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Sailing the High Deserts of Utah

by Craig Goudie

The wind in Utah is a fickle yet seductive mistress, sometimes teasing you to curses, sometimes spanking you silly, but fulfilling your desires just often enough to keep you coming back for another sesh. Sailing in Utah requires a plethora of equipment, but the most useful is a large light short board (say about 140 Ltrs) and a large sail (8.5-9.5). It'll blow here from 9.5-way too much wind, and if you want to sail it all, you'll be owning 3 boards and 7 sails, a shortie, fullwet and dry suit. The good wind is storm front driven so you've got to be able to get to the lake quickly. This means you'll be carrying all your gear inside your van all the time, and you'll be getting sick at (or just skipping out of) work a lot. You'll also become a better Meteorologist than most weather men.

The high desert is sprinkled with reservoirs and lakes the way a fruitcake is sprinkled with nuts and jellies. Some of the lakes are pristine, and some have reflective properties much like a fruit cake. Here are some of my faves.

Rush Lake

Rush is Plush!

Crank’n jibes on a 3.2 day at Rush

Rush Lake, located 50 minutes West of SLC in the Rush Valley, South of Tooele and West of Stockton, is a mainstay for hardcore Kite boarders and a few tortured sailors. Front driven South winds can go nuclear (3.2) in the Spring and Fall. Listen for I80 closure due to SemiTruck blow overs and head to Rush for a real spank sesh. North post frontal clearing winds tend to be lighter than South but steadier. If there's water in it, Rush has more Kitable & short board sailable days than any other lake in Utah. Plenty of parking, right next to the water in the cow pasture. In Spring, a 3 ft deep 200 yard fetch, provides mainly flat water Kiting and Sailing. Water quality appears to be improving as the cows now die and bloat several hundred yards from the water (versus right at the beach in previous years). Under windy conditions the cowpie and fine mud beach provide an additional slippery challenge to the launch. 15 M Kite summer thermals are likely, and can be enhanced by high pressure over Nevada.

A lot of Windsurfers have moved one valley over to Grantsville reservoir, because it has enough water to clear a 12" or better skeg.

Rush is currently (Summer 06) 6"deep. That's right folks, inches not feet. The lake was dry by Autumn 05 so get it while you can.

Getting There:
Take I-80 W toward RENO. 16.33 miles
Merge onto UT-36 via exit number 99 toward STANSBURY/TOOELE. 18.79 miles
Right turn at convenience store at end of Stockton next to large flag pole.
Follow road over RR tracks and around lake to east side, then through cattle guard.
Turn Left on dirt wash opposite semi completed log cabin

Darren Fowler airs up at Rush

Grantsville Reservoir

Grantsville Reservoir, located about 40 Miles from SLC has turned into the delusional AM Windsurfers Tropical Paradise. It's not tropical, and it's not really paradise, but it is sailable many mornings when 10-20MPH is forecast in the SLC valley. Often the only potential for summer sailing near SLC. The water is considerably cleaner than Rush, and much deeper, sometimes lasting the entire Spring, Summer and Fall seasons. With porta pottie and picnic pavilion amenities, it's not a bad place if you're an early riser.

Getting There:
35 mi. W of Salt Lake City, 2 mi. S of Grantsville. Take 2100 South Freeway to westbound I-80.
Turn off at exit 99 to Tooele/Stansbury Park.
Turn right to Grantsville just before you reach Stansbury Park.
Drive through Grantsville to the last road to the left, which is directly across from the cemetery.
About 2 miles from town, take the first paved road to the right.
Stay on the pavement and it will take you right up to the reservoir.

Utah Lake

Can You Say Smooooth Wind?

Dave (smooth jibe) Griffiths

Utah Lake is located 40 minutes South of SLC. Clearing winds from the North can go near nuclear (3.9) in the Spring. North wind is the favored direction at launches like Saratoga Springs Park. On a Southwest wind you can also get good 5.5 rides at a place called Mile Marker 19. Kiteboarders are starting to favor the Utah Lake South Sandy Beach ULSSB and Lincoln beach for the unobstructed launch. Rocky Point is no more, but the Saratoga Springs city park (also know by the old timers as Pelican Point) located about 2 miles south of the old Rocky point, can still provide good North wind days.

A North wind on Utah Lake is the smoothest, cleanest wind in the state. Huge swell (6ft) can develop from the South and big swell (4ft) from the North. For the never jibe types, the fetch is an enormous 7 miles from Pelican Point and nearly 10 from Mile Marker 19. Don't try it without a multiple buddy system and some emergency provisions, they'll never find the body. Dead in the Summer, Fall can give good 7.5 thermals late afternoon.

Getting There, Saratoga Springs:
Take onto I-15 S. 17.46 miles
Merge onto BANGERTER HWY/UT-154 N via exit number 293 toward BLUFFDALE. 2.89 miles
Turn LEFT onto S REDWOOD RD/UT-68. Continue to follow UT-68. 10.40 miles
Pass Saratoga Springs City
Pass El Nautica Boat harbor and private launch
Left Turn 2 miles past El Nautica on the paved road in the new housing development
Drive past the (currently unmanned) Guard shack to a nice park and boat launch with good paved parking, and a grassy rigging area

Getting There, MM19:
Same as above except stay on UT-68 past El Nautica boat club around Pelican Point 8 Miles
Look for green MM sign on left, and turn left at MM19 towards lake
Follow dirt road, then wash, to water.

