A Quick Trip to the Castle
A couple weekends ago, I was able to escape up and out of the smokey city with my friend Nikki for a short backpacking trip up into the Uintas to Red Castle. The hike to lower lake is 10 miles both ways and relatively flat until the last 1.5 mile stretch of switchbacks (which even then are so gradual that they are pretty easy!). It is then an additional 3 miles up for the upper lake. This would be my very first backpacking trip and the distance wasn't the thing that was making me nervous but rather the weight of the pack. However, after a long night and day of hiking, I quickly realized that adventure is always worth the trek. The crisp cold air of the High Uintas made this the perfect introduction to backpacking!
We began our hike around 6pm at night (poor planning on my part as I did not realize the drive was 2.5 hours out of Salt Lake). Within 10 minutes of hiking we saw a moose and her baby! Then after that it was pretty much cows, cows, and, oh, more cows. There are frequent stream crossings which are perfect if you plan to bring your dog along. We covered about 6.5 miles in just under 3 hours. We walked until the darkness completely ate up the light where we then decided to set up camp along the trail, eat some dinner, and go to bed.
5:00am rolls around and we woke up to silence. There is something eerily beautiful about waking up in the woods - it’s a feeling that after 23 years of camping and outdoor adventure, I am still taken back by. We packed up our things, ate a quick breakfast, filled up our waters and were back on the trail by 7am.
The scenery was so beautiful along the trail. You weave in and out of the woods and there are many times where the trail opens up to a panoramic view of the meadow beside you. The majority of the time you are joined by the sound of birds and running water - a quintessential backyard adventure.
About 2 miles from the top, we ran into a bridge that crossed over the stream. On the bridge was etched "1 mile til switchbacks". We prepared ourselves for the switch backs but were pleasantly surprised. The switch backs were long and the elevation gain was gradual over the last 1.5 miles. At the top, you see the castle poking out of the trees. (Swipe for more photos!)
We arrived at lower lake at around 8:30 / 9 in the morning. We set up a day camp in a spot just above the water and dropped our things off. By the way, nothing will ever feel as amazing as setting your pack down after a day of hiking.
The spot we set up our day camp at would have been an absolute dream to camp overnight - next time! After we set up camp, I explored the area a little bit and Nikki made herself some breakfast. The perimeter of the lake is a small hike in and of itself. The red of the castle looked to be dulling away from all the exposure to the sun but it still stood towering over everything else in the area.
Side note: even though my dog is small, I've never had a problem with her being able to take on long trips. Everyone is always surprised to see a small dog on a long hike - they point at her and say how cute that is! She's got the spirit of an adventure dog... just not the legs sometimes.
After we ate breakfast and rested our legs a bit, we decided to head up even farther so we could explore Upper Lake. About 3 miles up, Upper Lake was a bit more of a climb than lower but the views were worth it.
The top was like a bowl - a flat, wide landscape surrounded by the hills. There were many rocks scattered along the ground. It almost didn’t feel like Utah. It was also nice and breezy which cooled us down after a hot day. We spent some time at Upper Lake then headed back down.
Since there is pretty much always running water on this hike, it was perfect for the Life Straw. Totally light weight and you can wear it around your neck for the day hikes. Although, you will end up looking like Nikki! (No shame!)
The weather was perfect, even a bit toasty at time. As we started to head back towards camp, the sun went behind the clouds and we were shaded for the majority of the 3 miles back.
We started our trek down from lower around 2pm… and let me just say, 20 miles in a single day was extremely tiring. It got to a point where I was just on auto-pilot… just keep walking, just keep walking, don’t stop.
I ended up carrying my child down most of the way which added an extra 9 lbs to my pack - motherly duties. We made it to the car right before a beautiful sunset. My legs were sore the whole way home and my dog slept the entire next day. This trip was an equally fun and challenging introduction to backpacking!