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Uinta Highline Trail

by | Jun 15, 2022 | TRAVEL | 0 comments

Hiking the Uinta Highline Trail will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in North America. Hikers can expect to see views of the Wasatch Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, and the Rocky Mountains.

This section of the trail also includes the Uinta Mountains, which are home to many wildlife species such as elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and bald eagles.

Below we have gathered all the information that you would need if you are preparing or considering hiking this majestic, yet challenging trail. 

Key Facts About The Uinta Highline Trail

Location: Northeastern Utah

Location: Northeastern Utah

The Uinta Highline Trail is stretched across the crest of the Uinta Mountain Range, which is in Northeastern Utah. It starts at McKee Draw and ends at the Hayden Pass. 

Distance: 104 Miles

The 104-mile trail should be completed over the course of five to ten days, depending on the fitness levels of those who are hiking the trail and also weather conditions. 

Ensure you are prepared with enough resources for the length of time you are planning to spend hiking the trial.

We recommend adding at least one additional day’s worth of resources in case you run into difficulties when on the trial that delays your completion date.

Peak Hiking Season: Late Summer/Early Fall

It is recommended that this route is done during the late summer and early fall. During these months the daily temperatures tend to be lower making for a more comfortable climb. 

The temperatures also don’t drop overly low at nighttime at this specific time of year, which is particularly important as over the course of the trail hikers will need to camp overnight.

Level Of Physical Difficulty: Difficult

The Uinta Highline is a very well-maintained trail and there are no major obstacles to overcome. However, it is important to note that this trail is extremely hilly and requires a lot of stamina. 

If you plan to hike the entire trail, it is recommended that you start early in the morning or late in the afternoon so that you are able to acclimatize to the altitude before attempting the strenuous climbs.

Level Of Logistical Difficulty: Moderate

This trail has moderate to easy logistics however some sections of the hike require attention to route finding to ensure you do not veer off onto the wrong path. 

A shuttle bus is available if you wish to complete this hike as a one-way journey. The shuttle bus goes from both ends of the trail and takes approximately 3.5 hours one way. 

Average Elevation: 10,700 Feet Above Sea Level

Total Elevation Gain: 19,800 Feet Above Sea Level

Logistics

How To Get There?

Salt Lake City is the closest city to this mountain trail. The closest town to the eastern terminus is Vernal and the closest town to the western terminus is Kamas, Utah

The eastern terminus is the start point for most hikers on this trail.

The eastern terminus is 215 driving miles from Salt Lake City. McKee Draw, where the eastern terminus of the route begins, is located off Highway 191 between Vernal and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.

The western terminus, Hayden’s Pass, is 78 miles from Salt Lake City, UT. This route is located along the Mirror Lakes Highway. There is a shuttle bus that goes between the two termini. 

Most people park their vehicle at the western terminus and take the shuttle bus, which takes 3.5 hours, to the eastern terminus where they set out on the trail.

This means that you have your vehicle ready and waiting when you complete the difficult hike. 

If you are flying you should fly into either Vernal Regional Airport or Salt Lake City’s International Airport.

There is a greyhound bus that goes from Salt Lake City to Denver, and Vernal is a stop on this bus route. You can hitchhike to McKee Draw and start your hike from here.  

What To Bring?

Waterproof clothing, including rain gear, sunscreen, a hat, polarized sunglasses, and gloves are recommended for this hike.

Bring layers of lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants. Also, wear comfortable shoes that allow you to walk easily on uneven terrain.

What To Bring

For food, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars are all good choices. Do not forget to bring extra snacks and drinks just in case something happens and you run out.

There is a lot of water along the hike, thanks to natural creeks and lakes, but later in the hiking season, there is very little water available past Leidy Peak. 

A flashlight, compass, map, first aid kit, and whistle are essential items to pack. If you are bringing a cell phone we recommend bringing a portable cell phone charger or power bank to charge electronics while you are away from civilization.

Where To Stay

There are several campgrounds along the trail where hikers can stay overnight. Some of these include the Bear River Campground, the Ute Creek Campground, and the Uinta Basin Campground.

Each of these campgrounds has its own unique qualities and amenities. 

For example, the Bear River Campground offers a swimming pool, hot showers, and laundry facilities.

On the other hand, the Ute Creek Camping area does not have any of these amenities but instead provides a scenic view of the surrounding mountains.

Permits

You do not need to apply for a permit to hike this route, which passes through the Ashley and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests and the Uinta Mountain Range.

You do however need a parking permit if you intend to leave your car at the western terminus of the route, which cost $12.00 for seven days at the time of writing this article.

You can alternatively display an America The Beautiful Federal Lands pass instead of a parking permit. 

Hiking The Uinta Highline Trail

Most of the Uinta Highline Trail is above the treeline and so you can expect unfettered views as you progress along the trail.

The route will take you along steep climbs and descents into green, beautiful basins as well as guide you along clear alpine lakes. 

We recommend starting from McKee Draw, the first 25 miles lead you through a forest where you can expect to come across cattle tracks.

Pay attention to your route during this part of the trail as there will be some signage to direct you. After the initial 25-mile hike you will be at the official geographic beginning of the Highline trail, Leidy Peak Trailhead. 

The trail will lead you high above the forest and onto a steadily climbing mountain terrain. Once you reach mile 38 you will reach Chepeta Dam Trailhead.

From here you will climb up to the trail’s highest point, Anderson Pass which is over 12,000 feet above sea level. 

If time isn’t an issue you can make a slight detour and go to explore Utah’s highest point, King’s Peak which is 13,528 feet above sea level. This detour is 0.7 miles. 

Continuing from Anderson Pass you will continue along the crest of the mountain range before beginning your descent down to the end of the line, Hayden’s Pass. 

Safety Warnings 

Be sure to stay informed on any U.S. Forest Service announcements before beginning your hike. Check the weather to ensure there is no snow or abnormal weather expected.

It can be worthwhile preparing for potential snow if you are completing the hike later in the hiking season. 

Phone signal is essentially non-existent so it is important to give a friend or family member a copy of your hiking plan so that should you go missing they have a rough idea of where you should be on the trail. 

Be aware of black bears and moose along the trail also as well as other wildlife. Take precautions to know how to behave if you should encounter wildlife while out hiking this trail. 

Final Thoughts

If you want to experience the best hiking trails Utah has to offer, then you should definitely check out the Uinta Highline Trail!

This trail is a once-in-a-lifetime experience but it is essential that you take necessary precautions and prepare physically and materially for this difficult hike.

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