Trail rating: ****
Scenic rating: ****
There's nothing more satisfying than climbing Utah's highest point (13,528 feet above sea level). In thinner air, you'll be breathing hard and scrambling to the top. But the pristine High Uintas, the great outdoor splendor and the rugged peaks combine to create a royal experience you'll never forget.
Distance: 28 to 32 miles, depending on which guidebook estimate you believe and the exact route taken from the closest point, Henry's Fork.
Elevation gain: 4,150 feet.
Difficulty: Extreme — this is not a walk in the park. The last half-mile is a scramble over large, loose rocks, and the long distance and remote area are reasons for extreme caution.
This is a two- to three-day backpacking trip. If you plan to try this hike in a single day, you'll have be on the trail by 5 a.m. You'll have to hurry and likely won't be back until after dark..
Directions to trailhead: The trailhead is some 165 miles from Salt Lake City. Head east to Wyoming on I-80, continuing 32 miles past Evanston to Wyoming 410. Travel 14 miles south to Mountain View. It's 10 more paved miles until you reach the last leg, 22 miles of gravel road (OK for car travel) to Henry's Fork (9,400-foot elevation).
Plan on about three hours' travel time to the trailhead.
The dirt roads are closed in winter and may be impassible in spring/early summer.
Trail description: The first 5.5 miles are mostly in through a forested area. Be sure to turn left and cross a footbridge before Elkhorn Crossing. It's another two miles to Dollar Lake, a popular camping area.
Kings Peak rises like a pyramid to the south between a mountain pass. It is about three miles from Dollar Lake to Gunsight Pass, the traditional hiking route.
Another possible route is up an easily spotted rockslide area. There's only a game trail leading to the base of the slide and lots of loose material here. The slide ends at Anderson Pass and cuts two miles off the trip. The Forest Service doesn't recommend the rock slide route because of its steepness and the loose material. Use caution if you take this shortcut.
Gunsight Pass is 11,888 feet above sea level. It is disappointing to lose elevation on the other side of the pass, but some hikers eventually angle off for the trail to the right to avoid ending up at Painters Basin.
Any way you do go, be sure to eventually turn right (southwest) onto the trail up to Anderson Pass before getting too far in Painters Basin, or you may end up on Trail Rider Pass.
The distance from the top of Gunsight Pass to Anderson Pass is about 3.5 miles. From there, there's no set trail, and you must scramble over loose slabs of rock. Keep climbing until you spot the summit. A metal plaque on top will prove you're in the right place.
South Kings Peak, Utah's second-highest point, is another 800 yards away, and Gilbert Peak (13,442) is located to the northeast.
Cautions: Beware of afternoon thunderstorms. It is wisest to be atop Kings Peak by noon to have a better chance of avoiding afternoon lightning strikes. If a thunderstorm rolls in, seek lower elevation, even using the rockslide area as a shortcut off the mountain.
High-altitude sickness is another concern. Know the symptoms.
Be cautious of the loose rocks near the summit.
Snow patches near the summit may linger in summer and cell phones may only work in certain areas.
Purify all water in the Uintas.
Hikers with a fear of heights may have trouble reaching the summit because there are some exposed cliffs along the route.
Highlights: The summit offers a commanding view of the Uintas.
Other information: There's no water, but there are outhouses at the trailhead.
The peak can be hiked from July to mid- or late September. However, mid-August to mid-September is the ideal time because most of the snow is gone, the mosquito population has greatly decreased and swampy areas are dried up.
Moose inhabit the early portion of the trail, and sheep may roam the south end of Henry's Basin in August.
For more information: Contact the Mountain View Ranger District, 307-782-6555. Also consult "High in Utah," by Michael R. Weibel and Dan Miller, or "Highpoints of the United States," by Don W. Holmes.
Another resource is www.americasroof.com.