Top Mountain, from the Kings Peak Trail
31.2 miles (round trip)
5 1/4 hours
5 1/4 hours
8 1/2 hours
5,080 ft. gain/loss
Henrys Fork Trailhead
(start): 9,430 ft.
Dollar Lake: 10,785
Gunsight Pass: 11,888
Anderson Pass: 12,700
Kings Peak: 13,528
The trail is well marked and easy to follow as far as
Anderson Pass. There is no trail, however, for the last
0.8 mile from Anderson Pass to the summit. The final assent
to the peak requires a tiring scramble up about 800 feet
Midsummer to mid-fall. The upper parts of the trail are
usually covered with snow from mid-November until mid-July.
The most pleasant time for the climb is late August, when
the days are still relatively long but the meadows have
dried out and the mosquitoes have abated. For current
conditions call the Evanston Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache
National Forest, at (801) 642-6662.
North slope of the High Uintas Wilderness Area, near Evanston,
you probably know, Kings Peak is the highest point in
Utah, and as you might imagine, this hike is a very popular
one. According to Forest Service estimates the Henrys
Fork Basin receives about 5,000 visitors annually. Many
come for the express purpose of climbing Utahs highest
mountain, but many more come just to enjoy the abundant
scenic beauty of the area and perhaps do a little fishing
in the basins half dozen lakes. Late summer is the
most popular time to visit Henrys Fork, but some visitors
also enjoy cross country skiing in the basin in the winter
months. Henrys Fork Trailhead is one of the few trailheads
on the north slope of the High Uintas that is accessible
all year round.
Although the climb to the top
of Kings Peak is very strenuous it is not technically
difficult, and about the only requisite for the trip is
good physical condition. Furthermore, the view from the
top is extraordinary. Even if it were not the highest
point in the state, the assent of Kings Peak would still
be one of Utahs best hikes.
Henrys Fork is the closest trailhead
to Kings Peak; hence it is the most popular place to begin
the hike. But many variations of this hike are also possible.
If you spend an hour on the summit in mid-August you will
probably meet other climbers who have walked up from every
direction. Many hikers approach Kings Peak from the south
slope along Yellowstone Creek or the Uinta River. Others
come from Hoop Lake or Spirit Lake on the eastern side
of the Uintas. And a surprising number of people begin
their hike at Mirror Lake, 40 miles to the west. Looking
down from the top with a good pair of binoculars you can
usually see hikers far below inching their way east or
west along the Highline Trail towards Anderson Pass, just
north of the summit.
From the trailhead parking area
the trail follows along the west side of Henrys Fork,
climbing ever so gently at a grade you will hardly notice.
The creek, usually about 20 feet below the trail, is pristine,
and the forest is densely wooded with lodgepole pine.
It is a very pleasant walk.
The first major point of interest
along the way is Alligator Lake, located at the end of
a short spur trail about an hour and ten minutes from
the trailhead. Watch for a large pile of rocks on the
south side of a wooden boardwalk that crosses a small
drainage. At that point you will see the trail to Alligator
Lake branching off to the right of the main trail. The
Lake is 0.4 mile up the drainage at the end of the spur.
Alligator is a surprising large lake, about 600 yards
long by 150 yards wide. There are a number of fine campsites
on the lakes south shore, and it is a good place
to spend the night if you are getting off to a late start.
5.5 miles from the trailhead the
trail breaks out of the trees on the northern end of a
large meadow. There is a major trail junction here between
the Henrys Fork Trail, which runs south along Henrys Fork,
and the North Slope Trail, which crosses it in an east-west
direction. The junction is called Elkhorn Crossing.
At Elkhorn Crossing you have a
choice of two trails: you can either proceed south on
the Henrys Fork Trail or you can turn right and follow
the North Slope Trail for a short distance to the West
Side Loop Trail. The two routes converge again just below
Gunsight Pass; hence you can get to Kings Peak by following
either trail. For the sake of diversity I suggest you
take the West Side Loop Trail on your way up the peak
and use the Henrys Fork Trail for your return trip. If
you choose to do this, then turn right at Elkhorn Crossing
and proceed west on the North Slope Trail (Forest Service
About half an hour after leaving
Elkhorn Crossing you will arrive at the West Side Loop
Trail junction. Turn south here and proceed towards Bear
Lake and Henrys Fork Lake. There are several signs in
this area indicating that you are now on the Highline
Trail, but these signs are in error. The real Highline
Trail (Forest Service Trail #25) is still many miles to
the south. You wont reach it until you have crossed
the Uinta divide at Gunsight Pass.
Five minutes after leaving the
junction between the North Slope Trail and the West Side
Loop Trail you should see the calm waters of Bear Lake
flickering through the trees on the left. There is no
trail to the lake, but it is only 100 yards off the trail.
There are many good campsites around Bear Lake and it
is a fine place to stop for the day. You can also visit
Sawmill Lake, a slightly smaller lake 200 yards farther
down the drainage from the east end of Bear Lake.
Looking south from the summit of Kings Peak
Between Bear Lake and the bottom
of Gunsight Pass you will pass by several more picturesque
lakes, the largest of which is Henrys Fork Lake. 0.3 miles
after leaving Henrys Fork Lake the trail passes by a tiny
cabin that has been used for many years as a sheep herders
bivouac. Henrys Fork Basin is heavily grazed during the
summer months and you will almost certainly see sheep
while you are there. Many hikers are offended by the sights
and sounds of domestic animals in this high wilderness
valley. They do contaminate the water sources and destroy
the wildflowers, but for me the sounds of their bells
and their baa-a-a-as drifting through the alpine valley
seem to add a certain tranquility to the pastoral scene.
