The Beautiful Backways of Sheep Creek and Spirit Lake

Take a break to savor the beauty of Sheep Creek Geologic Loop in Ashley National Forest, Utah.
Take a break to savor the beauty of Sheep Creek Geologic Loop in Ashley National Forest, Utah. Louis Arevalo
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Sheep Creek and Spirit Lake Scenic Backway are a combination of paved and dirt roads that split off from Utah State Road 44 south of Manila and north of Carter Creek within the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area. These gorgeous routes will guide you through impressive geological features and to the high country of the Uinta Mountains.

What Makes It Great

The Sheep Creek Geologic Loop is a 10-mile section of road that winds through the center of the Uinta Crest Fault. Along its course, exposed layers of the earth raised in crazy angles and positions, plus Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep wandering through the crags, offer spectacular vistas. The Spirit Lake Scenic Backway is a 17-mile section of improved road that takes you through forests and meadows to the northeastern edge of the High Uinta Wilderness and offers access to prime mountain fishing, hiking, backpacking, ATVing, and camping.

Browne Lake is a worthy stop along the Spirit Lake Scenic Backway.
Browne Lake is a worthy stop along the Spirit Lake Scenic Backway. Louis Arevalo

What You Will Remember

Begin the Sheep Creek Loop at the Dowd Hole Scenic Site, 15.5 miles north from the junction of Highway 191 and 44. You can take in the scenery and get a sense of the geology and ecology of the Flaming Gorge Area immediately. From there travel west on Forest Road 218. You will come to the Browne Lake and Spirit Lake Scenic Backway turnoff in four miles at Forest Road 221. Continue on the Sheep Creek Geologic Loop to the overlook of Sheep Creek Canyon. Layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone are all on display. Lower down the canyon, you can have lunch at the Palisade Memorial Picnic Area before arriving to the Tower Rock. This impressive piece of Weber sandstone can be seen as you hit the bottom of Sheep Creek Canyon. Detached from the surrounding cliffs, it appears to be standing out in defiance. At the end of the canyon, when you return to Highway 44, you’ll find the Sheep Creek Nature Trail. The boardwalk path meanders along the water and beneath large walls of weathered Navajo sandstone.

Spirit Lake Lodge is a prime place to bed down during outdoor adventures in these parts.
Spirit Lake Lodge is a prime place to bed down during outdoor adventures in these parts. Louis Arevalo

The Spirit Lake Backway can get you to the lakes of Browne, Sheep Creek, and Spirit for a morning or afternoon of fishing. The short trails of Tamarack Lake and Ute Lookout Fire Tower offer nice half-day excursions. Several campgrounds, ranging from primitive to well-equipped, can be found throughout this area. For the ultimate unplugged experience, rent a rustic cabin at the Spirit Lake Lodge found at the end of this road.

Who’s Going To Love It

If you have an hour or two these scenic backways are not to be missed. The alpine vistas of the High Uintas, combined with the jaw-dropping geology of Sheep Creek, will not disappoint. You can drive through in hours or stay for days enjoying the surroundings.

Fly fishing on Spirit Lake is sublime.
Fly fishing on Spirit Lake is sublime. Louis Arevalo

Parking, Directions, and Regulations

The Sheep Creek and Spirit Lake Backways fall within a Forest Service Fee Area. You may travel these roads free of charge, but if you stop and use one of the recreation areas you are required to pay the fee. Fee stations are located throughout the backways and Flaming Gorge Recreation Area.

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