Red Castle and Lower Red Castle Lake
25.0 miles (round trip)
7 3/4 hours
3 3/4 hours
6 1/4 hours
3,010 ft. gain/loss
Cache Trailhead (start):
Bald Mountain Ridge:
Lower Red Castle
Lake: 10,760 ft.
Red Castle Lake:1
Generally will marked and easy to follow.
Midsummer to mid-fall. The trails around the Red Castle
Lakes are usually covered with snow from mid-November
until July. For current conditions call the Evanston Ranger
District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, at (801) 642-6662.
North slope of the High Uintas Wilderness Area
planning a trip to the scenic Red Castle Lakes on the
north slope of the High Uintas generally have two different
trails to choose from: the East Fork Smiths Fork Trail
or the Bald Mountain Trail. The first route, beginning
at China Meadows and following the East Fork Smiths Fork
all the way to its source, is the most popular route.
The East Fork Smiths Fork Trail is very well maintained
and has a total elevation gain (to Lower Red Castle Lake)
of only about 1,280 feet. The Bald Mountain Route, on
the other hand, is much more strenuous. It begins at East
Fork Blacks Fork and climbs over Bald Mountain Ridge before
reaching the lower lake, achieving an elevation gain of
2,190 feet. Both trails are within a quarter mile of the
I have chosen here to describe
the Bald Mountain route to the Red Castle Lakes, primarily
because it is the most scenic of the two. The additional
900 feet of elevation gain is compensated for by the fine
views that can be had from Bald Mountain Ridge. The trail
follows the grassy, treeless ridge at an elevation of
11,500 feet for almost two miles before dropping down
to the East Fork Smiths Fork drainage, and Red Castle
Peak occupies a prominent place on the skyline for almost
the entire distance.
The most interesting way
to see the Red Castle Lakes is to hike in on the Bald
Mountain Trail and hike out on the East Fork Smiths Fork
Trail to China Meadows. Not many people do this, however,
because the two trailheads are 50 miles apart. (See pages
61-62 for instructions on how to get to China Meadows.)
From Cache Trailhead the
Bear River-Smiths Fork Trail heads east and, after about
200 yards, crosses the East Fork Blacks Fork Creek. It
will be necessary to get your feet wet here, as there
is no bridge and no stepping stones crossing the creek.
Normally the water is only ankle deep, but if there has
been a lot of rain you might want to consider beginning
your hike 0.6 miles farther down the road at the East
Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead, where the forest service has
constructed a bridge. There is a convenient connecting
trail joining the east side of the bridge with the Bear
River-Smiths Fork Trail. Of course, if you do this the
hike will be 0.6 miles longer.
Once it crosses the river
the trail almost immediately starts upward, gaining a
little over a thousand feet in the next two miles. After
reaching the top of the ridge it temporarily levels out
and meets the Bald Mountain trail junction. Bear to the
right here, as indicated by the sign. Soon the path begins
to climb again and within a mile you will be above timberline.
Bald Mountain (11,776 ft.) is the large, gently sloping
dome in front of you.
At its highest point the
trail passes within 0.3 miles of the top of Bald Mountain.
If you want to make a detour to the summit it is an easy
off-trail walk, with only 250 feet of elevation gain.
On the other side of the trail, about 300 yards to the
east is Bald Lake. The lake is so close it almost seems
as though you could hit it from the trail with a rock,
but because it is 450 feet lower it is seldom visited.
From Bald Mountain the trail
continues to meander along the top of Bald Mountain Ridge
for another 1.3 miles before dropping into the East Fork
Smiths Fork drainage. The remaining three miles to Lower
Red Castle Lake is a beautiful walk through scattered
forest and meadow land, with lots of water and good camping
spots. If you got off to a late start you wont have
any problem finding a place to spend the night. This is
also a summer grazing area for sheep ranchers, and you
will probably see signs of sheep if not the sheep themselves.
Finally, a mile after the
trail reaches East Fork Smiths Fork, you will come to
Lower Red Castle Lake. There are several good camping
spots near the trail on the west side of the lake, and
the views of Red Castle Peak are fabulous. After supper
you will probably want to spend an hour beside the lake
watching the reflections while the last rays of sunset
transform the Castle into a glowing ember of red.
From Lower Red Castle Lake
it is a pleasant 6-mile round trip hike to the two upper
Red Castle Lakes. The scenery is excellent, but there
are no good camping spots at Red Castle or Upper Red Castle
Lake, so leave your camp at the lower lake. The trail
continues up the west side of Lower Red Castle Lake, then
bends around the west side of the Castle, finally reaching
Red Castle Lake on its northern side. Red Castle Lake
is 537 feet higher than Lower Red Castle which places
it well above timberline. Consequently, there are no trees
whatsoever around the higher lake.
From this vantage point
you can see that the Red Castle Peak is actually the end
of a short spur that extends northward from Wilson Peak
on the Uinta Crest. The formation seems oddly out of place,
because although the Uinta Crest is composed almost entirely
of gray colored Precambrian quartzite the Red Castle is
composed primarily of sandstone and shale based material.
As a result the castle-shaped peak is not only a different
color than the other surrounding peaks, but it has eroded
into an entirely different form. Because of the contrast,
this rugged peak is probably the most picturesque summit
in the entire range.
On the northwestern corner
of Red Castle Lake you will find a well cairned trail
leading up the talus slope toward Upper Red Castle Lake.
The route is not difficult, and the elevation gain to
Upper Red Castle is only 247 feet. Upper Red Castle Lake
is a small, rocky lake, about 200 yards in diameter. It
is fed entirely from the melting snows on the higher slopes
of Red Castle Basin and it is not very deep; hence its
size varies a great deal from year to year.
The primitive trail from
Red Castle Lake does not stop at Upper Red Castle Lake,
but continues upward to a small pass on the ridge 628
feet above Upper Red Castle. The extensive Highline Trail
is only 0.2 mile south of this low point on the ridge;
hence there are many possibilities for extended backpacking
trips from Upper Red Castle Lake. Squaw Pass, for instance,
is 3.5 miles west along the Highline Trail, and from there
it is possible to walk back along the Little East Fork
Trail to Cache Trailhead where the hike began. Another
possibility: Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah, is
only ten miles east along the Highline Trail.
The hike back to Cache Trailhead
from Lower Red Castle Lake is just the reverse of Day
1. The return is much less tiring, however, since the
elevation gain required to get back on Bald Mountain Ridge
is only 770 feet, and from there the hike is all downhill.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order his book
Favorite Hiking Trails.