Utah Lakes and Rivers

Utah lakes and rivers give you some of the most gorgeous places in this already gorgeous state! Places for dreaming, picnicking, fishing, camping, and all sorts of recreation. Some of these spots even provide riverside or lakeside Rustic Cabins to enjoy these pristine waters for some heartening refreshment.

Many, if not most lakes are created from the flow of rivers. Or their tributary streams. We'll roam through the state of Utah to discover how the lakes and rivers of Utah connect. Where they are, how they help each other. And how they may need our help, as well!

Major Utah Rivers and Lakes

Rivers in Utah

Utah has quite a few significant rivers. The primary rivers which run through & within Utah are:1

  • Colorado River - Not only for Utah, but substantially important for all Southwestern states. The Colorado cuts across the southeast corner of the state. It's a source of irrigation & recreation. The trouble is it's suffering from effects of population growth demands and Drought.
Colorado River in the canyon, below the Dead Horse Rim Viewpoint at the State Park.View of the Colorado From Dead Horse Point in the Same-Named State Park, Near Moab UT
Very easy pathway from parking lot to platform overlook.
Green River From West Side of the White Rim Road
  • Green River - A crucial tributary of the Colorado River, the Green can be considered the Utah river with the consistently strongest flow. What's terrific is along with fantastic scenery, is a bit of an upgrade for your camping, by planning a stay at the Utah State Park With a Cabin along its shore.
  • Bear River - Unique in that it's final outlet isn't the ocean. Its course winds through many miles, originating in Utah's Uinta Mountains north slopes. Then twisting through Wyoming & Idaho, before returning to Utah, flowing into the Great Salt Lake.2 Along the path influencing and interacting with numerous Utah lakes and river tributaries.
  • Sevier River - Utah's longest river that runs entirely within the state. It flows into Sevier Lake. The river's waters are heavily sourced for agriculture, affecting lake levels. How? You'll find out soon!
  • White River - With headwaters in the White River National Forest, it's solid with the confluence of its North & South Forks east of Meeker Colorado. Over the Utah border west of Bonanza UT, it flows into the Green River south of Ouray. It's a favorite for boating.
  • San Juan River - Known for its fabulous fishing, it flows somewhat parallel to the southeastern Arizona border.
  • Price River - In the central east part of Utah, it flows into the Green River. The best time is spring when snowmelt makes for fun kayaking & canoe trips.

Utah Major Lakes

Many of the significant rivers help in forming Utah's major lakes. Plus there are tributaries to these rivers that also contribute to the waters of Utah's Best Lakes.

