Notch Mountain Trail

excerpts from the book
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day

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Distance: 10.5 miles (plus 4.1 miles by car or bicycle)

Walking time: 6 1/2 hours

Elevations: 1,130 ft. gain, 2070 ft. loss
     Bald Mountain Trailhead (start):  10,760 ft.
     Meadow Lake:  9,820 ft.
     The Notch:  10,590 ft.
     Trial Lake Trailhead:  9,820 ft.

Trail: Well marked, well maintained trail

Season: Midsummer through mid-fall.  The trail is generally covered with snow from mid-November through late June.

Vicinity: Near Heber and the High Uintas Wilderness Area

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The Notch Mountain Trail is a delightful path on the western side of the Uinta Mountains that winds lazily through the subalpine forest west of Bald Mountain and eventually returns to the Mirror Lake Highway through the notch in Notch Mountain. It is an area strewn with lakes and talus covered mountain peaks-all shaped and sculpted by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. A hundred thousand years ago this area was a sea of ice, broken only by the island peaks of Bald Mountain, Notch Mountain, Mount Watson, Haystack, and a few other summits. At least four separate glaciers came together on the slopes of Bald Mountain, with long fingers extending for up to twenty miles down the north and south slopes of the range. As the glaciers moved they gouged deep pockets into the earth and rock, and today the result is a landscape punctuated by scores of picturesque lakes.

The trail begins on the south side of Bald Mountain and proceeds westward along its rocky base. A hundred yards from the trailhead you will come to a junction where the 1.7-mile trail to the summit of Bald Mountain takes off to the right. The Notch Mountain Trail continues to the left along the southern slope of the peak for another 0.6 mile, and then turns northwest toward Notch Mountain.

After about 45 minutes the trail passes by the western side of Clegg Lake. Clegg is one of the smaller lakes you will see on this hike, but none can beat it for scenic beauty. Unlike many of the Uinta lakes, it was never dammed, and it is still in a pristine state. The setting is exquisite, with Bald Mountain to the east and Trial Peak to the west. On calm, clear days the reflections of these two peaks on the mirror smooth water of Clegg Lake are unforgettable-Trial Peak in the morning and Bald Mountain in the late afternoon.

Soon after leaving Clegg Lake the trail crosses between Bald Mountain and Notch Mountain, leaving the Provo River Drainage and entering the Weber River Drainage. Within the next mile three more lakes will come into view along the eastern slopes of Notch Mountain: Dean Lake, Notch Lake, and Bench Lake. Of these, Notch Lake is the biggest and the most popular among fishermen, but I really canít say much for its scenic beauty. It has an active dam, and when the water level is low at the end of summer about half of the lakeís surface area is replaced by lifeless, sun-bleached shoreline. Bench Lake, on the other hand, is a scenic gem with huge Engelmann spruce growing right to the waterís edge.

The trail continues downhill from Bench Lake for another 1.5 miles, then crosses a small creek and begins a gentle uphill climb. Ten minutes later you should see the spur trail to Meadow Lake leaving on the right. The spur is marked by a small sign nailed to a spruce tree, but if you arenít paying attention you can easily miss it. Meadow Lake is 0.4 mile off the main trail. It is the second largest off-road lake you will see on this hike, and it is a popular overnight stop among scout groups. Unfortunately, however, the lake has suffered from the same fate that has befallen so many other lakes in the High Uintas. It has an active dam on its north side, and the resulting fluctuations in water level often expose large ugly swathes of lifeless wasteland along its shores. But I am told that the fishing is good; Meadow Lake contains a large population of cutthroat trout.

The second half of this hike, from Meadow Lake to Trial Lake, is perhaps the most interesting. The trail meanders gently uphill for 2.0 miles, past Ibantik Lake and Lovenia Lake, then crosses through the Notch of Notch Mountain and drops down again into the Provo River watershed. There is a fine view of Lovenia Lake from the Notch, and to the south Wall Lake, the largest lake along the trail, glints through the forest.

Wall Lake was "under construction" when I last stood in the Notch in the summer of 1999. The sounds of heavy equipment drifted up from far below, and I could see from the denuded land on the south end of the lake that a major earth moving project was well underway. Although Wall Lake is no longer used for water storage, its ancient dam has for years been in need of repair. Many environmentalists suggested that the dam should be breached and the lake allowed to return to its natural size. The lake is very popular with fishermen, however, and for that reason the Forest Service decided to reconstruct the dam and maintain the lake at its current size.

From the Notch, the trail descends across two narrow benches before coming to the southeast shore of Wall Lake. The route then follows the shore of the lake for 0.2 mile before coming to a junction near the dam where the trail to Lily Lakes departs. Bear left here for Trial Lake. Soon the lake will come into view, with the trail following closely along its western side. When you reach the south end of the lake you can walk across the dam to the parking area where your shuttle car is parked.

The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

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If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Naturalist Basin area, we recommend:
High Uintas Wilderness (Trails Illustrated, map #711) 

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