Dispersed Camping near Kamas, Utah

Looking down on my lower camp in the Wasatch-Uinta NF near Kamas, UT.

Looking down on my lower camp in the Wasatch-Uinta NF near Kamas, UT.  I think Utah is one of the most beautiful states because of the astounding variety of gorgeous country in it.

In my last travel post I had  just left Bryce Canyon and travels to the Salt Lake City area to take some of the scenic drives through the Wasatch and Uinta Mountain Ranges. After a long day I headed over to Kamas, Utah and drove up Highway 150, the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway to find a campsite. I knew from a guidebook that there was a lot of dispersed camping on this road so I took the first Forest Service road that looked like it had a good chance of having one, the Upper Setting Rd, FR 34. It climbed fairly steeply  up the side of a mountain and I like camping on mountains so I headed up. There were four nice camping spot at the bottom but they were too close to a busy road for me to let Cody run free so I passed them. I quickly came to a fabulous campsite but someone was already in it, so I kept going up. I passed a few spots but there was something wrong with all of them so I kept going. Pretty high up we finally found the perfect spot so we settled in there for the night.

This is my first, upper camp near Kamas.

This is my first, upper camp near Kamas.

The problem with doing a lot of mountain driving is it is very hard on your vehicle; the engine works really hard on the way up, and then your bakes are pushed to the limit on the way down.  On some of the steep downhills I had been driving on I had noticed a burning smell coming from my brakes, that’s a very bad thing! In 2008 I had spent 6 months in Colorado crawling up and down it’s mountains and twice I had got that burning smell and both times my brakes had failed shortly after that. So I always get my brakes looked at as soon as I smell any burning.

The road near my high camp.

The road near my high camp.

Here’s the key to keeping your brakes happy on step hills: NEVER RIDE YOUR BRAKES! If you get on and stay on your brakes they never get a chance to cool off and they will get so hot they literally start to burn off from the friction, thus the burning smell. The solution is twofold: 1) put your transmission in a lower gear so the engine does some of the braking, and 2) get on the brake hard until you’ve slowed down too  much, then get off them and let it accelerate. While you are off them, they will cool down–as soon as you are going a little too fast, get on them hard until you are going too slow again; repeat as needed.

Cody and I climbing around the mountains above our camp.

Cody and I climbing around the mountains above our camp.

I’d been following those rules so I was very puzzled why I was getting the burning smell. In every other way the brakes were working perfectly and I had replaced them not very long ago. Most odd was that even while they smelled hot, they were still working perfectly.


Looking west toward the Wasatch Front Range from my camp. Kamas is in the distance beyond that ridgeline.

So the next morning I broke camp and went into Kamas to get them checked out. There was only one tire place in town so that’s where I went.  Small, out of the way towns usually aren’t too busy so they got it right in and took a look. Just as I suspected the front brakes were perfect with more than half the pad left. But when the pulled the rear wheel and drum it was full of axle grease which meant the axle seals were leaking and the grease was into the drums. When it got hot, it started to smolder, in fact the mechanic said it could get hot enough to literally catch fire. They gave me a quote to rebuild the back brakes and put in a new seal and I made an appointment for the next day to get it done.

Cody running along our road.

Cody running along our road. It’s big country!

When I got back to my temporary mountain home the perfect campsite I had passed the day before was empty so I grabbed it. It was fairly high up the mountain and looked straight down the valley toward Kamas so I was hopeful it would get a good internet signal–I was right, it got a very good Verizon 4g signal! That was Monday and I liked that camp so much I ended up making it a base camp to explore the area and stayed there five days until Sunday morning when I headed north toward Wyoming.


You can see why I stayed here a week!

On Tuesday I got the brakes done. It took longer than they thought it would so I was there quite awhile. Cody sat with me in the waiting area while I worked on the computer. He is very well behaved around people so he was no problem. I worked for awhile and then we got restless so we went for a walk and wandered around town. Kamas is small so there wasn’t a whole lot to see! There was a Forest Service Ranger station in town so I went in and asked some questions, then I tied him up outside the Chevron station while I went in and got us hot dogs and me a coke.  We sat on the curb outside and had lunch. By the time we wandered back to the tire shop the van was all done so I paid and we headed back to camp.

