Uinta Day Hikes to Check Off Your List This Summer

Kim Sanders
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Roasting summer temperatures can make even the upper reaches of the Wasatch uncomfortably warm for a mid-day hike in the summer. Which makes the Uintas even more delicious: For the low price of a 90-minute or two-hour drive, you can soak in a gorgeous mountain range chock-full of excellent hiking trails. Cap it off with a bite and a few frothy beverages in the Kamas area, and you've got a pretty epic way to spend a summer day. (Kamas eateries tend to get great reviews because everything tastes amazing after a day in the mountains.)

Early in the season, mosquitos can be a major drag, but over the course of the summer they’re less of a problem. But bring some repellent and a long-sleeved shirt just in case—you don’t want to feed the wildlife with your own blood. And also remember, this is dog-friendly country, but it’s also bear country, so be aware of the all the mammals in the vicinity.

Here are a few great Uinta day hikes you can crank out before sunset. Trust us, you won't want to miss them this summer.

Lofty Lake Loop: Several Lakes, One Hike

If you like dazzling views, alpine lakes, flowery meadows, rocky highpoints, or rich forests, you’ll probably like the Lofty Lake Loop. As the name suggests, it’s a loop that takes you through a series of high-elevation lakes over the course of about four miles.

Park at the Pass Lake trailhead, which is 32 miles up the Mirror Lake Highway from Kamas. From here, you’ll have the option to hike the loop in either direction, but hiking counter-clockwise can reduce the chance of a navigation mixup.

You’ll pass Picturesque Lake, Scout Lake, Lofty Lake, Kamas Lake, and countless smaller bodies of water peacefully settled in the gentle indentations in the rolling Uinta forest. Many of the lakes along the way have fish aplenty, so if you decide to make an overnighter of it, you may be able to catch and cook your own dinner.

A dog takes a cooling dip in the Uintas.
A dog takes a cooling dip in the Uintas. Kim Sanders

Ruth’s Lake: Best for Kids (and Climbers)

The hike to the popular Ruth’s Lake is very short and easy, which makes it a killer beginner hike for families with small kids. There are plentiful side-trails and nearby lakes to explore, so the area makes an excellent starting point for build-your-own-adventure days.

And as an added bonus, one of the Uinta Mountains’ major climbing areas lies adjacent to the lake. Many climbers make an overnighter of it and spend a full weekend working their way up several of the wall’s routes.  

To get to Ruth Lake, drive about 35 miles up the Mirror Lake Highway and park in the prominent roadside parking lot. The trail is clearly marked, with Ruth Lake just under a mile away. Bring a topo map because the options to explore from here are limitless.

Amethyst Lake: Best Big Day

The trek to Amethyst Lake is an unforgettable one, embarking from the jaw-dropping Christmas Meadows and continuing onward to ever-prettier places. At six miles each way, it’s a big day. Many people prefer to make it an overnighter. But for a fast-paced hiker or trail runner, Amethyst is just what the doctor ordered for a proper mountain bonanza.

The Christmas Meadows trailhead lies up a dirt road 47 miles up the Mirror Lake Highway. The dirt road is a splendid place in itself, winding through open meadows and quaking aspen groves. From the trailhead, it just keeps getting better. You’ll work your way up about 2,000 feet in elevation over the course of six miles, topping out at the emerald shores of Amethyst Lake.

It's a dog's life in the Uintas.
It's a dog's life in the Uintas. Beth Lopez

Shingle Creek: The Most Bang for Your Buck 

Shingle Creek is often overlooked in favor of the Uintas’ more flashy hikes, but it’s a lovely place in its own right, and with a trailhead just 10 miles up the road from Kamas, it’s relatively quick to access.

For much of the hike, you’ll go parallel to the creek you cross at the start of the trail. You’ll cross over a few bridges as you go, keeping close to the cool water. Eventually you’ll top out at a higher elevation overlook, which is where the beauty really spikes. After about 5.5 miles you’ll arrive at East Shingle Creek Lake, and if you have energy to spare, you can continue another mile to South Erickson Lake, which happens to make a nice camp spot for an overnighter.

A perfect Uinta lake that lies far off the beaten path.
A perfect Uinta lake that lies far off the beaten path. Beth Lopez

Time to Refuel 

A day in the mountains deserves a proper refueling, and whose hunger can hold out until you're back in Salt Lake? Fortunately there are a few choice spots nearby to belly up and order a beer, slice of pie, or burger. (If you did Amethyst Basin, you get all three.)

If your hunger meter has hit its redline, stop at The Notch, which is right on the Mirror Lake Highway just before you get back to Kamas. They serve some mighty fine bar food along with delicious adult beverages. Fuel up on the outdoor patio, or, if you have some energy left over from your hike, hit the pool tables inside. And best of all, you can come muddy.

And if you can hold out to Oakley, make a pilgrimage to the Road Island Diner, a Depression-era diner car that has been fully restored to its original Art Deco splendor and transported from the east coast to Oakley, just a few minutes north of Kamas. Stop in, top off the juke box, and settle in for a meatloaf sandwich or a dish of mac and cheese.

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