AMERICAN FORK CANYON — Levi Dean and his family love to get away from it all from time to time. To do so, they hit the dirt roads in American Fork Canyon as often as possible.
The only problem is, it seems like everybody else has discovered their family's favorite spot, too.
"Over the last, I'd say 10 years, (the number of visitors has) exploded,” Dean said.
Ever since side-by-sides in American Fork Canyon became popular, visitation numbers have almost doubled — from about 1 million visitors a year to roughly 2 million a year, according to Kathy Jo Pollock, spokeswoman for Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Russ Hanson, the district ranger for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said it's been amazing to see all the utility task vehicles in the past few years, but he's also not surprised. "The side-by-sides are car-like, so people get in them and they drive them like their car,” he said.
In the past, many people would visit the canyon to ride all-terrain vehicles, but Dean said that's not really the case anymore.
"I got rid of my four-wheeler because two of us were riding at a time and the rest were sitting at camp, and I'm like, 'This is no fun anymore,'” Dean said.
Dean's not the only one who has upgraded from an ATV. Side-by-sides and other UTVs can be seen in every direction on the dirt roads in American Fork. The bigger off-road vehicles allow the whole family to go out together.
“I've got it set up so my wife and three kids can go,” Dean said.
Dean has car seats in the back row of his UTV and even baby toys hanging from the ceiling. "You have to keep the little guy entertained somehow,” Dean said with a laugh.
Hanson believes that UTVs make exploring the outdoors more family friendly, which works in Utah. It’s common to see a line of side-by-sides heading up the dirt roads near Tibble Fork Reservoir.
Hanson said officials are trying to get ahead of the rapid growth of visitors to the canyon. He added he's not seeing much additional damage to the land because of the vehicles, but he does think their popularity has made it so families can go farther into the mountains than they could before.
With the increasing number of visitors at American Fork Canyon, Hanson has some advice for those planning to go:
“Have a plan B if you get here and it’s just packed full of people,” he said. “Maybe be ready to go to Strawberry and somewhere else if it’s just too busy.”