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Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains

09.18.17

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Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
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  • Ruth Lake is a short, easy, and fun backpacking trip.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Some backpackers heading home from Ruth Lake.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Naturalist Basin from the ridgeline above Blue Lake.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Middle Basin and Hayden Peak (12,479 feet, left) on the Naturalist Basin Trail.  - Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Looking out over Rock Creek Basin, a beautiful and remote region of the Uintas along the Gladys Lake Trail.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Gladys Lake camp by night.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Camp at Gladys Lake.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Descending Rocky Sea Pass into Rock Creek Basin.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • A first glimpse of Red Castle Peak.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Approaching Lower Red Castle Lake.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Red Castle Peak dominates the backdrop of Lower Red Castle Lake.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Looking south across Dollar Lake toward West Gunsight Peak, Kings Peak, and Henrys Fork Peak.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • A young moose just across the Henrys Fork River.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
  • Henrys Fork Peak towers above the Henrys Fork Basin on the Kings Peak Trail.- Must-do Backpacking Trips in Utah's Uinta Mountains
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Pro Contributor

The Uinta Mountains in northern Utah are unique and magical for many reasons. A rare east-west running mountain chain (rather than north-south like almost every other chain in the U.S.), it's also one of the wettest parts of an otherwise very dry state. The Uintas have been the source of rumors and claims of everything from wolverine sightings to stories of the famous Rhoades Gold, a legendary hidden gold mine from the days of the Conquistadors. Much of the area is above the tree line, giving the landscape a vast and foreboding feeling. This place is an amazing destination for backpacking trips to talk about the tales of old while making some unforgettable new memories. 

Ruth Lake

This is perfect for beginners who are new to backpacking or if you just don't feel like hiking very far with a full pack. Because it is a beautiful mountain lake less than a mile from the trailhead, there is a steady stream of people coming here, but the views of Hayden Peak will make up for it. Terrific wildflowers encircle the lake while moose, deer and hummingbirds are common at these lower altitudes.

Naturalist Basin Hike

This beautiful and rugged 12-mile round-trip hike takes you through several styles of terrain. Some do the trip as a day hike, but there are great backcountry campsites at Blue Lake that are worth hauling up the packs for. The Uintas have notoriously dark skies for great stargazing, so don't forget to check them out. There are great views of the lakes below from the desolate ridges with the occasional pockets of dense pine.

Gladys Lake

This lake sits at 11,000 feet and is located 13 miles each way from the Hayden Pass (Highline) Trailhead. Enjoy the stunning views of Rock Creek Basin as you head down Rock Sea Pass among many alpine lakes. Ostler and Spread Eagle Peak are options for peaks to bag along this long trail. The 26mile round-trip hike will test your mettle at the high altitudes and the solitude and great beauty will quench the soul.

Red Castle Lake

One of the prettiest single places in all of the Uintas is the iconic Red Castle, which starts off from the China Meadows Trailhead. The relatively flat trail and jaw-dropping sights does mean there's a fair bit of traffic for a long backpacking trip, but it's totally worth it. Broadbent Meadow is a great stretch with the nearby Smiths Fork River being a great place to test out the fly fishing skills.

Kings Peak

The most famous backpacking trip in the Uintas, King's Peak is the highest point in Utah at 13,512 feet. The 32 miles is best done in a three-day backpack that requires you to gain 4,200 feet along the way. Located in the less-traveled eastern section of the range, this is one of Utah's real bucket-list adventures. The views from Anderson Pass and the upper section of Henry's Fork Basin are highlights along the way, making this challenging hike visually and physically rewarding.

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