Laid-Back Backpack in Utah's High Uinta Wilderness

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13155A, Backpacking


  • Hike rugged, glacial mountains
  • Marvel at clear mountain streams and lakes
  • Enjoy two layover days for exploring or relaxing


  • Tasty and hearty lightweight meals
  • One of our most experienced leaders
  • Optional vanpool from Salt Lake City


DatesJul 7–13, 2013
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffRoger Grissette

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Trip Overview

The Trip

When most people think of Utah, what comes to mind are colorful deserts, deep powder skiing, or maybe crusty salt flats. Few have ever heard of the Uinta Mountains. Ok, find a map. Locate Salt Lake City and look to the east. See that big blank spot as you head toward Colorado? Here are the Uintas, the largest east-west mountain range in the lower 48 states. Backpacking through these mountains is an exceptional experience for many reasons. Dotted with clear alpine lakes and rich flora, the valleys are wide and filled with the perfect habitat for moose and other game. A hike to any of the rugged ridges provides vast views of the surroundings. The High Uintas Wilderness, where you’ll spend your week, is located right in the center of all this grandeur.

Don’t expect to see many other visitors. The land is home to a diverse collection of mammals, including lynx, black bears, cougars, river otters, bighorn sheep, and elk. Many large birds can be found such as great grey owls, golden eagles, ospreys, and ptarmigans. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see the wildflowers at their peak.

Much of your route will be above tree line. One great advantage of being at higher elevation is that working with map and compass is easier since you can see for miles. For those who are interested, the leaders will share route-finding duties. There will be several opportunities to hone your skills.

Are you ready to add a location to your hiking resume that will give you special bragging rights? We don’t often offer trips to this area. Discover why the Uintas should be on everyone’s life list of special places to visit. Some backpacking experience is important, but with patient leaders, extensive experience is not required. What you will need is good physical conditioning, a flexible attitude, and a sense of adventure. With these three traits, the rest will work out!


You’ll be backpacking a 48-mile loop with two layover days. The distance covered each day will be eight to ten miles. The leader is happy to take a slow-but-steady approach to backpacking. Our goal is not to set any speed records, but to appreciate and relish the beautiful country through which we will be passing. On our layover days, you can explore peaks and alpine lakes in the area, play in nearby creeks or lakes, or simply stay in camp to relax, read, write, photograph, or draw. During the layover days, we’ll also learn, practice, and hone our navigation skills.

The following is our planned itinerary for the week. However, our exact itinerary may change due to the abilities of the group or weather conditions to ensure your safety. Please consider this an approximate itinerary.

Day 1: Our outing will officially start at 10 a.m. We will meet at the trailhead at the East Fork of Blacks Fork. After introductions, divvying up gear, and chatting about the week ahead, we will be off on our adventure! We will backpack up the East Fork of Blacks Fork eight miles to a campsite just below tree line at 9,600 feet. Being our first day, this will feel challenging.

Day 2: We will continue southwest along the East Fork of Blacks Fork to Red Knob Pass, the lowest pass of the outing at 11,200 feet. Here we'll join the Highline Trail and travel east to Lambert Lake where we will camp our second night. Elevation gain for the day is around 1,400 feet, loss is around 600 feet, and mileage is nearly nine miles. Our camp will be near 11,000 feet.

Day 3: Today, we'll tackle our highest pass, Porcupine Pass, at 12,000 feet. But first we travel right at tree line though the scenic Oweep Creek area. Then we take on Porcupine Pass and finish near Tungsten Lake at 11,300 feet. Mileage for the day is about nine miles with 800 feet gained and about the same lost.

Day 4: We'll have many possibilities on our first layover day: relaxing in camp, exploring high alpine lakes peaks, or hiking to the top of the tallest peak in Utah, Kings Peak. Regardless of what we decide to do, there will be opportunity to learn and practice orienteering skills.

Day 5: We'll pack up and backpack north to the stunning Red Castle area, one of the most spectacular areas in the Uintas. We will cover 7.5 miles, gain 500 feet, and lose 1,000 feet. Our camp will be just below 11,000 feet.

Day 6: Our second layover day. We will explore the streams, lakes, and mountains in this scenic alpine setting.

Day 7: This will be a full day of backpacking that will be made easier by our light packs, strengthened legs, and dreams of a shower. We will backpack up to Bald Mountain and then come down to our cars where we left them a week before. This is our longest day with nearly 10 miles to cover and 2,000+ feet of elevation loss. We likely will be getting to our cars in the late afternoon.



Getting There

The closest major airport is in Salt Lake City. Driving directions to the trailhead will be provided to approved participants. The most direct route from Salt Lake City to the trailhead takes about three hours and involves several miles of driving on rough dirt roads. To avoid the rough roads, you may consider spending the night before the outing in Evanston, Wyoming, a 1.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City. The drive from Evanston to the trailhead takes about one hour and is on paved or better-maintained gravel roads.

If there is sufficient interest, the leaders will provide van transportation from the Salt Lake City airport or a nearby motel on a shared-cost basis.

Accommodations and Food

All meals are included from lunch on the first day through lunch on the last day. Meals include hearty, healthy, and varied breakfasts, simple lunches, and dinners. The leaders will work hard to make the food as light as possible to lessen the loads in our packs. We can easily accommodate vegetarians. For drinks, real coffee, various teas (caffeinated, green, herbal), and hot chocolate will be provided.

Responsibility for cooking and cleanup will be shared by all trip participants. We rotate cooking and cleaning responsibilities daily so everyone will get a chance at cooking for the group. The leaders will be close at hand at every meal should help or advice be needed.

Chlorine-based tablets for treating drinking water will be provided. Participants may bring water filters if they prefer, but this is not encouraged or necessary.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated “3” due to:

  • The mileage (48 miles, with additional miles on layover days optional),
  • The altitude of our route (more than half of the time will be spent above 10,000 feet),
  • The elevation gains and losses and our camps being near or above 11,000 feet all but the first night.

Good pre-trip physical conditioning is vital for your safety and enjoyment. The rewards for this training will be immeasurable! If you do not live in a location at least a mile high, we recommend that you plan on arriving before the outing to help you adjust to the altitude.

July is typically a great time for backpacking in the Uintas. Temperatures during the day average in the 60s and 70s, and drop into the 40s or even near freezing at night. Remember that weather can be unpredictable at these high altitudes; be prepared for rain, snow, ice, sleet, and sun. Depending on the spring snowfall, we may encounter snowpack.

Equipment and Clothing

The leaders will provide a detailed equipment list to all approved participants. The Sierra Club provides cooking gear, food, water purification, and a first-aid kit to be used for emergencies only. You are responsible for everything else that you want/need. In addition to your personal gear, you will be carrying a share of the group food/gear -- 9-12 pounds, though your leaders will try to keep this as low as possible. Please keep the total weight for your personal gear below 25 pounds and make sure your backpack has enough internal capacity for the common gear, which will be the size of approximately two one-gallon milk jugs.

Try to minimize changes of clothing, which should be either synthetics or wool; no cotton clothing, please.



  • For greatest detail, we rely on USGS 7.5-minute topographical maps. Our route is right along the edge of these quadrangles, so we will be using several topos. Our main maps are Mount Lovenia, Oweep Creek, and Mount Powell. We will start on the Lyman Lake quadrangle, and also pass through part of the Red Knob, and Garfield Basin quadrangle areas.
  • For a view of the entire High Uinta Wilderness, National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map number 711 is entitled "High Uintas Wilderness, Uinta Mountains, Kings Peak"


  • A good book covering the trails in the High Uintas is “High Uinta Trails" by Mel Davis and John Veranth.


During this trip, we will have several evening discussions on conservation and the need to protect this nation's magnificent wild lands. We will also discuss how you can get involved in a way that works for you: writing or calling your representatives, showing others the beauty of our natural places, or becoming politically active.

At the writing of this information, Presidential candidate Romney has indicated his support for a bill passed by the Utah state legislature and signed by the governor that would turn over all public lands in Utah to the state. This includes much of the area we’ll visit. We’ll definitely discuss the ramifications of such a proposal, also under consideration in other western states.

On this trip we'll discuss and practice Leave No Trace (LNT) camping and ethics, erase signs of less considerate packers by tearing apart camp "furniture" and packing out trash, and restore our campsites to their original condition when we leave.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Ashley & Wasatch National Forest.



Roger Grissette has led outings for many years in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as the Eastern Sierra, Utah, Mexico, and Hawaii. Leading four to five trips per year recently, he's thrilled to share these adventures and their sense of discovery with a diverse group of Sierra Club members. Discussing challenges that face the wild places his trips visit is always a highlight for him, as is the time he spends in the camp kitchen. "Sometimes I feel I'm preparing a dinner party," he says. When not backpacking, he spends his spare time playing traditional music with friends in a string band.

Assistant Leader:

Barbara Prosch lives in Florida but has been camping and enjoying the mountains since she was a child. She grew up playing in the Cascade Mountains, Columbia River Gorge, and Mount Adams recreation area in Washington and is delighted to return to the Rockies. Barbara enjoys planning meals and trying new recipes to share with her group. She enjoys helping during meal prep. When not out camping or backpacking, she keeps busy with gardening, walking her dog, and spending time outdoors with her family.

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