Found at an elevation of nearly 4,800 ft, Pelican Lake is legendary for its world-class bass and bluegill fishery. Thousands of anglers are lured towards the lake and its shoreline. The best accommodations for camping in this scenic wilderness are offered at Pelican Lake Recreation Site.
In the spring of every year, birdwatchers flock to the area and set up camp for a chance to spot some truly exotic and rare bird species that migrate to these waters each year. Over a hundred recorded species of birds depend on the lake's rich waters.
Pelican Lake is a natural lake found in the Uinta Basin of Vernal, UT. The lake has been dammed to impound water needed for irrigation, as well as sustain wetland habitats, warm water aquatic habitats, and recreational purposes. However, its fishery remains its primary reason for fame. Many record-breaking Bluegill and Green Sunfish have been caught in these lake waters; some being the largest ever recorded in the state of Utah.
When approaching the lake, be cautious, as half of its shoreline is privately owned whereas the other half is under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management.
The landscape at Pelican Lake Recreation Area is termed as a high-desert ecosystem with its dominant grass vegetation and stunted trees. The recreation area, while known for its angling opportunities offers many other recreational opportunities for outdoor adventurers and thrill-seekers alike.
To the west of Dinosaur National Monument, and some 26 miles from Vernal, Utah, Pelican Lake Recreation Site is easy enough to navigate to.
Once you reach Vernal, take Highway 40 and drive west for about 15 miles until you reach Junction 88. Follow State Road 88 from the junction and head south for another ten miles. On the horizon, you’ll spot a hill and soon after arriving at an intersection at the foot of the hill. Take a left from there and stay on the SR-88 until you hit the eastern shore of the lake. Follow the signs to the recreation area from there.
The roads are paved and decent to drive on while the surrounding landscape makes for a scenic and rewarding journey.
If you wish to experience camping at a more modernized campground then drive half an hour from Pelican Lake to reach Vernal Dinosaurland KOA campground. The campground has extremely well-furnished sites including the latest upgraded full-hookup RV sites built for the largest rigs there are. They also have cabins and glamping tent options. The campground is also close to many exciting adventures such as rafting at the Green and Yampa Rivers or biking up to the Uinta Mountains.
Pelican Lake Campground boasts campsites on a road loop with back in driveways of gravel. Each campsite comes with a fire ring, picnic table, and gazebos over them, concealing the sun. Visitors can find campsites right next to the lake with amazing views that are also shaded by a thick canopy of trees. There are 13 RV campsites available in total and are situated quite close to each other, but not so close that it becomes uncomfortable.
Camping at Pelican Lake Recreation Area is primitive yet it offers some amenities such as vault toilets, a game room, playground, and a volleyball court. The stay limit at the campground is 14-days. Pets are welcomed at the campground as long as they are leashed.
The focal point of the Pelican Lake Recreation Area is Pelican Lake itself and the many water-based activities it offers. Under BLM management the recreation site offers boating enthusiasts with access to a concrete boat ramp located close to the campground.
Keep in mind that water skiing and swimming are discouraged because of the large number of algae and macrophytes in the water. The lake is too shallow to swim in but perfect for kayaking, canoeing, and other small watercraft.
Pelican Lake is known for its abundant bluegill fish stock. However, it is also a great spot if you wish to catch smallmouth and largemouth bass in Utah. The environmental conditions of this lake make it conducive for supporting a thriving fish population. Bluegill, for instance, is a staple diet for largemouth bass and the thick vegetation also provides good cover and lots of foraging opportunities.
You can fish from the boat or take advantage of the fishing pier at the recreation area. Common fish species include bluegill, green sunfish, bullhead catfish, channel catfish, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass amongst many others.
Pelican Lake attracts plentiful shorebirds, even more so during spring. It is also a stopover destination for various migrating birds. The National Audubon Society recognized Pelican Lake as an important habitat for many migratory bird species.
The most common species spotted hunting the lake waters or soaring high above the foilage include American White Pelican, Lewis's Woodpecker, Snowy Egret, Green-winged Teal, Geese, and Golden Eagles. They are over a hundred recorded species of birds here making it a haven for birdwatchers and nature lovers.
BLM permits hunting at the Pelican Lake Recreation Area. Make sure to stay on BLM grounds and avoid privately owned lands. Waterfowl hunting and duck hunting are most common here. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources along with the Uintah Basin Chapter of Delta Waterfowl also hosts a Youth Waterfowl Hunting Clinic to teach young hunters the skills and techniques involved in tracking and hunting prey.
To be beside the lake and not have a chance to picnic would be a shame. Good thing Pelican Recreation Area provides numerous picnic tables with sun shelters in the designated day-use area. It’s a perfect family picnic spot where parents can relax, enjoy fishing or boating, while the kids have a blast at the game room and the volleyball court. Picnickers can also go exploring the many swimming holes, desert caves, and hot springs dotted along Pelican Lake.
They are no marked trails at Pelican Lake Recreation Site but visitors can choose to explore the shoreline on foot if they please. Frogs and prairie dogs can be spotted everywhere in this recreation area as well as wild vegetation. If you want to see even more wildlife just drive 25-minutes from Pelican Lake to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge.