Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas

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Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Backpacking to Amethyst Lake in the High Uinta Wilderness is a backpackers dream - a high alpine lake, lots of hiking and fishing, great campsites, not too many people, and cooler temperatures. Although the hike in is somewhat tough (especially if you are carrying a 30-40 lb pack), the reward and view is well worth the hard effort. 

Amethyst Lake is located in the Christmas Meadows are of the Uintas, with a wide open meadow strewn with trees, resembling, well, Christmas trees. Christmas Meadows is situated perfectly to view Ostler Peak, Hayden Peak, and among the Stillwater Fork of the Bear River. Amethyst Lake is one of several lakes that is accessed via Christmas Meadows. Ryder Lake, Ostler Lake, Kermsuh Lake, and several unnamed lakes are popular lakes for hikers as well. Keep in mind that the Uintas can get cold at night, and they also get the daily afternoon thunderstorm. When backpacking to any part of the Uintas, be prepared for any kind of weather, and especially, mosquitoes. 

Amethyst Lake can be hiked to and from in a day, but to really relax and explore the area, plan on spending at least one night at the lake. Since I backpacked to Amethyst Lake over the July 4th holiday weekend, I spend two nights at the lake. This solo trip was a way for me to relax, read, hang out in my new hammock, let Charlie roam the hills, and just rest. I've been needing some down time, and this was the place to let that happen.

 From SLC, head East on I-80 through Parley's Canyon. Once past Kimball Junction, UT take exit 146 for HWY 40. Drive another 3-4 miles and take exit 4 towards Kamas, UT. At the first light in Kamas, turn left. At the night light (at the Chevron), turn right. You will now be on the Mirror Lake Highway. Drive 46 miles across the Mirror Lake Hwy, until you see the sign for Stillwater Campground. The turnoff for Christmas Meadows is not signed, but it's 0.2 miles past the Stillwater Campground sign, to the right. You'll immediately be on a dirt road signed UT 150 - drive another 4 miles to the very end of the road. This is where the parking lot and TH is. There is one vault restroom.

Distance: 6 miles one way
Elevation gain: 1,950 ft
Time: 3-4 hours one way, or 1-2 nights
Dog friendly? Yes, off leash
Kid friendly? Yes, older kids
Fees/Permits? The Mirror Lake Highway charges a $6 fee for a 3 day pass. It's free if you have an annual Mirror Lake Hwy or American Fork Canyon pass, or free if you have an annual National Park Pass. No permit is required.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Driving up and over Mirror Lake Highway, I usually see Mountain goats. They are typically out feeding in the early morning or evening. I was happy to see a baby goat in the bunch!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 0.2 miles past the Stillwater Campground, there's a dirt road off to the right. You'll turn here, and see the sign for Christmas Meadows which is 4 miles at the end of this road. The road is in decent shape - even my little Sonata was able to make it (slowly).
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 The official Christmas Meadows sign!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 When I arrived on Saturday at 8am, the parking lot was full and I had to park in the overflow area. Make sure you hang your pass in your windshield - rangers will ticket you if you don't have one visible.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Hittin' the trail!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 The trail is very well shaded with tall pine tress for beginning portion of the hike.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 The Christmas Meadows trail has a lot of water. What I mean by that is not only is there plenty of water to drink from (after filtering), but the trails are also water logged, can be mud pits, or very soggy soil. Most of these "bridges" were constructed by the Forest Service 20+ years ago. They definitely need to be updated, but my guess is that won't happen for awhile (if ever).
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Crossing more bridges. Some of them are not balanced, so watch your footing.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 #Selfie!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 The trail takes you over rocky, rolling hills for the first 2 miles.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Official High Uintas Wilderness sign! The trail split for Amethyst Lake is about 100 yards beyond this sign, to the left.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 At the trail junction. It's hard to see the sign, because its about 10 ft up the tree, in the shade. My white arrow on the left points it out. Keep an eye out for this large rock pile, so you know where to turn. There is also a campsite off to the right of the trail.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Once you turn off for Amethyst Lake, the trail becomes very steep and rocky.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 You'll hear the rushing of the creek nearby, and come upon what I am calling Amethyst Falls. Near the end of summer, this may be a very small stream compared to now.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 The trail doesn't show how steep the trail is here - take your time working your way up the Uinta slickrock.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Finally the trail evens out - but only for 1/4 mile.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 You'll come to this first small meadow. Up until now, you won't get a very good view of where you are headed. Hike through more trees - it seems like this trail just keeps going up and up. I had to take several breather breaks.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 The 2nd meadow you come to is the big meadow, where you'll see a lot of campers. At this point, you'll finally have a view of Ostler Peak. At the back of that basin, is where Amethyst Lake sits. Only another mile!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Hiking along the stream below Ostler Peak.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Passing by an unnamed pond, that also happened to be a very turquoise colored lake, with several campsites around it. 
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Passing by the 3rd open meadow. We're getting so close to the lake!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 I could finally see the green lake ahead. It took me 3:15 to arrive to Amethyst Lake.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 I quickly set up camp, because I knew the afternoon thunderstorms would be rolling in soon.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Setting up my new Kroex Sports Hammock! I can't get over this view!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 After taking a nap, I walked up to the Western side of the lake to get a good overview of the area. The ridgeline across the way was so awesome looking! It also showed me just how big Amethyst Lake it.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Charlie takes in his view - black & white style!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Setting up my hammock to snuggle with Charlie and read.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Charlie doesn't look too thrilled here....
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Yet 1 minute later he is yawning from the comforts of his spot in the hammock.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 On day 2 we decided to hike around the whole lake, and climbed up to some of those snow fields. I found a nice waterfall from snow to filter more water in. Nothing better than ice cold snow water!
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Taking in my view from where I was able to filter water. This was taken on the south end of the lake.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 Beginning to hike around the lake. If you are brave enough, there are some cliffs to the left that would make for awesome cliff jumping into the lake. I couldn't do it - the water was icy cold.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
 On the East side of the lake, looking up to Ostler Peak. Climbing to that summit was one of my goals, but realized that since I was alone, it would be too tough of a climb by myself. I scratched that idea, and decided to just relax and hang out.

Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
On the northern end of Amethyst Lake, I found this small pond, with a great view of LaMotte Peak.
Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
Taking a nap before heading out for the weekend.
Amethyst Lake trail map, Uintas
 Trail map looking Southeast.
Amethyst Lake trail map, Uintas
Trail map looking North. Even though Google Earth shows snow, there was no snow on the trail itself, only in the basin area.


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Backpacking to Amethyst Lake, Uintas, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
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25 comments:

  1. Nice trip report. Makes me want to go back!

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    1. Thank you! It's such a pretty lake! -Alicia

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  2. so insanely gorgeous! I camped at Stillwater last fourth of July and looked into hiking around there, werent many day trip options but now I am regretting not hiking out to this beautiful lake!

    Katie @ Katie Wanders
    www.KatieWanders.com

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  3. How do you find places you can camp overnight? I am bad at finding them. Also did you sleep in your hammock over night or have a tent also?

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    1. Hi Karlee! Just pick a lake on the map and hike to it :) I did not sleep in my hammock, I slept in my backpacking tent. - Alicia

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  4. Awesome write-up. Is a bear canister needed? How cold did temps get at night?

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    1. Thank you! A bear canister is not required, though it may not be a bad idea. However, I have been exploring the Uintas for 3 years now, and have never even seen a bear. Squirrels are more likely to get into your food. It was chilly at night, maybe 35-40F? I wished I brought my sleeping bag liner, but I am typically a cold sleeper. -Alicia

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  5. What a nice weekend for you and Charlie away from the crowds:) Charlie was so cute in the hammock:) Spectacular spot. Love the lake shot where you mentioned jumping off the cliffs.

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    1. Thank you - I loved snuggling Charlie in our new hammock :) Alicia

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  6. I spent several summers as a teenager (1954--1958) with my uncle who grazed his sheep in these high mountain areas as part of a government grazing permit. Your pictures and descriptions brought back lots of memories. There are really three main areas as you go south from Christmas Meadows. Each one has its own challenges and beauty. There is one or more lakes at the head of each of these canyons. My uncle, helped the fish and game department haul fish in cans attached to pack saddles to those lakes--then the fish and game department started to fly planes and dump fish. I enjoyed your descriptions. Try the trails to Ryder Lake and (I forget the one to the west). I have skillions of memories and I believe I could still retrace lots of places, etc.

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    1. Wow, that is so cool! It's such a pretty area. The very first lake we backpacked to when we moved to Utah was Ryder Lake. The lake you are thinking of is Kermsuh Lake, and I have yet to visit there. I think that will be on next years "to do" list. There are so many awesome areas in the Uintas - it's a really special place. -Alicia

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  7. Alicia, I really enjoy your writing. Last year I did Coyote Gulch and also went in at Hamblin Arch. It was a fabulous trip. Your pics took me back. June, 2016 I did a trip into Chicago Basin near Silverton, CO and in June, 2017 will do Huron Peak with my Border Collie, Maggie, after which I'd like to backpack 3-4 days in Utah with her. The Uintas look like a perfect option for us. I'm thinking of a day hike in, camping for 1-2 nights and a day hike out. I'd also enjoy a bit of fishing! You have lots of experience in the Uintas. What would you recommend? Is the trail up Kings Peak dog friendly? After Huron I may not want the Kings Peak hike, but would consider it. If it's took taxing, I may opt for a relaxing couple of days in the hammock or with the fishing pole. I usually go late June, what can I expect during that time of the summer? Thanks again. Love your reports.
    Drew

