Barren, rocky peaks and sparse pine forests rise above the intermountain plateau east of Salt Lake City, a crumbling region comprised of bare, red, billion-year-old rock speckled with thousands of lakes. The Uinta Mountains are indeed a remote and unusual range.
With an east to west orientation, the Uintas include the highest peaks of such an orientation in the Lower 48. At 13,534 feet, Kings Peak is the highest point in the range and the highest point in Utah. While the Uintas were extensively glaciated during the Ice Ages, no glaciers survive the arid climate of eastern Utah. The Uintas are distinguished as the most poleward range over 13,000 feet, and the highest in the contiguous U.S., without glaciers.
Remnants of the glacial liquefaction remain in the thousands of lakes that dot the valley floor. The Uintas have 400 miles of streams to explore, including the Blacks, Duchesne, Bear, Weber and Provo Rivers, and they have the most contiguous area above treeline of any mountain range in the U.S. The summer season extends from July to September, and there is much to be found in the meadows above treeline here and ample solitude for those who seek it. Most visitors gravitate to the lakes for their fishing and their serene beauty, while others will look to the rugged peaks. The most adventurous seek danger on the Uintas’ southeast flank in Dinosaur National Monument—where the peaks are their most remote, and the slot canyons most intimate.
Kings Peak is the highest point in the state at over 13,000 feet, and it earns its crown: It is one of the most prominent peaks in the Lower 48. At 16 miles, the approach hike isn’t exactly forgiving, but Kings Peak is a tempting conquest for peak baggers, and the scenery isn’t too shabby along the way.
Out of Naturalist Basin, the most popular and the easiest route up Mount Agassiz takes you past Blue Lake to the rugged and barren moonscape above timberline and spectacular views of Middle Basin.
Be on the lookout for mountain goats on the route to Bald Mountain, and maybe feel like one, as you climb the 1,250-foot vertical gain over the route's 2-mile stretch.
The popular Naturalist Basin hiking destination is so named for the Swiss-American naturalist Louis Agassiz and his cadre of Cornell and Harvard student-followers, for whom the peaks surrounding the basin are named. There is much to be found here—lakes, peaks, wildlife and loop hikes to all of them—so plan to camp and explore.
Crowded? Check out the areas around Henrys Fork and Smith Fork.
A good hike for beginners, Ruth Lake is a short, easy jaunt with opportunities for fishing and wildflower viewing in the appropriate season. Interpretive signs along the trail are great for the kids, too, and there are spectacles to behold.
The Lofty Lake Loop Hike sweeps past several alpine lakes on its 4-mile traverse through diverse alpine terrain. Be aware: the entire trail is above 10,000 feet.