High Uinta’s Wilderness: Red Castle

Overview

Location:  Park at East fork Blacks fork trail head. Cross the footbridge and then take a left at the first fork to head towards Bald Mountain.

Expected Time:  In total we spent about 2 and a half days on this trip. It could easily be extended in order to move at a faster pace.

Gear needed: 3 days worth of food, water or water filter, backpack, tent, sleeping gear.

Length:  20 miles round trip to the lower lake with and additional 10 miles of day hiking

Altitude Gained:  ~3000ft to the lower lake.

Would I recommend it: OF COURSE!!! There are two variations. From what I’ve heard the first is fairly easy. The second is difficult, but the views are worth the effort (This post is focused on the second route). Just a warning, the trail isn’t incredibly well marked so take a picture of the trail map before you start.

Additional Resources: 

 Background

         Before Bailey and I met Brandon we spent the majority of our time camping and hiking in Southern Utah. After about two years of frequent three hour car drives to Arches, Bryce, and Goblin valley we were craving a little bit of a different experience. When we first started inviting Brandon to join in on our trips, he recommended that we visit the High Uinta’s wildernesss park and it quickly became one of our favorite backpacking destinations.
    The High Uinta wilderness is located in Northeastern Utah and includes 453,890 acres. The wilderness is well known for it’s lakes, wetlands, and rivers making it a stark contrast from the red rock, and desert of Southern Utah. Due to it’s location and altitude it spends the majority of the year covered in snow, and most of the trails are only open after memorial day. Even during the height of the summer it’s still a cool refreshing hike, making it one of our favorite summer destinations.
    This year Brandon and Bailey did some research and decided on Red Castle for our Fourth of July trip. This year has been a very busy one for the three of us (between weddings, and grad school) which means we haven’t been able to do quite as much backpacking as we normally would have by this point in this season. Because of this we decided on a 9 mile hike with almost no elevation gain.
    Unfortunately, most wilderness parks have maps that are not easy to read, and the hike that we ended up doing was not the one we had planned on. The easy nine mile hike starts out of china meadows, and instead we started from east fork blacks fork which meant that we hiked Bald Mountain on our way to Red Castle, evolving our nine mile no elevation gain hike into a 10 mile hike with over 3000 feet of elevation gain.

Some of our favorite shots from Bald Mountain.

    While we were in no way prepared for this hike it ended up being one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The hike was challenging but we were able to cross through meadows, and look over a mountain both of which were experiences we weren’t planning on having.
    When we got to the campground we were thoroughly exhausted and set up camp in one of the first spots we could find, which was about 500 feet from the lake making it extremely occupied by mosquitoes. We were able to keep the mosquito problem under control by maintaining a fire as long as possible. Despite our best efforts we still went through two bottles of bug spray, and went home with more than 20 bug bites each. While the bugs were frustrating, they attracted the fish which made our evening very enjoyable. Bailey and Brandon both caught a fish within two minutes of casting their lines, and we ate them for dinner later that night.
    The next day we explored some local hikes, and then headed back over bald mountain. While our trip into red castle was hot and sunny, our trip out was the exact opposite. Just as we reached the tip of bald mountain it started to rain…. and hail. We had to go another mile and a half before we were able to find a spot that was safe to set up camp. We spent the night in a grove of trees to protect us from the wind and then we finished the rest of the hike and were in the car by lunchtime the following day.

Some photos taken during our day hikes.

This is our favorite photo from the entire trip. You can’t tell in the photo, but it’s hailing. Brandon is laughing and taking photos, I’m (@madylinejs) furious that no one will let me stop and set up camp, and Bailey is the tiny tiny red dot trying to outrun the hail.

    While this was one of the hardest trips we’ve ever done I will personally always remember it as one of my favorites. By the end of the trip my body was completely destroyed, but I felt so accomplished. The High Uinta’s wilderness remains one. Of my favorite hiking destination in all of Utah and I can’t wait to visit it again.

Provo Utah- Slate Canyon

Overview

Location: East of the Brigham Young University Campus, opposite of Y Mount.

Expected timeWe generally do this as an overnight trip starting around 5 pm, and ending at about noon the following day.

Gear needed: Normal overnight gear; backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, etc.

Length: 2.8 mi

Altitude gained: ~2500 feet

Would I recomend it:  Yes…. for experienced backpackers. It is a beautiful trip, but if this is your very first backpacking experience it may give you a bad impression of the sport.

