lakeside camping takes any weekend adventure to the next level. In addition to classic activities like campfires, hiking and stargazing, being within walking distance of a lake means your itinerary can now include kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, fishing, and swimming. Add a boat or some wave runners to the mix and you can add tubing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and jet skiing to that list.

It may require a lengthy road trip to find a good lake in some states, but not in Utah. If you’re a local who calls the Wasatch Front home there’s at least one lake less than an hour away, and dozens more if you’re willing to spend a few hours in the car to get there.

This article covers 10 of the most popular lake camping destinations across Utah, but the list doesn’t end here. For a full list of state parks that offer lakeside camping and watersports, head over to stateparks.utah.gov.

Related read: 10 Refreshing Swimming Holes in Utah

1. Jordanelle Reservoir

Utah lake camping jordanelle reservoir
Photo: Danette C / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Jordanelle offers the best of both worlds for watersports, with ample space for motorized watercraft and several non-motorized zones that are perfect for kayaks, paddle boards and fishing.

  • Reservations accepted: May 1 – Oct. 31
  • Best seasons: Late spring, summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, cabin, boat slip
  • RV hookups: Standard, full, partial

Jordanelle State Park features three distinct recreation areas: Hailstone, Rock Cliff, and Ross Creek. You’ll find the lake’s premier campground at Hailstone, sporting a whopping 249 bookable campsites, RV sites, cabins, boat slips, picnic cabanas, and group sites. There’s an 8-lane boat ramp and full-service marina where visitors can rent everything from boats, pontoons, and jet skis to kayaks, paddle boards and canoes.

Hailstone gets pretty crowded on weekends and holidays, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet head over to Rock Cliff or Ross Creek. Both prohibit motorized watercraft, making them prime spots for fishing and paddle boarding. You’ll also find miles of well-maintained trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, while the relative quiet improves your chances of spotting local wildlife.

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Related read: 6 Stunning Backpacking Routes in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

2. Palisade Lake

Utah camping palisade lake
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: If your idea of the perfect camping trips includes OHVs, Palisade Lake deserves a spot in your summer plans.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, cabin
  • RV hookups: Standard, full, partial

Palisade Lake is a small, quiet lake that’s limited to electric trolling motors and non-motorized boats, making it a paradise for paddle boarding, kayaking, and lazing the day away on a pontoon. There’s an 18-hole golf course adjacent to the lake, and nearby Six-Mile Canyon is a premier destination for OHVs.

The word on the street is that the best time to visit Palisade State Park is in July. Any sooner and the water level may be high enough to cover the beach, while any later means lower water levels that aren’t as enjoyable for boating and swimming.

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3. Bear Lake

Utah camping bear lake
Photo: Brett Taylor / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Dubbed the Caribbean of the Rockies, Bear Lake’s unique mineral content results in turquoise blue water that’s simply stunning.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: June – September
  • Campsite type: Tent, primitive, RV, boat slip
  • RV hookups: Standard, full

Straddling the Utah-Idaho border, Bear Lake is truly a hidden gem. It’s a bit of a drive through windy canyons, but it’s worth the trip the moment you lay eyes on the lake’s impossibly blue waters. The locals say the perfect time to visit is from mid-July to late August, but you’ll generally have a great time from June to early September.

Bear Lake is significantly larger than your average Utah lake, so its primary draw is motorized watersports. That said, the lake is surrounded by miles and miles of scenic trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and it’s a surprisingly popular destination for cave exploration.

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4. Rockport Reservoir

rock port reservoir Utah lake camping
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: As a nod to its popularity with local hunters, Rockport features a 3D archery range with full-size bears, deer, boars, and mountain lions.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, primitive, RV
  • RV hookups: Standard, full

Rockport State Park features five developed and primitive campgrounds with over 100 campsites. About a quarter of these are RV-friendly, but the lion’s share are primitive campsites. Nothing against RV campers, but that means Rockport is an ideal getaway for old-school tent and hammock campers who prefer quiet campgrounds and less vehicle traffic.

Rockport is a popular ice fishing spot in the winter, and the surrounding mountains are a snowmobiling mecca. You can reserve a cabin or yurt year-round for more comfortable glamping accommodations, and the summer entertainment schedule often includes live bands, concerts, and bonfires with free s’mores for kids.

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5. Antelope Island

Utah lake camping antelope island
Photo: Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock

Why you should go: The largest island in the Great Salt Lake is home to free-ranging bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and millions of birds.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: Spring
  • Campsite type: Tent, primitive
  • RV hookups: No

Did you know that the Great Salt Lake is 4-5 times saltier than the ocean? If the prospect of spending your weekend on the shores of the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere sounds appealing, then Antelope Island is a great spot to pitch your tent.