Finally, 3.8 miles from Bear Lake,
the West Side Loop Trail crosses Henrys Fork Basin to
end at Henrys Fork Trail. The elevation at this point
is 11,000 feet, just above timber line, and there are
few trees. A mile southeast you can see Gunsight Pass,
a deep notch in the Uinta Crest where the trail crosses
to the South Slope. And south, above the basin you can
see Anderson Pass and Kings Peak. Your route to the summit
will be along the ridge south of Anderson Pass.
Next the trail climbs slowly up
the east side of Henrys Fork Basin until it reaches the
top of Gunsight Pass. If it is late in the day you might
want to establish a camp on the northern side of Gunsight
Pass rather than continuing into Painter Basin. There
is a flat grassy area beside a small pond just below the
northern side of the pass. The elevation here is 11,460
feet, about 430 feet below the top of the pass. If time
permits, however, I suggest you continue another 2.0 miles
across the pass and into Painter Basin where you will
find a better place to camp.
About 0.6 mile below the south
side of Gunsight Pass you will see a less distinct trail
veering off to the right along the foot of the cliffs.
The main trail continues southeast across Painter Basin
for 1.0 mile before doubling back to the west, so you
can save a lot of time by taking the less distinct shortcut
south through the basin below the bottom of the cliffs.
This shortcut trail eventually fades and disappears, but
that isnt a problem. Just continue due south in
the grassy meadow along the base of the talus slope. About
0.7 mile after leaving the main trail you will see a fresh
water spring flowing out of the rocks at the edge of the
meadow. This area is an excellent place to stop and make
camp for the night.
Painter Basin is only 2.9 miles
from the top of Kings Peak, but you still have a 2,120-foot
elevation gain to deal with as well as some off-trail
scrambling. There is no trail for the last 0.8 mile. Also,
remember you cant walk as fast at the high altitude.
Leave your packs at your camp and get an early start so
you will have plenty of time for a leisurely lunch at
From the spring continue walking
south along the western side of Painter Basin, across
a small drainage, until you reach a place where there
is grass growing on the rocky slopes above you and there
appears to be an easy way up. Turn west here and start
working your way up the southern side of the small drainage.
After about 0.3 mile you should run into the Highline
Trail. From there it is only 1.6 miles farther to the
top of Anderson Pass.
At Anderson Pass you must leave
the trail and start picking your way up the ridge to the
top of the peak. There are cliffs on the west side of
the ridge, but the slopes are more gradual on the east.
You will see occasional cairns, but they really dont
do much good. It is pretty obvious where you are going,
and there is really no easy way. It is just a matter of
making your way slowly upward over the jumble of jagged
boulders, and if you are persistent the goal will be reached
in about an hour.
One of the most astonishing features
of the view from Kings Peak is the vastness of the panorama.
Other than a few tread-like trails in the basins below
there are virtually no signs of human activity. The nearest
road is ten miles away and the nearest town is twice that
distance. Another striking feature is the number of lakes
that can be seen. More than a dozen large lakes in Garfield,
Henrys Fork, Atwood, and Painter Basins are visible. But
probably the most notable characteristic is the amount
of land that is above timberline (about 11,000 ft.) and
devoid of trees. In fact the Uintas have more square miles
of land in the Arctic-Alpine Tundra Life Zone than any
other mountain range, outside Alaska, in the United States.
The descent from Kings Peak back
to Anderson Pass is even more tricky than the assent,
so be careful. There are many loose rocks, and I cant
think of a worse place to break a leg. Once you reach
the pass, however, it is a very pleasant walk back to
Painter Basin. Some people spend a second night at the
Painter Basin campsite, but if you want to complete the
trip in the allotted four days you should pack your belongings
and walk down to Dollar Lake for the third night.
Dollar Lake is probably the most
beautiful of all the lakes in Henrys Fork Basin. Unfortunately
it is heavily used by campers, and many other hiking books
encourage you to camp elsewhere. But if you can find a
site it really is an exquisite place to spend the night.
The lake is surrounded by a grove of tall Engelmann spruce,
and there is a marvelous afternoon view of Kings Peak
from its southern shore.
The lake is not visible from the
trail and there is no established trail leading to it;
consequently it is easy to miss. When you reach the trail
junction below Gunsight Pass where the West Side Loop
Trail departs, make a note of the time and continue straight
ahead on the Henrys Fork Trail. After about 15 minutes
you will leave the meadow and enter into a large grove
of spruce. Within ten minutes after entering the trees
you should see one or two small cairns on the right side
of the trail. Leave the trail at this point and walk due
east for 200 yards and you will run into the lake. The
main trail continues north for another 300 yards before
entering the meadow again. If you come to the point where
the trail leaves the trees it means you have gone too
From Dollar Lake back to the trailhead
is only 7.4 miles and it is downhill all the way. There
are no more lakes to explore, but there is plenty of otherwise
fine scenery. The first 1.9 miles follow the east side
of the meadow to Elkhorn Crossing. This is prime moose
habitat and you probably have at least a fifty-fifty chance
of seeing one if you are observant. At Elkhorn Crossing
the trail crosses to the west side of Henrys Fork. Look
for the footbridge about 100 yards downstream from the
point where the main trail fords the creek. Once you are
back on the west side of Henrys Fork you can simply retrace
your original footsteps back to the trailhead.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order his book
Favorite Hiking Trails.