Additional Resources:

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/slate-canyon-loop-trail

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/provo-peak-from-slate-canyon

https://www.backpacker.com/trips/salt-lake-city-slate-canyon-loop

         

Background  

           A few weeks ago Bailey mentioned on Instagram that Brandon and I (@madylinejs) got married. We have been married for a little more than two months now, and I thought now would be a good time to tell you about the hike that we were on when we started dating. Don’t worry though, this is still a hike review! I won’t bore you with all of our relationship details.                                                     This was right about the time that we were making the transition from hikers to backpackers, and I had just bought my first ever backpack. We wanted a chance to adjust to the gear while still being close to home (just in case it turned out that we were in terrible shape, and wanted to turn back early.) Brandon did some research and found a hike local to us (all three of us were living in Provo Utah at the time.) He decided on slate canyon, which is located on the opposite side of Y Mount.                                                                                            There is a clearing three miles from the base of the trail so we thought that it would be a great short hike to test out our gear. For the record, it was not. Just getting us to the clearing was three straight miles of constant elevation gain. Adding gear for the first time made it a very intense workout. Once we arrived however, we had the entire meadow to ourselves. We built a fire in the premade fire pit, and spent the evening recovering from the hike.                  The next morning we hiked up the Provo peak turnoff, and then back down the Y trail. It was a tough hike, but everything else seemed easy in comparison for the rest of the season. Even though, it was difficult it’s still one of our favorite local overnight trips. We did it again last weekend to get ready for the height of backpacking season this year. It was still tough, but still beautiful. We saw less than a dozen people on the trail, and we had the clearing to ourselves again. We were even lucky enough to see a moose this time!

What makes it easy: This isn’t a very long trip, so even though we always end up getting really worn out we can go home an recuperate for the rest of the weekend. Also, the centralized clearing is a huge perk. It comes when we are in desperate need of a break, and there have always been a handful of fallen trees that we can use for firewood. Also, because the trip is so short you don’t have to pack in as much food.

What makes it hard: It’s a lot of elevation gain over a very short distance which is really hard on your body.

Savannah Bluffs Heritage Reserve-The Savannah River Bluffs Overlook

 

Location: The Savannah Bluffs Heritage Reserve is located in North Augusta, South Carolina; just over the Georgia border. The hike that we did was at the end of Old Plantation Road.

Time: It took us about two hours, including a half hour of wading.

Gear needed: Nothing but a water bottle, and maybe some water shoes!

Length: 2 miles

Difficulty: 1 out of 10. This is an exceptionally easy hike with no noticeable elevation gain, making it perfect for families. The path is unpaved with lots of tree roots, so it is not stroller friendly.

Would I recommend it: Definitely! This hike is very representative of Georgia/ South Carolina wildlife, and perfect for all audiences. If you had family visiting from out of town this is the hike that I would recommend.

Escalante National Monument – The Grand Staircase: Cayote Gulch

 

         

Overview

Location:

6 hours south of Salt Lake City it’s just north of Glen Canyon. There’s a multitude of hiking options to choose from, we chose to do an out and back trip from Hurricane Wash to Crack in the wall and then back out Hurricane wash.

 Time: We did this over Labor-day weekend (3 days). We got to the trailhead Saturday at 11am and we got back to our cars at ~2pm on Monday.

Gear needed: This is a full backpacking trip with no fires allowed. I’ll be posting our gear checklist on the site soon if you want a list of what we used. Special note: If you can get to Jacob-Hamblin arch early enough in the day you can get a spot to camp under the natural overhang and you won’t need a tent. Bring water shoes!

Length: ~10 miles from hurricane wash to Jacob-Hamblin arch + ~10 miles out and back to crack in the wall + ~10 miles back out Hurricane wash = ~30 miles over 3 days.

Difficulty: 5/10 not much elevation gain but much of the 2nd day involves hiking in water.

Would I recommend it: Absolutely I would! Great mid difficulty backpacking trip for a long weekend. With spectacular views not much traffic and free entrance!

I’m almost afraid to write this post because Escalante is one of the most underrated hikes in all of Utah. As a backpacker, it’s  difficult to find a trip that is beautiful, and not completely crowded. Most tourists come to Utah to see both Zions, and Arches. While these are amazing parks (I will definitely write a post about how much I love them later!) it’s almost impossible to compete with the sheer number of people who visit them on a daily basis. Cayote gulch has all the same beauty, but none of the traffic. Also, it’s a national monument rather than a national park so you don’t have to pay park entry or camp fee, which is always a huge appeal for poor college students like ourselves.

We got to the national park around 11:00 AM on Saturday and hiked in with all our gear through Hurricane wash.

The Entry to Hurricane Wash

Hurricane Wash

 

It starts out as a dry creek bed in the middle of nowhere that slowly creeps down into a magnificent canyon. After about 5 miles water started to fill the creek and about a mile and half from our campsite we stopped to put on our water shoes.  Our destination and campsite for the first day was Jacob Hamblin arch, a towering 200 foot natural stone arch.

 

One of our friends who came on this trip has done it annually for the last 12 years, and assured us that we wouldn’t need to bring tents. However, we were still pretty new to backpacking at this point, and didn’t trust him at all.  He was, of course, correct. Our camp spot was covered by a cliff ledge that blocked any potential rain while still allowing us a perfect view of the stars. We laid out our sleeping bags, had dinner, and then went to explore the surrounding hikes. We didn’t have much daylight left at this point so we were only able to do one trail that evening. Our more experienced friend recommended that we start with what he referred to as Devil’s staircase.

