Highpointers I had corresponded with had told me this may be the
most beautiful of all the state highpoints. With that in mind my
brother, Don, and I, planned a leisurely multi-day backcountry
loop hike to enjoy the area to the fullest.
Click here to see a map of
our route. The peak is located
in the High Uintas Wilderness area in northeast Utah. This
wilderness area includes areas of both the Wasatch and Ashley
We spent five days and four nights on the trails and the only
backtracking we did was from the base of Anderson Pass to the
top of Kings Peak and back, a total of about 5 miles.
The route used by most highpointers to access Kings Peak is
contained wholly within one drainage basin, Henrys Fork.
Our route, on the
other hand, passed through five different basins and provided some
breathtaking views as we crested each pass dividing
those basins. Another advantage of our route was the fact that
on summit day we were camped in the nearest basin to Kings Peak.
This made it unnecessary to get up in the wee hours of the
morning and hike by headlamp to reach the peak early enough to
avoid the threat of afternoon thunderstorms. Also, our summit
climb only required about a 2000 foot elevation gain.
We hit the trail on July 21 starting at the East Fork of Blacks
Fork trailhead. The elevation there is around 9100 feet.
This trailhead is preferred over the nearby
Cache Meadow trailhead because there is a bridge over the river.
We crossed the bridge and hiked north for about a mile on the
East Fork of Blacks Fork Trail . Then we turned east on
the Bear River - Smith Fort Trail . This trail immediately
started climbing steeply for about a mile or more
via switchbacks to Mansfield Meadows
to the east.
It was good to get this steep ascent out of the way while we
were fresh. It was also nice to quickly get into the cooler
pleasant air of the high country.
This brought us
to another trail junction in the Mansfield Meadows area. We
turned right on the Smiths Fork - Bald Mountain Trail .
The left fork was supposed to be the North Slope Trail 
according to our book and map, but that trail is
evidently closed, at least at that point. Barriers had been placed
over that trail and the path was returning
Our trail headed south-southeast and steadily up
till it passed by the east side of Bald Mountain at an elevation
of around 11,400 feet. There were hundreds of domestic sheep
grazing in the high meadows in this area. During the week we
occasionally passed cowboys and sheep herders hauling supplies
into the backcountry.
From Bald Mountain the trail decended back down into the Smiths
Fork drainage and headed toward the the dramatic mountain known as
Red Castle. Before reaching the Red Castle area we came to an
intersection with the East Fork of Smiths Fork Trail. About this
time the skies, which had been threatening for several hours,
finally cut loose. We quickly set up the tent and relaxed while
The mountains in the High Uintas are high enough that they create their
own weather system. Every day we were there it rained in the middle
of the afternoon, sometimes just a barely-noticeable sprinkle,
but sometimes an impossible-to-ignore gully washer.
We were there to enjoy
ourselves, not set any speed records. When the rains set in, we just
set up our tent and napped or read. It almost always quit by early
evening. We only had one evening meal interrupted by rain. Sometimes
we had enough daylight left to get in a few more miles before
stopping for the night after the rain quit.
On day two we continued south-southeast on the Smiths Fork Trail
till we crested Smiths Fork Pass. At this point we crossed from the
north side of the mountain range to the south, from the Wasatch
National Forest to the Ashley National Forest, from the Smiths
Fork drainage to the Yellowstone Creek drainage, and, even though
we stayed on the same trail, the trail name changed from the Smiths
Fork Trail  to the Smiths Fork Pass Trail .
After descending the pass we struck out due east cross-country,
headed for the unnamed basin on the southwest side of Anderson
Pass and near the foot of Kings Peak. The High Uintas high country
is characterized by expansive alpine meadows making cross-country
travel very practical and line-of-sight navigation very easy if
you have a map with topographic features.
In fact, a good map is essential for anything but a short
day-hike. The trails in the High Uintas are unmistakeable, deeply
rutted trails one minute, then the next minute the trail
disappears completely except for a rock cairn in the distance.
