Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ely Creek Campground in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

            “We camp at the mouth of a small creek, which affords us a good supper of trout.”
                                                                — John Wesley Powell    1869
           “You look like explorers!”
            The remark is tossed our way by a 10 year-old boy in a convenience store as Tim and I enter in soiled clothing and dusty boots, announcing our return from a weekend backpacking trip.  
              Explorers, are we?  Well, maybe so, after having spent two nights camped along the small creek referenced in the Powell quote, above.

Ready for Powell's expedition?  The intrepid explorers—
Tim and Rita—pose near Ely Creek Campground.

                   Jones Hole Creek Trail follows the stream from Jones Hole Fish Hatchery to The Green River in eastern Utah.  It’s part of Dinosaur National Monument and the National Park Service has designated two backcountry campsites where tiny Ely Creek joins Jones Hole on its run to The Green.
            We hike into the canyon on a Friday evening and meet two friends at the campsite.  Box Elder trees shade the site and Box Elder bugs have made themselves at home here— crawling over the picnic table, the tents and our packs.  The bugs are harmless but it’s disquieting to see them covering everything we own.  

One of the two backcountry campsites at Ely Creek Campground.
You can't see the pesky Box Elder bugs but they're there, invading our site.

            As we enjoy freeze-dried dinners groups of rafters hike by on the trail.  They’re on multi-day float trips and are camped downstream where Jones Hole Creek empties into the big river.  The happy campers walk upstream to view petroglyphs and Ely Creek Falls—two hidden treasures of this canyon.

Petroglyphs along the Jones Hole trail.  On our hike to The Green River
we saw a group of bighorn sheep with young—but none
with antlers as big as this!

           Night falls and the “river rats” return to their camps.  All is quiet.  We retire to our tents and nod off to the sounds of rustling leaves and scurrying rodents.  Don’t worry,  we’ve hung our food bags from tree branches to discourage these nocturnal marauding munchers. 
           The following morning dawns clear and cool.  We sip coffee while Yellow Warblers flit among branches in the speckled sunlight. 
           After breakfast the men suit up to fish and we women lace our boots to hike 1.8 miles to the Green River.  The trail, used for thousands of years by the Fremont and other native peoples, is a delightful trek through the ages.  We arrive at The Green and, with its expansive views upriver and down, I understand why Powell’s expedition stopped here.  
           Twenty-first century river runners—recreating now rather than exploring—cherish this favored campsite as well.

View downriver on The Green.  A fine place to camp, whether you
were part of a 19th century expedition, or are a twenty-first
century river runner.

           This evening fresh trout sizzles in the skillet, the moon rises above the flame-red rocks and the night birds call.   Wilderness doesn’t get much better than this.
           In the morning we break camp and load our packs for the 2.2 mile walk back to our vehicles at The National Fish Hatchery.  
           As we hike out I ponder the Powell expedition:  What must it have been like to have been the first caucasians explorers of this canyon, its wonderland of secrets waiting to be discovered?

John Wesley Powell enjoyed "a good supper of trout" and
so did we.  This brown trout provided a tasty meal.

This fat rainbow trout was luckier than the brown; it was released
to swim another day in the clear waters of Jones Hole Creek.

My pack is loaded and we're ready to leave
our room with a view.

           Many feet have trod this ancient trail.  Add yours to the adventurers and explorers who’ve gone before by visiting this website for more information:  http://www.nps.gov/dino/planyourvisit/jonescreekarea.htm

Add your pair of feet to this scene; relax along
lovely Jones Hole Creek after a day of exploration.

For information on the National Fish Hatchery, and fly-fishing Jones Hole Creek, check here:  http://www.ecoangler.com/habitat/Jones_Hole_Creek.html  and
NOTE:  This post was first published on June 12, 2012.  One year later, on June 18 and 20, 2013 a large rock slide occurred near the Fish Hatchery, closing Jones Hole Creek Trail until further notice.  Contact Dinosaur National Monument for more information.
Update:  As of June 2014 the trail along Jones Hole Creek is open.  The park service considers the rock fall to be "active" and as such caution is advised along the quarter mile or so of the trail in the rock fall area.

Tim poses in Jones Hole Creek.  He's eager to spend the
next couple hours casting for trout.

Tim snapped this photo while standing in the creek,
looking upstream.


  1. A “cherished campsite” indeed! Rita, the views and description of this adventure are so alluring! It typifies my vision of the unpopulated areas of the Western U.S. It appears to me that this little piece of heaven offers something for everyone to enjoy!


    1. You're right, John. This area of Dinosaur National Monument does indeed provide something for everyone who loves the outdoors—camping, hiking, fishing, rafting, wildlife viewing—and it also offers areas of archeological, historical and geological interest!

      Dinosaur National Monument is in an out-of-the-way and unpopulated part of the US, but it's well worth the visit.

  2. Stupendous! What fantastic photos you've brought back from this trip - pristine (except for the bugs) campgrounds, hiking trails and rivers. And how cool to spot ancient petroglyphs along the way!

    I'm trying to imagine a T Rex or two galumphing across this landscape...

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Vickie!

      "Galumphing"—what a great word. 65 million years ago there were plenty of dinosaurs galumphing around that canyon, perhaps bedding down in the same campsite we used!

  3. So I know this is an older post, but hopefully you see this! We are thinking of staying at the Ely campground end of June, is there enough shade there then?? Worried about being way to hot!

    1. Hi! Yes, the two reservable campsites have shade. And you can always dip your feet in the refreshing spring-fed creek!

      My husband and I have stayed in the Ely Creek campground several times during the month of June. Dinosaur National Monument can be extremely hot in June, but we've also experienced cool and showery conditions.

      You will need a free permit, available by calling Dinosaur National Monument, or you can try online.
      We love Ely Creek. If you go, have a wonderful time!