Our camping spot on Jacob Hamblin’s arch

 

As I mentioned earlier our friend has done this trip at least 12 times and he has quirky little names for the trails he regularly does, so you will be unable to find any reference to Devil’s staircase on any map or website, but I’m including it in this post because it’s a great representation of the rock formations that cover the grand staircase. It was a moderate scramble (slight climb that doesn’t require any gear) to the top of the formation. Once we arrived at the top we could see the entire staircase. I feel like the view is just as good as Angel’s landing, the big difference being that we were standing completely alone.

The view from the top of “Devil’s staircase”. The campsite in the picture is ours, notice the tent that we packed in but didn’t need to bring. We did end up storing our food inside, to protect it from being eaten by crows, so it wasn’t a complete waste of energy!

We spent all of Sunday touring as much of Cayote gulch as we could. The monument is so large that you can’t even begin to see it in three days but we were able to explore a lot of the highlights. After you get past The Jacob Hamplin arch you are hiking almost exclusively through streams, narrow canyons, and small rivers. Normally this would sound miserable, but because we did the trip in the late summer being knee deep in water most of the time felt amazing, and gave us the added bonus filtering water when needed, versus packing it all in.

                           

 

Some examples of the scenery along the hike. The water in this last picture looks pretty tame, but it’s actually about waist high, and moving pretty quickly.

What makes it easy

The trail itself is not incredibly difficult to traverse. There is a lot less gear required for this trip because you don’t have to pack in water, or tents which makes the backpacking portion a lot easier. Also, we set up our trip so we ended both nights in the same camping spot so we only had to carry our gear on the first and last legs. While the trail is covered in rock formations, and small waterfalls that you can climb, the majority of the trip can be done without any major climbing. There are some spots where scrambling can’t be avoided, but for the most part you can cater the difficulty to your experience level.

What makes it hard

It is fairly wet so you have to get to the arch before you can set up camp. This makes the trail a little bit more difficult because you can’t just stop when you get tired. Additionally, there are some portions of the hike that are through rapidly moving water. No one other than me had any issues with this, but I’m not a huge fan of water, so I found it a little intimidating.

Overall
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Y Mount

Overview

Location- East of the Brigham Young University Campus.

Expected time4 hours            (That’s how long it took us with snow, you might be able to do it faster later in the season.)

Gear neededNone! Earlier in the season it might be nice to have snowshoes or Yaktrax , but they aren’t necessary.

Difficulty– If you have any experience with backpacking this is a perfect day trip. It’s a workout, but not too hard.

Length– ~7.1 Miles out and back (~3.5 miles each way)

Altitude Gained3,340ft which equates to about 1,000ft of gain per mile. You can see from the elevation map I took with my Garmin that it’s pretty consistent the entire way.

 

Would I recommend it– If you live in the Provo area, or if you are a die hard BYU fan this hike is worth doing. I wouldn’t however, drive from out of state to try it.

Food and water- We each brought two water bottles each, a snack, and a lunch. Again, this is a day hike and doesn’t require much preparation.


Like every University, BYU has their own rights of passage. One of our most well known is hiking up to the stone Y on the mountain closest to campus. When Bailey and I were 18 years old and overly energetic we did it 11 times over the course of our freshman year, and honestly it is one of my least favorite hikes. It’s steep, full of switchbacks, and the view from the Y is identical to the view from the parking lot. As I have gotten more into hiking within the last three years I have had several friends encourage me to continue the trail past the Y. I have refused every time, and opted instead to drive three hours south to hike anywhere that isn’t the Y. This weekend however, I was stressed beyond belief and I desperately needed to go on a hike. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to travel anywhere which meant that I needed to find something local. When Brandon suggested that we hike Y mountain I hesitantly agreed, and I’m so glad I did! The portion up to the Y is difficult, and not very interesting, but as soon as you get past the first half the view is beautiful!

 

The Trail just past the Y
View of the Canyon just past the Y

It only gets better as the hike goes on. Overall the hike took us about 4 hours, and because we went in March the last hour of hiking to the summit was through snow. Throughout the day we mentioned that it might have been nice to have some sort of snowshoe/Yaktrax, but we could definitely do it without any gear at all especially if you don’t go in mid march 🙂

Snow in between the two peaks

The trail is pretty straight forward, you park in the Y trail parking lot, hike to the top of the Y and then look for the trail the heads south along the face of the mountain from the top left fork of the Y. Then you head up the trail for another ~1.5 miles and look for a fork veering of to your left. Someone kindly carved a big Y with an arrow next to it to help show you where to go. You then head up this trail until the point in the picture above where it divides. You can either go left or right. The peak towards the looks over Provo and is comparable to the view from the Y. The peak on the right looks over Utah Lake. Both take between 5 and 10 minutes to climb, and both are gorgeous The snow on the peak to the right was a little deeper because of where the sun hits the mountain, but because it was warm outside the snow didn’t bother us at all.

View of Utah lake

 

View of the east side of Y Mountain
Another view of the east side from the peak of Y Mount