Now that the temperatures are dropping, it’s the perfect time for a weekend road trip or stay-cation. The true bonus is the breathtaking fall foliage that begins to pop in the High Uintas in roughly mid-September, and puts on a dazzling show through October. A short drive from Heber up State Route 32 takes you past the Jordanelle Reservoir, providing gorgeous views of the water and surrounding mountains.
Kamas Valley is home to a growing population, and once you’ve driven through, it will come as little surprise. Nestled into the valley are several towns — Woodland, Francis, Kamas, Marion, and Oakley. It can be a challenge to navigate a new area, but these itinerary ideas will help you find the local hot spots that make for a truly memorable trip.
Take a moment with me, and imagine the possibilities.
Picture yourself lacing up your hiking boots, filling your thermos, and tossing a warm blanket or sweater in the back of your car —eager to take a road trip, in search of fall colors and adventure, exploring the Kamas Valley on your way to the Uintas.
Hydration is Key
Today, you’re just passing through on your way to or from another adventure, and need to quench your thirst. You stop at one of the local drink shacks: Uinta Soda Co. or Outpost Coffee. Both are located on Main Street. The Uinta Soda Co, or “The Shack”, offers walk-up service, outdoor seating, and a pull-around line near the Ranger Station. This is particularly handy since you plan on camping and fishing and need to purchase a permit. The Shack offers just about any combination of soda Utah is renowned for, in addition to their own signature drinks sure to make people of any age smile. Outpost Coffee provides classic coffee and espresso drinks, with seasonal classics and friendly service. With plans to open a brick-and-mortar on the main drag in the next few months, you and the locals look forward to a cozy place to sit and sip.
Although drinks are a great start to any road trip, you decide you don’t want to skip an opportunity to try some of the exceptional dining found in Kamas Valley along the way.
Grab & Grub
You’ve planned ahead and made a reservation for brunch at Woodland Biscuit Company because you know they’re only open on the weekends. You drive up the winding road to the little mercantile-turned-café and experience for yourself why everyone raves about the food. After a delicious meal, you head East toward Wolf Creek Peak, and stop at one of the many trailheads right off the road. Riley’s Canyon is an easy hike that parallels a creek and has beautiful aspens that put on a show each autumn. You decide you don’t need to finish all five miles of trail, and instead want to view more foliage from higher up, so you drive to Wolf Creek Peak and stop at the scenic view areas to snap a few photos before heading back down.
It’s now dinner time, and you’re craving protein. With so many local ranches scattered around the valley, it’s no surprise that Kamas Valley serves a good burger. You head to Hi-Mountain Drug in Kamas. The family-owned drug store turned restaurant has won multiple Best in State awards for their burgers, and serves a mean milkshake or cone, made with another Best in State — Leatherby’s ice cream. If you’re lucky, you can catch one of their locally famous bison burgers (served on Fridays).
Or. . .
Perhaps today is a Friday, and you got off work early and want to break out of your routine. You head into Kamas and stop by Summit Inn Pizza for a great slice. This busy local favorite doesn’t skimp on toppings, and the crust will have even picky eaters finishing every last bite. You can order by the slice if you don’t need a whole pie, and they serve ice cream too.
Maybe you decide you want something stronger than ice cream, so you head over to the State Road Tavern at High Star Ranch. In addition to a rotating food and beverage menu, High Star offers live music, country line dance lessons, and fun events like competitive corn hole. It’s also home to the DeJoria Center, which offers world-class performing artists throughout the year, so you grab a couple friends to come with you and make a night of it.
Adventure is in the Air
You got an early start and were up at dawn for a sunrise hike or fishing trip, and now you’re wanting to explore this little mountain valley. After a coffee or breakfast at any of the previously mentioned spots, you’re ready to meander through the town and see what you can find. You stumble across an unassuming one-room building on the west side of north Main Street in Kamas, with a sign that reads “Artique” above the door. Inside is a hidden gem providing a selection of art, books, and jewelry made by local artists. These local treasures are always changing so you make a note to stop in again and again. You treat yourself, excited to see what else you can find in the area.
There are signs all over advertising everything from local farm produce and eggs to kayak rentals. You spend the afternoon stocking up, and all that driving means you need to refill your gas tank, so you stop by the Chevron and stumble upon “Utah’s Best Donut” at the Mirror Lake Station. Don’t judge this book by its cover! These donuts have won multiple awards. Grab a few for the trip home or for breakfast in the morning.
Or, it’s a weekend morning and you have no real plan in mind but want a scenic drive or maybe a hike. You pile into the car and head toward the canyon. Is it breakfast, lunch, or brunch-o’clock? Doesn’t matter at Mirror Lake Diner. They offer classic diner staples, including all-day breakfast. Once you’ve eaten your fill, you turn the corner onto the Mirror Lake Highway and grab a soda at the new Fizz shop (located where the old Dick’s burgers used to be) on the way up the canyon.
The Uinta Mountains are home to hundreds of lakes and plentiful hiking trails for every ability. You know you want some beautiful fall-foliage photos and head into the Uintas; planning to make a quick stop at the Samak Smoke House to grab a few snacks or picnic items. The Smoke House has everything you need, including award-winning jerky, nuts, cheese, and smoked fish. (It’s also a wonderful place to grab a gift basket to take home and share with friends or simply re-live your road trip.)
As you continue up the canyon, you pass a discreet sign advertising The Notch Pub, but you’re ready to get into the woods, so you make a mental note to stop by on the way back down, and head for Provo River Falls to snap some photos. The Falls left you wanting more, so you head toward Fehr Lake trailhead. It’s a short hike with a big pay-off. Measuring only one mile round-trip, the hike is easy enough for tiny legs and takes you to a gorgeous alpine lake with views of Bald Mountain.
The sun is sinking lower and someone’s belly just rumbled. It’s time to check out that restaurant you saw. Tucked down a dirt road, The Notch Pub is a family-friendly restaurant and a local favorite. They offer live music on the weekends, but you’ll need to leave the kids at home as they aren’t allowed in after 8:00 p.m.
Maybe, you’ve been up Mirror Lake Highway, and want to try something different, so you head towards Oakley. But, as you pass through Kamas, you feel a sweet tooth coming on, so you stop by Mandy-Joe’s Brownies & Bars. This brand-new bakery is owned by a local couple and specializes in cookie bars. (If you happen to miss them, they also serve a rotating selection of Mandy-Joe’s goods at The Uinta Soda Co.)
After satisfying your craving, you drive North towards Weber Canyon and spend the day at Smith and Morehouse Reservoir. Great fishing, lots of trails, and scenic views make this a favorite spot. When you’re done playing and are ready to eat, head back down the road into Oakley and you’ll find the newly renovated Oakley Diner. It’s been a local favorite for years, and with a classic diner menu and all-day breakfast, the facelift is sure to please.
Now, if you’re ready to have one last adventure before the snow hits, then roll the windows down, breathe in the crisp, fresh air, and head up to Kamas Valley. It’s the perfect place to explore, find a new favorite place, and revel in nature’s last hoorah before she sheds her glorious colors.