Despite Utah’s landlocked landscape, the state’s rivers, reservoirs and lakes offer plenty of options for those wishing to get their toes—or their whole body—wet. So, whether you’re looking for a sandy spot to read a book while the waves lap at your feet or you’re ready to ride the waves, here’s where you can take the plunge.
Basking on Beaches
When people think of Utah, they usually imagine rocks and snow, not surf and sand—but where there’s water, there’s often a beach area to match.
Bear Lake, with its vibrant blue waters and sandy beaches, is a little taste of the Caribbean. The 109-square-mile lake, on the Idaho-Utah border, offers a traditional seaside experience, complete with beach-house rentals and plenty of sand.
At the south end of Bear Lake lies Rendezvous Beach, which has three campgrounds, utility hookups, modern restrooms and hot showers. Farther north is the Bear Lake State Park Marina, which has a beach within walking distance and just about anything beach-goers and lake enthusiasts might need, including boat rentals, ramps and slips, hot showers and pavilions.
Pineview Reservoir in Weber County is a water lover’s paradise, perfect for boating, swimming, fishing and, of course, just playing in the water or sitting on the sand. The reservoir is one of the most popular in the state and contains three beach areas: Cemetery Point—located west of Huntsville—and Anderson Cove Campground and Middle Inlet Beach, which are just a short drive north of Huntsville.
Flaming Gorge is a popular camping and recreation destination in eastern Utah. The cool waters provide a sharp contrast to the hot summer sun and serve as host for boating, swimming, trout fishing and even cliff diving.
Utah’s most well-known body of water, the Great Salt Lake, offers Bridger Bay Beach, on Antelope Island. This two-mile-long beach features stunning white sands, and the lake’s salty water means you can float without sinking.
Perhaps no body of water is more popular for summer fun than Lake Powell in southwestern Utah. This vast reservoir offers plenty of beaches, blue waters, surrounding red rock and practically any type of water activity a person could dream of, plus golf, resorts and restaurants.
A float down a river can range from a relaxing scenic ride to white-water excitement. The trip down the top section of the Weber River, from Henefer to Taggart, takes roughly two hours. The beginning of the float is the most challenging, with rocks and branches to navigate around. The trip mellows out in the middle, so you can lean back and catch some rays while you cross under bridges and meander through the mountains and past thick trees. A set of rapids serves as a wake-me-up grand finale. Inflatable inner tubes can be rented from nearby tubing companies or purchased at sporting-goods stores. A life jacket is required, and you’ll want to make sure you have a ride back to the put-in spot.
The more adventurous or solitude-seeking adventurer can explore the Provo River by renting an inflatable kayak or inner tube. Local adventure companies such as High Country Adventure (3702 E. Provo Canyon Road, Provo, 801-224-2500, HighCountryRafting.com) supply the tube, transportation and needed know-how. The float is about six miles and is not for the faint of heart. Taking the trip in a tube requires good swimming skills and physical fitness. Participants will encounter challenges like bridges, rapids, rocks and other obstacles.
Getting a group together and taking on the river in an inflatable raft is another way to float down a Utah river. Local adventure outfitters can provide a guide who’ll explain how to paddle and attack the waves. Rafting trips on the Weber River put in near Henefer and take out in Taggart, covering about seven miles, with rapids reaching up to a Class III level—whitewater, medium waves, with anywhere from a 3- to 5-foot drop, but not much danger. The trip has plenty of local scenery, and many guides will provide lunch and transportation with the cost of the activity.
The Provo River offers a variety of different rafting trips through Provo Canyon, including one-day and multi-day trips. Day trips include transportation, gear and knowledge that guides are ready to share. The Provo River trip puts in about a quarter mile below Vivian Park. The rapids on that route can reach up to Class II, which includes rough water, possible rocks and small drops. The rapids come one right after another in certain sections of the river, but for the most part, it’s a pleasant and beauty-filled float down the river.
