Backpacking to Grandaddy Lake in the Uintas

Grandaddy Lake, located in the Uinta Mountains, might be the perfect weekend backpacking trip. After a short hike over Hades Pass, the view of the basin below filled with alpine lakes is unforgettable. And once you reach the shoreline of Grandaddy Lake, you will get to choose from a nearly unlimited number of areas to camp for the weekend. And having gone up there on the Labor Day weekend, which I thought would be busy, turned out to be completely empty, making it the perfect weekend of backpacking.

The roundtrip hike to Grandaddy Lake, via the Grandview Trail, is a 7.2 mile hike with only 1,300 feet of vertical to climb. Not difficult by most hike or backpacking standards, but this trail starts at 9,730feet and goes up to 10,645feet in elevation. The air is thin and the trail is steep, making it shockingly more difficult than I expected, especially with a heavy backpack on. But the adventure starts long before the trailhead, because once you turn off main road, there is 6.2 miles of bumpy dirt road that has to climb up over 2,000 feet.

The plan for our backpacking trip was to head up Saturday morning, spend two nights, then return home on Monday morning. We brought with us our dog, fly fishing rods, and most importantly, our Kokopelli Packrafts! And as we left the trailhead, heading uphill, we felt ever ounce of weight we were bringing with us for a weekend of adventure and fun. Luckily, the approach hike was beautiful and went by rather quickly. We left the valley behind us, passing other backpackers and day-hikers using the trail. And once we climbed up to the top of Hades pass, we could see we were going to be in for one incredible weekend.

From the pass, we could see the entire basin below, filled with alpine lakes surrounded by 10,000foot mountain peaks. The most stunning of these, of course, would be the largest lake in the Uintas, Grandaddy Lake. And we cruised on down to the water’s edge to see it up close and personal, and of course to find a campsite for the weekend. The lake was bigger, and more stunning than we could have ever imagined, and the best part was it was completely empty! So after we found a flat spot, with a fire ring, 200feet away from the water, we setup our camp! Starting with getting our heavy packs off our shoulders, followed by setting up our 10 year old 2-person backpacking tent. To which, we broke the zipper in the progress.

We didn’t let that slow our weekend down! The rest of that evening and the following day were spent perfectly slow. We inflated the packrafts and paddled out onto that empty lake with the dog in tow. We explored a few of the island on the lake, paddling from one to the other, getting off to hike around and imagine camping on one of them one day. The water was calm, soothing, and blue! Contrasting perfectly with the green pines that surrounded the lake’s edge and below the tan and white rocky ridge lines above.

We took our shot at fly fishing at the bank of the lake, with not much luck. Because even when we don’t catch anything, we still love to cast the fly into the water. Courtney had at least some luck with her choices of flies, getting the fish to hit, but not much luck getting them to bite anything. Maybe we’ll have to switch over to bait casting, because other fishermen we passed on the trail in had caught.   A ton of fish they sustained on for the entire weekend. It didn’t matter, we still had fun.

Each night ended the same way, with a mountain house meal, cooked with our JetBoil camp stove. We ate them sitting on rocks at the lakeside, as we watched the setting sun crest over the mountains to the West. The orange and red light beamed off the mountains above, reflecting off the water below. And with the setting sun, came the dropping of temperatures, plummeting from the warm 70s of the day, down to the cold, upper 30s throughout the night. I was not packed for those temps, foolishly I had only brought shorts and didn’t pack anything warmer than a mid-layer! Regretting that decision when I awoke with frozen toes, but at least Gregor seemed to get a great night’s sleep between us in that small 2-person tent.

The last morning, we woke to the view of a glassy lake surface, almost as reflective as a mirror. It almost made us forget how heavy the backpacks were when we put them back on for our hike out. But luckily, the hike uphill was short to the top of the pass, then it was all downhill back to the trailhead. On the way down, we reminisced about drinking the beers at camp that we had chilled by sitting in the stream that ran through camp. We talked about how the stars shined bright in the cloudless night’s sky. And how perfect of the Labor Day Weekend hiking to Grandaddy Lake was. And like every beautiful, destination in Utah we’ve been to, I can’t wait to go back.

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