While visiting central Utah on a recent summer day, my husband and I drove the Fish Lake Scenic Byway, one of the state’s many beautiful highways and byways that are officially (and rightfully) designated as “scenic.” This road, Utah Route 25 between Loa and Fish Lake, weaves and curves through pine tree studded hills and into thick aspen groves. A bike trail runs alongside the lake and we quickly unloaded our bikes to ride this waterfront path. We soon found ourselves jumping on and off our bikes to take in the views, smell the fragrant air and check out the thick carpets of wildflowers that rolled down to the shore.
Fish Lake Lodge is the centerpiece of the Fish Lake community. It is a wonderful old building made of logs and filled inside with trophy heads, an inviting fireplace and a large dining room that looks out over the lake. We were there in summertime, but the fireplace looked like it would be perfect for snowy winter evenings too.
Of course the main activity at Fish Lake is fishing, and it seemed everyone we saw was carrying a fishing pole or a tackle box. A large family huddled around one of the fish cleaning stations near the Lodge, and two men busily carved up the day’s catch. The kids watched in fascination as one of the men sliced open the belly of a fish and then explained it was a female as he pulled out a fistful of eggs. The little girl scrunched up her face and squealed, “Gross!” while the boy next to her grinned, “That’s cool, Dad!”
The Fish Lake Scenic Drive lived up to its billing and each view around every bend was better than the last. The aspen shivered and shimmied their brilliant green leaves while the pointy dark green pines seemed to pierce the sky. First inhabited by mammoth hunters some 9,000 years ago, people have traveled through this area for a long time. A portion of the Old Spanish Trail, used by Utes and cowboys alike, wanders along the western side of the lake. Out of the corners of our eyes we both thought we spotted a train of horseback riders, but on second glance we saw it was a memorial sculpture in the middle of a field commemorating the Utes and settlers who traversed the Old Spanish Trail.
Notes from Kit Carson in 1848 described the shallow streams in the area as “swarming with fish.” Using just “an old bayonet fastened to a stick” he caught five dozen fish at sunrise in the icy water one morning. We didn’t see quite such plentiful fish, but we found the flower-strewn banks of the lake and streams teeming with butterflies. The warm summer air buzzed with busy insects, and seagulls cried in the distance.
Trading our bikes and helmets for our hiking shoes and camera gear, we strolled along the shore, watching the cormorants fishing and seagulls soaring overhead. The sun glinted freely off the glittering lake and the sun was hot on our backs. In contrast to all the activity of the creatures around the lake, the campgrounds along the shore were quiet and had plenty of vacancies.
Our refreshing mid-summer’s trip to this bucolic spot reminded us yet again that Utah’s scenic byways are always worthy of a detour.