Utah is home to a wealth of weekend warriors who hike, bike, climb, and adventure their way through the weekends. The Uinta and Wasatch mountain ranges provide great summit hikes for trekkers looking to find marvelous views, great adventures, and killer exercise with 13,000-plus elevation climbs. For our peak-hungry hikers, we’ve compiled a list of Utah’s 5 highest peaks and our tips for hiking them right.
1. Kings Peak
Want to stand at the top of Utah? The only way to do that is to hike Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah at just over 13,500 feet. You could make the hike in a day, but why would you? Many people plan on three to four days to ascend to the top and come back down to enjoy every minute of the beautiful scenery and this awesome hike. Luckily, no permits or fees are required to park and camp here, but you’ll need to pack your food, clothing, and sleeping essentials. If you’re worried about packing your gear, some people have been known to use pack animals (including llamas) to carry their pack and supplies.
The best time to hike Kings Peak is in mid- to late August, and when you do visit, you’ll probably meet hikers who have ascended from every direction. There are three main trails you can take depending on your desired level of difficulty or even what you want to do on your visit.
The Henry’s Fork trail is the most popular route to Kings Peak. Beginning in Wyoming, you can enjoy a great campground with plenty of fishing and kayaking, and restrooms before you strike out on the trail. As you hike up the peak, enjoy every moment of the delightful scenery. You’ll want to bring your camera to capture the beauty of the Uinta mountains.
Yellowstone Creek trail is a moderate trail that helps you avoid the crowds on Henry’s Fork Trail. You’ll love the scenic views along the Yellowstone Creek to Anderson Pass.
If you’re an advanced hiker, the Uinta River trail is for you, especially if you enjoy rock climbing. On this trail, you’ll approach the peak from the east, but be warned that it’s a tough ascent and rarely done. At one point, you can take a short cut and climb the east face of Kings directly. There’s plenty of boulder hopping, but nothing exceeding Class 2.
2. Gilbert Peak
Similar to Kings Peak, Gilbert Peak reaches around 13,400 feet and is a more enjoyable and picturesque hike for wildflower and meadow hungry hikers. Gilbert’s less crowded trails provide beautiful scenery during any season, but most hikers look forward to the colorful buttercup wildflowers throughout summer and fall that turn green meadows into charming yellow dotted fields. Feel free to bring your pup because Gilbert Peak is a dog friendly trail.
An ideal hike takes anywhere from two to six days depending on where you start. There are two main trailheads to access Gilbert Peak’s base: Henry’s Fork and the West Fork Whiterocks Trailhead.
If you choose to hike Henry’s Fork, just be aware of the crowds. When you pass Dollar Lake, you’ll notice there’s way more privacy and serenity as you ascend to summit. The Henry’s Fork trailhead can be accomplished in just two and a half magnificent days. The North Ridge summit is rarely used, but it’s your quickest and shortest route to summit just five and a half miles away from the trailhead.
West Fork Whiterocks
The West Fork trailhead takes a longer, more scenic route—full of dazzling panoramas—than Henry’s Fork. We recommend you plan on spending four to six days through the more intermediate hiking trail. The start of the summit to Gilbert Peak begins ten and a half miles from the West Fork trailhead and takes two days to trek if you’re taking in the scenery.
Gilbert Peak is best to climb from July to September when there is little snow and fewer mosquitos, so you can focus on the scenery rather than swatting away those pesky bugs. Keep an eye out for moose and deer grazing in the grassy lower meadows, especially during the summertime. The picturesque West Fork trailhead snakes past Alpine Lake where there are virtually no other hikers and an abundance of available camping sites, a win-win for peaceful surroundings and copious open space.
3. Mount Emmons
The Mount Emmons hike is a 30-mile, 5,640-foot elevation round trip from the nearest road. It’s less rugged than both Kings and Gilbert Peak but just as beautiful with a lot more greenery. While the trail itself is a relaxed trek, prepare to encounter downed trees and debris if you hike during the early season; trail crews begin clearing in late May and early June. After June the easiest trek starts at the Uinta River trailhead past Roosevelt, Utah, and gives way to the Chain Lakes after a spectacular nine miles. Most hikers set up camp at the Chain Lake tree line where there’s plenty of water and flat ground before the slopes begin. On day two prepare to sweat—a gnarly 2,450 feet altitude gain happens between the fourth chain lake and Mount Emmons summit base, giving you a serious quad and glute workout!
To really enjoy Mount Emmons plan for at least three days for a round trip. Trust us, the greenery and relatively slow climb is worth the long weekend. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, consider traversing the Kings-Emmons ridge run—this trail connects Mount Emmons to Kings Peak and adds only another two to three days to your trip helping to summit two of Utah’s 13-ers in one awesome trip.
4. Mount Lovenia
If you’re an experienced hiker looking to conquer one of Utah’s 13-ers then Mount Lovenia is for you. The Class 3+ hike is accompanied by a half mile trek across a steep red dirt slope with cliffs below, which should only be attempted by experienced and courageous hikers. The rocky Lovenia summit is roughly 24 miles and is strenuous, but the scenery includes grassy pastures, clear lakes, and red dirt backdrops dazzling to see in any season. Consider packing boot spikes and a coat if you’re adventuring during the early spring; snow patches lurk in the shady sections of Lovenia’s trail well into June.
Our favorite trailhead, East Lovenia base, includes a wicked steep section, nicknamed the ‘stairmaster’, where you’ll conquer 1,000 feet in just .3 miles. But we can’t complain because nature’s stairmaster is way better than the ones at the gym! Once you’ve conquered that altitude monster you’ll experience a much calmer hike to the peak, and after you reach the top you can see 13 of Utah’s 17 13-ers to the east and their stunning slopes.
5. Tokewanna Peak
Tokewanna Peak is the fifth highest peak in Utah and is known for its rocky and desert-esque looks amid patches of grass and wildflowers. Three miles from the trailhead you can set up camp at Brush Creek camping site. The meadow to Brush Creek requires some good navigational skills (think compass and a map or an app that has both) due to its poor trail lines. After a relaxing night at Brush Creek you can reach the base of Tokewanna summit in just five miles. The Northern Ridge route is a roller-coaster hike! You’ll make your way to an 11,800-foot peak then back down to an 11,500 foot altitude, then back up again to 12,500 feet in just two miles. Luckily once you conquer those hills you’re just one hour from summit. Tokewanna Peak is a great solitary hike and a magnificent 13,000-foot summit where you have views of Kings Peak, Mount Lovenia, and various other Utah 13-ers tucked in between green fields and lakes.
Hiking one of Utah’s tallest peaks isn’t typically a single day adventure. Most summits require a multi-day backpacking adventure. But what’s not to love about a multi-day hike that lets you enjoy Utah’s peaks and impressive surrounding scenery? Regardless of the time it takes you, each of these Utah 13-ers provides a beautiful and challenging adventure for every kind of weekend warriors.
For even more information on Utah hiking, download our Best Hiking Spots Guide to learn the ins and outs of the best hiking trails located throughout the state.