Among wildlife enthusiasts, Utah is known for migrating birds and majestic mammals including deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep.
Salmon runs? Not so much — but those who know where these runs happen go to see this iconic ritual in the state every year as summer transitions into fall, including one location in Cache County.
In September and October, kokanee salmon — which are a shade of silver most of the year — change to a bright red before they travel up rivers and streams to spawn. Their red color makes the fish easy to spot in the waters where they lay their eggs. The males also acquire humped backs, hooked jaws and elongated teeth during their spawning transformation.
“We look forward to the kokanee migration, as it’s a great symbol of the changing seasons and an indication that autumn is here,” DWR Northeastern Region Outreach Manager Tonya Kieffer-Selby said.
There are several spots in Utah where these runs reliably occur around the same time every year, including the East Fork of the Little Bear River located above Porcupine Reservoir at the southern end of Cache Valley.
The East Fork Little Bear is the main source of water for Porcupine Reservoir. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources recently purchased 8,100 acres in this area and created the Cinnamon Creek Wildlife Management Area, ensuring continued public access at a time when developers had been eyeing the land for private development.
Parking is very limited in the area. Visitors are encouraged to park in the small parking lot and avoid parking on the road, if possible. Visiting on weekdays or timing trips for early or late in the day may be the best option for finding parking.
Do not trespass on the LDS Church-owned Cinnamon Creek Campground land, which is located just upstream and marked with a “no trespassing” sign and locked gate.
Peak spawning time is the middle of September, so now is the best time to make the trip.
While the fish are exciting to see, note that you are not allowed to keep any kokanee salmon caught anywhere in Utah from Sept. 10 to Nov. 30, during the spawning season. Visitors should also not disturb the spawning fish by wading into the water, trying to pick the fish up or allowing their dogs to chase the fish.
If you see any of the beautiful spawning kokanee this fall, use the hashtag #UtahSalmon on social media to share your photos and videos with the DWR.
Here are some other locations in northern Utah that feature annual kokanee runs, including two where the DWR will host viewing events next Saturday:
Sheep Creek (Daggett County)
This viewing event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the first bridge in the Sheep Creek Geological Loop, just off Highway 44. Sheep Creek, a tributary to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, is located about 6 miles south of Manila, Utah. Strawberry Reservoir (Wasatch County)
This viewing event will also be held Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the U.S. Forest Service visitor center at Strawberry Reservoir. The visitor center is located along U.S. Highway 40, about 20 miles southeast of Heber City. Though the visitor center will be closed, the restrooms will be open during the event.
Jordanelle Reservoir and Provo River (Summit County)
The kokanee in Jordanelle Reservoir spawn in the Provo River, above the Rock Cliff recreation area. The recreation area is located on the eastern tip of the reservoir, 2 miles west of Francis. The Rock Cliff area has several trails that lead to the river’s edge and a bridge that crosses the river where you can view the salmon. Spawning usually runs through the month of September and peaks about the middle of the month.
Causey Reservoir (Weber County)
You must hike or paddle to see kokanee salmon at Causey Reservoir. You’ll find viewing opportunities at the left-hand and right-hand forks of the South Fork of the Ogden River, which connects to the reservoir. The left-hand fork is not accessible over land — you must use a stand-up paddleboard, kayak or canoe to get there. The right-hand fork can be accessed by land and requires about a 2.5-mile hike in from the Skullcrack Canyon parking area. Peak spawning time is the middle of September.
Smith and Morehouse Reservoir (Summit County)
You should be able to see some kokanee salmon during their run in either Smith and Morehouse Creek or in Red Pine Creek. Late September to mid-October is usually the best time to see the fish.
Stateline Reservoir (Summit County)
This reservoir on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains — about a half-mile from the Utah-Wyoming state line — offers great kokanee-viewing opportunities. The fish are typically small, but very abundant at this location. Fish run up the east fork of Smith’s Fork, which feeds into the north end of the reservoir. Peak spawning time is the middle of September.