Be Prepared Review responsible travel tips and local COVID-19 guidelines. Learn more

Fresh Tracks in Kamas – Utah's Snowcountry

Just east of the busy Park City resorts lies the Kamas Valley and Uinta Mountains, an uncrowded recreational motherlode bursting with Western charm.

Written By Melissa Fields

Wasatch-Back_Kamas_Cross-Country-Skiing_Woodland_Diamond-Austen_2021
Kamas   |  Austen Diamond

If you were to stand at either of the highest points and gaze eastward of what are arguably Utah’s best known ski and snowboard resorts — Park City Mountain and Deer Valley — the view you’d see is a bit like looking into a different world. In the Kamas Valley and Uinta (pronounced you-in-tah) Mountain foothills that’s often referred to as the Wasatch Back, instead of manicured mountain slopes, designer boutiques and a raucous nightlife, you’ll find this: rolling, sage-covered pastures and the occasional cluster of modest homes framed by craggy, pine tree-covered mountainsides. 

A string of small towns — Peoa, Oakley, Kamas and Woodland — dot the Wasatch Back’s main thoroughfare, the scenic and single-lane State Route 32. Locals proudly preserved the area’s traditional western ranching culture, but have melded it with a deep-seated love for outdoor adventure. And though life commences at a distinctly slower pace than it does in nearby Park City, the things to do within the Wasatch Back offer a different spin on a wintery getaway in Utah’s snowcountry, replete with warm authenticity, a rugged wildness and ample elbow room.

Park City Powder Cats leads guided, snowcat-served skiing and snowboarding at the Thousand Peaks Ranch.

Photo: Adam Clark

Skiing Outside the Lines

“How about you lead us out, Melissa?” 

I’m standing at 10,598 feet above sea level at the top of the wide and sweeping Giant Steps Bowl. A light breeze dances sparkling snowflakes across the unbroken slope descending gently in front me and the rest of the group. A cloudless, endlessly blue sky gleams above our heads. I turn to look at Ron Baldis, our guide and co-owner of Park City Powder Cats, to make sure I’ve heard him correctly. He gives me a nod and a grin. I turn, point my skis down hill and push off into the cold, knee-deep fluff. (Read: "Deep Powder, Open Bowls: The Best Utah Cat Skiing")

Located on the privately owned Thousand Peaks Ranch, Park City Powder Cats has led guided, snowcat-served skiing and snowboarding into bowls, chutes and old-growth glades adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness for the last 25 years. My magical day there began at the outfit’s rough-hewn-log-cabin base camp just outside of Peoa. (Fun fact: Scenes from the Netflix series “Yellowstone” were filmed there.) 

There I met Baldis and the rest of the group I’d be skiing with and was taken through a backcountry skiing safety briefing and equipment check. We then trundled into the spacious and airy cab of the snowcat (a fully tracked vehicle designed to travel on snowy terrain) and were on our way. We saw no one else for the rest of the day, which was filled with an euphoric series of glorious powder runs, all, like Giant Steps Bowl, through deliciously untracked snow. 

After the day’s final descent, Baldis asked our group if we’d prefer to return to the cabin by riding in the snowcat or by skiing along the Weber River, which runs through the Thousand Peaks’ valley floor. The consensus was to return via our own steam. As we poled our way back to where we started the day, I paused more than once to take in the serene contrast of the darkening foothills set off by ridgetops lit with an orange-hued alpenglow.

The quaint mountain town of Kamas is the gateway to Utah's Uinta Mountain Range.

Photo: Austen Diamond

Passing by SUR Latin Street Food in Kamas, a casual shop known for its flavorful empanadas and tacos.

Photo: Austen Diamond

At Samak Smokehouse & Country Store, you can rent snowshoes, purchase a recreation pass or grab a bag of house-smoked jerky.

Photo: Austen Diamond

Lower-Skill-Level Snow Immersion 

Not all outdoor sojourns in the Wasatch Back have a skills prerequisite, however. A snowshoe hike along one of the many trails off the Uintas’ Mirror Lake Scenic Byway is a winter sojourn triple threat. It’s a great workout done at a pace allowing maximum nature immersion with a virtually nonexistent learning curve —  if you can walk, you can snowshoe. 

To get to the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, travel through Kamas along Main to Center Street. Stop at the Mirror Lake Service-Chevron (2 N. Main Street) for a cup of coffee and a homemade donut; all varieties are heavenly, but the glazed fritters have made this gas station bakery famous. 

