IDK meaning.. you know.. “I dunno”.
I’ve gotten into a new hobby I think where I pick a place and try and make a route through it. It all started when I thought I was going to hike a section of the American Discovery Trail this summer and had to play ‘connect the dots’ with waypoints, then figuring out how the hell to hike the Oregon coast, to me just wondering why there isn’t a good hike through the state of Utah and making it happen. The name of this isn’t permanent, I’m just not going to give it a proper name until I’ve actually done the thing. Even then it will probably still be dumb.
Utah has some great mountain ranges. I wanted to hike through them all, but outside of the Great Western Trail which seems to be stuck in a purgatory since the early 2000’s or even before that, which has absolutely no real data on it aside from a super zoomed out map, there isn’t a defined route going through them. I could have just drawn a straight line through Utah south-north, which I did initially but then I looked east and remembered that the High Uintas aren’t something you should ignore, so I re-routed the trail and left the remainder of the original as an alternate for people who want to try and do it that way. The scenery up in northern Utah is great, you can’t go wrong, but you miss out on the High Uintas man, the High Uintas. I’m gonna say “High Uintas” one more time.
So it looks unconventional (but not as unconventional as the Oregon Desert Trail, that thing’s all over the place), but it goes through some kick ass places. It starts in the desert for a bit, and goes through:
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Dixie National Forest
- Fishlake National Forest
- Manti La Sal National Forest
- Uinta National Forest
- Wasatch-Cache National Forest
- Ashley National Forest
In that order. You also have access to the highest mountain in Utah which is literally on the way (not ‘literally’ literally, you have to turn left to climb in then come back down, but you know..). That was another reason I decided to veer the trail East, because you can’t miss out on that. I mean you could, but I would judge you really hard.
Red trail – Main route, blue trail – northern alternate
Distance: 630.4 miles
Like I said, it does start in the desert. But as far as Utah desert goes it’s not that brutal. I can’t make any promises on water as of yet, but it looks like water isn’t too terrible of an issue. All that means right now is that you’re not going to have to do anything extraordinary to keep yourself hydrated, be that pushing a stroller full of water containers to caching water along the way. This information comes from me checking while I made the route, I have yet to further dive into this so I may be wrong. Water aside, the desert section doesn’t last very long, once you get a ways into Fishlake National Forest things start to go green.
As of this moment and as far as I’m aware, the only area you’ll probably need a permit is Bryce Canyon National Park. National Parks tend to be more stringent/more popular, so based completely on a guess that I’m sure is right, you’ll need a permit. The rest of the trail however goes through National Forests which tend to be a bit more relaxed on stuff like that, at least through Utah. Once you get to the High Uintas you may need to pay for access (I’ve had to in the past but I don’t know what the circumstances were as I was not paying for it). Just be aware it might be a thing.
Trail vs. Road
Is this a continuous trail? No. There’s a lot of really great networks of trails out here that can be connected, but sometimes they can’t. Sometimes the trails do dumb things I didn’t agree with. Sometimes roads went to cooler places. In general I tried very hard to stay on trails but wasn’t afraid to take a dirt road every once in a while.
Once you hop off the mountains in Central Utah to head east, there’s some walking along the highway to be done. Initially there just wasn’t any way around it, from the mountains to Kamas there wasn’t so much as a dirt road I could be sure was public domain, so I skipped it. Fortunately that stretch of highway is amazing so I don’t feel too bad about it. Then from Kamas to Mirror Lake Campground where you hit the Uinta Highline Trail there’s a long stretch of road walking that wasn’t technically necessary, but it was. As it stands, the next resupply point from Kamas is 150 miles away, near the end of the trail. Had I taken trails all over the place to get to Mirror Lake Campground, that number would be significantly bigger. Doing 20 miles a day that’s a weeks worth of walking which is already pushing it because that terrain isn’t easy.. it made sense to me to just keep the mileage down so I didn’t starve. A ways after the Highline Trail is another walk along the highway to get to a town near Flaming Gorge, then it’s dirt roads until you hit Wyoming (for the most part).
I have verified that these road walks are doable to a safe degree, there’s either enough shoulder to walk on or the terrain is smooth enough that you could walk along but not on the highway. There’s only one section near Flaming Gorge that becomes a bit hairy, but it doesn’t last long and is still safe to a degree.
Is this trail remote? Pretty much. On average you’re looking at 50-100 miles between resupply points, and it usually leans more towards the 100 mile end of the spectrum. And even then, some of the towns are remote enough to where they don’t even have a store, and on at least one occasion doesn’t even have a post office. And sometimes the towns are pretty far off trail, but there is at least road access so hitching/walking is plausible. In some stretches, if you were to walk into town it would take the majority/the entire day to get there if hitching isn’t plausible. In short, resupply appears to be difficult at times, but do-able. That’s all that matters!
When To Start
I’m pulling this completely out of my ass for the most part. As much as I love hiking in the snow, parts of the High Uintas can be very remote which means I may be breaking trail if I get there too early, which slows me down, which hits my food reserves hard in a long stretch without resupply options. In a normal year, the snow melts off the higher parts of the park in late July. This is also assuming the temperatures aren’t higher than normal. In general none of this is anything you can predict or control at all which is what drives me crazy about trying to plan around snow, but mid-late June seems to be the best choice.
The caveat is the southern section is going to be considerably hotter and you’ll potentially miss out on some awesome spring greenery in some sections, but the bright side is the route stays higher up generally so I don’t anticipate it being too impacted. Who knows. If you don’t do the eastern arm – trail.. thing.. I’m gonna call it the Uintarm from here on out – if you don’t do that you can start a bit earlier because you don’t have to worry about the High Uintas at all. You do have to consider the other mountain ranges, and since Utah sucks at record keeping its nature stuff I can’t tell you when that’s accessible at all. Thanks Utah.
Without Doing the Uintarm
If you decide to keep going north instead of doing the eastern section and ending in Wyoming, the trail overall is 670 miles. So yeah, it’s longer but in my opinion you’re missing out on some of the best scenery Utah has to offer. Northern Utah is – again – so awesome and I love it, but just not as awesome as the eastern mountain range. I also wouldn’t classify it as easier either. You may not be going over the highest mountains in Utah, but you are going against the grain so to speak, where you’re not just climbing up a mountain and following a ridge for a while. It’s a constant up and down dance that you’ll be doing for quite a ways (but not the whole way). I can’t say any more without actually having hiked it yet, so that’s it.
When I finished my Oregon Coast Trail map, I released it then regretted it because I ended up revamping it completely in the long-run which rendered the one I released useless. I could just update that, but once I finish the trail the map will change again according to what I actually do when I hike it.
But that’s just the OCT, a trail that’s kind of defined. This trail isn’t defined at all. I – sitting here at home – have no idea what kind of obstacles are out there but I trust myself enough to say I’ll do it because I have a good track record of not pushing things too far. On the other hand, and I don’t want to sound mean.. there’s some people out there I wouldn’t trust this route with at all right now. I would feel horrible if someone went out there to do it and ran into serious problems, so until I can verify that it’s do-able I’m not going to post the full thing.
As it stands I think I’m gonna try it in 2018. This could change, because honestly I get distracted by a million different things all the time and I never really have an ‘actual’ plan until my foot is out the door. But making my own route and hiking it has been a goal of mine and I’d love to try this thing out because oh my god it looks awesome. More importantly I’m excited to share it with other hikers.
What It Looks Like
I focused purely on what looks noteworthy, so the end result is me being very happy with the kind of places this route goes through. Here’s some images from Google Earth in order from mile 1: