Utah is like a holy grail for outdoor lovers. You have the beautiful red rocks, the towering canyons, incredible forest covered mountains, large lakes and reservoirs, vast deserts, and seasonal snow. Just about anything you want to check out in nature, it can be found in Utah. Okay, not everything (mainly, no ocean), but seriously, it’s a massive playground for outdoor lovers.
The overall state culture isn’t my favorite thing, but what has always kept me here is the miraculous outdoors. Whether I want to smell the fresh pine in the breathtaking rocky mountains or go hunt for petroglyphs along the walls of the desert.
When I was younger, my family made a lot of camping trips throughout the state, but as I got older and busier, I don’t get out camping near as much as I’d like to. My awesome travel partner and I have birthdays within a couple weeks of each other and this year, she asked if I’d like to go camping with her. I didn’t want to pass the opportunity up and we ended up deciding on Payson Lakes, since we’d also be able to take the kayaks out on the water.
|Standard & RV Nonelectric||$24.00 per night|
|Standard & RV Nonelectric Double Site||$48.00 per night|
|Extra Car (1 included in fee for single site, 2 for double)||$10.00 per night, per each car|
|Fire Wood bundles||$8.00 each|
*IMPORTANT NOTE: All payments must be made in cash, there is no way to pay with a card. The only other option is by downloading the recreation.gov app, but that will only pay for the campsite. Extra car fees and fire wood must be paid in cash.
Payson lakes has a few different campgrounds that require reservations, but loop A are always first come, first serve. Even during high season throughout the summer. I headed up around 1 on a Friday afternoon to find about 7 of the 29 sites were open. I haven’t been up here for about 10 years, and definitely noted that there used to be a lot more availability on a Friday, so make sure you get there before it’s too late and they all fill up.
Check in is technically from 3, but since it was close enough, I wasn’t charged an extra day. There was a really nice young man when I checked in, but it was soon after switched to an older couple. They were… well, honestly, I felt like they were profiling my friend and I, telling us no loud music, when the quiet hours were, not to park even an inch on the dirt, etc. I know these are regular campground rules, but they didn’t stop at any of the sites that had settled around us, they only stopped and told us. This happens to me at times as a Mexican, and my friend since she is covered in tattoos, but she did tell me things like this always happen to her when she’s with me. #minoritylife 😅
Single sites are $24 a night and double sites, $48. Single sites only include one car so any extra cars are another $10 a night. We booked for two nights, so $20 for the extra car. Double sites get you two cars per night before an extra fee is tacked on. You also get day use to the lakes, you won’t need to pay a separate fee to access them. Just make sure your car tag is with you and show it to the ranger.
Originally, I wanted to do campsite #A22 because it’s the last site before a long stretch of trees, then eventually the last few campsites. I decided not to choose it because it looked like only one car would be able to park there and we would need room for three (another friend joined a bit later). So I rounded back around the loop and chose campsite #A6. There was enough room for three vehicles (two cars, one hatchback Subaru) and a lot of little spots within the trees to pitch tents. I nestled my tent under a tree. There were enough thick trees in this site that you could easily set up a hammock or two, too.
Each campsite has a picnic table and built in fire pit. Of course, fires must always be completely extinguished before going to bed or leaving the campsite. It appeared there were cooking grates for the majority of the campsites, too, but since we’re vegan, I brought my own. Never know what the person before cooked, and I know what’s been on my own grill. Firewood is available for purchase at the campgrounds, $8 a bundle.
You get a car tag that you hang in the car (including extra ones if there are extra cars paid for on site) and an additional tag that you attach to the post of your campsite, showing that it’s occupied. For some reason, I didn’t get the campsite tag and when the other hosts that took over made me feel like they didn’t believe I had paid, even though I had both of the car tags to show them. I used the recreation.gov app, so I had to pull up my payment there to show them. The cool thing about the app is you can use it even when you don’t have reception, and then when you open it upon returning to civilization, your payment will process at that time. …Though my app is being weird and still telling me to connect to the internet and the payment will process, so I might have to redownload it 😅
There are two pit bathrooms on the A campground loop, and each have two separate toilets (womens/mens. If you go to Big East Lake, the west parking lot has flush toilets available). There is no running water here, make sure to bring up everything you need! We packed some tinfoil dinners and PB&Js, along with lots of snacks. August is a good month to camp in Utah mountains because the weather is usually great. We did get a lot of thunder and some occasional sprinkling of rain, but nothing drastic. I had packed a tarp and rope just in case, but it turned out we didn’t need it this time.
There’s tons of wildlife in the area, even black bears! So always secure your food at night and when leaving the campsite. There are three lakes in total and both Big East Lake and Box Lake are close to this campground, just a little ways down the road. Both were quite low this year (notice how far the water is from the dock in the below photo!), but both also had enough to get some kayaking done. Big East Lake had a high algae warning and said not to swim. The sign was quite small, but I was still really shocked at all the kids and adults I saw getting in the water. Make sure to be aware of warnings like that in the area, as Utah does experience toxic algal blooms throughout the summer.
If you’re a fan of hiking, there are so many options in this area to explore the mountains.
Big East lake has a paved trail all around it with occasional benches and picnic tables. It was nice to spend some time at the lake, munching on snacks and viewing the cute little potguts running in and out of the rocks.
The first come first served campsites are really nice for $24 a night. My only complaint was the hosts making me feel uncomfortable (which a ranger at a different site agreed with me, they aren’t the friendliest up there…). The campground and campsites were great, and if you’re looking for something more fancy or glamping, I’d check out the other campgrounds at Payson Lakes. There are more expensive options available, like yurts and large group sites. You can find all the campground and reservation information here. Do keep in mind that you must park on the blacktop. Not even one wheel can be on the dirt. They will make you rearrange your parking if they see any wheels touching the dirt. Really weird, but they made the people across from us do it, too, so it wasn’t just a me thing this time 😅
The experience could’ve been a little better, just based on the hosts, but honestly, it’s a really fun and gorgeous area to camp in. If you’re looking for a great spot in Utah county to camp in the beautiful mountains, I would recommend giving Payson Lakes a try.