Continue two-and-a-half miles east along Center Street until you reach the Samak Smokehouse & Country Store (open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). There you can rent snowshoes, purchase a Uintas’ access pass ($6 for a three-day pass) and grab a made-to-order deli sandwich or a bag of house-smoked jerky to throw in your pack for lunch. The staff at the Smokehouse will also happily provide information about one of the several snowshoeing trailheads along the byway just east of the store. 

Among the dozen or so snowshoeing routes past the Samak Smokehouse, the gently rolling Beaver Creek Trail is the best for beginners, but is also the most popular. You’ll see lots of families there, particularly on the weekends. Be advised that dogs are allowed along this groomed trail on odd-numbered days. The four-mile, out-and-back North Fork Trail is a little less traveled and features pleasantly undulating terrain. 

Hands down, my favorite way to end a wintery day in the Uintas is at the family-friendly Notch Pub (Open daily, noon to 8 p.m., and the only restaurant in the area open on Sunday evenings.). Inside this slightly divey, log-cabin tavern — strewn with Christmas lights, signs from long-closed Park City bars and a wood-burning river rock fireplace — you can sip a cold beer and shoot a game of pool while you wait for a well-earned Western Philly, a basket of smoked chicken wings or a rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs. 

Deer-Valley_Sled-Dogs_Arctic-Rescue_Schirf-Mike

Few scenes are a more apt illustratration of sheer joy than a team of dogs preparing to pull a dogsled.

Photo: Mike Schirf

Adventure Steeped in Tradition

Few scenes are a more apt illustratration of sheer joy than a team of dogs preparing to pull a dogsled. As the pooches are leashed to the sled’s tug line, the air is thick with anticipatory yapping, snarling and whining. Until the handler calls out “Hike!,” and the separate personalities are merged into one. The sled jolts forward and the only sound becomes the swish of the sled runners cutting through the snow.      

This scene is the daily routine at Luna Lobos, a dogsled kennel just outside of Peoa in Brown’s Canyon. There, after meeting the dogs, hearing their stories (every member of the 70-dog pack is a rescue), and perhaps even helping harness them up, you’ll be bundled with thick blankets into a lightweight carbon-fiber sled for an exhilarating 90- to 120-minute tour of Luna Lobos’ stunning 60-acre property. Or you opt for just a glimpse at how these canine athletes spend their downtime while learning a bit about dogsledding with a hands-on hour-long kennel tour — where lots of cuddling is encouraged. 

Another Wasatch Back winter adventure that’s steeped in both tradition and solitude is ice fishing. Utah Ice Fishing offers four-hour excursions on Rockport Reservoir, located just north of Peoa along S.R. 32. All the equipment you’ll need to angle for lake perch and trout is included — rods, gas-powered ice augers, chairs, snacks, hot chocolate and even a heated ice fishing tent. Choose to keep what you catch (up to two fish per person) or leave plenty for those coming after you by practicing the preferred catch-and-release method.

Woodland Biscuit Company specializes in made-from-scratch biscuits.

Photo: Austen Diamond

People drive from all over Utah to breakfast or lunch at the Woodland Biscuit Company.

Photo: Austen Diamond

Homespun Sustenance  

You’ll understand why people drive from all over Utah to breakfast or lunch at the Woodland Biscuit Company, located in the tidily restored Woodland Cash Store. (Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; reservations highly recommended.) Most of the familiar but slightly elevated dishes served here are centered around, you guessed it, made-from-scratch biscuits. My favorites include the Messy Biscuit (a fabulous interpretation of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich), the biscuits-and-smoky tomato gravy or, when I’m in the mood for something a bit lighter, the Sweet Miss Jacquie, a big biscuit served with organic strawberry jam, house blueberry jam or honey. 

Housed in an authentic 1930s-era rail car diner, parked at the corner of S.R. 32 and the Weber Canyon Road in Oakley, is the Road Island Diner (open Thursday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.). Sink your teeth into the diner’s huge Reuben sandwich, try the Ratatouille salad or choose one of their homespun entrees, such as the meatloaf and pot roast. Don’t leave without a slice of homemade pie, a shake or a malt, even if you are so full you need to take it to go.

The cheery yellow walls inside the super-casual SUR Latin Street Food in Kamas belie the friendly service and flavorful dishes served there. Though known for their empanadas and tacos, SUR’s ceviche is as refreshing as the burritos and fajitas are deliciously filling. Wash it all down with Mexican Coca-Cola or Modelo.