Getting There, SSB:
Take I-15 South bound past Provo to the second Springville exit.
The exit has Walmart on the East and Cracker Barrel on the West.
From the exit, head West for about 2 miles.
The road will curve to the south, you'll pass some old white beehive boxes on the east and then come to a "T" in the road.
Turn right at the "T".
Go about 2 blocks and turn North by some farm houses.
If you go over the canal you've gone too far.
Now you’re on the final road to the Beach.
The road winds through the farms for about a mile then turns to the west and changes to a dirt road for about 1/2 mile ending at the beach.

Deer Creek Reservoir

The Place We All Learned to Sail

Casual planers on tap

Deer Creek Reservoir is located 55 minutes South East of SLC. 7.5 thermals in the Spring, can be enhanced to 6.5 by approaching storm fronts. Gusty afternoon Southwest wind blows up Provo canyon. A morning thermal blows down the canyon providing good 5 MPH conditions for teaching future addicts. Parking (at Island Beach State Park) can get fairly cramped (and a little crazy) during the Summer because this is one of the biggest party lakes in Utah. Clean water, lots of boat chop, bikinis and a great deal of JetSki comedy, make for a couple of interesting no wind afternoons in the Summer (don't forget your gear just in case). Fall is an entirely different scene at DeerCreek. The "cold" (below 80) and the "huge wind swell" (like bigger than 12 inches) drives all but the hardiest JetSkiers off the lake. Parking has become a bit problematic since the "beach improvements" to this state park. In the fall when the water is very low, you can (currently) drive down and off the boat ramp to unload your gear, and then drive back to the approved parking. The only people on the beach are lazy afternoon boardheads and Kite boarders. Fall gives 6.5 - 5.5 gusty Southwest thermals, which turn on like clockwork between noon and 3 PM. Best bet at DeerCreek is to pull up at noon (the water will be glassy), have a beer, eat some lunch, rig your 7.5 on floaty short board and wait for the therm. It can last for several hours but is more likely to last about 90 minutes. It's always the best when it first comes up so be ready.

Getting There:
Take I-80 E towards Heber. 27.35 miles
Merge onto US-40 E via exit number 148 toward HEBER/VERNAL. 13.39 miles
Drive through Heber City and take W RIVER RD/CR-3130. Continue to follow W RIVER RD to DeerCreek
Right turn at Island Beach for island beach launch or follow road around lake to get to Sailboat beach near Dam

Sulfur Creek Reservoir

The Cure for the Summer Wind Blues

Pre-air launch smile

90 minutes Northeast of SLC in Wyoming (about 12 miles due south of Evanston, Wy.). This can be the only place to get wind in the July wind dearth. 7.5 -5.5, clean (and very cold) water. From the statistics, you'd guess the Utah Windsurfing Association members never go anywhere else. It's a small lake with small chop, and the occasional irascible fisherman. When the jet stream is right over us and due west, and there aren’t any thunderstorms around, Sulfur Creek has dependable wind. Plus, if you get skunked, there’s always the consolation of real beer!

Sulfur Launch

Woodruff Narrows Reservoir

About the same distance from SLC, but about 12 miles North of Evanston. Woodruff is relatively unsailed, but gets good West wind like Sulfur Creek. People debate which is better, but there are two reasons to go there: 1) You can camp there, unlike Sulfur Creek and 2) When you’ve made the drive to Evanston and find a bunch of big black clouds hanging over Sulfur Creek, look north. If it’s clear, Woodruff can be rippin’ while Sulfur is rainin’. Same water as Sulfur Creek, part of the Bear River.

Jordanelle Reservoir

40 minutes SE of SLC on the way to DeerCreek. The same conditions prevail here as DeerCreek because it's in the same type canyon funnel. Gets pretty good south wind on prefrontal day, but generally only until 3:00 or so. Get there early! Clean but very cold water (it's at the 6,500 ft level), means wear your drysuit! Jordanelle can also be sailed when the upper atmosphere winds are North. It's high enough in altitude that the upper atmosphere can couple down to the water.

Yuba Reservoir

90 minutes South of SLC. Reliable 7.5 -6.5 morning thermals dawn to 11 AM. If you're hung over you'll miss it. The North beach has fine white sand to caress your bare feet, but the good wind happens at the east boat launch which will require booties. Prettiest bluegreen water in the state.

Willard Bay

45 minutes North of SLC. Unpredictable wind, you can get near nuke conditions before and after a front or you could just get hailed on.

Pineview Reservoir

55 minutes NE of SLC. Same conditions as DeerCreek but a lot less crowded in summer.

Rockport Reservoir

30 minutes from SLC. Spotty at best, on West wind (which is rare).

Echo Reservoir

60 Minutes East of SLC. Afternoon 7.5 thermals if you're lucky.


There are actually many more lakes within an hour to an hour and a half of SLC, but those listed are most likely to get predictable wind.