Lake, upper Naturalist Basin
17.6 miles (round trip)
5 3/4 hours
1,370 ft. gain/loss
(start): 10,350 ft.
Jordan Lake: 10,630
Faxon Lake: 10,980
Naturalist Basin is a very popular destination, and the
trails to the lower part of the basin are well maintained.
A small portion of this hike, however, is in the upper
part of the basin where there are no trails. The upper
basin is all above timber line and the route is easy,
but you should carry a compass.
Midsummer to mid-fall. Because of its high elevation,
Naturalist Basin is usually covered with snow from mid-November
until July. For current conditions call the Kamas Ranger
District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, at (801) 783-4338.
The High Uintas Wilderness Area
High Uintas are famous for their gorgeous alpine basins,
but none of them can beat the memorable scenery of Naturalist
Basin. In my opinion, this small collection of lakes and
meadows, nestled together against the southern slopes
of Mount Agassiz and Spread Eagle Peak, is the crown jewel
of the High Uintas Wilderness Area. Unfortunately, Naturalist
Basin is also one of the most popular backpacking destinations
in the High Uintas, so if you are looking for solitude
you had better choose another hike. But most hikers tend
to congregate around Jordan Lake and the Morat Lakes,
where the best fishing can be found, so if you are willing
to camp elsewhere it is still possible to enjoy a measure
Few hikers venture onto
the upper plateau of Naturalist Basin, where 2.5 miles
of this hike are located. Five icy lakes cling tenaciously
to the talus slopes in the top of the basin, just below
the 11,000-foot contour line and just above timberline.
Hiking across the stark, sparsely vegetated terrain that
separates the small lakes can be an almost otherworldly
experience. It is an environment where most life ceases
to exist during the wintertime, but during the two or
three months of summer a few dormant species suddenly
burst forth to quickly mature and reproduce before the
arctic cold again forces them into submission. By the
end of July, after most of the snow has melted, the thin,
rocky soil is usually covered with a colorful carpet of
tiny blossoms as the hardy plants begin another cycle
of their precarious existence.
From the Highline Trailhead
the trail meanders gradually downhill through a forest
of Engelmann spruce and lodgepole pine. At the higher
elevations the forest is almost entirely spruce, but more
and more lodgepole pine begin to appear as elevation is
lost. After walking for an hour you will see your first
lake, Scudder Lake, glinting through the trees. This lake
is popular with day hikers, although it is too shallow
for good fishing. It can be accessed over a short spur
that branches off to the right of the main trail.
From Scudder Lake it is
another half hour walk to the Packard Lake Trail junction.
Once you reach this junction you are only 2.2 miles from
Naturalist Basin, so unless you got off to a late start
you will probably want to take a short side trip to see
Wilder, Wyman, and Packard Lakes. They are all on the
1.4-mile-long Packard Lake Trail. There is also a nice
view of the Uintas near the end of the trail. Packard
Lake is situated only a hundred yards north of the rim
of a 600-foot-deep canyon, in the bottom of which runs
the East Fork of the Duchesne River.
Back on the Highline Trail,
1.2 miles beyond the Packard Lake Trail, you will see
a sign directing you to Naturalist Basin. Turn left here
and proceed north. The path climbs very gradually for
about a mile before emerging from the trees on the edge
of a wide green meadow with the picturesque cliffs of
the Uinta Crest behind it. From the scene in front of
you, it should be immediately obvious that you are entering
into a very special place.
As you enter Naturalist
Basin turn right, across the stream, and start looking
for a camp site. If you want to camp by a lake you can
try Jordan Lake, about 0.9 miles from the entrance. Jordan
is the largest lake, but it is also the most popular.
If there are no spaces available at Jordan, or if you
want more privacy, then Everman Lake is your best bet.
Everman is a beautiful place to camp only 0.7 miles from
the entrance, but it is slightly off the main trail and
many people dont even know of its existence. Proceed
eastward from the entrance of the basin, along the edge
of the meadow, for about 0.5 mile until you reach a point
where the trail crosses a small drainage, turns north,
and starts climbing. Leave the main trail here and continue
east along the drainage. You will run into Everman Lake
within 0.2 mile.