Park City Yoga Adventures offers restorative yoga-in-silk-hammocks sessions in a heated white-timber-and-glass barn.

Photo: Sandra Salvas

Nature-Imbued Mindfulness

I peer through the silk folds to the skylight above as I sway gently back and forth and watch fat snowflakes meander lazily around the glass pane under a steely sky. “Let your breath take on a natural rhythm,” said Julia Geisler, owner of Park City Yoga Adventures. “You can stay here in savasana as long as you want.” I contentedly oblige by settling into the hammock, closing my eyes and letting the last bits of tension drain from my body.

At the 4U Ranch in Peoa, Geisler and her staff of outdoorsy yogis lead restorative yoga-in-silk-hammocks sessions within the ranch’s heated white-timber-and-glass barn. For the uninitiated, this kind of yoga is done using a soft-fabric hammock suspended from the ceiling as a prop. Geisler guided the class I took through familiar yoga poses — including downward-facing dog, forward fold, pigeon and back bends — all modified to utilize the support of the hammock. I giggled more than once as I got used to using the silk, but then quickly got the hang of it, so to speak, and noticed how much deeper and more soothing the stretches felt supported by the hammock than in a traditional mat-yoga class.

Following the silks yoga session, we bundled up and pulled on snowshoes for a hike along the section of the Weber River bisecting the 4U Ranch. At a clearing along the way, framed by views into a rocky arroyo on one side and bucolic winter pastures on the other, Geisler paused and passed out pottery mugs of hot tea. The conversation made a comfortable pause as we sipped our tea and drank in the view.  

Tips for a Wasatch Back Staycation

  • Watch Out for Wildlife: The Uinta Mountains are the highest east-west trending mountain chain in the United States. In fact, Utah’s highest point — the 13,528-foot King’s Peak — is located in this range, of which most falls within the U.S. Forest Service’s High Uintas Wilderness. This is a protection status that allows wildlife species such as mule deer, moose and elk to thrive. Take special care when traveling along the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway (as well as Brown’s Canyon Road, the route between Park City and the Wasatch Back), especially at night, when these large browsing animals are frequently active.

  • Where to Stay: The Woodland Farmhouse Inn, an historic 100-year-old Victorian-esque home on four bucolic acres with goats, sheep, pigs and a wraparound porch, is an idyllic basecamp for Wasatch Back staycation. Each of the inn’s three cozy suites is furnished with a private bath; families and groups are comfortably accommodated in the bunkhouse or Cowgirl Kitchenette. Owner and operator Sheri Marsing serves made-from-scratch breakfast burritos, omelets, French toast and crepes during staggered morning seatings in the dining room. If a B&B is not your speed, book this charmingly rustic family-friendly cabin on the Weber River in Oakley or this modern log cabin in Kamas, featuring a funky loft with built-in bunk beds perfect for kids.

  • Where to Get a Donut: “Though most people think we are a gas station with the bakery, we really are a bakery that sells gas,” says David Wade, co-owner with his wife, Kristin Wade, of the Mirror Lake Service-Chevron in Kamas. In a small bakery at the back of the service station, a team of bakers has hand-punched made-from-scratch dough into mouth-watering donuts every day for the last 35 years. In 2019, Mirror Lake Service earned top honors for its raspberry fritter at the Utah Dough Show, beating out 22 other bakeries from across the state. 

  • When to Shop and Dine: Most businesses within the Wasatch Back are closed on Sundays, with the exception of the Samak Smokehouse & Country Store and The Notch Pub. Groceries are available at the Kamas Foodtown (open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays). And the only place to buy package wine and liquor in the area is the Utah State Liquor Store in Kamas (92 W. 200 South, open Monday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m.). 

  • Things to Do: Other activities include cross-country ski tours with White Pine Touring; guided backcountry skiing hut trips with Inspired Summit Adventures; snowmobile rentals and guided snowmobiling tours with Woodland Snowmobile Adventures and Park City Peaks; and shopping at the cowpoke-chic New West Country Store and Artique, a gallery featuring the work of local and regional artists and artisans.

Basecamp Kamas

The quaint mountain town of Kamas, Utah is undeniably the gateway to Utah's remarkable Uinta Mountain Range. Kamas itself is a quiet high country town with a population of around 2,000 people and a ranch mentality carried over from the earlier settlements. Today the town defines itself by vast tracts of open space, access to recreation and family friendliness.

Kamas

Previous Image Next Image