The High Uinta Wilderness is one of my favorite places to visit, and having it so close makes visiting simple and convenient. This year my wife and I are expecting our first child, and I wanted to make sure I got out backpacking enough times over the Summer knowing that the Fall and Winter seasons would be filled with a different priority.
I rallied some friends of mine and we originally planned to hike into Red Castle, but quickly changed plans because I didn’t want to be too far away from Katie, with her being 9 months along.
Instead of Red Castle, we decided to go a shorter distance and see what Packard Lake was like, off the Highline Trail. All I can say is I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful and amazing this area of the Uintas is. So lets get into the details.
Packard Lake is located about 4 miles from the Highline Trailhead off the Mirror Lake Highway.
The Highline may be the most popular trail in the Uinta Wilderness. It basically cuts the range in half and covers over 50 miles of terrain. The west side of the highline is vastly different than the east side, but both boast beautiful views and high elevations.
Getting to Packard is moderately difficult. Any seasoned backpacker would see this as an easy hike, but someone new to backpacking would need to take some extra time as there’s a good amount of elevation gain and loss after you leave the highline trail and branch off towards Packard. You’ll start from the Highline Trailhead and after about 2.2 miles you’ll be passing Scudder Lake, which is the first lake you see as you hike. Another .8 miles and you’ll come to the Packard Lake junction on your right. The sign for the junction is posted on a large tree and you cannot miss it. From there, be ready to go up and down several times. There are some steep sections that will leave a new backpacker needing to stop for a breather.
There are three lakes after you take the right at the junction and head towards Packard. The first you come to is Wilder. It’s a beautiful setting and has some great camping, but I suggest moving onward. After some steep trail and following a ridgeline you descend and come to Wyman Lake. Wyman also has some great camping, and a beautiful sight next to a classic Uinta bubbling brook. Again, a stunning view and area, but keep walking another 10 to 15 minutes and make your way to Packard. There is a beautiful meadow just before you head east toward Packard Lake. Stop and enjoy the view and hope to see some deer hanging out.
As you come up to Packard, which is the largest of the three lakes, you’ll notice that you are right up against a ridgeline. As seen in the title image of this post, the lake sits against an amazing overlook of the Duchesne River. You’ll see a waterfall, cliff band, and big open skies. It’s absolutely beautiful! As you approach the lake, the best camping is on the right side between the canyon overlook and the lake. It’s obvious that this is a popular place for scout troops to come, as it’s only 4 miles of hiking. There’s good spots, but we found a great, quiet spot nestled back in some thick trees further back along the lake shore. Let the scout troops coming in to kill your quiet solitude take the large open, over used spots close to the outlet of the Lake.
The fishing in Packard was not the greatest i’ve seen in the Uinta Wilderness. I tried using a fly and bubble, switching between red and yellow humpies, to mosquitos, to renegades, and the Brook Trout in the lake would not take the bait. Jakes Spinner Lures are probably your best option for this lake.
This particular trip was one of the most relaxing backpacking trips i’ve ever had. But it also came with some frustration. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on Leave No Trace as i’ve been in the backcountry, and try hard to not overdue it, but was displeased with how the area was littered with numerous unnecessary fire rings in such odd and obscure locations. Trash, and the occasional spool of old fishing line spread across the lake shore. Please be responsible when out in the backcountry and Leave No Trace.
I highly recommend this as a great option for a one or two day trip. Access is great, the views never disappoint, and the atmosphere of the lake is enough to make you feel like you are hundreds of miles from any other person on earth.