The weather continued to be very volatile and I was hoping to get a chance to have good weather for photography but it went from bad to okay and back to bad so I stayed in camp when it rained and went for drives when it was at least decent. Wednesday we drove the Alpine Loop Byway and on Friday we drove the Mirror Lake Byway.  More about them in the next post.



I've been a full-time VanDweller since 1995 and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again! Check out Homes On Wheels Alliance (HOWA), our nonprofit that I co-founded. HOWA is dedicated to helping nomads in need. http://HomesOnWheelsAlliance.org

39 comments on “Dispersed Camping near Kamas, Utah
  1. Avatar Omar Storm says:


    Very nice pictures, as usual. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Avatar Calvin R says:

    The picture looking down at your lower site gives a perspective and explains (to me, at least) why camping in the mountains is worthwhile. The picture of the upper camp shows a good place too, but I agree about mountain driving being hard work and rough on vehicles. It’s nice to find a place that has the great views with less of the mountain driving.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, I think we have a very primal urge to be in the mountains. There is safety in holding the high ground and danger in having cliffs all around you. John Muir said it best, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

  3. Avatar hunter hollingsworth says:

    Dear Bob,
    The daily life details like this are great. It reminds me of Colin Fletcher from The Complete Walker, or Dolly Freed from Possum Living. I moved from Indonesia to work in Kabul, your site is a Godsend. Please tell the cost.
    Thanks and blessings

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Hunter, that is very great company I’m not at all sure I belong with them!

      I’m not sure what cost you are talking about. Cost of what?

  4. Avatar T says:

    Those are both gorgeous campsites!! I could be happy for a very long time in such beautiful surroundings. Sorry about your brake problem, but happy you caught it before it became catastrophic.

  5. Avatar RV Dealers says:

    This is the perfect camping site and mountain bike trailing. 🙂

    • Bob Bob says:

      It was a really good campsite! It would have been perfect for mountain bikes but for some reason I never saw any–I don’t know why not.

  6. Avatar joe says:

    I could.nt agree with u more Utah is a beautiful mess all the canyons mountains are quite strange shapes, by the way what made the rear axle seals go bad heat? it,s a good thing are noses can tell us about are cars I remember on car talk he said every day u get into your car and drive take time to smell it over real good I thought it was funny but ray is right I guess for u that might be a good idea also glad u got them fixed and u are fine happy trails to ya great photos

    • Bob Bob says:

      Joe, having burned up brakes before I am very tuned into the smell of them burning. I don’t know why the seals went bad, the van has 170,000 miles so it’s time for different things to start failing.


  7. Avatar Rob says:

    What do you use to secure the camp when you’re not there, put up a tent?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Rob, I do carry a tent and I have set it up to hold my camp. Had it been the weekend I would have set it up at Kamas but on weekdays I just took the chance and never had a problem.

  8. Avatar tommy helms says:

    That is one happy looking pup

    • Bob Bob says:

      Tommy, I do everything I can to give him a good life–he seems to like it!

      • Avatar Lucy says:

        I noticed Cody climbing the side of @ hill, that puppy seems like he’s half doggie + half kitty, there are no boundaries for him !

        Bob,Cody…enjoy, life is short & then… well, U now the punch – line.

        My regards, Lucy.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Lucy, both Cody and Homer were amazing mountain climbers! It scared me at first but I got used to it. I could tell you stories…!

  9. Avatar Opa says:

    The fall colors in Utah are stunning, they rival New Englands color.

