Backpacking Amethyst Lake
Amethyst Lake as the sun sets
There are quite a few trail blogs and posts on hiking up to Amethyst Basin and Amethyst Lake and trust me, I read every one of them before taking my eleven year old, my fourteen year old, one nephew and two of their friends up to this classically beautiful, Uintas lake but I was still surprised at the intensity of the climb and the steepness of certain sections of the trail which was made even more strenuous with backpacking gear. I thought it would be beneficial to anyone considering this hike with their kids or a scout/youth group to read a write-up with a little more reality versus an experienced and well-seasoned backpacker's experience. Not to say that I am a complete nit-wit. I have been hiking in the Uintas for over twenty years now but generally most of the places I go are starting UP in the High Uintas so the elevation gains and losses are not generally too extreme.
Last year, we backpacked the Ibantik Lake Loop and it was absolutely breathtaking from beginning to end. While there were some ups and downs, Ibantik was a regular walk in the park compared to the push up to Amethyst Lake. Another point here is that I would never consider this trail unless I was going to go all the way up. It's just not as pretty in the lower elevations as other areas of the Uintas. And no, I am not trying to dissuade anyone from heading up as it IS one of the coolest places that I have ever been, just a bit of fair warning to be prepared for the inevitable thigh and lung burner and lack of awesomeness on the lower sections. In fact, I was surprised at the amount of day hikers just lolligagging around the first few miles when we came down Saturday morning. I can think of many other places in the Uintas that I would rather hang out at.
First off, there are some differing accounts of mileage with some being just under 12 miles round trip and others, over 13. Take your Garmin and decide for yourself but after everything was said and done, we had trekked over 15 miles (including a hike around the lake).
Isaac and Benny starting off through Christmas Meadows.
Our hike started at the Christmas Meadows trailhead which is on the north slope of the UIntas. Directions can easily be found online. The first 2.5 miles is relatively easy with a few ups and downs, stream crossings and a bit of mud. The trail meanders through the lovely meadows and forests of Christmas Meadows while slowly gaining elevation. You will encounter mud, stream crossings, horse dung and plenty of rocks on your way up.
Carter, Tanner and Noah stopping at the wilderness sign to wait for us slow folks.
Once you pass this sign, you have just a little ways to go before the left hand turn up towards Amethyst Basin. You will come to a T and should notice the Amethyst Lake sign up in a nearby tree pointing the way. From this point on, it is up, up, up. The trail is rocky and follows along the Stillwater Fork of the Bear River most of the way. Stop, fill your water bottles up, take some breathers and enjoy the river and the cascading waterfalls. The river is the saving grace of this section of the trail.
Mountain streams and rushing waterfalls are always good for the soul.
Above shows the steep, rocky trail which follows the Stillwater Fork most of the way up. It is steeper than these pictures might lead you to believe.
Not a bad spot to catch your breath.
You will start to notice the trees leveling off, blue sky overhead and maybe even a glimpse or two of Ostler Peak in the distance as you ascend to the top of this part of the trail. The remainder of the hike is still uphill with some level moments but is much kinder on your body. Although, after this section, you may just want to put your hammock in some trees and forget it. Even though it gets easier, some of us were pretty exhausted and our backpacks started feeling like dead weight.
Notice the leveling canopy and the blue sky as we near the end of the rocky section.
Isaac and Benny, back on flat ground!
At this point, the trail, which so far has been on the drier side, starts to green up and the forest starts to feel a little more overgrown, dense and filled with life. It starts to feel like you are up in the High Uintas! The trail is peaceful and lovely and although you are tired, you will get excited for the first glimpse of Amethyst Meadows.
Ostler Peak rising up in the distance.
Our first look at Amethyst Meadows. This place is breathtaking!
We got on the trail at about 1:45pm and reached Amethyst Meadows around 5:45pm. Hiking with two younger boys definitely added some time so, if you are planning on hiking with kids, who are not necessarily in the best physical condition for backpacking up to 10,750 feet, plan on 3.5-4 hours to reach the meadows. There are some excellent camp spots in this area but we weren't there to see the meadows, even though Isaac tried his hardest to get me to stay in that beautiful spot. I did take a few minutes to wander around and take it all in and yes, I got a little shutter happy. Big surprise.
Be still my heart. Crystal clear waters, mountain peaks, a setting sun and wide open meadows...does it get any better?
Looking up into the basin.