Before leaving this beautiful
spot be sure to visit the lakes in the upper part of the
basin. The 4.6 mile tour around the basins 8 major
lakes takes only 21/2 hours, and since it is a loop you
can leave your backpack in camp. The route is easy, but
there is no trail so you should have a compass.
Continue on the trail along
the southern side of Jordan Lake until the trail disappears
at the eastern end of the lake. From there you will have
to do some minor scrambling to get to the top of the plateau
above the lake. After you have gained about 200 feet in
elevation the terrain levels off and the walking is easy.
If you walk along a bearing 25 degrees east of magnetic
north (slightly east of Spread Eagle Peak), for about
fifteen minutes you will run right into Shaler Lake. There
are very few trees at this elevation and your view is
relatively unobstructed, so you cant miss the lake.
Next, Faxon Lake is almost
due west of magnetic north from Shaler Lake, just to the
left of a saddle on the ridge between Spread Eagle Peak
and Mount Agassiz. It is only 0.3 mile away, so you should
be there in ten minutes. From Faxon it is easy to find
LeConte, Walcott, and Blue Lakes. They are all situated
at about the same elevation along a line at the base of
the Uinta crest, so just follow the base of the ridge
in an easterly direction towards Mount Agassiz and you
will run into them in succession. Again, they are all
less than 0.3 mile apart, so you dont have to walk
There are at least some
fish in all of the upper lakes of Naturalist Basin, with
the possible exception of Walcott Lake. There isnt
much to eat in these high lakes, however, so they cannot
sustain a very large population of fish. It never ceases
to amaze me how much difference a few hundred feet at
these altitudes can make to an ecosystem. The difference
in elevation between the upper and lower parts of Naturalist
Basin is only 350 feet, yet their ecologies are worlds
From the south side of Blue
Lake a primitive trail leads down to the twin Morat Lakes.
The trail is vague at first, but soon becomes more distinct
as it begins to descend into the lower basin. As you make
the short descent you will be treated to a nice view of
the two Morat Lakes, with the wide expanse of the Uintas
below them. Thank goodness this magnificent land is now
protected as a wilderness area. From Morat Lakes a good
trail will take you the remaining 0.6 mile back to the
bottom of the lower meadow, and from their you can easily
retrieve your backpack for the walk back to the Highline
For those who want to get
farther away from civilization than Naturalist Basin and
still enjoy the serenity of a beautiful basin on the south
slopes of the Uinta crest, Four Lakes Basin provides a
good alternative. The fishing is also excellent there-especially
in Jean and Dean Lakes.
To get to the Four Lakes
Basin continue eastward on the Highline Trail for 2.8
miles beyond the junction with Naturalist Basin Trail.
There you will come to another junction with the trail
to Four Lakes Basin departing on the right. Turn south
here, and after another 1.2 miles you will arrive at Jean
Lake, the first of the basins four lakes. The total
distance to Jean Lake from Naturalist Basin is 5.0 miles,
one way, or from the Highline Trailhead it is 8.1 miles.
The route is clearly marked with Forest Service signs.
The best camp sites are
at Dean Lake, immediately northeast of Jean at the base
of the Uinta Crest. There is no proper trail to Dean Lake
but it is easy to get to. Just walk along the southern
shore of Jean for about 0.3 mile, and a few hundred feet
beyond the eastern end of the lake you will come to Dean
Lake. Both lakes are situated against the southern base
of the Uinta Crest, about 1.5 miles south of the Rocky
Sea Pass. The water is deeper along the north shore of
the lakes; hence the chances of hooking a larger fish
are better, but the fishing is also good on the more easily
accessible south shore.
If you feel like exploring,
there is an old airplane crash a short way up the slope
from the eastern end of Dean Lake. The unfortunate pilot
was only about 500 feet too low to clear the ridge when
he crashed. The other two lakes, Dale and Daynes, are
another 0.5 miles south of Jean Lake on the east side
of the main trail. There are a number of good camp sites
around these two lakes as well, but they arent quite
as scenic as Jean and Dean.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order his book
Favorite Hiking Trails.