There are plenty of good reasons to visit Tony Grove in the summer — a picturesque lake, brilliant wildflower displays, fragrant alpine air and a high-elevation respite from the valley heat, just to name a few — but solitude is not one of them.
It’s common for the day-use parking area and nearby campground to be completely full, even on weekdays. Trails into the nearby Mount Naomi Wilderness offer plenty of options for those who want to get away from the crowds, but if you’re planning on spending the day on the lake, you can generally expect plenty of company.
Much of Tony Grove’s popularity comes from the fact that it’s relatively easy to reach, thanks to a 7-mile paved road winding up the mountainside west of US 89. When the road is closed for reconstruction, as it was throughout June and will be again for six weeks or so beginning Aug. 16, it suddenly becomes much more of an undertaking.
Of course, the road isn’t the only way to get there and for some, the rare opportunity to have such a place to themselves may be more than enough reason to strap on a backpack and boots, saddle up the horses, or hop on a mountain bike and experience Tony Grove as a backcountry destination.
That was my motivation when I set out on foot from the Steam Mill trailhead, one of several ways to access Tony Grove, on a sunny morning in late June.
Hiking over the pass from White Pine Lake several hours later, I dropped my pack on one of the picnic tables along the south shore, sat down to rest, and was immediately taken aback at how bizarre it felt to be alone, at Tony Grove Lake, during the first week of summer.
Where children would normally be splashing in the shallow water, a young deer came to the lakeside for a drink. The deep-blue water surface stretched to the north, unblemished by the brightly colored kayaks and paddleboards that frequent its waters on a typical summer day.
The silence was broken only by birdcalls and the occasional rumbling and beeping of heavy machinery in the distance as crews worked on the road below. The only vehicle in the parking lot was a tanker truck standing by, ready to be filled with lake water.
I hiked up the hill to the upper portion of the campground and pitched a tent in one of the deserted sites. Later that evening, a car rolled by and a gentleman who identified himself as a Forest Service employee asked a few questions and politely informed me that the campground was officially closed. He then went on his way, apparently satisfied at my assurance that I would be leaving in the morning. The road and campground would be reopening soon, and he was tasked with making sure it would be ready for those who had reservations for the upcoming Independence Day weekend.
The next morning, I was awakened by the clacking of horseshoes on the roadway. Not long after, a group of mountain bikers breezed by. On the way out, I encountered two separate groups of hikers, both of which had come up and over from High Creek on the other side of the mountains. Clearly I wasn’t the only one curious enough to sweat out the journey in order to see what this place was like without the usual cacophony of the crowds.
The trailheads at Tony Grove are officially closed while the road project is under way, and U.S. Forest Service officials discourage anyone from coming near the work area. While the work during June was limited to the road itself, this time around crews will be doing pavement maintenance work in the campground and installing a low-water crossing structure at the backcountry trailhead east of the lake. Having unexpected visitors in those areas could present safety issues or cause disruptions to the time-sensitive work, said Brooke Bowman, assistant forest engineer for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
“We don’t want people popping out and the construction crew not expecting them,” Bowman said. “That’s why they do a full closure of the site there, including the trailheads.”
Because of the work planned at the campground, backcountry trailhead and along the stretch of road from the trailhead to the lake, approaches from the south, including Blind Hollow and Twin Creeks/Bear Hollow, should be avoided during the road closure period. Routes coming in from the north via White Pine Creek or from the northwest via High Creek (see sidebar) are the best options for staying out of the way of construction crews.
The Forest Service is aiming to reopen the road on Oct. 1, in time for vehicles to gain access to the area’s spectacular fall-color displays before the road is closed again for the winter.
“We definitely encourage folks to explore some other areas until we can get this done,” Bowman said.
So while the official word is that Tony Grove is closed for the remainder of the summer and into early fall, those who wish to access it through non-motorized means can still do so. Just avoid the parking area, campground, and anywhere else where the work is in progress so crews can work uninterrupted and complete the project on schedule.
If you do decide to make the trek, remember that fire restrictions remain in effect, and be sure to practice “leave no trace” principles. Experiencing this place without the crowds is sure to give you a renewed appreciation for the natural treasures it has to offer.