  • Lake Powell - Formed from the Colorado River & its tributaries. Those already mentioned, such as the San Juan River, & the Green River with its own tributary, the White River. Other substantial feeders are the Escalante River & the Dirty Devil River. All these, and their own headwaters and connecting streams add waters to this notable lake/reservoir created with the Glen Canyon Dam.3
  1. Before its creation, the man for who it's named, John Wesley Powell, described the river canyon's sunset: "The vermillion and rosy hues, the green and gray tints..."3
  2. Water storage for Lake Powell started March 13, 1963 when the diversion gates went into action. Construction costs: $300 million, 18 deaths, 348 serious injuries. Maximum water capacity is 27 million acre-feet. Lots of evaporation occurs from its surface waters.3 But the current Western states' drought is severely affecting its level.
  3. There are many opportunities for recreation throughout its shores. Particularly good to check out is Glen Canyon Recreation Area, where they keeps tabs on water levels, closures, etc.
Lake Powell with the cliffs reflecting in the still waters.Lake Powell, Utah
View at Alstrom Point
  • Utah Lake - Noteworthy because it was a natural, even among the largest of the non-man-made lakes in the West. At 15 miles wide, 22 miles long, it's about 10 average feet deep. Pretty shallow. Which is a source of its problems. Wind stirs it up easily, making a muddy appearance. Giving it a reputation as polluted. This has been a controversy. A few algal blooms have occurred & PCB leakage from a steel plant has been happening over time, leaching into soils sourced by groundwater. Utah Environmental Quality recommends children & pregnant women refrain from eating lake fish.4
  1. The Jordan River is sourced at Utah Lake, flowing outward, ending at the Great Salt Lake. It's the only outflow for Utah Lake. In 1901 a dam with a pumping plant was placed to control water into the Jordan, changing the original natural character of Utah Lake.4,5
  2. Many areas for recreation are on its shores including marinas, beaches, and a State Park.
  • Willard Bay Lake - A reservoir north of Ogden. All kinds of boating, swimming, camping, marinas, wildlife sightings, & more! Excellent recreation via Willard Bay State Park.
  • Great Salt Lake - Unmistakable & unique, for sure, among all Utah lakes and rivers. There's no larger salt water lake in all the Western Hemisphere! It's more salty than the ocean, about 12% salinity, making swimming & floating seem effortless! For recreation there's boating, swimming & two state parks. Many opportunities for hiking & wildlife sighting. It's shallow throughout, averaging about 20' deep. But as a historic remnant of ancient 20,000 sq. mi. Lake Bonneville, it's just 75 by 35 miles.6 Located a little northwest of Salt Lake City.
The Great Salt Lake with cattails along the foreshore, and mountains on the far shore.The Great Salt Lake of Utah
  • Sevier Lake - Another vestige of the original (and huge), ancient Lake Bonneville. First Sevier Lake historic notation was made in 1872, with an observed 188 surface acres. Also noted as very salty. It was pretty shallow, at its deepest, about 15 ft.
  1. What has happened here? By the late 70s it looked very different from the early days. The essential flow into the Sevier had always been sourced from its namesake river. Plus some tributaries, like the San Pitch River, Brine Creek, and Otter Creek; as well as reservoirs, like Rocky Ford, as its purposed inflow. But because so much of these waters are used for irrigation and other community needs, by the time it gets to the "lakeshore" (plus considering drought conditions) - take a look!
  • Strawberry Reservoir - A very large Utah lake impounding waters of the Strawberry River. Called the most popular fishing lake in the state. From Heber, take Hwy.40S. There are numerous campgrounds, a few marinas & some Day Use areas. Well known for catches of large rainbow & cutthroat trout. However, note this:
  1. Lands surrounding the Strawberry lake & river of Utah have been through some devastating fires. It's encouraged overwhelming growth of invasive lowland sagebrush. Among other plans, Wildlife Management began restoration methods to reduce this species, along with other species like "invading pinyon and juniper trees." They used "herbicide or mechanical treatment of nonnative invasive species such as cheatgrass... [plus] rehabilitation of burned areas..."8
  2. They're addressing aquatic lake plants troubled by water diversions, exacerbated by drought, heavy grazing usage, & more. They're devising policies to help natural water flows, decrease unsuitable grazing, evict invasive plants & proactively protect riparian sites.8
  3. The above will contribute to improving fish habitat, which will also have individual policies to assist this category. For instance, they're "placing in-stream structures (J-hooks, cross vanes, etc.)."8
  4. If fishing, there are some strict rules to follow in Strawberry Reservoir: 1) There is a list of 15 fish that if caught must immediately be released. 2) Promptly also release any cutthroat trout between 15-22" - you're asked to please release other sizes also, and know how to identify them. 3) No fileting/prepping trout or salmon upon catching or in transit. 4) Know your salmon & trout total limits. 5) In general, be aware of all Utah Lakes And Rivers Fishing regulations.9
  • Bear Lake - A bit less than half is in Utah, the remaining lake water areas cross north into Idaho. Generous in size, with gorgeously turquois blue waters from dissolved limestone. The like-named state park is one suggestion, with an excellent campground. Swimming (Cisco or Rendezvous Beach), boating, fishing (in fact some exclusive types of fish in here!), even scuba. A marina is helpful.
A lake with a small reedy peninsula jutting out and the far shore mountains with intermittent fluffy clouds.Bear Lake - It's Gotta Be a Lake Destination!
  1. Get to Bear Lake: Out of Wyoming, take Rt.30W to Laketown. Or out of Brigham City, take Hwy.89 towards Logan, take right following 89 in Logan, (note, it now follows the Logan River awhile), finally arriving at Garden City adjacent to Bear Lake.

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