- High Uintas Wilderness Area, between Heber and Duchesne
- 16.1 miles (loop)
- Day 1: 5 3/4 hours
Day 2: 5 hours
- Elevation Change:
- 940 feet
- Midsummer to mid-fall. (Usually covered with snow from mid-November until July.)
DescriptionThe High Uintas Wilderness Area is a paradise for sport fishermen. More than a thousand lakes lie within the boundaries of the wilderness area, of which Utah’s Department of Wildlife Resources reports some 650 contain significant populations of game fish. The 170-acre Grandaddy Lake is one of the largest of the Uintas lakes, and also one of the most popular. It is very scenic, easy to get to, and generally well stocked with cutthroat and brook trout.
Unfortunately, there are usually so many campers around Grandaddy Lake it is not possible to enjoy a real wilderness experience there. But there are many other less well visited lakes nearby. There are over twenty lakes within a two-hour walk of Grandaddy. The fishing is good in most of them, and excellent campsites are easy to find.
There are also numerous other trails in Grandaddy Basin, and many variations of this hike are possible. The route outlined here is a loop tour of nine of the better known lakes. The minimum recommended time for the trip is two days, but one could easily spend a week in the basin-especially if catching fish is on the agenda. If you have more time to spare I suggest you establish a camp at one of the lakes and explore the other lakes on day trips.
Day 2: 5 hours
From Grandview Trailhead the trail climbs gently upward through the lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce forest for 2.2 miles before reaching Hades Pass, the entryway into Grandaddy Basin. At 10,640 feet above sea level-940 feet above the trailhead-Hades Pass is the highest point on the hike. The slope on either side of the pass is so gradual, however, that you will scarcely know you have reached the summit. Just beyond the pass Heart Lake comes into view, nestled at the foot of East Grandaddy Mountain, and soon afterward you will reach Grandaddy Lake. Don’t be discouraged at the number of hikers you encounter between the trailhead and Grandaddy Lake. On some summer weekends there may literally be hundreds of hikers on this trail, but the great majority of them never go beyond Grandaddy Lake, 3.4 miles from the trailhead.
On the northwestern side of Grandaddy the trail splits, with the right fork going to LaMarla Lake and beyond, and the left fork continuing north into Grandaddy Basin. Bear to the left here and continue northward along the eastern shore of Betsy Lake. Then, after 0.4 mile you will reach another junction. This is the beginning of the loop trail to Governor Dern Lake. The direction in which you walk the loop doesn’t matter much, but for the sake of discussion I will assume that you turn left here onto the Pine Island Lake Trail.
Notice the side trail going to Mohawk Lake as the main trail leaves the north end of Betsy Lake. Mohawk is a little larger than Betsy, but still only about a third the size of Grandaddy. The spur trail is only 0.4 mile long over level ground, and there are some nice campsites near the lake. It is a good alternative if you are looking for a secluded spot near Grandaddy Lake.
From Betsy Lake, the main trail continues north for 1.1 miles to Fish Hatchery Lake. The abundance of grass along the shore of Fish Hatchery is a good indication of the reduced number of campers here as compared to Betsy and Grandaddy. Just before you reach Fish Hatchery you will also see another spur trail leading to Farney Lake, 0.6 mile away. There are some fine camping sites around Farney Lake, but unfortunately it is too shallow for fish to survive the winter. Two other small lakes, Sonny Lake and Marsell Lake can also be reached by walking from Farney Lake through the timber for about 20 minutes along a bearing slightly west of magnetic south. The forest floor is quite level here and quite open, so the lakes are easy to find. They are both nestled against the north side of a low ridge that runs east of West Grandaddy Mountain.
Back on the Pine Island Loop Trail, the route next passes between Pine Island Lake and Lily Pad Lake. Again, Lily Pad is too shallow for good fishing, but this is not true of Pine Island Lake. Pine Island (80 acres in area) is the second largest lake in the basin and the fishing is good. Unfortunately, Pine Island Lake is a favorite destination for groups with pack horses, and the best camping area on the southern end of the lake is littered with horse manure.