We lost the trail briefly a number of times but never had any
problems thanks to our excellent map from Trails Unlimited.
We awoke to rain on day three, summit day, so we just rolled over
and got some more sleep. Finally the rain quit and we hit the
trail with only daypacks at about 8:40 a.m. We crossed some
snowfields on the switchbacks on the Highline Trail  as
we climbed to Anderson Pass. One was in an area that was quite
steep and I was glad to have trekking poles along.
We ascended into a cloud and the visibility was only about 50
feet as we started up the boulder scramble leading from
Anderson Pass to Kings
Peak. Although we saw very few people the rest of the time
during our five day trip,
we encountered quite a few people on the way up and especially
on the way down the ridgeline between Anderson Pass and
Kings Peak. Most of these people came from the Henrys Fork
Basin, others from Painter Basin, and fewer still from the
As we approached the summit it looked for a while like the
clouds might burn off, but they never did. There were
occasional breaks though that gave sufficient views of the
the surrounding areas to be able to identify all the
nearby basins, peaks and passes. It was chilly on top and
since there were no dramatic vistas we hiked all the way
back to camp before eating lunch. Then the rain started
again so we set tight until it stopped, then we packed up
and headed southwest on the Highline Trail. We stopped for
the night at a high meadow about half mile east of
Our supper was interrupted by more rain and we had to finish
eating inside the tent, which is not something you want to
be doing in bear country since the food smell can linger
in the tent. During the night a large animal came near our
tent and I was afraid my worst fears had been realized but
I believe the visitor must have been a moose rather than a
bear based on the noise it was making, and based on the
fact we lived through the incident.
Day four was a beautiful day, weatherwise, and was the most
spectacular day of all, scenery-wise.
We continued to follow the Highline
Trail, which now headed in a northwesterly direction,
across Tungsten Pass and into Garfield Basin.
Crossing Garfield Basin we then climbed Porcupine Pass which
topped out at 12,300 feet. The approach was fairly long but
not too steep. When we hit the top the view of Oweep Basin
on the other side was one of those moments when you feel like
you stepped into a page of a Sierra Club calendar. An amazing
vista. Check out the panoramic photo below.
The descent on the other side was much steeper and the trail
much less well developed. One spot in particular is rather
dicey when you are wearing a backpack. Once we hit the bottom
we set off cross-country in a westerly direction to Squaw
Pass. This cut off about a mile of hiking. Then we ascended
Squaw Pass from the east which proved to be our only bad
decision of the trip. Near the top this turns into nothing
more than a mountain goat trail and is downright dangerous
while wearing a backpack. A better idea would be to stay low
and pick up the trail that ascends Squaw Pass from the west.
At the top we crossed our third major pass of the day and
had a sweeping view of the Little East Fork of Blacks Fork
drainage. Descending the other side put us on the Little
East Fork Trail  and on the home stretch. Down in
the basin we camped for the night about five miles from
our beginning trailhead.
The next day we polished off the remaining miles by lunchtime.
This last trail was one of the most difficult to follow and we
ended up bushwhacking on several occasions, sometimes by
accident, other times on purpose to avoid unnecessary stream
The cumulative elevation gain for the trip was only about
7,228 but of course the average elevations were in
the 10,000 to 12,000 range so the altitude definitely made
the uphill grinds that much tougher.
If you plan to visit the area earlier than July you may want
to bring trekking poles or an ice axe
and instep crampons as there could
be a significant amount of snow left. Also bring a mosquito
headnet as you will see plenty of those pesky critters,
especially at lower elevations.
A good book on the area is High Uintas Trails by
Mel Davis and John Veranth. The book and the Trails Unlimited
map of the High Uintas Wilderness are available from the Forest
Service but it is easier to order from the Flaming Gorge
Natural History Association since they will accept credit
card orders by phone. You can reach them at 801-885-3305.