From the meadows, you have a river crossing and then you will wind your way up towards a smaller lake/pond named BR-24. This is a prime camping location and where many people decide to stop. We passed several campers, horses (lucky) as well as a scout troop here. The scouters were not planning on going up to Amethyst Lake as they had hiked up to a natural spring a thousand feet up to the right of BR-24 and were wiped out. I was surprised that some people never make it past this lake. In fact, we passed several day hikers who made it to the meadow and who then had turned around as that was their final destination...WHAT?! That would be like standing in line for the Matterhorn at Disneyland for hours and then jumping out of it as soon as you got to the front and checked out the cute attendants in their lederhosen. Just saying.
Anyways, I stopped to chat because one of the scout leaders flagged me down to make sure I was with the three young men heading up to Amethyst Lake who passed by them over AN HOUR earlier. They had lots of questions and were literally shocked at the boy's stamina and desire to be up there in the wilds backpacking....they were also worried as I suppose they would be. They mentioned that they hadn't noticed anyone traveling up to the lake all day. YES! I may have had the bear spray and my pink Sig Sauer P238 but I assured them, those three boys were perfectly capable.
In my head I was thinking "Holy Crap!" Noah, Tanner and Carter smoked us up to the top! I can't believe in a year or so, they will be driving and will be able to adventure on their own! I am so thankful that we have instilled a love for the outdoors and adventure in our boys and that their friends are the same. I sure love them.
One of several river crossings. Out of six people, only one person actually stumbled in. I cheated because I hike in Chacos. Makes for easy travel and clean toes and then dirty toes again. Haha
BR-24 on the way up to Amethyst Lake. There were several anglers here catching brook trout at the banks of the glassy waters.
The last uphill before entering the basin.
Steep walls of rock rise up from the deep basin that holds the turquoise blue waters of Amethyst Lake.
Although, there are not many camp locations up at the lake, there was absolutely not a soul around and Noah, Tanner and Carter easily scouted out a beauty of camp spot and were already settled in with their hammocks by the time us slow pokes arrived. Because I got sidetracked in conversation at the BR-24, I was even behind the younger ones. Noah came down and met me and he carried my bag the rest of the way up. What a good son!
Rain is usually in the forecast at some point, on any given day in the UIntas, but that evening was warm and dry. The moon was almost full, which was beautiful but it was a little disappointing because the stars were not as sparkly as we had hoped. The boys built a fire and hung out and talked before calling it a night. The older boys slept in their hammocks while the rest of us slept in the safety of our tent. I am just not brave enough to sleep in my hammock up in Bear country. I know, I'm a wuss.
Eno tents and rain covers for the win.
The sun had almost disappeared by the time I finally went down to the edge of the lake.
My castle in the sky.
Other than one whacky night terror that left all six of us in a panic for a few moments (we thought Noah was being mauled by a bear), the night passed over us gracefully and we awoke to warm sunshine and birds calling. Breakfast and then a hike around the lake took up most of the morning and afternoon. At some point, we noticed another group of campers show up on the far end of the lake but I was surprised at the emptiness and privacy of the basin. The boys spent the day, jumping rocks, polar dipping off boulders, skipping rocks in a snow fed pond, resting on their hammocks and laughing, laughing, laughing. Late in the afternoon, we did get some rain and hail, which is a Uintas norm but our tent and hammocks provided great shelter and we waited out the sun, which of course, showed back up and stayed with us the remainder of our time up in the Basin.
Is it any wonder why this lake is named Amethyst?
Beautiful boulders. Perfect for twisting ankles. Thank goodness that didn't happen!
Possible cliff jumping? They settled on another location after Noah went for a freezing swim to check things out.
A few raindrops fell and then it pounded. Thank goodness I was safe in my tent!
Noah, my little billy goat gruff.
Tanner jumping rocks like a pro.
There's no doubt, he's my kid.
Carter get ready to hit ICE water!
Best lake jump view ever!
Little mushrooms and tiny flowers filled the meadows.
Colorful mountain flowers were still blooming.
A view out towards Christmas Meadows. That's a long ways down!
Lunch break in the rain. Eno rain covers kept things perfectly dry.