    Bob I ride my brakes downhill frequently.Chevy 1999 1500 5.7l. I have the original brakepads and rotors. Mileage 150000
    On top of a steep road I shift to a lower gear and slow down really slow down.Then I put my foot very lightly on the brake to warm up the pads and rotors. When the Van is slowing down to much I release the brakes and the Van will slowly pick up speed. When the Vans speed is getting to fast I put my foot on the brake again and the procedure start from the beginning When the brakes get warm they slow down the Van. The engine compression and the brakes work together to control the downhill speed. I drove down Pikes Peaks and passed the brake check.
    That is the way truck drivers go down steep hills like the Grapewine and I17 into Verde valley
    Roadtrips are nice aren,t they!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Opa, I think we are saying the same thing, just using different words. What you describe is exactly what I do and meant to tell people to do.

  10. Excessive heat can also cause your rotors to warp. A mild case of warp will cause a pulsing feel when you apply the brakes. A more severe case can cause aggressive left-right-left-right shaking when trying to brake going downhill at, say, 50mph or higher. I experienced the latter shortly after I got my van. They were able to “true” the rotors on a lathe, but that makes them thinner and more likely to warp in the future. And there’s only so much they can take off on the lathe before the rotors become too thin to work safely. It would have been better to replace the rotors, which is probably what I’ll do if they warp again.

    As for Utah, the southern half of the state gets all the hype, but the northern part is wonderful, too.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Retreat! Retreat!My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Al, I’ve experienced both of those things but neither are going on with my brakes, they work perfectly. Since the rear brake rebuild the burning smell is gone so I’m assuming that was the problem.

  11. Avatar Bill says:

    Hello Bob, I haven’t posted much lately but do keep up with you. Another tip on braking down long steep hills aka mountains is to use a “poor man’s Jake brake”. LOL. It’s your air conditioner. If you are coasting and turn the air conditioner on it will kick the compressor in and this will actually brake the engine which slows the vehicle down. If it’s cold out still do this but instead of turning the ac on just set it to defrost. Your ac compressor runs anytime the defrost is on to stir the freon up during the winter. If you allow the freon to separate the acids in it will destroy your system so the manufacturers do this. So you can actually have the hot air coming out of the defrost vents but also the ac compressor running to slow you down. Conversely if you are running hot pulling a mountain you can run you heater to help cool the engine. Hope this helps yall. Bill n Sadie plus Mic
    Bill recently posted…Blow Baby Blow or Tiger by the TAIL!My Profile

  12. Avatar KR says:

    You’re my inspiration! Planning my retirement and taking notes! I’m a Florida native but have been in Utah going on 20 years. Having been an archaeological technician for many of those years I’ve got to see some interesting out of the way places. Utah is definitely diverse. HWY 89 is one of my favorite drives, from Arizona all the way up into Idaho. If you want to experience the mountains minus the crowd I’d venture a little further north than the Salt Lake/Provo area.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks KR! You’re right, nowhere within 100 miles of SLC has much hope for privacy, but I’m writing a guide book on the Rocky Mountains so you have to go to those places to be able to report on it.

  13. Avatar Jordon says:

    Hi Bob

    I stumbled on your blog here and the funny thing is I also drove past your camp up on upper settings a few weeks back. My wife and I full time boondock in a travel trailer and have been spending a lot of time in the Uintas. Anyway I thought it was cool to put a “blog to the van” so to say. Take care – Jordon

  14. Avatar finn says:


    Fantastic feature blog.

    Have you featured Cody on your blogs or youtube?

    History together , type of dog?

    I believe a great feature on your youtube channel would be this life and those with pets.

    And feature some owners and their pets

    How challenging is managing a journey with a dog as a travel partner , and attempting to visit certain high profile national parks, other. Why the restrictions on man’s best friend?

    Are there those that offer temp. dog sitting at certain base camps?

  15. Avatar Steve Van Landingham says:

    Bob, great blog! Inspirational to say the least. I have yet to venture out on a maiden voyage, I’m currently setting up a van for travel. What caught my eye is that it’s fairly similar to yours. Is that a full rooftop platform on top? What is your set up inside the van? Do you have a trapping system of some sort? Probably waaaaay too many questions, but this is the inexperienced ,reaching out to the experienced…… thanks for your inspiration. Steve

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