Since I was a teenager I’ve been visiting the Grandaddy Basin of the High Uinta Wilderness here in Utah. This basin is easily one of the most traveled and visited areas of the Uintas, and rightly so. Grandaddy lake being one of the larger lakes in the Uinta range, it has access from two very popular and easy to access trail heads. This trail report is more focused on a loop hike that I did in the summer of 2018 with my friend Jared and my pup, Cooper. We started at the Grandview trailhead, accessed from Hades canyon on the south slope of the Uintas. We looped counter clockwise after getting over Hades Pass (10,650″) passing the may Grandaddy Basin lakes.
Looking over Grandaddy Lake from Hades Pass
Grandaddy basin from my perspective would be considered an easy to moderate backpacking trip. The area allows for various trip lengths to be done depending on how adventurous you want to be. For this trip we started at the Grandview trailhead, with the plan to loop the entire basin. This would mean that we would miss out on some of the lakes, however, it allowed us to see about everything this basin has to offer.
Day 1 – Grandview to Pine Island Lake
Right off the bat the trail makes a gradual climb as you make your way the 2.5 or so miles to the top of Hades Pass. Hades Pass is beautiful and day hiking this far is worth the time as it provides some wonderful views. I’ve always enjoyed this section of trail as it has a lot of remoteness to it, and also has some really beautiful things to see, including a stream and some small water falls. In a short amount of time you find yourself within the wilderness area and it’s a nice casual walk to the pass. At mile 4 you’ll find yourself at your first junction, which happens to be the north west side of Grandaddy lake. If you take a right turn here you’ll find yourself walking around the shore of Grandaddy lake and many great camping sites. Be advised though, these sites are the more popular sites in the basin and are often littered with scout groups making a bit of noise. I suggest looking for something more off the beaten path to find some quiet and solitude.
Jared and I started our day at about 11am and hiked pretty quick. Once we got to Betsy lake, Jared started experiencing some leg pain that slowed us down a little. Our goal was to camp night 1 at Rainbow Lake, which is past Governor Dern lake, but with the amount of mosquitos and Jared’s leg, we decided to stop at Pine Island and make camp early to just enjoy a quiet night in a beautiful place.
Pine Island lake is one of the more beautiful lakes i’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the Uintas. It takes some effort to get this far, but it’s worth the time to hike here in one day as it is far from where most people are willing to hike for this basin, and if you do have neighbors, you’re likely to be enjoying the quiet together. We found a great place to camp on the left side of the trail up a small hill to a flat that helped us get away from the bugs.
Day 2 – Pine Island Lake to Lodgepole Lake via Fish Creek
Like I mentioned before, there are a lot of options for how you might travel through Grandaddy Basin, but when looking at the map, we wanted to do the most miles possible over a weekend. So in our attempt to make that happen, we started our second day with hiking from Pine Island Lake via the Pine Island Loop trail and connecting to the Fish Creek trail near Governor Dern Lake. This section of trail to Governor Dern was fairly easy as it was nearly all down hill with a short, but steep section right before the trail met with the Fish Creek trail. Once we made the right hand turn at Governor Dern we found a place on the shore of the lake to fill our water and have some lunch. This was and still is one of the most enjoyable places i’ve stopped for lunch. To be in that spot by ourselves with no one else there to see what we were seeing was pretty special. I was happy to be there having that experience at that time.
As we kept making our way toward Rainbow lake we could tell that this was a seldom traveled section of the Grandaddy Basin. Knowing that, we turned on our game face and made sure we started to pay better attention. On the map we noticed that the junction for Four Lakes Basin was not too far off, and within a short time after Rainbow lake we were passing the junction. Things got a little tricky here as Jared walked right past the junction that sends you south toward Lost Lake. This was obviously a spot in the trail where most hikers make their way to Lost Lake and back to Grandaddy via this route. However, we would continue going east toward the junction of West Fork Rock Creek and Fish Creek. I had to stop Jared and make sure we were headed the right direction. After consulting the map, we adjusted our path and kept making our way down the Fish Creek trail.
This is where things got interesting for us. These next few miles included many points where we questioned if we were even still on trail. The trail disappeared at many points and there was a lot of downed trees, making travel slow and difficult. Eventually, after dropping a lot of elevation we found ourselves at the junction of the West Fork Rock Creek and Fish Creek. We stopped here for a good 45 minute or so break and just collected ourselves before starting to make our way up hill toward Lodgepole Lake.
After loading our packs back up we headed down the trail. It took about five minutes before I stopped and yelled for Jared to stop too. I looked at the map and realized that we had missed the junction to start walking up toward Lodgepole lake. So we turned around wondering where we may have missed a sign. Sure enough, across the stream was a forest service trail sign that had been knocked over in the brush and was easy to miss. We put the sign back up best we could and got back on the right trail. As we started making our way up the trail, again it started to gain elevation quickly, but the trail went missing a few different times. But eventually after some more map time, we found our way across the West Fork of Rock Creek and were back on trail toward Fern Lake.
Fern was our goal for night two, as we had plans to meet our friend Will for the night and hike out the next day with him. However, we ultimately decided that we would skip Fern and get all the way to Lodgepole. The reason? Cooper had a pad on one of his paws that had got pretty torn up and it was all I could do to get him to keep walking.
Eventually we found ourselves at the shore of Lodgepole lake and on the search for a place to camp. There were few options to camp, and even though it went against our better judgement and following Leave No Trace/Wilderness regulations, we camped right on the shore of the lake. This was done, knowing that there were likely to not be any other people in the area, and it would make it easier for Will to find us. However, by 9pm and after eating dinner and escaping the bugs, we missed seeing Will walk past us while inside our tents.
Day 3 – Lodgepole Lake back to the car
Morning came at Lodgepole when I heard, “Devin, you in there?!” Will had showed up at our camp after he had hiked past us the night before and camped as planned at Fern Lake. We had breakfast together and loaded packs and got back on the trail. Right off the bat, you gain a lot of elevation up a steep section of trail that gets you right up to the edge of where Grandaddy lake drains down to Lodgepole. The reveal of Grandaddy at this point was beyond beautiful, but the wind coming off the lake was freezing cold. From here, the trail is simple and easy to follow as it’s well travelled.
After making our way over to the junction next to Betsy lake, we turned left and made the climb up to Hades Pass. After about another 3/4 a mile we stopped for a snack and it was at that point that Will realized that he didn’t have his phone with him. He ultimately decided that he was going to run back and try to find it. About and hour later, Will returned to where we had stopped and had his phone in hand. He had left it all the way back at the point where Grandaddy drains to lodgepole, about 2.5 miles away. Will was coined the trail name “Run Back” at this point as this was far from the first time he had to run back to get a piece of gear he left behind.
Getting back to the car from here was a piece of cake and it was a nice end to a great weekend in the Uintas. I highly recommend this loop and suggest being familiar with the map and area before going. There is real route finding and navigation required once you pass the 4 lakes basin junction from the Fish Creek Trail.
Have questions about this loop? Shoot me an email for more information!