By Michael Lanza
Early on the third morning of a six-day hike through Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness, I walked to the shore of the Fourth Chain Lake at 10,900 feet, where we had camped. Its waters sat absolutely still, offering up a perfect, inverted reflection of the mountains. By that afternoon, we reached 11,700-foot Trail Rider Pass, our second high pass of the day, with a view that took the edge off our weariness. Behind us, the valley of Lake Atwood, which we had hiked up, stretched for miles; ahead lay our destination, Painter Basin (photo above), an expansive, almost barren plain at 11,000 feet below the highest peak in Utah, Kings Peak.
In those first three days of hiking, we encountered a grand total of two other people.
My family backpacked a six-day, approximately 57-mile loop through the High Uintas Wilderness—and “High” fits this place like a favorite, old sweater. Nearly all of our walk remained above 9,000 feet and at least half of it over 10,000 feet, including three passes over 11,000 and 12,000 feet. That’s higher than many multi-day hikes in the West, including much of Yosemite and the Teton Crest Trail, and it compares with (and provides good preparation for) backpacking the John Muir Trail and Wind River Range. On top of that, we summited 13,528-foot Kings Peak.
There are many reasons to explore the Uintas—which span nearly 60 miles in northeastern Utah, one of the rare mountain ranges that extend east-west—and I think these photos might help persuade you. Scroll past the photo gallery below for the link to my story about this trip.
The Uinta Mountains are home to an estimated 2,000 lakes, all of Utah’s peaks over 13,000 feet, and more than half of the state’s 12,000-footers. Outside popular destinations like Kings Peak, many trails and summits see little traffic, even though many pose no greater challenge than non-technical, off-trail hiking. Do some research and you’ll discover peaks where years pass between summit visitors.
For backpackers and mountain climbers willing to put in the effort, in the High Uintas Wilderness—Utah’s largest wilderness area at over 450,000 acres—solitude is as plentiful as wildflowers.
I’ve helped many readers plan a great backpacking trip in the High Uintas and elsewhere.
Want my help with yours? Find out more here.
See my feature story about this trip, “Tall and Lonely: Backpacking Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness,” plus “16 Great Backpacking Trips You Can Still Take in 2022” and “Big Scenery, No Crowds: 10 Top Backpacking Trips for Solitude.”