Utah’s High Uinta Wilderness area is a smorgasbord of streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. During the height of summer, even the most remote of these water oasis can get pretty crowded. It’s an especially good bet that any of the basins and lake areas located just off of the Highline Trail will certainly have a fair share of visitors. If you want to enjoy the Highline, but enjoy a bit more solitude, Carolyn Lake could make for the perfect weekend getaway.
Begin your hike to Carolyn Lake at the Highline Trailhead off of the Mirror Lake Highway. In peak season, the first few miles of the Highline Trail could feel more like an interstate than a hiking trail, but remain vigilant! Many hikers will be leaving the trail after the junctions with Wilder/Wyman/Packard Lakes and Naturalist Basin. The Highline is a relatively easy hike all the way to the turnoff with Naturalist, seeing only mild elevation loss/gain along the first four miles. However, the real adventure begins when you leave these more popular areas in the rear view.
Not long after the junction with Naturalist Basin, the Highline trail really increases in scenery-per-mile. Two stream crossing await hikers (these don’t require getting wet, but do take some log walking skills), and the classic pine forest scenery of the High Uintas gets even deeper and wilder. This is truly an outstanding segment of the trail. After the second crossing, the route begins a long, sometimes steep slog towards a ridgeline that dominates the views to the east. The junction for East Fork Pinto Lake Trail is passed before arriving to the turnoff for Carolyn and Olga Lakes about 7 miles from the trailhead.
A short walk through a meadow leads hikers to Carolyn Lake. The shores are sometimes boggy, and most of the lake is surrounded by pine forest. There are several well-used campsites near the main trail, and plenty of good fishing spots. Olga Lake can be found by trekking up the hillside to the east of Carolyn. Olga is the smaller of the two bodies of water, and has a more rugged feel to it. Both of these lakes are teeming with Arctic Grayling; the lake surfaces are boiling during feeding time! One of my fellow hikers reported strikes on nearly every cast, and loved the fight these little guys were putting up.
You can surely visit Carolyn and Olga Lakes as a full day hike, but since they are seven miles deep in the backcountry, overnighting here is ideal. As mentioned before, there are plenty of established sites around Carolyn. Respect the Forest Service rules and camp ¼ mile away from the shore if you want to have a campfire. The lakes make a great base camp for exploring nearby areas like Four Lakes Basin, Rocky Sea Pass (incredible views abound), and the Rock Creek Drainage area. Additionally, Pigeon Milk Spring and the high alpine meadow areas are nothing short of gorgeous.
So there you have it: a beautiful trail, less crowds, and top-notch sport fishing. Carolyn Lake may not be as well known as some its contemporaries, but that’s the whole point! Consider this spot for your next High Uintas adventure, and leave the masses in the dust.
Getting There: From the town of Kamas, UT, follow Mirror Lake Highway north towards Evanston, WY. After approximately 35 miles, turn east into the signed trailhead for Highline Trail/Hayden Peak. There are spaces for 24 vehicles, a staging area for horse trailers, and two pit toilets. Parking spots fill up fast on summer weekends, so arrive early if possible.