Utah is full of bucket-list adventures within a day’s drive, and in August, camping around the snow-melt lakes of the Uinta mountains is one of your best options. This wilderness area offers a million dirt roads and a plethora of sparkling lakes with the peace of no cell phone service. Fishing, hiking, climbing, and just chilling out are all options up here—just remember your bug spray.
The Uinta mountain range is the highest in Utah and is the only major range in the contiguous United States with an east-west orientation. The gorgeous forested mountain slopes are covered with coniferous trees along with patches of quaking aspen and unique rock formations—dwarfed by breathtaking stone peaks. The entryway to the Uintas is only a 48-minute drive from the Salt Palace and you’ll quickly shave of 15-20 degrees from the sweltering valley heat on the way there.
Type “Mirror Lake Highway” into google maps and hit the road. Stop in Kamas if you need gas, and few miles after you turn east onto Mirror Lake Highway, you’ll find a little town called Samak. This is the last of civilization for miles (Evanston, Wyoming is the next town) and you can stock up at the Samak Smoke House. They have plenty of camping supplies and tasty smoked trout from local lakes.
You’ll see a sign for The Notch Pub soon after this and if you need a meal (or want to bring one with you) before you switch to camping mode, stop here. The people are friendly and the food is delicious—their specialty burger with pastrami will leave you full with a snack for later. Once you’ve stocked up, hit the road and find a campsite.
Camping in the area ranges from gorgeous established grounds, like Trial Lake, to primitive camping along endless miles of dirt roads. To avoid the crowds, seek out spots along dirt roads and be ready to turn around if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle. Don’t settle for a spot right beside Mirror Lake Highway if you don’t want to—you just don’t have to.
You can fit so many activities in up here, you just have to pack for whatever you love. Hiking, sport climbing, backpacking, and fishing are the most popular. Remember that elevations range from 8,000 feet in the lower Uintas to 13,528 on Kings Peak (the highest peak in Utah)—and altitude sickness is a real possibility up here. Take it easy and don’t drink too much. If anyone is having a seriously bad time—headaches, dizzy spells, vomiting—get back down closer to sea level.
No matter what you do up here, there are some essentials to have with you and number one is bug spray. The mosquitoes come in clouds in some places up here. Bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and food, and make sure you’re prepared for anything from summer weather to cold mountain thunderstorms.
You can start a hike with shorts and a t-shirt up here and end up needing full rain gear and a base layer. Make sure you bring gear for both kinds of weather and that your tent can take a gnarly storm with ease. It will get cold at night so make sure you check the weather and have an appropriate sleeping bag.
Many of the peaks up here are bare rock, making them dangerous during a thunderstorm. If you’re climbing something like Bald Mountain and you see a storm rolling in, get down and head for cover. Getting stuck on exposure up here is a big danger. Also, it’s easy to get lost up here so know where you’re going, have a map with you, and don’t take unnecessary risks.
There’s a minor recreation fee you need to stop and pay on your way in. America the Beautiful passes work here, too. If you’re prepared for whatever activities you want to enjoy and keep in mind that the weather will change on a whim, you’re going to have a great time.