Utah's Hidden Fairy Forest
I first heard about Utah's secret Fairy Forest about 5 years ago on a blog I follow. The writer had adorable pictures of her kids walking with anticipation along the trail, across a river in effort to discover the magical fairy villages known as The Secret Fairy Forest.
She wrote of the light in her kids eyes as they added their own contribution. It looked like so much fun. So, my hubby and I made a visit that same year, and have gone back every year ever since.
I have had intentions to write a blog post each year since and have a plethora of pictures from year upon year of tiny tributes that have interested me. But oddly, every time I sat to write, the story in my mind had changed, just as the forest itself had, and I just couldn't find the words or motivation. I'm glad now for the writers block and see why I stumbled. Sometimes it takes a child's point of view to help the words flow.
Each year the borders of this forest of enchantment have gotten bigger, the displays more elaborate and the painted markers more colorful. With each years visit I was left puzzling over exactly how big and obscure this pine tree wooded area, plunked in the middle of one of one of our most scenic and treasured nature spots, would be allowed to grow? Last year, in particular I could not believe the growth, little houses and brightly colored rocks dotted the path as far as I could see.
Where is the Fairy Forest in Utah?
Located on Mirror Lake Highway at mile marker 17, this “secret” little forest, that has now been widely publicized by news media and blogs around the country, attracts 1,000's of visitors and is definitely no longer a secret.
Camping at the Utah Fairy Forest
Instead it's become a state attraction and is something that draws not only Utah families, but represents our state to visitors from all around the country, many of them camping at the Shady Dell campground right next door. There are bathrooms on the south side of the Campground, just before the river for those that may find they need to make a pit stop.
Admission is free, but there is a $6.00 National Forest day usage fee that you'll need to pay at the booth prior to entering. Now nearly triple the size since my first visit years ago, this time around I actually lost my bearings when leaving and it took a bit of time to find the path leading out.
How did the Fairy Forest in Utah Start?
It's not known exactly who or how it started, but while doing some online research watching blogger posted videos made by past visitors, I discovered that it could have been a single fairy cottage built from sticks and rocks that was set up as a Geocache.
Planning my visit this year I was particularly excited, as my 7 year old granddaughter was finally home from 3 years of living in Italy. So, we went to work creating our own little cottages, my hubby chipped in by adding some furniture made of sticks cut from branches in our yard. We crafted our contribution at home imagining that a fairy would choose to reside in our creations. It was the making of a memory I'm sure she will always treasure and a tradition I've heard many families have adopted.
After finding our plot of land and setting up wooden houses, we wandered the forest enjoying the little hideaways, castles, furniture dangling from trees and even spotted an adorable fairy theater. As we walked my granddaughter stopped to admire each contribution with joy and imagined not only the fairies that inhabited the forest when night fell, but the art of the creations. It was truly a wonderful moment for her and time and money I don't regret spending.
Is the Fairy Forest Children's Art or Graffiti?
And then …. something magical happened, my granddaughter, who has been taught like most children, to respect and appreciate our environment, spotted what she called “something ugly” and stopped me in my tracks to make sure I saw it too. A single random rock placed at the end of the trail seemed to have more of graffiti style to it and caused her take notice in a different way.
Recognizing that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, especially when it comes to a child's art, I suggested we should not judge others art, the rock was probably painted by a toddler, but to myself I agreed that there were many things left behind that didn't belong and made the forest feel cluttered and uninviting.
She began to point out villages cluttered and left as broken with garbage and old broken toys, plastic that she knows wouldn't break down in the forest, ribbons and paint in trees that she'd been taught could beharmful to birds or other animals (parents, this probably isn't the place to teach about where to recycle your trash).
Well, as things go, once you see something a certain way it's hard to turn a blind-eye, and when I looked around where we stood, the forest as a whole appeared to be some kind of dumping ground in the midst of our Utah beauty. In mere moments, the mystical magic of the Fairy Forest was lost and became nothing but a forest encased in graffiti a full 360 degrees.
I felt sad to watch her leave the forest with such a great amount of disenchantment. She pondered it all the way back to my house and we agreed to each other that after she returned to her home out of state, I would go back at the end of the season and remove all trace of our little houses…. “If fairies had not taken up residency” of course.
(photo Boy Scouts of America)
An Idea for a Scout Project
The forest service reports that it takes hours to clean up and that they removed nearly 5 truck loads of garbage last year, it took me a moment digest that.. FIVE truck loads of garbage in maybe 2/3 of a square mile. The forest is much bigger this year and I'm thinking with numbers like that a few of our scout troops may consider taking on a yearly clean up project.
What are you allowed to bring to the Fairy Forest?
I don't know what the legacy of the Fairy Forest will be and have wondered how long it will continue to be allowed to grow larger without any guidelines. I've read bloggers that say to take your own rocks and materials, and others, like the video below, that suggest a paint party is the way to go. I personally feel that it needs some clearly marked parameters and officially posted rules of what is and isn't allowed so people know what's acceptable and how to respect the area.
Until then keep in mind that federal law prohibits leaving things in the forest, removing nature from the forest, painting and defacing the forest. Until some clear rules have been decided, telling your kids, as I did, that it's okay to contribute, while quietly justifying it because everyone else is doing it, is a fairy tale.
My purpose in sharing our story isn't to stop you from visiting the forest, or leaving a piece of your children's art work behind. My story is meant to create awareness that, depending on the way you see things and where you are on your life journey, you and your child may see it as something other than a magical place to visit that's hidden away in the Utah mountains.
