Length: 23 miles roundtrip
Description: The tallest mountain in Utah at 13,528 feet above sea level, Kings Peak might not reach the colossal summits of Alaska’s Denali, the Himalayas, or the Andes, but it offers its own brand of a lofty vista in our own backyard. This high point sits amid the wall of peaks and passes that make up the Highline Trail. The crown of the Uinta mountain range, Kings Peak offers some extraordinary summiting opportunities to those willing to endure the long hike and steep climb required to get there.
There are many ways that Kings Peak can be enjoyed, though the route described here will detail the ascent starting at Henrys Fork Campground. Other routes begin in all cardinal directions, through Painter Basin, Garfield Basin, and Mt. Emmons.
Henrys Fork Campground
The Henrys Fork Campground marks the trailhead to the normal route to Kings Peak. This is a great campground—with access to great fishing, kayaking, and hiking—high (9,420 feet in elevation) in the Uinta mountain range.
Alligator Lake is the first great camping spot once you hit the trail. It is located just under 3 miles from the trailhead, making it a potential first and last-night base camp if backpackers are willing to push it. This is a popular place to camp, however, and July through September in particular it can be fairly crowded.
Reaching the junction of Henrys Fork Trail and North Slope Trail, the route to Kings Peak splits at Elkhorn Crossing. Continuing south at the crossing makes for the most direct route, but the West Side Loop is a viable alternative for those with the time and the desire to get away from the crowds for 4.91 miles (1.26 miles longer than the direct route). The West Side Loop also gives visitors the opportunity to visit any of a half a dozen picturesque lakes, among them Sawmill Lake, Bear Lake, Grass lake, and Henrys Fork Lake. The only lake along the direct route is Dollar Lake, a smaller, very popular lake amid the trail. Some visitors take the West Side Loop on the way up the trail, and the direct route on the way back, or vice versa.
Two miles after the West Side Loop Junction below Dollar lake, after climbing some switchbacks, hikers will come to Gunsight Pass, the lowest pass along the Highline Trail within the immediate area, at only 11,900 feet in elevation. Some hikers will climb the west side of the pass, along the talus slope, and up to the Chute, which is just northeast of Anderson Pass. That is an extremely strenuous route, however, and the recommended route is to continue south through Gunsight Pass, into the valley below it, and to climb the much more forgiving angle between Kings Peak’s east face, and the south face of the Highline ridge.
Kings Peak sits 4.6 miles from Gunsight Pass along the longer, easier route. It is just over 2 miles from Gunsight if scrambling up the west slope of Gunsight Pass, but that unconventional approach is much more difficult and exhausting. Kings Peak has one of the most dramatic prominences—the relative height of a peak—of any mountain in the lower 48 states, at over 6,000 feet.