Backpacking to Duck Lake in the Uinta Mountains
One of the the great natural treasures of Utah is the Uinta Mountains. Hundreds of miles of trails deliver unmatched high alpine scenery; towering peaks, picturesque lakes and thriving forests are just a few examples of what awaits hikers in the Uintas. Backpacking is a very popular activity in these mountains, and if you’re looking for a good introduction or just a short overnight trip, Duck Lake is an ideal destination.
The hike begins at the Crystal Lake trailhead just off the Mirror Lake Highway. The parking area has plenty of space, but arrive early on warm summer weekends because it can fill up quickly. Shoulder your pack and head out on the Lakes Country Trail. The route is well used and easy to follow. You will pass a spur trail to Cliff Lake before making your way up the ridge that divides Haystack Mountain to the south and Mount Watson to the north. The trail remains relatively flat after this point, so breathe easy!
When you arrive at Long Lake two miles into the hike, take a left and enjoy the gorgeous views from the shoreline. Glacially carved rock spills into Long Lake, providing evidence of the forces that created much of this amazing mountain playground. Keep a watchful eye out for rock cairns as the trail is faint in some places. Fortunately the Forest Service has posted signs at all the major junctions to keep hikers on the right path. Soon the forest becomes thicker and descends towards Duck Lake.
Just a half mile after a junction with the Island Lake trail, Duck Lake appears. Duck is not a large lake, but it sure is pretty. The north, east and south sides have stands of pines right up to the shore, and the west side is lined with impressive cliff walls. There are many established campsites on the east side of the lake, so there should be no need to create your own. Many of these sites have large fire pits surrounded by benches and all of them have excellent spots to pitch a tent. Sadly, many of these sites have litter in them from careless campers. Remember the golden rule of the woods: Pack It In, Pack It Out! Take a day hike to Hidden or Island Lakes or just soak up the rays; Duck Lake is the perfect spot to just kick back and watch the clouds roll by.
Complete the lollipop loop of the Lakes Country Trail to return to your vehicle. The hike out gains elevation nearly the entire way, but Pot and Weir Lakes are great places to take a rest. All of the lakes along this trail are stocked with varieties of trout and are popular with anglers. Expect to see plenty of people during your hike as Crystal Lake is a popular trailhead for everyone from backpackers, day hikers, and families taking a short stroll. Share the trail and if you do camp, set up at least 100 feet away from other groups. The total distance to complete the Lakes Country Trail and camp at Duck Lake is 9 miles with approximately 500 feet of elevation change.
Getting There: From the town of Kamas, drive north on Mirror Lake Highway (Highway 150). Approximately 25 miles later, turn left for the Crystal Lake Trailhead and parking area.
Maps: National Geographic Map #711, High Uintas Wilderness
Dogs: As with all areas of the Uintas, dogs are welcome.