When I go back to pick up the memories we left behind, it will be my last visit. It no longer holds any enchantment for my family. Instead I'll choose to take a hike along the many other beguiling and less occupied trials in the area the next time my granddaughter visits. In a matter of a single hour she outgrew the Fairy Village in the mountains of Utah, right before my eyes. We'll find room in my garden to set up a cottage, and hope a fairy will stop by our house for a visit instead.
What do you Think?
Have you been to the Fairy Forest? Should the Fairy Forest remain a Utah tradition, or is the natural beauty of our forest enchanting enough? Should there be restrictions on its boundaries and materials that can be used to decorate it? Or, should we confine the Fairy's to our own backyards?
List of hikes near Mirror Lake Highway:
Ruth Lake: Located 10,000 feet up in the high Uintahs, this beautiful alpine lake is great for hikers and fishermen. It is a 2 mile round trip hike through meadows of wildflowers to a glassy lake that our boys loved.
Fehr Lake: This lake is just .5 miles each way (1 mile RT) and there are animals and critters to see along the way. One of the 600 lakes in the Uintahs is found at the end of the trail, and you can hike all the way around it.
Provo River Falls: There is a pullout along the Mirror Lake Highway that overlooks the Provo River Falls. This waterfall is pretty spectacular and easily accessible to everyone. If you drive the Mirror Lake Highway, this is a must-see.
Mirror Lake Hike: The Grand Central Station of the Mirror Lake Highway is obviously Mirror Lake. A trail leads all the way around the lake. It is too rocky for a stroller, but just right for a stroll.
Teapot Lake: Teapot Lake is located right on the Highway, and a 1 mile long path leads all the way around it. This beautiful lake is often surrounded by fishermen. The path is well marked and easy to follow, and this makes a great hike for little ones.
Additional notes: Hike information provided by Utah's Adventure Family. Visit each of the links above for hiking details. Written with respect and understanding to those who's children's art pieces are in the photos, no presumptions have been made. The Laws, Regulations and Policies of the US Forest Service Management can be found here. All images are the copyright of Coupons4Utah.com and my not be redistributed without permission.
Scott Hayes saysSeptember 9, 2016 at 12:11 am
Great article hopefully other people follow your lead and start to build their fairy houses at their homes. We are doing a clean up on September 17th if you are interested please visit my Facebook page @utahfairyforest. Thanks for taking the courage to write about what the fairy forest really is and not follow suit with all the other bloggers that encourage vandalism of the forest.
It was made in 1997 by teenagers. It was named the fairy forest because it had a bunch of ferns and butterflies. It was never supposed to be what it is.
Joani saysSeptember 12, 2016 at 4:19 pm
Hey Scott, Thanks so much for your efforts. I’ll will let my audience know about the clean-up. That’s awesome.
Kristen saysJuly 25, 2016 at 1:35 am
Oh and thank you for the mention of other hikes as well.
Kristen saysJuly 25, 2016 at 1:33 am
I was excited to read this article due to just talking about this place with my cousin. I love the idea for this magical place, as I kept reading it became much of a downer. With that being said some times things lose their grandeur when over exposed or too cluttered. I am glad places like this exist for the excitement and magic they can bring, but when is enough, enough? I love the idea of placing your items for awhile and then bringing them home. However me personally I may not visit just because it isn’t so secretive, and I can just make a magical place in my own backyard. Thank you for your thoughts and a different perspective.
Joani saysJuly 25, 2016 at 2:00 am
Thanks for the comment Kristen, I really appreciate it, and you’re welcome for the list. I loved the idea of the fairy forest too and as you said, it was pretty charming idea back when it was secret. I can’t take credit for the different perspective though, that belongs to my 7 year old granddaughter. Sorry if it was a downer for you. I kind of thought it was inspiring to watch her grow up just a little.
Jackie Flynn saysJuly 24, 2016 at 10:07 pm
I think you should let that spot alone, and go enjoy one of those suggested by you that doesn’t seem to as touched by the dirty human hands as you seem to prefer anyways. It is taking up a pinprick of a prinprick of a pinprick of space compared to the rest of Utah, let alone the rest of the wonders of the USA, and then let alone the rest of the wonders of the world. Are you such a busybody you can’t just mind your own business and just move along to something that actually pleases your eyes? How about this question to ask yourself, “Does it hurt me?” Answer: no, it doesn’t. It offends you, but you don’t have a right to not be offended. How about you just let it alone, and let other little kids that aren’t so indoctrinated in earth worship be able to continue to have fun doing their own little thing in the fairy forest, and you go do your own little thing NOT in the fairy forest?
Joani saysJuly 25, 2016 at 12:38 am
Wow Jackie, that’s some rough assumptions. I’m sorry if I offended you. I don’t believe I said or suggested I thought it should close; and I’m not on some kind of tree hugging mission; nor does the forest “offend me” as you suggest. If it did, I would not so enthusiastically have carried in my own contribution and revisited for year after year. With that said, I believe that most parents strive to teach their children respect for the land they live in and if one child notices the mess my guess is she isn’t the only one that has. I understand you’re point in not wanting to ruin their fun. I personally feel we teach the next generation with our actions more so than with words though, what message do we send when we encourage purposely leaving illegal truckloads of garbage in a forest and paint on it’s trees? We teach our kids not to paint on the walls of our homes and leave their toys laying around the house, why would we teach that it’s okay to use the forest as a giant canvas? That pinprick you describe, is at least 3 times the size that it was 5 years ago, how much bigger should we let it get without setting any guidelines or parameters? Thank you for sharing your point of view. I appreciate your candor.