The dilemma: you want to backpack somewhere close to home in a beautiful mountain setting, and have the place to yourself. Sounds like just the kind of tall order that most hikers dream up every weekend. The answer: Hidden Lake in the western Uintas. This serene alpine lake delivers on all three of those demands in a big way. A picturesque five mile hike will lead you to a lake where you will spot more fish than people; the reason for the solitude is the trail to Hidden Lake doesn’t appear on any maps.
From Salt Lake City, head up I-80 through the Park City area and make your way to the town of Kamas; from town head east on Mirror Lake Scenic Byway. The lower campgrounds are always full of motor homes and ATVs, but you’ll be leaving the masses behind before long. Drive approximately 26 miles to the Crystal Lake trailhead; with a little luck there will be a parking spot available. This area is very popular amongst day hikers and anglers; the abundance of lakes within short walking distance means the trails will be packed with families and fly rods. Shoulder your pack and head out on the well-used trail. You are immediately plunged into the classic beauty of the Uintas: rocky trails shrouded in lodgepole pine and aspen groves.
The trail climbs about 250 feet to a pass near Mount Watson. Make a left at the first fork in the trail towards the Lakes Country area; there are plenty of signs to ensure you are headed in the right direction; the crowds should be thinning out by this point. Continue on this gorgeous path towards Weir and Pot Lakes. There will likely be some tents and more than a few people on the shore looking to hook their dinner. The trail gradually descends toward Duck Lake, but you will leave the trail before arriving there. After crossing a small stream, look for a sign for Duck and Weir lakes; this is the gateway to Hidden Lake.
A small path leaves the main trail here and can be followed all the way to your destination. Be aware that the trail is often faint and may require some route finding skills along the way. Soon after leaving the main trail you come to a large meadow. The water that weaves its way through this meadow feeds the North Fork Provo River. The trail hugs the west side of the meadow and soon reenters the forest. Continue on the trail as it takes you on a south/southwest heading with very little change in elevation. Half a mile in you will spot a pond on your left hand side; it won’t be long until you reach your goal.
Keep hiking for another half mile and you will arrive at Hidden Lake. True to its name, you won’t know you’ve arrived until you’re right on top of it. The pines come right to waters’ edge on the lake and keep it out of view. The west side of the lake is nestled under rocky cliffs, so make your way to the southeast to find a campsite. There are a few good ones, but one in particular is a real knockout. You’ll know if you find it. Explore the shore of the lake and bask in the solitude. I camped here with a friend on July 4th and we had the place to ourselves, proving that even on the busiest weekends you will find peace and quiet. Sunset on the lake is gorgeous, but hike up to the ridge on the east side of Hidden for a million dollar view of Haystack Mountain bathed in alpenglow. On a clear night the stargazing is fantastic as well.
You could easily do Hidden Lake as a day hike, but solace like this isn’t easy to find in such a popular area. Why not kick your feet up and stay a while? Remember that the trail is hard to follow in spots, so only try this one if you or someone in your group is an experienced hiker. The lake appears on maps, but as I said, the trail will not. Plan for about 2 to 3 hours for the hike; it’s about a 10 mile round trip with exploring the lake included. It’s a small investment that will yield big returns.