Spring in Utah is a dynamic season as there can still be significant amounts of snow in the high elevations and roasting heat in the Salt Lake Valley. When the mercury rises why not leave the heat and go hiking in the Uinta National Forest. A half hour drive from Park City the Mirror Lake Highway is sure to please with miles of trails and an estimated 1,000+ lakes that are a result of extensive glaciations. The Uinta mountain range is unique in that the axis runs west to east unlike most ranges in the west with north to south orientation such as the Wasatch, Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada. The 55 mile Mirror Lake highway starts in the small community of Kamas, climbs to a high point of 10,693 feet at Bald Mountain Pass and descends where it eventually reaches quiet Evanston, Wyoming.
Soon after leaving Kamas make a point to stop at the Samak Smoke House where you can get house smoked beef and trout jerkys as well a cold drinks. Heading up the road don’t blink or you’ll miss the Beaver Creek Nudist Ranch. As you continue up the canyon you enter the Wasatch National Forest and the first trails are good for early season hiking when the upper elevations are still muddy or covered in deep snow drifts.
The Beaver Creek trail runs along Beaver Creek for six miles and is a wide trail perfect for a family mountain bike or a walk without too many hills. There is a good chance to see beavers, muskrats and moose. One of my favorite trails is accessed just downstream of the forest service pay station. Take the bridge across Beaver Creek and continue up stream for a mile walking through lush aspen and fir forest. On your right you will pass through the gate and see a sign for Cedar Loop, this multiuse trail climbs steadily for two miles and takes you past old mines, springs and to the top of Fir Peak where you get outstanding views of Timpanogas and the Wasatch Back. The Cedar Loop continues for miles and is popular with OHV users.
Just across the highway from the pay station are Yellow Pine and Slate Creeks. These trails are fantastic and Yellow Pine has three bridges that will take you deep into the mountains. Many wildflowers line the trail, Serviceberry and Chokecherry blossoms sweetly scent the air. Early in the year expect to get your feet wet in the multiple creek crossing about four miles up the trail if you wish to reach Big and Little Yellow Pine Lakes to the left fork and Castle Lake to the right fork.
Shingle Creek is another beautiful trail, the trailhead is off the left side of the highway. The trail crisscrosses Shingle Creek and after eight miles reaches a number of high elevation lakes. Bright yellow glacier lilies are abundant along the trail. The native people relied on the bulbs of these lilies for food, however, resist picking wildflowers as they are needed by wildlife, like the Broad Tailed Hummingbird, and to produce next year’s wildflower splendor. Currently there are bridges that were damaged in this year’s run off. It is tempting to ford the raging creeks in June but remember by midsummer when the spring runoff has waned the torrents are reduced to gentle gurgling streams. Don’t take the chance of ruining your day as the water is swift and very cold, it was snow only hours earlier.
North Fork trail is one of the last low elevation trails in the Beaver Creek area that is a must when there’s just still too much mud up high. Two parking areas make is easy to park even on busy weekends. The first parking on the right is good for passenger cars while the left is best suited for those with a little clearance. The first mile of the trail is a gnarly 4×4 road and only those with proper off road capabilities should attempt and besides why drive when you can get out and hike. Walking along the North Fork of the Provo River your first water crossing is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead. Take the crossing slow and unfasten waste and chest straps in case you slip. The river rocks are deceivingly slippery as they are covered in a biofilm containing algae that is related to the algal diatoms that live in the ocean. Diatoms have a cell wall made of glass and the microscopic marine diatoms’ “shells” are added to toothpaste. That’s what polishes your teeth!
Hiking in the Uinta National Forest in early summer is a great way to burn off calories, get some fresh air and enjoy a day outside with friends.
“Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs–anything–but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our . . . parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. . . . We are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.” Edward Abbey