Antelope Island State Park offers about 50 campsites across three primitive campgrounds, all located on the north side of the island next to the marina. The best time to visit is the spring when the weather is cooler and bug populations are low, creating the perfect conditions for backcountry hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

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6. Wide Hollow Reservoir

Utah lake camping wide hollow reservoir
Photo: Jose Arcos Aguilar / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Hike through a petrified forest with colorful deposits of mineralized wood, but resist the temptation to bring home a souvenir — legend says the forest is haunted and taking petrified wood brings bad luck!

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: March – September
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: Standard, partial

Wide Hollow Reservoir might take the cake for the most unique lake camping atmosphere in Utah. It’s adjacent to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, home to an otherworldly landscape with winding lava flows and petrified wood deposits. The park features a 50-foot petrified tree and a fun visitor center highlighting locally sourced ammonite, shell fossils, and petrified dinosaur bones.

The reservoir is fairly small at 130 acres, but that’s more than enough space for a day of paddling around the tranquil waters. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout and bluegill, so remember to bring your fishing gear.

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7. Deer Creek Reservoir

deer creak reservoir Utah lake camping
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: This is the go-to lake for Utah Valley residents, located just 20 minutes up Provo Canyon.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: Standard, full

Utah Valley might be centered around Utah Lake, but Deer Creek Reservoir is where the locals go to cool off on warm summer days. Situated at the base of Mount Timpanogos in the scenic Heber Valley, Deer Creek is also a year-round fishing destination for local anglers. It’s only 30 minutes from Provo and an hour from Salt Lake City, so you can spend less time on the road and more on the water.

Deer Creek State Park offers two campgrounds with 60 campsites, half of which include full hookups for RVs. A short distance up the lake from the campgrounds is Deer Creek Island Resort, where you can rent motorized and non-motorized watercraft or just laze the day away on sandy beaches with bookable picnic areas and cabanas.

In addition to your standard water-based activities, Deer Creek also features zipline tours and kiteboarding lessons. If you have kids in your group, head over to Island Aqua Park where the kiddos can spend the afternoon clambering across an inflatable obstacle course and trampoline park on the water.

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8. Sand Hollow Reservoir

sand hollow reservoir Utah lake camping
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Utah’s newest state park is quickly becoming its most popular with a gargantuan 20,000 acres of land to explore, including 1,300 acres of surface water for boating and 6,000 acres of dunes for OHVs.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: Spring – fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: Standard, partial

Sand Hollow State Park is the third largest in Utah’s state parks system, and there’s truly something here for everyone . When you’re not bobbing over the waves in a jet ski, paddling along the shallows in a kayak, or fishing for dinner off a pontoon, the nearby Sand Mountain dunes beckon with epic trails for OHVs, mountain biking, equestrian tours, and good old hiking.

Sand Hollow features two established campgrounds, two primitive campgrounds, and a day-use beach area. Most of the bookable campsites are a mix of standard and full/partial RV hookups, but there are 25 primitive campsites for purists who prefer peace and quiet. Unlike many Utah reservoirs that prohibit four-legged campers, the majority of these campsites are pet-friendly.

Take note of the location here, because Sand Hollow is the closest lake to Zion National Park. In other words, you can use your lakeside camping spot as basecamp for some truly epic daytrips to Zion’s famed slot canyons and bucket list-worthy hikes.

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9. East Canyon Reservoir

east canyon lake Utah camping
Photo: Mike Monroe / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Looking for a unique lake camping experience? East Canyon State Park offers cabins, hammock sites, glamping tents, yurts, and wagons that you can reserve for the night.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: Late spring – early fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, primitive, RV, cabin, Tentrr, hammock, wagon, yurt
  • RV hookups: Standard

Nestled in the Wasatch mountain range, East Canyon reservoir is a short drive northeast of Salt Lake City and a popular destination for camping, fishing, and boating. It’s also a noteworthy historical site, as both the Donner Party and Mormon pioneers camped here on their westward treks from Iowa and Illinois.

East Canyon State Park features two established campgrounds with 95 campsites, along with a group site and day use area. The presence of unique rental options like hammock sites, yurts and wagons should serve as a clear sign that it’s a favorite getaway for young couples and families.

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10. Starvation Reservoir

starvation reservoir Utah lake camping
Photo: Johnny Adolphson / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Don’t let the morbid name dissuade you — Starvation Reservoir delivers everything you’d expect from a scenic Utah lake with fewer visitors thanks to its distance from Salt Lake City.

  • Reservations accepted: Year-round
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, primitive, RV, boat slip, cabin, Tentrr
  • RV hookups: Full, partial

Fred Hayes State Park is about two hours east of Salt Lake City and Utah Valley, but it’s worth the drive for campers who want to avoid the more popular lakes on our list. In fact, you could argue that the long, scenic drive through the Wasatch and Uintah mountains is part of what makes visiting here so unique.

The shores of Starvation Reservoir offer three established campgrounds and three primitive campgrounds with a total of 145 campsites. In addition to standard sites, RV hookups and tent sites, you can also rent a cabin or canvas-walled tent for an elevated glamping experience.

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