Ahh, the beauty of this trip! This was an excellent backpacking trip in Utah, and the first trip I did overnight without my car out West. I know, sounds a little weird right? I wish I’d gotten out backpacking years earlier during my time in Utah but, as it turned out, that just wasn’t in the cards for me. So, in 2022, I took my first backpacking trip on the West Coast. It was lovely and a trip to remember! The right people can make or break the trip, and on this trip, we had all the right people. It was a hoot getting to know teo people who I’d seldomed hung out with before!
I’ve previously hiked to Jordan Lake from the Highline trailhead, and it can be done as a day trip. However, my team decided to take a longer route through the East Fork Duchesne River trail, cutting south and east before heading north and west back to the car. It was quite the expedition and I must thank my friend for all the planning he did to make this trip a possibility! Let’s get into some quick beta.
- Mileage: 18-20 miles; the exact route may vary, especially regarding your camping spot.
- Elevation gain: 2,000 ft.
- Lowest Point: 8,826 ft.
- Highest Point: 10,800 ft.
- Best time to visit: June through mid-September; seasonal road closures in effect during winter (look for SR 150)
- Total hiking time: 2 days (around 16 hours)
- Kid-friendly: No.
- Dog-friendly: Yes, must be on-leash
- Bathroom at the trailhead: Yes, pit toilet.
- *Gear I brought: 65+10 Deuter backpack, 1P Marmot tent, Big Agnes sleeping pad, 20F Nemo sleeping bag, bear canister with food (ramen, backpacker meals, Honey Stinger waffles, protein bars, dried apricot, beef jerky), sunscreen, toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, paper towels), MSR Pocket Rocket Stove Kit with pot, lid & handle, propane, 3L Osprey water reservoir, spare water bottle, lighter, matches, first aid kit, large knife, small knife, headlamp, map of the area, compass, 0.6L water filter, socks, underwear, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, pullover, raincoat, winter hat, gloves, sun hat, sunglasses, Canon EOS R camera, Canon 24-70 MK II 2.8 lens.
*List may not be all-inclusive. I hiked with three other people, so some items were split, which means I may not have carried certain necessities.
This hike starts out from Mirror Lake on a small stretch of road near the campsites. Signs point you toward the Duchesne River Trail! From the parking lot, the descent from 10,000 feet begins. The trail meanders down slowly and is in good shape. You’ll pass through a large burn area, which is quite beautiful and horrifying at the same time. It’s like walking through a recent battlefield! Follow this trail for about 3.7 miles until you reach the fork. From here, head north (left), and cross a large bridge over the river before starting your ascent to a higher elevation. This point at around ~8800 feet will be the lowest point for the whole trip!
Hike the East Fork Duchesne River Trail (EFDRT) for about 4 miles before reaching the Highline trail. The EFDRT rises slowly and runs along a river for a large majority of the hike. It’s quite beautiful but loaded with deadfall. This slowed our progress down, so allow extra time to navigate the trail and account for some meandering around fallen trees. Once you reach the Highline Trail, head west (left) towards Jordan Lake and Naturalist Basin. Hike on the Highline trail for about 1.7 miles until you reach your turnoff towards Naturalist Basin. Turn north (right), and head up a steep but fun trail towards your lake.
The trail again splits after about 1 mile, with one trail leading towards Jordan Lake and another trail leading towards Blue Lake and the Morat Lakes. I had been to Jordan Lake before, and we hadn’t actually discussed where we would head! Our final decision led us toward Jordan Lake, which adds another mile. In total, you should average between 11 and 12 miles on this first day!
Day 2 began at Jordan Lake, hiking the 2 miles from camp to our fork on the Highline Trail. From here, the trail was very straightforward: follow the Highline Trail for 2.5 miles west towards Mirror Lake. This trail travels through a large burn area that is very exposed to the sun, especially during the heat of the day (10am-3pm). make sure you’re wearing a sun hoodie, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, or a combination of all of those. It can get hot!
