This Utah Campsite Is in a 50,000-tree Grove — Making It One of the Largest and Oldest Organisms on Earth

·2 min read
Utah. USA. Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) and Glenwood Mountain reflected in Washburn Reservoir in autumn. Fishlake National Forest.
Utah. USA. Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) and Glenwood Mountain reflected in Washburn Reservoir in autumn. Fishlake National Forest.

Scott Smith/Getty Images

There are some amazing campgrounds in the world, but there's only one that lets you sleep within one of the largest and oldest organisms on Earth.

Meet Doctor Creek Campground in central Utah. This campground in Fishlake National Forest sits partially within a grove of around 50,000 aspen trees united by a single root system. Together, the trees make up a single organism, named Pando.

Twin Creeks Picnic Area is a Day Use Picnic site at Fish Lake on the Fishlake National Forest
Twin Creeks Picnic Area is a Day Use Picnic site at Fish Lake on the Fishlake National Forest

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Pando is considered to be one of the largest and densest living things on the planet, spanning 106 acres and weighing in at nearly 13 million pounds. It is also one of the oldest, with a history that scientists believe started at the end of the last ice age. The origin of Pando is prehistoric, but some of the aspen trees that make up Pando today are estimated to be more than 130 years old.

And the best part? You can sleep inside the grove of aspen trees.

Gooseberry 3rd Grade Ed Program, Fishlake National Forest
Gooseberry 3rd Grade Ed Program, Fishlake National Forest

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The campsites on the far western loop of Doctor Creek Campground sit within Pando, providing campers with an up-close-and-personal experience with one of the largest and oldest organisms on Earth. Each of the 30 sites have access to drinking water and flushing toilets. Two of the campsites are group sites that can accommodate up to 150 people each.

From the campground, you can drive directly through the heart of Pando, which is split by Highway 25. Visitors can also hike through Pando on a portion of the Lakeshore National Recreation Trail.

Utah. USA. Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) at sunset in autumn. Sevier Plateau. Fishlake National Forest.
Utah. USA. Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) at sunset in autumn. Sevier Plateau. Fishlake National Forest.

Scott Smith/Getty Images

Doctor Creek Campground is also near Fish Lake, which boasts a superlative of its own: It's Utah's largest natural mountain lake. Within the giant expanse of water are rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, splake, yellow perch, and Fish Lake's renowned, 20-to-40-pound Mackinaw lake trout.

Fish Lake National Forest boundary sign on the Fishlake National Forest
Fish Lake National Forest boundary sign on the Fishlake National Forest

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The best time to visit Pando is the fall, when the aspen leaves turn gold, orange, and red in stunning unison. But in reality, any time is a good time, as scientists are concerned that Pando is showing signs of decline. The grove is not regenerating as it should and is faced with insects and disease. Over time, the grove could shrink or completely die off. In response, the forest service and its partner organizations are studying Pando and testing ways to encourage new sprouting and regeneration.

Utah. USA. Grove of aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) bordering meadow at Wiffs Pasture in early autumn. Thousand Lake Mountain. Fishlake National Forest.
Utah. USA. Grove of aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) bordering meadow at Wiffs Pasture in early autumn. Thousand Lake Mountain. Fishlake National Forest.

Scott Smith/Getty Images

Half of the Doctor Creek Campground sites can be reserved in advance through Recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777. The other half are first come, first served. A single site is $20, per night, and a firewood permit is an additional $20. Doctor Creek Campground is open May through September.