Climbing Kings Peak, Utah.
Kings Peak is the highest mountain in Utah with a solid elevation of 13,528 feet or if you prefer the proper system 4,123m!
Surprisingly, Kings Peak is not found in the Wasatch range, which is the range that includes all of Utah’s world class ski fields but instead is found in the more isolated Uinta range to the east of Salt Lake City.
The Uintas is a big desolate range encompassing huge basins, lakes and pockets of pine forest.
The trailhead forkings peak is a three hour drive from Salt Lake City and you actually go through a corner of Wyoming briefly before curling back into Utah. We stopped at a town in Wyoming called Mountain View and visited a very Americana diner called the Crazy Ate! The breakfasts are huge and delicious and this was a very tactical move – having a huge greasy breakfast meant we didn’t need to carry as much food in our packs and the 2000 calorie breakfast would see us through the first day’s 8 miles of hiking!
There is a link to driving directions to the trailhead at the end of the post*
Once at the trailhead make sure you sign the visitors book so the authorities know how many people are in your party and where you are headed in case of an emergency. I always like to to read the comments from other hikers and pick up tips or see how tough it and how the weather has been. A lot of comments were negative related to recent snow and quite a few hikers were unable to reach the summit. This helped with planning the final summit. .
The first leg of the hike takes you along a stream at a steadily rising gradient. I think autumn is a great season to do this hike because you get to see some great colours and combined with a Dusting of snow you get the contrast of the brilliant white snow with the varied shades of yellows, oranges and reds!
The stream will be on your left and the trail is easy to follow so this is a pretty cruisy trail. I would recommend trying to move quickly over this leg so you have more time to relax at the lake and set up camp and explore.
After 5-6 miles cruising by the stream and moving through some small meadows you will come to a crossing. This is where you cross over a log bridge to the other side of the river. Just before you cross take some time to grab some pics from the meadow. You are now only a few miles from dollar lake which is a good place to camp.
When you break out into the meadow you are getting closer to the lake. You will see a sign talking about fire restrictions close to the lake. Keep walking a few hundred metres. Dollar lake is hidden on your left hand side. Look for a grove of pine trees and a steep ridge and contour in the mountains on your left to gauge its location. You will go through some marshy ground and a small clearing. It is pretty well hidden but once you find it you will appreciate its tranquility set against the red rock of the range.
You can’t have fires around the lake so we camped just off the trail 300 m from the lake. We picked a soft spot under the pine trees and it was very sheltered and we had a great fire to keep us warm. At this point snow was predicted the next day so we wanted some good protection from the weather.
Day 2. Summit day:
Start early! It is a long day ahead so get up early! Ensure you have plenty of water because you dehydrate quickly and it is a tough climb if you aren’t used to the altitude.
There are a number of different combinations of trails that honestly don’t really have a different end result.
For example: there are short cuts that are a shorter distance but more strenuous and more time consuming because of boulder hopping or something similar vs a much longer yet smoother and faster option! No free lunches really! i highly recommend picking up a national geographic map of the Uintas – camping store in Salt Lake City carry them.
To get from dollar lake to the base of gunsight pass is an easy to follow trail. When you get to gunsight pass you have your first option: The short cut involves scrambling up the steep rocky pass or a long steady climb on the visible trail. If you are up for a bit of climbing and boulder hopping take the short cut like I did. Once you are atop the pass you have three choices of trails. The one marked on the map is looooong but smooth and easy. This will take the longest but if you have started early enough its a pleasant walk.The 2nd trail is quite visible and is a lower ridge trail. You do lose some altitude on this trail as you go down first then hug the steep ridge as opposed to going allllll the way around it as in the official trail. Then there is option C! This is the high ridge trail and is more suitable for summer rather than fall when I attempted it. The snow makes it more difficult to skirt the steep sections. You keep the highline from gunsight pass and hug the ridge until you see some cairns and/or can’t go any further. You then go vertical straight up the mountain and up on top of the ridge. You will spot more cairns once you are on top of the ridge. You can then traverse the lower edge of the mountain on your right and cut across to Anderson’s pass. Try and stay low here as constant uneven boulder hopping is not fun and is pretty tiring. Once you get to Anderson’s pass take a look down and enjoy the view of where you started. You will probably get blown away by the wind!
Take some time here and relax and get your breath back. Especially if you are still acclimating to the altitude!
The summit is a steep ridge climb with spectacular views. The drop off on the right hand side is almost straight down but is the easiest way to climb especially if there is snow. Basically stick to the spine of the ridge and you can’t help but hit the summit. It is further than it looks and there is a couple of false summits on the way but when you get up top it is all worth it:
360 degree views of three basins and you get a feel for the vastness of this area. The Uintas are special because of the magnitude of the basins they enclose.
I definitely think it is worth going when there has been a little snow because of the texture it adds to the mountains.. Late September is a great time to go just don’t leave it too late!
If you have time why not head back a different way. If you want to go back via the high traverse go back the way you came staying low to avoid too much boulder hopping then look for the cairns to point you to the entry to scale down to the high trail. Once you are back at gunsight pass you can scramble back down the rocky pass or take the longer gentler trail down. It’s up to you.
Back to camp!
The trail back to our campsite near the lake seemed a lot longer on the way back and there are a few pockets of forest that look the same so it can be confusing. So be prepared for this confusion and to go a little further.
It snowed all through the night and the wind howled but luckily there was only a few inches of snow on the ground when we woke up. We trudged through back the way we came keeping a close eye on the trail as it was starting to disappear under fresh snow.
When we got back to the carpark there was good fall snow on our car but the roadws were clear enough to get bak to mountain view and start our drive back to Salt Lake city.
Kings Peak is a tiring but very rewarding hike and a must do to get a feel for the vastness of this rugged corner of Utah!
From Mountain View, WY, take State Route 410 south towards Robertson. When 410 makes a hard left (west) in about six miles, stay due south towards Bridger Lake Guard Station. In about 12 miles, turn east on Forest Service Road 077 towards Henrys Fork. In about 11.5 miles, turn west for the three-quarters of a mile drive to Henrys Fork Campground, and park near the trailhead.