Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Amethyst Lake Trail in Utah's High Uinta Mountains

Christmas Meadows Campground.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  We arrive on a mid-August day at this forest service campground in Utah’s High Uinta Mountains, expecting to find an angelic peaceful setting as described in our guidebook: 
        “Set in a beautiful high alpine meadow with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, anglers like to pass their time fishing the Stillwater Fork of the Bear River.”
    But instead of alpine bliss we find an over-crowded campground with multiple families sharing the same sites, RVs—some as big as houses—blocking the view, kids and adults on ATVs and dirt bikes circling the campground over and over and over—making noise, kicking up dust and dirt.  
This was not the scenario we intended for our weekend high-country getaway and so we leave Christmas Meadows and drive a dirt road following the path of the Stillwater River.  Here we find dispersed isolated campsites and the tranquil setting we crave.
We unload our gear and set up camp.  Then Tim assembles his fly rod and we scramble down the riverbank to search for trout.  In the meadow across the river a cow moose and her calf step into the clearing.  They linger for a brief moment and cast a glance in our direction before leaping into the woods.  The meadow is filled with broad-tailed hummingbirds and we’re delighted as they zip overhead looking for nectar-bearing flowers.
The search for trout is successful.  Tim catches cutthroats in every section of the stream.  We return to our campsite for dinner by a blazing campfire before turning in under a star-studded sky.

This is more like it: a campfire brightens
our secluded campsite near the
Stillwater Fork of the Bear River.


Our intentions of an early-morning start on the Amethyst Lake Trail are thwarted by the cold; it’s too tempting to stay snuggled in our sleeping bags.  By 9:30 a.m. we’re finally on the trail.  The 6.3 mile trail climbs steadily through the woods, past a cascading stream through mountain meadows, and finally to the lake.  The trail is heavily used by both people and horses.  In the meadow we pass a group of horse-packers as a thunderstorm rolls in.  Soon we’re huddled under a thicket of pines to escape the thunder, lightning and driving rain.

Horses take a break along the
Amethyst Lake Trail.
         The storm abates and we continue on.  We pass an emerald lake and spy fish hitting the surface—a good sign.  It’s another mile to Amethyst Lake and we arrive as another storm hits.  Amethyst Lake is surrounded by craggy peaks, the water a deep olive green.  The lake, although not purple, is still a gem. 

Amethyst Lake on a stormy day.
The lake hosts a healthy population of trout.
  Fish are jumping and Tim catches a large brook trout on his first cast.  It’s late afternoon when we leave the lake.  On the return to the trailhead we hike under a steady downpour as the sky explodes with flashes of lightning and echos with peals of thunder.  Four hours later we arrive at our soggy campsite.  Skies clear in time for dinner, and another roaring campfire warms our spirits after this tiring but exhilarating alpine adventure.

Tim fishes one of the meandering streams along the 6.3 mile
Amethyst Lake Trail.


         I began this story with the description of a campground that didn’t meet our expectations.  Readers, after reading a glowing review of a vacation destination, have you ever been sorely disappointed by what you found? 

Read more about the High Uinta Mountains by visiting this website:  http://www.utah.com/playgrounds/uinta_mountains.htm


  1. Rita, you and Tim were certainly able to make lemonade out of a lemon on this adventure! You ended up at a stunning setting, saw a moose, and Tim experienced some great fishing! And although it rained, the sky cleared in time for dinner, and you were able to sit around a campfire at an isolated campsite away from the crowded masses at Christmas Meadows Campground. Sounds like an overall successful and fun-filled trip to me!

    You asked your readers if anyone had ever been disappointed with a vacation destination after reading a glowing review. Although I'm unable to quickly recall a specific instance, I can say that Cheri and I eventually stopped camping at commercial campgrounds. Either we changed, or the clientele changed. Regardless, we began finding our own spots away from the crowds, much as you and Tim did on this trip.


    1. I agree with you about commercial campgrounds. It seems that camping these days is less about enjoying the serenity of the outdoors and more about showing off the latest noisy "toys". Quiet, backcountry campgrounds are the ones most agreeable to me now. (Maybe it's because I'm getting older?)

      Thanks for reading and commenting John!

  2. Hi Rita,

    A lot of folks might've stayed at the main campground and never ventured further afield. Personally, I love stories about "the road less travelled," and it sounds like you had a much more peaceful and rewarding hiking and fishing trip for finding more isolated campgrounds.

    The most frequent disappointments I've had involve "sneaky" photographs of hotel rooms, using all sorts of fancy lenses and odd angles to make the rooms appear bigger than they really are. Nothing worse than arriving in NYC to your "luxury" hotel and finding you're lodging in a closet next to a very busy and noisy elevator!

    1. I'm with you on those "sneaky" pictures of hotel rooms. These day, with digital photography, it's even harder to believe the old adage that "pictures don't lie"!

      In addition to the misrepresented photos of hotel rooms another thing that gets to me are those pictures of Bed and Breakfast Inns where the Inn appears to be at the end of a long country lane; when you arrive you find that the Inn is really in the middle of a busy highway! (How do they do that?)

      You're right, the road less travelled usually makes for the most interesting stories.
      I appreciate your comments, Vickie!

  3. Its been a while since I visited One Day in America and its always amazing to savour the beautiful country you have been depicting.

    Not to mention the fantastic possibilities for a story setting, and Amethyst Lake could very well be the setting for a nifty story by Stephen King!

    1. Hi Manikchand,

      You bring up an interesting point about my travel destinations being ideal settings for a good story. Many times when I'm in a certain place I'm thinking exactly the same thing—that someone could write a great novel based on the scene I'm in. And then I wish that I could be the one writing that great fiction!

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Welcome back!