At the Highline and Mirror Lake trail junction, head southwest (left) towards Mirror Lake and follow this trail for 2.5 miles until you reach the parking lot. This trail is gentle and has slight inclines and declines to it. You’ll travel through some beautiful areas with fantastic vistas of lakes, including one with a picturesque view of Hayden Peak behind it.
Need to Know
You are in bear country.
Remember to keep a clean trail and clean camp. Always pack it in, and pack it out. The Uintas are dotted with black bears, so sightings are possible. If you see a bear, make yourself large and shout! Gather any small children near you to help yourself appear bigger and to prevent a bear from isolating them. Take out your bear spray and prepare to use it if necessary.
Please adhere to the wildlife safety rules. Stay at least 25 yards away from moose, elk, deer, and other non-carnivorous animals. Stay away at least 100 yards away from bears, cougars, and other carnivorous animals. It’s for your safety and theirs!
With that being said, I’ve hiked in the Uintas extensively and never seen a black bear with my eyes. I’ve never seen traces of them either, but they’re lurking. Be smart, keep a clean camp, and hang or store your food at least 200 ft. from camp (I usually go further if I won’t be intruding on another party).
Adhere to Campfire Rules and Regulations.
In most areas of the Uintas where you’ll want to camp, including Naturalist Basin, campfires are prohibited. However, other areas may allow campfires during certain periods of the year. Always check with the US Forest Service before backpacking, but regardless of the campfire rules, prepare to experience cold temps!
The Uintas can get quite buggy in the summer months, especially around lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Bring bug spray and anti-itch cream because you will get bit! Or, go late in the season. We hiked this in August and since the overnight lows were cold (mid-20s, low 30s), we didn’t see very many bugs. However, you trade bugs for cold temps and frosty tents in the morning. Choose your poison!
It’s likely in Naturalist Basin that you’ll see other people, especially during summer. Remember to respect your neighbors and keep your noise levels down! We heard one camp from afar for a little bit during the night, but other than that, it was quiet.
If you want to enjoy your trip to the Uintas and Naturalist Basin, this is a fantastic way to do this trip. You can get quite a hard hike in before arriving at the lake, take a quick swim in the frigid temps (the boys all dove in and swam for a bit!), have dinner in the wilderness and enjoy the beautiful stars overhead. Normally, if I can reach a destination in a day hike, I prefer to do it that way since I can go back to my camp and enjoy a great camping meal and perhaps a slightly better night of sleep. However, this trip presented a different option and it was totally worth it!
Spending a night under the stars is the way to do it, especially if you like the occasional astrophotography shoot like myself. I’m not always able to get the greatest photos of the stars as I’m very much in the novice/learning phase of this type of photography, but it’s always a hoot to see all the stars above us. They’re so pretty and so bright. And there’s so much you can see with just your bare eyes, it’s truly incredible!
Take A Hike!
Take a long hike and enjoy this one! I hope you’ve loved this blog – this was a great one to write and it took a lot of time to get it right. I have one more backpacking blog I’ll write about from this summer, and I’m excited for it! Jordan Lake and all of Naturalist Basin is such a beautiful place to be in the Uintas. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, to be honest! If you’re in the area, make sure you check out Mirror Lake, and maybe go for a morning or evening paddleboard. Or, stay the whole day and make a wonderful lake day out of it!
If you’re camping in the area and want another hike, consider hiking Bald Mountain – it’s very close to Mirror Lake; just up the road, in fact! You should also check out the 4-mile trail to Hoover, Shepard, and Fehr Lakes as well as the 5.0 mile trail to Notch, Clegg and Bench Lakes. Both of these hikes are so much fun! And, if you’re sticking around in the area, be sure to check out the rest of my hiking blogs for the High Uintas. I’ll be sharing more hikes in the coming weeks from this area!
Have fun, be safe, and I’ll see you on the next one!
Next blog: A much shorter hike around a lake in the Uintas.