Kayakers can set sail on the Provo or Weber rivers, but more paddling can be found in the southern part of the state, with day trips available on the Colorado and Green rivers as well as Lake Powell. Seasoned kayakers can explore on their own, while newbies who need paddling instruction can join a guided trip. The Colorado River’s rapids range from Class II to Class IV, with large whitewater waves, long rapids, rocks and some considerable drops. Sharp maneuvering is often necessary. The Green River’s Desolation Canyon has Class II rapids for experienced kayakers. River outfitters such as Tag-A-Long (452 N. Main, Moab, 435-259-8946, TagALong.com) and Canyon Voyages Adventure Co. (211 N. Main, Moab, 435-259-6007, CanyonVoyages.com) can provide kayaks, equipment rentals and information for self-guided tours, or fully guided kayaking trips. offers Sea-kayaking trips on Lake Powell allow paddlers to work on their skills while enjoying the scenery surrounding the lake.
Yes, Virginia, you can scuba dive in Utah. Scuba diving is a way to see a unique side of the state and a great way to train and prepare for scuba experiences in other locales.
To get certified or update diving skills, dive operators like Neptune Divers (2445 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City, 801-466-9630, NeptuneDivers.net) and Scuba Utah (1942 E. 7000 South, Salt Lake City, 801-942-2100, ScubaUtah.com) offer a variety of courses. Novices will need to take the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water Diver course before embarking on a scuba adventure. While it’s not needed for basic scuba diving, divers may want to continue to build their skills with the Advanced PADI Open Water course. With more supervised dives, the diver can learn new scuba activities and become more comfortable in the water.
The crater at the Homestead Resort in Midway (700 N. Homestead Drive, Midway, 888-327-7220, HomesteadResort.com) features a 90-plus-degree, 65-foot-deep hot spring. The crater, which is 10,000 years old, is the only warm-water scuba-diving spot in the continental United States and features crystal-blue, mineral-rich water and walls of a lava-like rock called travertine.
A mini ocean, complete with tropical fish and a shipwreck, is just a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City. The saltwater Bonneville Seabase (five miles northwest of Grantsville on State Road 138, 435-884-3874, Seabase.net) offers a labyrinth of channel bays and, like the Homestead Crater, is geothermally heated. The Seabase has three bays, so divers both novice and advanced can snorkel or scuba with the fishes, train on the platforms or dive deep into the 62-foot Abyss bay.
Windsurfing, or boardsailing, is a land and sea sport all rolled into one: part surfing and part sailing, it also includes elements found in snowboarding and skateboarding. Much as with the aforementioned sports, windsurfing requires a great deal of balance and control to keep body, board and the attached sail working together to glide across the surface of the water.
Lessons (Windsurf Utah, 801-906-8396, WindsurfUtah.com; Utah Windriders Association, UtahWindRiders.com) usually last about three hours, with gear provided. Beginner lessons start on the shore and then move to water. Single lessons are offered for those who just want to give the sport a try, but multi-week and intermediate classes are available for those who want to become skilled windsurfers.
Windsurfing can be done on a number of Utah bodies of water, wherever there’s a moderate amount of wind to be found. For the beginner to the seasoned surfer, windsurfing hotspots include Deer Creek Reservoir, Yuba and Utah lakes, as well as Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge. The nearby Provo Boat Harbor on Utah Lake provides a safe and manageable spot for rookie windsurfers to practice their skills. New windsurfing gear can cost as much as $2,000, but there’s plenty of used gear to be found online.
Popular Paddle Boarding
Though it’s been around for years, originating in the Hawaiian Islands as a way to travel long distances on a surfboard, paddle boarding has become a hot “new” sport in recent years. Stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP, is simply standing on a board and using a paddle to move through the water. Paddle boards come in a number of lengths and styles and are a way to explore Utah waters while building core and arm strength.
Two popular SUP spots are Jordanelle Reservoir, near Park City, and the Colorado River, in Moab. Local paddle-board companies Jordanelle Rentals (State Road 319, Building 515, Heber, 435-615-7397, JordanelleRentals.com) and Red River Adventures (1140 S. Main, Moab, 435-259-4046, RedRiverAdventures.com) can provide gear, demos and guided tours for beginners or for those who can’t afford the cost of owning or transporting a paddle board.