About 180 people live in this farming community at the base of Boulder Mountain. Ranchers began drifting in during the late 1870s, although not with the intent to form a town. By the mid-1890s, Boulder had established itself as a ranching and dairy center.
Remote and hemmed in by canyons and mountains, Boulder remained one of the last communities in the country to rely on pack trains for transportation. Motor vehicles couldn't drive in until the 1930s. Today Boulder is worth a visit to see an excavated Anasazi village and the spectacular scenery along the way.
Boulder Mountain Scenic Drive
Highway 12 climbs high into forests of ponderosa pine, aspen, and fir on Boulder Mountain between the towns of Boulder and Torrey. Travel in winter is usually possible, although heavy snows can close the road.
Viewpoints along the drive offer sweeping panoramas of Escalante Canyon country, Circle Cliffs, Waterpocket Fold, and the Henry Mountains. Hikers and anglers can explore the alpine country of Boulder Mountain and seek out the 90 or so trout-filled lakes.
The Great Western Trail, which was built with ATVers in mind, runs over Boulder Mountain to the west of the highway. The Dixie National Forest map (Escalante and Teasdale Ranger District offices) shows the back roads, trails, and lakes.
The U.S. Forest Service has three developed campgrounds about midway along this scenic drive: Oak Creek (18 miles from Boulder, elev. 8,800 feet), Pleasant Creek (19 miles from Boulder, elev. 8,600 feet), and Singletree (24 miles from Boulder, elev. 8,200 feet). Singletree is the largest of the three and is the best pick for larger RVs. The season (with water) lasts about late May-mid-September; sites cost $9-10. Campgrounds may also be open in spring and autumn without water.
Lower Bowns Reservoir (elev. 7,000 feet) has primitive camping (no water or fee) and fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout; turn east and go five miles on a rough dirt road (not recommended for cars) just south of Pleasant Creek Campground.
Contact the Escalante Ranger District office (755 W. Main St., Escalante, 435/826-5400, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) for information about camping or recreation on Boulder Mountain.
You wouldn't expect to find one of Utah's nicest places to stay in tiny Boulder, but the Boulder Mountain Lodge, along Highway 12 right in town (435/355-7460 or 800/556-3446, www.boulder-utah.com, $79 and up winter, $130 and up high season) offers the kinds of facilities and setting that make this one of the few destination lodgings in the state. The lodge's buildings are grouped around the edge of a private, 15-acre pond that serves as an ad hoc wildlife refuge. You can sit on the deck or wander paths along the pond, watching and listening to the amazing variety of birds that make this spot their home. The guest rooms and suites are in a handsome and modern Western-style lodge facing the pond; rooms are nicely decorated with quality furniture and beddings, and there's a central great room with a fireplace and library and a large outdoor hot tub. One of Utah's best restaurants, Hell's Backbone Grill, is on the premises.
More modest accommodations are available at Pole's Place (435/335-7422 or 800/730-7422, www.boulderutah.com/polesplace, $78, closed in winter), across the road from the state park. It has a well-maintained motel, café, and gift shop. The Hills and Hollows Mini-Mart (435/335-7349, on the hill above Hwy. 12) rents bunkhouse cabins for $28 a night.
Cowboy up at the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch, seven miles from Boulder on Hell's Backbone Road (435/355-7480, http://bouldermountainguestranch.com). Guests have a choice of simple bunk rooms with shared baths ($70) and queen-bedded rooms with private baths ($80-105), both in the main lodge, or freestanding cabins ($95-115) with basic kitchen facilities and private baths. Also in the lodge is the Sweetwater Café, which offers guests a variety of dining plans; nonguests with reservations are welcome at dinner (seatings at 6:30, 7:15 and 8 p.m., $16-30). Recreational options include daily trail rides, multiday horse-packing trips, and two- to five-day riding and lodging packages based out of the ranch.
The best bet for tent campers is Deer Creek Campground, 6.5 miles from Boulder on Burr Trail Road ($4); bring your own drinking water. During the summer, another alternative is to head north on Highway 12 up Boulder Mountain to a cluster of Forest Service campgrounds. In town, RV campers can stay at the Boulder Exchange (next to Anasazi State Park, 435/335-7304).
The Boulder Mountain Lodge restaurant, Hell's Backbone Grill (435/355-7460 or 800/556-3446, 7-11:30 a.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. daily, $17-37) has gained something of a cult following across the West. Run by two American Buddhist women, the restaurant has a menu that changes with the seasons, but you can count on finding fresh fish, chipotle-rubbed meat, outstanding meatloaf, tasty posole, and excellent desserts.
For simpler but good fare, the Burr Trail Grill (435/335-7432, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct., $8-18) is at the intersection of Highway 12 and Burr Trail Road. The atmospheric dining room, sided with weathered wood planking and filled with whimsical art, offers sophisticated soup and sandwiches for lunch; dinner main courses, such as grilled pork loin, steaks, chicken, and trout, have subtle Southwest spicing.
Getting to Boulder
Take paved Highway 12 either through the canyon and slickrock country from Escalante or over the Aquarius Plateau from Torrey (near Capitol Reef National Park). Burr Trail Road connects Boulder with Capitol Reef National Park's southern district via Waterpocket Fold and Circle Cliffs. A fourth way in is from Escalante on the dirt Hell's Backbone Road, which comes out three miles west of Boulder at Highway 12.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition