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The High Uintas Wilderness Area
is a paradise for sport fishermen. More than a thousand lakes
lie within the boundaries of the wilderness area, of which Utahs
Department of Wildlife Resources reports some 650 contain significant
populations of game fish. The 170-acre Grandaddy Lake is one
of the largest of the Uintas lakes, and also one of the most
popular. It is very scenic, easy to get to, and generally well
stocked with cutthroat and brook trout.
Unfortunately, there are usually
so many campers around Grandaddy Lake it is not possible to enjoy
a real wilderness experience there. But there are many other
less well visited lakes nearby. There are over twenty lakes within
a two-hour walk of Grandaddy. The fishing is good in most of
them, and excellent campsites are easy to find.
There are also numerous other trails
in Grandaddy Basin, and many variations of this hike are possible.
The route outlined here is a loop tour of nine of the better
known lakes. The minimum recommended time for the trip is two
days, but one could easily spend a week in the basin-especially
if catching fish is on the agenda. If you have more time to spare
I suggest you establish a camp at one of the lakes and explore
the other lakes on day trips.
From Grandview Trailhead the trail
climbs gently upward through the lodgepole pine and Engelmann
spruce forest for 2.2 miles before reaching Hades Pass, the entryway
into Grandaddy Basin. At 10,640 feet above sea level-940 feet
above the trailhead-Hades Pass is the highest point on the hike.
The slope on either side of the pass is so gradual, however,
that you will scarcely know you have reached the summit. Just
beyond the pass Heart Lake comes into view, nestled at the foot
of East Grandaddy Mountain, and soon afterward you will reach
Grandaddy Lake. Dont be discouraged at the number of hikers
you encounter between the trailhead and Grandaddy Lake. On some
summer weekends there may literally be hundreds of hikers on
this trail, but the great majority of them never go beyond Grandaddy
Lake, 3.4 miles from the trailhead.
On the northwestern side of Grandaddy
the trail splits, with the right fork going to LaMarla Lake and
beyond, and the left fork continuing north into Grandaddy Basin.
Bear to the left here and continue northward along the eastern
shore of Betsy Lake. Then, after 0.4 mile you will reach another
junction. This is the beginning of the loop trail to Governor
Dern Lake. The direction in which you walk the loop doesnt
matter much, but for the sake of discussion I will assume that
you turn left here onto the Pine Island Lake Trail.
Notice the side trail going to
Mohawk Lake as the main trail leaves the north end of Betsy Lake.
Mohawk is a little larger than Betsy, but still only about a
third the size of Grandaddy. The spur trail is only 0.4 mile
long over level ground, and there are some nice campsites near
the lake. It is a good alternative if you are looking for a secluded
spot near Grandaddy Lake.
From Betsy Lake, the main trail
continues north for 1.1 miles to Fish Hatchery Lake. The abundance
of grass along the shore of Fish Hatchery is a good indication
of the reduced number of campers here as compared to Betsy and
Grandaddy. Just before you reach Fish Hatchery you will also
see another spur trail leading to Farney Lake, 0.6 mile away.
There are some fine camping sites around Farney Lake, but unfortunately
it is too shallow for fish to survive the winter. Two other small
lakes, Sonny Lake and Marsell Lake can also be reached by walking
from Farney Lake through the timber for about 20 minutes along
a bearing slightly west of magnetic south. The forest floor is
quite level here and quite open, so the lakes are easy to find.
They are both nestled against the north side of a low ridge that
runs east of West Grandaddy Mountain.
Back on the Pine Island Loop Trail,
the route next passes between Pine Island Lake and Lily Pad Lake.
Again, Lily Pad is too shallow for good fishing, but this is
not true of Pine Island Lake. Pine Island (80 acres in area)
is the second largest lake in the basin and the fishing is good.
Unfortunately, Pine Island Lake is a favorite destination for
groups with pack horses, and the best camping area on the southern
end of the lake is littered with horse manure.
0.3 miles after leaving Pine Island
Lake you will come to the Palisade Lake Trail that heads south
to Palisade Lake and Brinton Meadows. This trail offers a shorter
return loop for those not wishing to continue to Governor Dern
Lake. Palisade Lake, located 0.4 mile from the main trail is
a very pretty lake with some good camping sites.
1.4 miles farther north from the
junction with the Palisade Lake Trail is another shortcut trail
leading to Rainbow Lake. Dont even consider taking this
trail, because if you do you will miss Governor Dern Lake, which
in my opinion is the prettiest of all the Grandaddy Basin Lakes.
Governor Dern is much more open than most of the other lakes,
with fine views of Mount Agassiz on the main ridge of the Uintas,
4 miles further north. The lake is also completely surrounded
with grass and has many fine campsites. Unfortunately Governor
Dern Lake is rather shallow, and the fishing is not as good as
at Pine Island and some of the other lakes in the vicinity.
There are a number of nice day
hikes in the vicinity of Governor Dern Lake if you have the time
to spend a few nights there. Pinto Lake is only 0.4 mile north,
and the Highline Trail is only 2.5 miles farther along the Pinto
One particularly interesting day
hike from Governor Dern involves walking around a loop, past
Pinto Lake, Margo Lake, Pine Island Lake, and back to Governor
Dern Lake. A primitive trail leads to Margo Lake from the north
side of Pinto. After you reach Margo, work your way around to
the south side of the lake and then walk cross country for about
0.4 mile along a heading slightly east of magnetic south until
you reach the top of a wide saddle. Pine Island Lake is 0.2 mile
below the saddle on the south side. Once you reach Pine Island,
it is an easy walk around its eastern side back to the Pine Island
Lake Trail and on to Governor Dern Lake. The total distance of
this loop is 5.5 miles.
Another nice day hike from Governor
Dern Lake is along the trail to the Four Lakes Basin. The trail
leaves from Rainbow Lake, 0.8 miles south of Governor Dern, and
proceeds along a gentle uphill slope for 2.5 miles to Jean Lake
(10,753 ft.) and its three companion lakes: Daynes, Dale, and
Dean. Nestled against the southern side of the Uintas ridge amidst
scattered stands of Engelmann spruce, these glacial lakes are
very picturesque. The fishing is also good and there are plenty
of good campsites in the basin, but it is difficult for most
people to get a good nights sleep at this altitude. If
you dont want to return the same way you can go north another
1.2 miles to the Highline Trail, then west to the Pinto Lake
Trail, and south again, past Pinto Lake, to Governor Dern Lake.
Total distance: 8.7 miles.
When you leave Governor Dern Lake
you will be walking back to Grandaddy Lake via Rainbow Lake,
Lost Lake, and Brinton Meadows. Bear right at the two major trail
junctions near Rainbow Lake and head due south on the Hades Trail
towards Lost Lake. Just before reaching Lost Lake you will notice
another spur trail leading to Powell Lake, about 0.6 mile away-another
possible side trip.
1.2 miles after passing Lost Lake
you will arrive at Brinton Meadows and the Palisade Lake Trail
junction. For twenty years the Forest Service maintained a guard
station at Brinton Meadows, but under pressure from the Sierra
Club they were forced to remove the station in 1995. The law
forbids permanent dwellings within a designated wilderness area,
so, although the guard station was little more than a tent with
a wooden floor, it had to go. This is a shame because rangers
staffing the guard station during the summer months provided
a valuable service in cleaning up camp sites, monitoring and
controlling damage to the ecosystem, and providing emergency
assistance. Grandaddy Basin is so heavily impacted by backpackers
and pack horses that the absence of the Brinton Meadows Guard
Station will be sorely missed.
From Brinton Meadows it is another
1.2 miles back to Betsy Lake, from where you can retrace your
steps past Grandaddy lake, over Hades Pass, and back to your
car at the Grandview Trailhead.