Most of my camping experiences fall definitively on the "free is cheap" end of the spectrum. It takes a little work to find them, but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Service make available some of their most beautiful real estate for overnight accommodations. My absolute favorite?
The town of Green River, at the Junction of I-70 and Hwy 6, is no one's first thought for a go-to destination. At least it never was one of mine. For a decade I thought the only thing they had to offer was gas and an Arby's. Then, two summers ago, I had once again under-estimated how popular Moab would be on a summer weekend and ended up backtracking in the dark to the Green River Motel 6. One night there was one night too many and my family was insisting we hang our heads between our legs and make a somber trip back home. We fueled the car, my husband hurried inside to pay, and Green River as we know it changed forever! The gas station attendant had let him in on a local secret-a camping spot so idyllic we might never want to leave.
Located north of Green River, and nestled up against the scenic Bookcliff formations, driving to Swasey's Beach is the only remotely stressful event you'll experience during your time there. Here are the reasons why:
As the name implies, you're going to pop up your tent right on the sandy shore of the Green River. All around you the red rock formations southern Utah is known for will take your breath away. Little lizards make their home in the shade of the trees that shelter your campsite from the summer sun and different desert flowers color the landscape.
Because you're far away from the smog and city lights, the nights at Swasey's Beach are breath-taking. The entire depth of the stars in the sky twinkle above you and the shadowy outline of the surrounding rocks brings deep perspective to your size and place in the world. And while rain and stormy weather is not usually ideal for camping, I count it a privilege to have experienced thunder and lightening (and the downpour that comes with them) on such a beautiful stage.
Southern Utah can be a zoo in the summertime. Every time we get in the car and head to Swasey's Beach we assume that this will be the time we find no spot available. Every single time we are completely surprised to find maybe 3 or 4 other small groups in weekend residence. The place is NEVER busy. Sometimes our favorite spot is taken, but we've been spoiled to almost always have our choice of any spot on the beach.
Swasey's Beach is a take-out point for local kayakers and rafting companies. During the day small groups filter in off the water, back into their shuttle vans, and go on their way. If being on the water is fun for you, it would be no problem to drive up the road, put in, and end up right back at your tent's front door.
The beach along this section of the Green River is large and the river is calm. In normal weather conditions it is fairly comfortable and safe for kids to play along the shore. It makes for relaxing fishing and plenty of opportunity for reading, relaxing, and anything you and your family like to do together while you're camping. The rocks all around are an open invitation for hiking and there is pretty good mountain biking up the road as well.
Swasey's Beach is incredible. The bugs can be really bad, but insect repellent will take of that. The local rafters can be a little rowdy at night, but that's only happened to me one time. And the bathrooms are standard minimally maintained pit toilets. When you consider the price, however, (remember it's FREE) and the idyllic setting, and the quality time you'll have to spend with your friends and family, I fully expect to start running into you regularly.
Directions and Information:
Once in Green River, follow Main Street through town until you reach the intersection with Hastings Road. Turn left and drive approximately 8 miles. There is one wash area to watch for, but is navigable in a car. The official boat ramp and parking lot will appear on the left-follow the road a little further, around a curve, and you'll find the camping area on the left as well. Campsites are spread from the left of the bathrooms and parking area onward to the next curve in the road.
Note: I have not been to Swasey's Beach yet this season. With rivers across the state running high and fast, please use caution if heading down there in the next few weeks. Conditions may be more dangerous than they would normally be.