When doing the dinosaur tour in northeastern Utah, there are plenty of camping options in the Ashley National Forest between Dinosaur National Monument and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. There are several roadside developed campsites to choose from along Highway 191, which runs along the eastern end of this National Forest between Vernal and Red Canyon. This is a mountainous region with rolling forested hills and vast grassy meadows, so plenty of National Forest boondocking opportunities exist on the dirt side roads too.
"Boondocking" basically translates to legal free primitive dispersed camping on public lands. The main rule of this camping mode is pack it in and pack it out. Leaving no trace is best to keep in mind and this includes sanitation, although some public lands still have rules for digging personal sanitation pits for back country excursions. The National Forests offer plenty of dispersed camping areas and the best resource is the local Ranger Station. The Rangers know where the best dispersed camping areas are for both RV and tent campers. They also know which dispersed camping are not recommended because of heavy logging traffic, dirt road washouts or big cattle drives. Knowing where to go and what lies in store does help when boondocking, so getting some information ahead of time at a Ranger Station or at a free camping website is the best way to go.
During the summer and autumn seasons in the Ashley National Forest, it is fairly easy to spot the dispersed camping areas along the dirt side roads that branch off of Highway 191. There are usually RV campers scattered in the woods and recent fire rings with leftover fire wood can be seen too. One of the best dirt side roads to look for along this stretch of Highway 191 is Road 048, which runs east from the paved highway. This road goes by several woodsy campsites, green pasture meadows and a historic cabin site on the way to a big reservoir that offers good fishing. For a National Forest boondocker, it does not get much better than this!
During my Ashley National Forest boondocking venture, I set up camp on the edge of the woods at an existing stone fire ring campsite. The old historic Stringham Cabin could be seen way across the big grassy mountain meadow, so it was easy to plan a healthy little hike for the following morning. There was plenty of leftover fire wood stacked up by the stone fire ring, so this certainly was a cozy spot on the edge of the forest for calling it a day.
On the downside, the meadow is cattle grazing land, so there are lots of cow dung land mines to deal with at the campsites on the edge of the meadow. Fortunately it was autumn and the temperatures were already chilly, so the flies were few in numbers. During warmer weather the flies will likely be thick in this area, which is good to keep in mind. The other thing is the livestock are free to roam, so you may get uninvited guests in the middle of the night. A horse with a bad cough decided to stand beside my tent around midnight, which was kind of loud in the dead silence of this wilderness area.
Other than a coughing horse in the middle of the night, camping at this spot across the meadow from the old cabin in the Ashley National Forest was a real pleasure! The short hike to the Stringham Cabin was invigorating and the grazing cattle scattered off pretty easy. However, after reading the historic marker it was then that the wild bear danger was realized. The old sheep eating bear story at this cabin is kind of gruesome, so it is best to leave it at that.
This old sheepherding family cabin was built in 1926 with local rough hewn timber, so it looks very picturesque in the edge of the woods setting. Old farm and forestry equipment is on display by the cabin too, so there is plenty to ponder over in this place. Not much is left of the old family golf course in the meadow, but the views are postcard perfect. Organized local group tours and student outings take place at Stringham Cabin while the weather is warm, so do not be surprised if a big crowd shows up out of the blue.
Boondocking in the Ashley National Forest along Highway 191 in northeastern Utah is nice option to keep in mind and the setting near Stringham Cabin is as peaceful as can be. This is a cozy spot to do an overnighter before touring Red Canyon in the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area or Dinosaur National Monument. The best part is, the fire wood is nearly always free in the National Forests, so doing some serious cowboy cooking and staying warm at night is easy to do!
Leave no trace!
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