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This hike is perfect for fishing
enthusiasts looking for an extended trip into a high alpine wilderness
area. The trail passes by no fewer than nine good fishing lakes,
with short side trips leading to at least ten more. The route
circles Brown Duck Mountain (11,866 ft.), passing through Brown
Duck Basin, East Basin, and Squaw Basin, and features many fine
views of the mountains rocky peaks and cold, clear lakes.
Most of the lakes lie at elevations of around 10,400 feet. The
highest point is at the top of Cleveland Pass where the trail
climbs out of East Basin and drops down into Squaw Basin. Cleveland
Lake, frozen most of the year, lies near the top of the pass
at an elevation of 11,172 feet.
Brown Duck Mountain is a favorite
destination for horseback riders, so if you are put off by piles
of horse manure along the trail and in the meadows then this
is not the best hike for you. The most popular location for campers
with pack animals is East Basin (day 2), a lush, green area with
gorgeous meadows and a half dozen small lakes. It is not unusual
to see twenty or thirty horses and mules grazing in the meadows
beside the East Basin lakes. Fortunately there are other off-trail
places to camp in the basin that are just as pretty, but without
As explained earlier, the easiest
place to begin this hike is the lakeshore access parking area
adjacent to the Moon Lake Campground. From there a small trail
leads west along the side of the lake for 0.2 mile to the Lake
Fork Trail. Soon after you reach the Lake Fork Trail you will
see a small sign marking the beginning of the Brown Duck Trail
on the left.
If you are starting from the official
Lake Fork Trailhead, 0.8 miles down the road from the campground,
you will see another sign directing you along an old jeep road
that eventually meets the Brown Duck Trail higher up the mountain.
Dont take this route. You will do better to follow the
Lake Fork Trail in a direction parallel to the road for 0.8 mile,
then turn left onto the Brown Duck Trail when you reach the trail
junction just described. The hike along the jeep road is 0.2
mile further and the scenery is much less interesting.
The first 0.5 mile of the Brown
Duck Trail, from where it leaves the shore of Moon Lake, is the
steepest part of this entire hike. After making two long switch
backs and climbing about 400 feet above the lake the trail settles
down to a gradual incline that will continue for most of the
first day. Initially the trail is immersed in a forest of lodgepole
pine, but as you gain elevation you will see the trees gradually
replaced with Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir, which seem
to do better above 10,000 feet.
After 1.0 mile the trail merges
with the old jeep road that originated at the Lake Fork Trailhead
and follows it for another 1.3 miles. Then, almost immediately,
the road ends and a foot trail begins. If you are observant you
will see the tell-tale signs of mining activity above the end
of the road-an indication of what the road was originally built
for. Thank goodness the High Uintas is now a protected wilderness
area, and prospecting is no longer allowed.
Just beyond the end of the jeep
road the trail swings east to cross Slate Creek and soon afterward
crosses the official boundary of the High Uintas Wilderness Area.
From that point on the Brown Duck Trail never strays far from
the south shore of Brown Duck Creek.
About a half hour after leaving
the wilderness boundary you should see a trail junction marked
by a small wooden sign nailed to a tree on the right. This is
the beginning of the trail to Atwine Lake and you must leave
the Brown Duck Trail here. You will have to cross the river at
this point-the only place on the entire hike where you must get
your feet wet. Be sure to find a good strong stick to help with
the river crossing. The current is often strong, but it is seldom
more than knee deep.
The Atwine Lake Trail is not nearly
as well frequented as the Brown Duck Trail; consequently it may
be difficult to follow in places. Basically it heads uphill for
a half mile until it reaches the rocky base of Round Mountain,
and then turns northwest along more level terrain towards the
lake. The trail passes by the north side of two small meadows
before reaching the lake. Try not to make noise as you approach
the meadows and you may be lucky enough to see an elk, deer,
or moose. If there are any large grazing animals in the meadows
they will usually be found along the perimeter near the edge
of the forest.
The trail first reaches Atwine
Lake on its northeastern shore, which is also the best place
to make camp. If there are any other campers at Atwine they will
probably be on the west side, near the better used trail to East
Basin. Atwine is a large, relatively undisturbed lake with heavy
timber growing right to the waters edge. The lake has never
been dammed and it appears to be in pristine condition. Furthermore,
since there are no good pastures around the lake it is seldom
used by campers with pack animals. Most visitors to Brown Duck
Basin prefer to make camp at the better known Kidney, Island,
Brown Duck, or Clements Lakes, but Atwine Lake is by far the
prettiest of the basins five major lakes.
From the trail junction on the
northwest side of Atwine Lake continue northward towards East
Basin. After only a half hour you will come to Clements Lake,
a large lake about twice the size of Atwine with an earthen dam
across its eastern side. Clements is a popular fishing lake,
well stocked with cutthroat and brook trout, but it is not a
particularly scenic lake. Like all dammed lakes its water level
fluctuates with the seasons and the shoreline is marred by dead
trees and mud flats. All of Brown Duck Basin eventually drains
into Moon Lake Reservoir, an important reservoir used by the
farmers of Duchesne County, and most of the Brown Duck Basin
lakes have been dammed in order to increase the water storage
capacity of Moon Lake. It is now illegal to build dams in a designated
wilderness area, but these dams were built long before the 1984
creation of the High Uintas Wilderness Area.
1.3 miles beyond Clements Lake
the trail climbs out of Brown Duck Basin, crosses East Basin
Pass (10,630 ft.), and drops down again into the East Basin.
The climb to the top of the pass is so gradual you will scarcely
know you are going uphill. As you start down the other side,
however, the trail gets much steeper and more rocky. Then, when
you break out of the trees you will suddenly be confronted with
a marvelous view of fifty square miles of Uintas wilderness.
Cleveland Peak (12,584 ft.), the next days destination,
is clearly visible four miles to the northwest, and beyond that
is the long line of 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks that form the
From the bottom of East Basin Pass
it is an easy 3.4-mile walk to the center of East Basin. Along
the way you will pass by a small meadow wedged between the trail
and the steep rocky slopes of Brown Duck Mountain. The last time
I was on this trail I saw a moose cow and her calf grazing in
this meadow-they must have felt a sense of security knowing that
their habitat was protected on at least one side by the mountain.
I am sure the young moose calf would have made a tasty meal for
a mountain lion.
Before starting up the slope towards
Cleveland Pass the trail passes by the east side of an exceptionally
pretty group of small lakes surrounded by the lush green East
Basin Meadows. This area is a fine place to stop for the night,
but unless you are very lucky you will probably find the meadows
filled with pack horses and the best camp sites already occupied
by their owners. As mentioned earlier, the East Basin area is
an extremely popular destination among campers with pack animals.
If you crave solitude, dont
despair. Just 0.8 mile off the trail is a seldom visited lake
that may be the prettiest spot in the entire Brown Duck Mountain
loop. It is called Picture Lake, and it is well named because
it lies in a setting that is truly picture perfect. The lake
is surrounded by timber with a small, wooded island in the center,
and it lies just below an 11,789 foot peak of Brown Duck Mountain.
There is usually snow on the mountain until late in the summer,
sometimes extending down the slopes almost to the water. Best
of all, horses cannot easily get to the lake, and since it is
not on the main trail you are likely to have the lake all to
Although there is no path leading
to Picture Lake, it is only a twenty-minute walk from the main
trail. Just follow the drainage uphill from the southwest side
of the lower group of lakes. After skirting around the last meadow
and climbing 130 feet you will cross a low ridge, just beyond
which is the lake. Picture Lake is about 150 yards wide by 500
yards long, and it lies at an elevation of 10,731 feet. There
are a few small but pleasant campsites along its northern shore.
If you want to spend more time exploring the area there is another
lake of similar size and elevation called Horseshoe Lake about
0.8 mile south of Picture Lake along the base of Brown Duck Mountain.
I have never visited this lake, but it must also be very scenic.
It lies directly north of the highest peak on Brown Duck Mountain.
On the map it looks like an interesting cross-country hike would
be to walk south from Picture Lake to Horseshoe lake, and then
follow the drainage from the southern side of the lake back to
the East Basin Trail.
From East Basin Meadows the trail
climbs north for another 1.5 miles to the top of Cleveland Pass
, the highest point on the hike. There is a small lake near the
summit of the pass, but the most notable point of interest is
Cleveland Peak, just north of the pass.
When you descend from Cleveland
Pass you will be following the Squaw Basin Trail which follows
Squaw Basin Creek down the west side of the mountain. It is also
possible to make another loop hike back to Moon Lake by continuing
north from Cleveland Pass on the Ottoson Basin Trail. That trail
eventually runs into the Lake Fork Trail which follows Lake Fork
River back to Moon Lake. The hike described here is much more
scenic, though. Once you drop into Lake Fork Canyon there isnt
much to see except tall trees.
2.1 miles after leaving Cleveland
Pass you should see another sign where the Two Ponds Trail joins
Squaw Basin Trail. If you want to make a side trip to Squaw Lake
or do some exploring elsewhere in Squaw Basin you should keep
to the right at this point and continue walking down the Squaw
Basin Trail. Otherwise turn left at the junction onto the Two
Ponds Trail. The Two Ponds Trail is basically a shortcut to the
Brown Duck Basin. It is a relatively new trail and is not shown
on most of the older maps, but it cuts about 2.2 miles off the
total distance to Brown Duck Basin.
The Two Ponds Trail is about 2.0
miles long, ending when it reaches the trail to Tworoose Pass
and Brown Duck Basin. Turn right when you reach the junction
and proceed towards the pass, 2.2 miles away. Over the next 5.8
miles the Tworoose Pass Trail passes by no fewer than 6 lakes,
so this is a good time to start thinking about where you plan
to pitch camp for the night. In my opinion the best choices for
a small group of backpackers are the first two lakes: Diamond
and Rudolph. The short spur trail to Diamond Lake is 0.6 miles
from the Two Ponds Trail junction. The trail is easy to see,
but unfortunately there is no sign marking it. Just proceed along
the Tworoose Pass Trail for about fifteen minutes and then start
watching the right side of the path closely for the trail junction.
The spur trail is about 0.3 mile long, and there are some small
campsites near the north end of the lake. The trail to Rudolph
Lake is 1.9 miles from the Two Ponds Trail junction, or 0.2 mile
before you reach the top of Tworoose Pass. This short trail is
marked by a small sign at the junction, but it is easy to miss
so keep your eyes open. The trail to Rudolph Lake is 0.4 mile
From Rudolph Lake to Moon Lake
and the end of the hike is 10.6 miles, but it is nearly all downhill
and should be easy walking. Almost the only part that is uphill
is the 200-foot climb to get from Rudolph Lake to the top of
Beyond Tworoose Pass the trail
gradually descends into Brown Duck Basin, soon passing by Tworoose
Lake. Tworoose Lake is not easily visible from the trail and
there is no spur trail leading to it, but it isnt difficult
to reach. Just walk down the trail from the top of the pass for
15 minutes, then turn south and walk downhill through the woods
for another 150 yards. From there you should be able to see Tworoose
The next lake the trail passes
is Kidney Lake, quickly followed by Island Lake and Brown Duck
Lake. All three of these lakes have been dammed and made into
reservoirs; hence they are not as scenic as many of the other
lakes on this hike. Like Clements Lake, the fluctuating water
levels have left their shores marred with dead trees and lifeless,
piles of bleached white rocks. Nevertheless, the lakes are well
stocked with game fish and are very popular with campers. Leaving
Brown Duck Lake the trail follows the south side of Brown Duck
Creek for the last 6.4 miles before ending at Moon Lake.