Park City, Utah, in May
May is a shoulder month for this ski town. Restaurants are just reopening, and the city is tranquil. Winter visitors have long since departed, and summer visitors don’t start showing up for another month or two. So, if you like to avoid the crowds, May is a great time to visit Park City.
Hotel rooms go for a discount, and you’ll primarily meet locals in town. The area hiking trails, reservoirs, and rivers see limited activity. It is still cold in May. When we arrived in town in early May, it was snowing! The daily temperature ranged from 30-60 degrees, perfect for outdoor activities like fishing and hiking. Just remember to bring warm clothing, including hats and gloves. There is still snow on the mountains during May, so hiking above 10,000 feet isn’t safe. We could still find several beautiful trails during our visit, including ones with waterfalls gushing with spring runoff.
Park City is a year-round destination with many world-class resorts, inns, and hotels to choose from, including the Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, and many others in the surrounding area. Time your visit to enjoy annual traditions from the Sundance Film Festival in January, the Utah Symphony/Deer Valley Music Festival throughout the summer months, to the ever-popular Kimball Arts Festival each August.
There are close to 400 miles of maintained hiking and mountain biking trails in the area and hot air ballooning, horseback riding, river rafting, and golf. If you’re into thrills, try the Utah Olympic Park bobsled ride, one of the longest slides in the world, with over 3,000 feet of gliding and sliding. The Park City Mountain Resort Alpine Coaster is an elevated track featuring toboggan-style cars that take you through more than a kilometer of scenic terrain. Zipline rides are also available at Park City Mountain or Utah Olympic Park featuring a 500-foot vertical drop and speeds approaching 60 miles per hour. Of course, a trip to Park City wouldn’t be complete without visiting Historic Main Street with its host of dining and plenty of options for shopping. Park City reminded us of another favorite mountain town, Telluride, by its outdoor activities, look, layout, and vibe sans the Olympic Park.
By May, all that winter powder becomes some of the most beautiful and pristine rivers in the Wasatch Range. Then, flies and larva finally begin to hatch, and fly fishing season is in full swing.
A short cast away from downtown Park City is two of the Rockies’ fishiest rivers. The Provo River carves right through the Heber Valley and rolls down Provo Canyon. Across the valley, the Weber River connects the Echo and Rockport reservoirs. These are blue ribbon fisheries: quality fly fishing locations where the state ensures that the water is plentiful and shores are accessible. As a result, both the Provo and Weber rivers maintain a high concentration of large fish per mile. I fished the Provo while in town, so let me tell you about this majestic trout river.
The upper Provo river includes the entire river from where it enters Jordanelle Reservoir upstream to the headwaters in the Uinta Mountains. The lower reaches have some larger brown trout with a few rainbows and cutthroat around, while the upper reaches are predominately small brook and cutthroat trout that eagerly take a fly. Access to the river on the upper reaches is easy on National Forest land along the Mirror Lake Highway (SR 150), which doesn’t open until late May. Indeed, winter snow makes access difficult in the upper Provo, and spring runoff makes it unfishable until early summer. For the most part, the upper Provo River is free-flowing, with high spring flows and low fall and winter flows. The higher elevation sections nearer the Uinta Mountains are accessible and fishable in the summer months and promise good, remote access fishing. The most consistently fishable sections of the upper Provo begin about 30 minutes east of Park City. The lower section near the reservoir is mainly private access, but areas are accessible in early spring. The lower portion of the upper Provo, near the small towns of Francis and Woodland, can provide good fly fishing too, but access is also tricky due to private land. The upper Provo River ends as it flows into Jordanelle Reservoir near Heber City.
The middle Provo River is a convenient and short 15-mile drive east of Park City. The middle Provo is just off Highway 40 in the Heber Valley. Fishing the middle Provo River is a memorable experience given the wild, natural setting with dramatic scenery and wildlife. One of the reasons that the middle Provo is such a spectacular fishery is the result of it being tailwater below Jordanelle Reservoir. As a result, the middle Provo has reasonably stable water temperatures and flows throughout the year instead of a freestone river that fluctuates highly in flow and temperature. Consequently, the temperature remains colder in the summer and warmer in the winter, making the trout and the insects much more active.
The middle Provo is a cobblestone bottom with good hatches of mayflies, caddis, stoneflies, and midges. Because of this, good dry fly fishing is a possibility throughout the year. In addition, the middle Provo had a full-scale stream restoration completed on it which added approximately four miles of river meanders and a much-needed in-stream structure. The middle section of the Provo River ends as the river flows into Deer Creek Reservoir.
The lower Provo River is about a 30-minute drive southeast of Park City. The lower Provo River flows from Deer Creek Reservoir and enters a steep-walled, limestone canyon as it passes by Sundance ski resort. This section is also a tailwater formed by Deer Creek Reservoir, so it can also provide consistent year-round fishing. This section of the Provo River is much different from the middle Provo, with prolific populations of sowbugs, scuds, and midges producing a significant trout population larger on average than the middle Provo trout. There are also prolific mayfly populations, and the river has an excellent blue-winged olive hatch in the spring and pale morning dun hatch in the summer, so fishing trips in this section frequently have chances at dry fly fishing. Numerous Caddis and Little Yellow Sally Stoneflies round out the menu during the summer months.
The lower Provo River runs parallel to highway 189 in Provo canyon, so it is not as remote as other stretches of the river. However, it still offers beautiful scenery in a mountain setting. The lower Provo can be overrun by recreational floaters and tubers, a significant part of the scene during the summer months. However, if you don’t mind dodging the rafts, the browns and rainbows on the lower Provo are well accustomed to the traffic, and fishing can still be excellent. The high-quality managed section of the lower Provo ends at, the lower end of Provo canyon at the Olmstead diversion. There is good fishing on the Provo well below here into town, but water levels and access become more of an issue.
If streams and eddies aren’t part of your fly fishing game, hit the still water in a float tube or pontoon. The nearby reservoirs — Strawberry, Echo, Rockport, and Jordanelle — are stocked with fish and ready for the season. It’s common to hear about anglers pulling in 25+ inch monsters from some of these lakes.
Mark Robert Richards is the retired Chairman and CEO of Appvion, Inc., headquartered in Appleton, WI.
Mark is now President of Meade Street Advisors, LLC, board governance, executive coaching, and strategic planning consulting business headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Mark travels extensively worldwide to unique places and likes to share with others what he finds.