Kings Peak (Uintas) Backpacking Loop

Flat, Flat, Flat, and the Tallest Mountain in Utah

Pulling up to the China Meadows Campground trail head the night before, we were excited to see a restroom and picnic table to guarantee pancakes in the morning.

The Unitas are some of the strangest mountains we have ever seen.  The terrain is big and flat.  Flat meadows and flat mountains.  Our objective was to link a backpacking loop that started in China Meadows, moved into Henry Forks Meadow, topped the summit of Kings Peak, passed by Red Castle, and then linked up back to the trail head.  We finished the trip in about a day and half.

In the morning, we started our trip off walking along the flat creek path slowly gaining elevation.  There were some massive carins marking the path, like three foot tall piles of rocks.  They probably show even in the winter snow.  We finally started to descend into the famous Henry Forks Basin.

Hello Uintas
Descending into Henry’s Fork Basin.

At this point, the camera finally came out.  Above the tree line we could see the Gunsight Pass we were headed for in the distance.  However, we had to first cross the nice, flowered meadows.

Henry's Fork Cabin
We stopped for lunch in the historic Henry’s Fork Cabin.
Henry's Fork Meadows
Perfectly flat meadows in Henry’s Fork Basin.
Henry's Fork Lake
Wonderful wide reaching views at Henry Fork Lake.

It took longer than we would have guessed to cross through Henry’s Basin.  The meadows were so big! We ran into someone running King’s Peak in a day from the Henry Fork’s Trailhead.  The trails had clearly been heavily trafficked and are a popular equestrian destination.  Sometimes there would be four deep, muddied, trenches cut out as a foot trail at a time.

When we passed over Gunsight Pass, there was an amazing long switch back that cut far to the right and then finished on top of the pass.  It was crazy long!

Gunsight Pass
Looking towards Gunsight Pass.

We skirted along Painter’s basin with our goal on King’s Peak.  It looked even bigger than Henry Forks Basin.  We never really dropped low into these meadows.

Painter Basin
Small ponds dot Painter Basin.

We kept climbing above the Basin.  At this point the defined trail started to ease away and our pace slowed significantly stepping over and around piles of loose boulders as we gradually gained elevation.

Upper Painter Basin
Striking colors in Upper Painter Basin.

At the pass into Yellowstone Basin, we turned and walked up the ridge line to the summit of King’s Peak.

Kings Peak
Up the shoulder of Kings Peak, highest point in Utah.

Walking over boulders up Kings Peak, the flat theme continued.  Somehow even the boulders we were stepping on were flat as we gradually walked up shoulder.  Route finding couldn’t be easier here.

Kings Peak scramble
Walking over boulders up Kings Peak.

On the summit, we were able to see beautiful views from the tallest point in Utah.

Kings Peak Panorama
Panorama from Kings Peak, highest point in Utah.
Kings Peak Duo
Appreciating the Uintas from Kings Peak.

After scrambling back down the class two terrain, we arrived back at the pass and grabbed our backpacks.

Kings Peak Flowers
Flowers with Kings Peak in the background.

We started down the many switchbacks that descend into Yellowstone Basin.  We tried to pick up our speed to make it over Smith Fork Pass before dark.

Yellowstone Creek Basin
Kings Peak among others in Yellowstone Creek Basin.

This side of the basin had very undeveloped trails.  The meadows were overtaking them.  It was clear that the traffic that traveled through Henry Fork Basin to summit King’s Peak never walked on the other side of the mountain.  This area was beautiful and calming.  It was probably one of my favorite sections of the hike.

Yellowstone Basin Bond
Wonderful pond in Yellowstone Basin, Kings Peak in background.
Kings Peak Final Light
Final light on Kings Peak in Yellowstone Creek Basin.
Mount Powell Sunset
Last bit of light on Mount Powell.

We made it over the pass just as the sun set.  We had to set up camp in the dark, but it was so beautiful.

Uinta Starry Sky
Starry skies in the Uinta Range.

The next morning, we got a better view of our surroundings.  We realized that Red Castle Peak was right behind our camp.

Smith's Fork Lake Camp
Our camp at Smith’s Fork Lake.

The rest of the hike was along the nice trail to Red Castle Lakes from China Meadows trailhead.  It was along a creek most of the way, and we blazed through it.

Red Castle Peak
Majestic Red Castle Peak in the Uintas.

Overall, this 36 mile loop was a beautiful trip.  I would recommend it to any backpacker! The trails were easy to walk on, the elevation was gradual, and the basins were stunning.  This flat mountain range was like nothing I have ever seen!

5 thoughts on “Kings Peak (Uintas) Backpacking Loop”

  1. Hiking, mountaineering, walking in nature as a recreational activity. Especially among those with sedentary occupations, hiking is a natural exercise that promotes . Thank a lot

  2. Hey Kyle,, your story is fascinating! I am going to visit Utah in October (my first time) and I m thinking about making the same loop as you have just described. You dont say in detail, how did you pass between china meadow and Henrys fork meadow? I dont see a path indicated on maps or satellite.. is it right at the start or you go south a little before climbing the ridge? the ridge seems pretty steep on the east side…
    Another question, is there any path to summit red castle? I would like to do that too…

    your help would be much appreciated
    Thank you in advance,

    1. There is a trail between the meadows after going south for a few miles from the china meadows trailhead. Check the scanned 7.5 layer on caltopo!

      I think red castle has only been climbed a few times ever and is the most difficult 13er in Utah. One of my friends said it was pretty terrifying. I would not recommend it.

  3. We are staying Redcastle for a few days. How many miles is it from red castle to Kings Peak? We were thinking of doing a day hike to Kings Peak from red castle

    1. It appears to be maybe 6-8 miles one way, depending which lake you camp at.

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