0.3 miles after leaving Pine Island Lake you will come to the Palisade Lake Trail that heads south to Palisade Lake and Brinton Meadows. This trail offers a shorter return loop for those not wishing to continue to Governor Dern Lake. Palisade Lake, located 0.4 mile from the main trail is a very pretty lake with some good camping sites.
1.4 miles farther north from the junction with the Palisade Lake Trail is another shortcut trail leading to Rainbow Lake. Don’t even consider taking this trail, because if you do you will miss Governor Dern Lake, which in my opinion is the prettiest of all the Grandaddy Basin Lakes. Governor Dern is much more open than most of the other lakes, with fine views of Mount Agassiz on the main ridge of the Uintas, 4 miles further north. The lake is also completely surrounded with grass and has many fine campsites. Unfortunately Governor Dern Lake is rather shallow, and the fishing is not as good as at Pine Island and some of the other lakes in the vicinity.
There are a number of nice day hikes in the vicinity of Governor Dern Lake if you have the time to spend a few nights there. Pinto Lake is only 0.4 mile north, and the Highline Trail is only 2.5 miles farther along the Pinto Lake Trail.
One particularly interesting day hike from Governor Dern involves walking around a loop, past Pinto Lake, Margo Lake, Pine Island Lake, and back to Governor Dern Lake. A primitive trail leads to Margo Lake from the north side of Pinto. After you reach Margo, work your way around to the south side of the lake and then walk cross country for about 0.4 mile along a heading slightly east of magnetic south until you reach the top of a wide saddle. Pine Island Lake is 0.2 mile below the saddle on the south side. Once you reach Pine Island, it is an easy walk around its eastern side back to the Pine Island Lake Trail and on to Governor Dern Lake. The total distance of this loop is 5.5 miles.
Another nice day hike from Governor Dern Lake is along the trail to the Four Lakes Basin. The trail leaves from Rainbow Lake, 0.8 miles south of Governor Dern, and proceeds along a gentle uphill slope for 2.5 miles to Jean Lake (10,753 ft.) and its three companion lakes: Daynes, Dale, and Dean. Nestled against the southern side of the Uintas ridge amidst scattered stands of Engelmann spruce, these glacial lakes are very picturesque. The fishing is also good and there are plenty of good campsites in the basin, but it is difficult for most people to get a good night’s sleep at this altitude. If you don’t want to return the same way you can go north another 1.2 miles to the Highline Trail, then west to the Pinto Lake Trail, and south again, past Pinto Lake, to Governor Dern Lake. Total distance: 8.7 miles.
When you leave Governor Dern Lake you will be walking back to Grandaddy Lake via Rainbow Lake, Lost Lake, and Brinton Meadows. Bear right at the two major trail junctions near Rainbow Lake and head due south on the Hades Trail towards Lost Lake. Just before reaching Lost Lake you will notice another spur trail leading to Powell Lake, about 0.6 mile away-another possible side trip.
1.2 miles after passing Lost Lake you will arrive at Brinton Meadows and the Palisade Lake Trail junction. For twenty years the Forest Service maintained a guard station at Brinton Meadows, but under pressure from the Sierra Club they were forced to remove the station in 1995. The law forbids permanent dwellings within a designated wilderness area, so, although the guard station was little more than a tent with a wooden floor, it had to go. This is a shame because rangers staffing the guard station during the summer months provided a valuable service in cleaning up camp sites, monitoring and controlling damage to the ecosystem, and providing emergency assistance. Grandaddy Basin is so heavily impacted by backpackers and pack horses that the absence of the Brinton Meadows Guard Station will be sorely missed.
From Brinton Meadows it is another 1.2 miles back to Betsy Lake, from where you can retrace your steps past Grandaddy lake, over Hades Pass, and back to your car at the Grandview Trailhead.