Magazine article Sunset

Hiking the Uintas

Magazine article Sunset

Hiking the Uintas

Article excerpt

TRAVEL

Four close-in day-hikes sample the best of Utah's wildest mountains

It's the stuff of campfire stories: legends of lost hoards of Spanish gold somewhere in the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah. Throw another log on the fire and you can stoke the drama with just enough mystery to make it interesting. Although historians claim Spanish explorers first set foot in Utah in 1765, treasure seekers are convinced that gold-driven Spaniards reached the Uintas in the mid-1600s. As proof, they point to cannons, breastplates, and helmets found in the mountains.

Another interesting, but unrelated, fact to ponder is that the Uintas are one of the few mountain ranges in the West that run east to west, instead of north to south, stretching 150 miles from Kamas, on the west, to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.

Barely 17 miles east of Park City, these mountains are a chunk of wilderness prowled by bears, mountain lions, moose, and elk. And, thanks to its rugged personality, the landscape has changed little since 1825, when trapper William Ashley wrote that the range "is in many places fertile and closely timbered with pine, cedar, quaking-asp and a dwarfish growth of oak; a great number of beautiful streams issue from them on each side, running through fertile valleys richly clothed with grass."

Somehow, Ashley forgot to mention the many lakes sprinkled about the Uintas, many of them stocked with trout. And he probably didn't know that the state's highest point rises here, in the form of 13,528-foot Kings Peak. The bare-topped mountain lies deep within the 456,705acre High Uintas Wilderness, an oblong tract of mountains, valleys, lakes, and meadows, where you can lose yourself for days on end.

But you don't need to head into the heart of the wilderness area to find places fertile and closely timbered. Drive 30 miles east of Kamas along the Mirror Lake Highway (State 150), and you'll pass several trailheads leading through wildflower meadows into forests thick with lodgepole pine, spruce, and fir, and to mountaintops with spectacular views in all directions.

The four hikes on page 38 are good introductions to the Uintas. Trailheads are all along Mirror Lake Highway, in a Forest Service recreation area. Pay the daily fee of $3 at a roadside kiosk about 7 miles east of Kamas; there are also self-serve dispensers along the highway. A good map of the area, listing trailheads, campsites, and picnic areas, is National Geographic Trails Illustrated's High Uintas Wilderness ($9.95; 800/962-1643 or www.nationalgeographic.com/trails).

Note that high elevations can make hiking more difficult. For more information or trail updates, contact the Kamas Ranger Station, WasatchCache National Forest (435/783-4338 or www.fs.fed.us/wcnf/).

You're guaranteed to work up an appetite, so after your hike, stop in Kamas at Dick's Drive In (11-9 daily; 235 E. Center St.; 435/783-4312) for a cheeseburger and a raspberry shake, or sit down at Pasillas Restaurant (10-10 Tue-Sun; 185 S. …

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