Friday evening, we headed back around to the back side of the lake for some more rock skipping and sunset views. The older boys climbed up the mountain side Bear Grylls style and may have started a small rock slide or two. Naughty kids. I kept a lookout the entire time for mountain goats but once again, they have evaded me. The views were beautiful but because Amethyst is such a huge lake, I didn't get my glassy, sunset shots nor did we have an amazing starry night due to that giant, bright moon that lit up the night like the world's best night light. Later, after a cracking bonfire, Isaac and Benny joined Carter outside on the hammocks while Tanner and Noah crashed in the tent. Morning came early and we were up and at em and back at the truck by noon. 2 hours were shaved off the descent! The trail down was much busier on Saturday morning than when we were heading up. It seems that we hit it just right to avoid the heavier weekend crowds. We passed several hikers, sans backpacks who commented that they would/could never go all the way up with a pack. It made me so proud of my group of boys. After a giant lunch at the Kamas Cafe, we were back in our homes and taking a long, hot shower. Amethyst Basin was hard but oh, so worth it. It was spectacular!
Carter capturing the light with his awesome find.
Three funny boys who were constantly cracking jokes and laughing.
Carter, the champion rock skipper! Seriously, he was amazing!!!
I love this kid.
The only mountain goats I encountered had boy's names. Can you spot them?
Isaac and Benny checking out their fearless comrades.
Sunset over Amethyst Lake.
Isn't this a perfect campfire photo? I think so.
This was the middle of the night. It was SO bright with that crazy moon!
After an early morning prayer, they were off. All photos were taken with a Pentax K1 and a 24-70mm lens.
HERE IS A LIST OF ITEMS THAT YOU MIGHT WANT FOR HIKING AMETHYST BASIN. * IS OPTIONAL
1. Fitted backpack (get one sized to you!)
2. Water bottle- No need to carry any more than immediately needed. There is plenty of water.)
3. Water filter (I love my Katadyn Pro MicroFilter)
4. *Platypus 4L Gravity Filter. Awesome for having extra water at camp for cooking and cleaning etc.
5. Fuel and mini, integrated canister stove (such as a jetboil minimo, Primus or Pocket Rocket), having at least 2 is ideal.
6. Light My Fire Spork (REI), one per person and collapsible bowl and cup. (Sea to Summit Set)
7. Sea to Summit X-pot Kettle or other small boiling canister
8. Small, backpacking fry pan such as the MSR quick skillet. If you have a Jet Boil, purchase the integrated system.
9. Lightweight, dry foods, granola, oatmeal, hot chocolate, soup etc. The internet is a wealth of information with great backpacking, lightweight food options.
10. Lightweight, warm sleeping bag. Our Marmots cinch up into the smallest of bags.
11. Sleeping pad. We invested in the Big Agnes sleeping pads at REI because they are SO SMALL!
12. *Inflatable pillow- NEMO Equipment makes a great backpacking pillow. I generally just roll a coat up or something and fill an empty tent or hammock bag.
13. Pocket knife
14. Small day pack or stuff sack for day hiking. Our hiking bags come with them built in.
16. *Small camp chair (I have a 1.4lb Mayfly)
17. Clothing Items (Summer season): Rain jacket, collapsible puffy, warm socks, hiking socks, *beanie, *gloves, thermals (can be worn under shorts for long pants), fast dry shirt/shorts, underwear, t-shirt, hiking shirt or light weight button up.
18. Hiking shoes with good traction
19. *Chacos or hiking sandals. I live in mine.
20. Amenities- as basic and small as possible. Small bar of environmentally safe soap, small toothpaste, travel toothbrush or break one in half. You know the drill.
21. Bug repellent. We love Jungle Juice although, on this trip we got lucky...no skeeters!
23. Lip balm
24. *Bear spray and/or *gun
25. *Fishing pole/gear
26. *Sven folding saw or something similar. BEST thing that we had as there is not a lot of standing wood but tons of dead trees with dead branches...If you want to have a campfire. Also, Pay attention to the campfire rules. You can't build one by the lake.
27. Camp Matches and *fire starter (The lint from your dryer works amazing and weighs hardly anything.)
28. Small first aid kit with the most important items being: Antiseptic wipes, gauze pads/tape, antibacterial ointment, Ibuprofen, tylenol, bandaids, blister pads or skins, itch relief/Benadryl and any prescriptions.
29. *Muscle cream such as a tiny Tiger Balm or travel sized Icy Hot
30. *Hammocks and ropes. Eno's are so easy to set up and the rain flys and mosquito nets are excellent additions.
31. A Backpacking Tent. We have an REI Co-Op 4 Man dome tent that is SO light and EASY to set up. It is less than 5 pounds!
32. *Small tarp for under the tent.
33. *Collapsable trekking Pole
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