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    1. Thanks for finding me! Sounds like you have some good experience under your belt, so King's Peak would be perfect. Dogs are allowed off leash, and can make it to the top. I recommend setting up a base camp, and camp 2 nights for Kings. It's 25 miles one way, so hike halfway in and camp near Dollar Lake, then hike to the peak from there. Plenty of water all around to filter. This post, for Amythest Lake, is another great option. Everything in the Uintas is dog friendly. Another area you could check out is Rock Creek Basin and Deadhorse Pass (I have a post on that too). In lake June, you won't be able to access anything. All winter gates open July 1, but the best time to explore the Uintas is late July-mid September. Hope this helps! -Alicia

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    2. Quick follow up...so are you saying tht King's Peak and Amythest Lake are not open either until July 1st?

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    3. That's correct. They closed all the winter gates yesterday (Nov 1) in Utah.

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  8. Hi Alicia, I purchased a great book called "best hikes with dogs-Utah" by Dayna Stern. I'm still interested in the Uintas in late June/early July if possible. One trip highlighted in the book was the Henrys Fork to Dollar Lake Loop. Stern says its 17.5 miles and takes 1-3 days. Based on our earlier dialogue I'm not sure if this trail is accessible at this time. Any idea? Could I get my truck to the trail head? And, would there still be snow on the ground and the lakes frozen? I would be bringing Maggie, my 5 year old Border Collie. Thanks again for your advice.
    Drew

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    1. Yes, that is a great book! If you are wanting to hike to Dollar Lake, you might as well continue on to Kings Peak (depending on snow level). Henry's Fork to Dollar Lake is the same trail you use for Kings. It really depends on snow level...I would call the forest service a week or two before going to see if they've opened the gate and ask about snow pack http://www.fs.usda.gov/uwcnf. The lakes would most likely still be frozen. The trail goes from about 5000 ft up to about 10,000 ft where Dollar Lake is, so things would still be covered in ice. But again, if our current climate change really kicks in, and we have temps in the 80s in town and 60s up there, it might be perfect. -Alicia

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  9. Alicia,
    I'm preparing for my western trip next month. I'm bringing my border collie Maggie and am planing on backpacking into horn fork basin and climbing Mt. Harvard. However if snow is still too prevelant, I'm planning a "Plan B" and Amethyst Lake is on my radar for the last week of June. How's the snow load this spring? The melt? Do you think this would be accessible the last week for June? Any other trips that would be good for me and Maggie that would be a good pack and allow for some tranquil fishing? Thanks.
    Drew

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    1. You will likely still have snow up there - check out the current snow pack levels here: https://www.ksl.com/?nid=978. I don't see myself getting up there until mid-july this year. It has been a HUGE snow season for utah! I think the roads will be open by then, but just be prepared for mud/snow up there. If you really want to hit the Uintas but don't want snow, look at lower elevation trails/lakes such as Shingle Creek. I plan on backpacking up there in June as well. Another snow-free area in the Uintas would be Murdock or Soapstone Basin. Hope this helps! -Alicia

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  10. Thanks, Alicia. I'll look into those. I appreciate your blog. I'm not a blog person, yours is literally the only blog I follow. Thanks again.

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    1. Wow, the best of compliments - thank you!

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  11. Alicia, I've decided too stick with Horn fork basin in Colorado, then return to Escalante to do two days of slot canyons. I've researched Spooky and Peekaboo, they're doable with my Border Maggie. Any others you'd suggest? Thanks again for being such a reliable resource.
    Drew

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    1. Sounds perfect! When you hike the slots, I suggest hiking up Spooky first, then make a loop coming down PeekaBoo. It's easier to get down the 10 ft drop rather than climbing up it. Your dog will have an easier time as well. Also check out Zebra Slot Canyon (every time I've gone there's been water so no blog post on it), Neon Canyon/Golden Cathedral, Reflection Canyon, and of course, Coyote Gulch! So many options! I'll be down there this weekend backpacking Little Death Hollow.

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  12. I live on the south side of the Uintas and have only done a couple backpacking trips in them. I'm usually heading out for more well known places in Wyoming, Colorado, our southern Utah. This trip report makes me feel guilty for not showing more attention to my home range. I will definitely have to hit Amethyst this summer!

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    1. I know, right? I live only an hour away and this year my goal is to backpack 20 nights in the Uintas. Eventually I will move away from Utah, and I want to make sure I see as much of the range as I can. -Alicia

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