By all accounts, Utah’s Fishlake National Forest is a quiet getaway in south-central Utah. The forest’s Ridgefield District is home to the eponymous Fish Lake Reservoir, a stunning alpine lake that plays host to locals in the summer months. But within this area’s forested charm surface of this area lies a “trembling giant,” more than 80,000 years old and weighing more than 6,000 tons.
While that description might sound frightening, one visit to Utah’s Pando Grove and you’ll probably just feel awed by its beauty. This “trembling giant” is a massive, 106-acre grove of aspen trees that is considered one of the largest living organisms in the world, drawing visitors and campers to this corner of Utah’s wilderness every season of the year.
Utah’s Pando Grove Is A Massive, Living Organism
Since Utah is already well-known for its other-worldly landscapes, this bucolic grove of golden aspens might not seem like one of the state’s most striking destinations—that is, until you learn the science behind the trees. Utah’s Pando Grove is one single, interconnected (and genetically male) living organism, connected by a system of cloning roots. Altogether, the organism weighs 6 million kilograms (over 13 million pounds), earning the contentious title of “largest living organism” by weight.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “seeing the forest for the trees?” Utah’s Pando Grove might just be the perfect example. While the forest is technically one single organism, the grove is home to some 47,000 individual trees—a rare trait for clonal “colonies”. In the autumn, they blaze brilliant shades of yellow and orange. In the summer sun, they offer a welcome respite of shade under their green canopies.
Pando Can Be Easily Overlooked
Pando’s location in the Ridgefield District is convenient for those looking for a day at the nearby lake, but the grove’s proximity to the popular Capitol Reef National Park means the organism can be overshadowed. This also means, however, that your visit will be relatively crowd-free.
The fall is the best time to visit, as that’s when the grove explodes into bright and stunning autumn colors. The summer is just as good, with a gorgeous canopy of newly-grown green leaves and the nearby lake perfect for water activities. Campers even say that winter’s snow brings a unique allure to the grove.
The Grove Is Facing Extinction
Be sure to plan your camping trip soon, because Pando might not be one of the world’s largest organisms forever. After thousands of prosperous years, the clonal colony stopped reproducing about 40 years ago, and is now shrinking. Researchers have produced a number of explanations as to why, including climate change, human impediment, drought and previous wildfires, but their most interesting threat comes in the form of a pack of mule deer munching on the trees’ shoots. Collapsed fences are allowing more deer in to “prey” on poor Pando, allowing the trees to shrink over time. Recovery efforts have only just recently began, but are now starting to show results.
You Can See Pando Grove From Many Sides
Utah State Route 25 runs parallel to Pando, showing you a large section of the grove. There are also two major access points to Pando’s internal road system; one has a small parking area just north of the Fishlake National Forest “Land of Many Uses” sign. This location will take you farther into the grove, and allows you hyper-close access to the forest. The other access point is through the Fish Lake Lodge parking lot, and offers similar access. There are also hiking and biking options throughout the forest, including the Fishlake National Recreation Trail. Traveling along Section 3 of the trail offers views of most of Utah’s Pando Grove, as well as Fish Lake and the surrounding Basin.
Where to Camp Near Utah’s Pando Grove
There are five campgrounds close to Pando, including an equestrian campground. Most of the campsites are on the shores of nearby Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural lake.
The three closest campgrounds are on the western shore of the lake, next to Pando. You have ample opportunities for fishing, swimming, and other lakeside activities. At 9,000 feet, all three campgrounds give panoramic views of the lake and aspens.
1. Doctor Creek
The Doctor Creek campground is on the southern end of the lake, closest to Pando’s internal road system, making this many campers’ first choice for camping near the Pando Grove. RVers should note that this is the only campground near Pando open year-round, but the water is shut off in the winter. The 28 sites are half-reservable, and half walk-up. For $15/night, campers have access to flush toilets, tables, fire rings, and a telephone.
The MacKinaw campground rests at the center point of the lake, and a half mile from the Fish Lake Lodge. It’s on the same side of the road as Utah’s Pando Grove, so it’s “filled with more trees” as The Dyrt camper Alicia F. puts it. The campground is open May through September. Half of the 22 sites are first come, first served, while half can be reserved beforehand. For $15/night, campers get tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and water. And, the 5-mile Pelican Canyon Trailhead begins in MacKinaw.
3. Bowery Creek
The Bowery Creek campground is on the north end of the lake, next door to the Bowery Haven Resort. Check out the resort’s breakfast; it is “a must” according to The Dyrt camper Kelli R. The campground is open from late May until early September, meaning you can book a site for the end of the season and catch some of Pando’s changing color. Half of the 17 sites are first come, first served, and the other half can be reserved beforehand. For $15/night, campers have access to tables, fire rings, flush toilets, water, and showers.