Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we highlight one of the best trails from around the world. For us, reading about a great backpacking trip motivates us to want to see it ourselves. We hope this series inspires you to do the same!
This week's focus is on the Henrys Fork Trail to Kings Peak.
Featured Photo: Kings Peak by Casey Goodlett
WHY HIKE THE HENRYS FORK TRAIL TO KINGS PEAK?
Known as the Ceiling of Utah, at 13,528 feet, Kings Peak is the highest summit in Utah and the crown of the Uintas Mountain Range.
Kings Peak also has a topographic prominence of 6,348 feet making it one of 57 Ultra Prominence Peaks (over 5,000 feet) found in the lower 48 states of USA.
There are multiple routes to Kings Peak though Henrys Fork Trail remains the most popular and accessible route offering spectacular viewpoints of High Uintas, gorgeous lakes and a bounty of flora and fauna. Henrys Fork Trail has also received recognition from National Geographic as a top hike in the world back in 2017, making it a must add endeavour to your bucket list.
- 28.8 miles roundtrip
- Lowest Elevation: 9420 feet
- Highest Elevation: 13,528 feet
- Best time to hike: Summer (June to September)
- Difficulty: Strenuous - plenty of tough uphill sections. The final climb from Anderson’s Pass to Kings Peak requires scrambling over boulders
- Covered in snow for half the year with potential for snowstorms in late spring and early fall
- Frequent afternoon thunderstorms during summer
- Abundance of wildlife in the surrounding area, including Elk, Moose, Bighorn Sheep, and Coyotes.
- Pets Allowed
- Fishing at lakes along the trail is permitted with a state fishing license. Brook and Cutthroat Trout are the dominant species found in the lakes around the trail.
HOW DO I GET THERE
The Salt Lake City International Airport is the closest major airport to Henrys Fork Trailhead if you are flying in to hike Kings Peak.
To get to the trailhead from the airport head west on Terminal Drive and then use the left two lanes to take the I80E ramp. Keep left at the fork to merge on to I80E and continue for 2.6 miles. Take exit 121 to merge onto I-15 S/I-80E. Drive for 3.1 miles and then take exit 304 for I-80 E towards Cheyenne. Continue on I-80 for 108 miles. Take exit 34 for I-80 towards Fort Bridger and then keep right at the fork to merge onto I80BL E. Turn right after driving 4.9 miles to head onto WY-414 S. Stay on WY-414 S for 25 miles. Turn right onto Co Rd 290 then turn left onto Co Rd 291. Drive 1.3 miles and then turn right to head onto Co Rd 294. After 4.6 miles there will be a fork where you will turn right to head onto FR077. Stay on this road until you reach Henrys Fork Trailhead.
MAP OF RECOMMENDED ROUTE
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended camp sites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Henrys Fork Trailhead to Dollar Lake
- Day 2 - Dollar Lake to Kings Peak and Return
- Day 3 - Dollar Lake to Henrys Fork Trailhead
Hiking to Kings Peak via the Henry Fork Trail can be completed in one long grueling day, though a 2-3 day trek is highly recommended for most hikers. The itinerary below represents a 3 day trek.
As a side note, Henrys Fork Campground is located at the trailhead. You can stay overnight at this campground prior to starting your hike if you arrive at the trailhead late in the day.
Day 1: Henrys Fork Trailhead to Dollar Lake
Your day begins at Henrys Fork Trailhead. From here, hike approximately 3 miles with minimal elevation gain at which point you will reach a trail that branches off of the Henry Forks Trail. This trail is roughly ½ mile long and leads to Alligator Lake. This is a great optional campsite if you want to extend your stay or fish while enjoying one of the many lakes this route has to offer on your way up to Kings Peak. We however, will continue along Henrys Fork Trail where there is moderate elevation gained over the next 2.5 miles. At this point, 5.5 miles from the trailhead, you will reach Elkhorn Crossing.
There will be a junction at Elkhorn Crossing. Continue straight (south) along Henry’s Fork Trail to head towards the log bridge that spans Elkhorn creek. This route will take you to the gorgeous yet popular Dollar Lake (approximately 2 miles from Elkhorn Crossing) which will be your stop for the day and basecamp for the excursion.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds at Dollar Lake then head west at the Elkhorn Crossing Junction. This optional route will add distance to your trip but will cross a half dozen pristine lakes and has less populated campsites. This route will reconnect with Henrys Fork Trail just past Dollar Lake.
Day 2: Dollar Lake to Kings Peak and back
Don’t worry about packing up your camp today as you will be returning to Dollar Lake at the end of the day. Just bring your essential items (water, food, first aid kit, etc). Less gear will make the arduous journey up to Kings Peak easier to traverse. Dollar Lake to Kings Peak is about 8 miles and over 2700ft of elevation gain so the less weight you have to carry the better.
Approximately 4 miles from Dollar Lake is Gunsight Pass. The journey to Gunsight Pass is steep with numerous switchbacks. Eventually you will reach a cairn where there will be an optional climb west up the Chute. This route is shorter in distance but much more difficult. It is recommended that you choose to follow the common route which descends into Painter’s Basin and then loops around steep rock slopes before joining the Highline Trail up to Anderson’s Pass. Take some time to marvel at the views before commencing a .5 mile climb to Kings Peak. At last you’ve reached the ceiling of Utah, 13,527ft above sea level. After enjoying some time at the top begin your descent to Dollar Lake following the same route through Painter’s Basin.
Day 3: Dollar Lake to Henrys Fork Trailhead
Pack up camp and head down Henrys Fork Trail towards the trailhead. If you have time, consider heading up to the west loop trail and descend that route to get scenic views of the various lakes on the path or head over to Alligator Lake for lunch before leaving the trailhead.
WHAT WILL I NEED?
The average temperatures at Kings Peak range from 48-57°F as a high between June and September. The average lows at Dollar Lake (your camping spot) range from 40-48°F with highs at Dollar Lake ranging from 65-75°F. While the temperatures are not at freezing levels it can be quite cool in the mornings and evenings at Dollar Lake. It may also be on the cooler side at the top of Kings Peak. Prepare accordingly by bringing some warm clothing to wear. You will also need to bring rain gear as there are frequent afternoon thunderstorms during the summer months.
If you choose to hike Henrys Fork Trail outside of the recommended hiking periods of June-September then be prepared for snow. Cold gear and snow shoes would be mandatory.
Trekking Poles can come in handy for the majority of the hike though you may choose to leave them at Andersons Pass for the final ascent to Kings Peak as you may have to use your hands to get past the boulders along the way.
A good quality tent to protect yourself from the elements is a necessity. A Backpacking Quilt is an excellent option for use with a lightweight sleeping pad to complete your sleep system while out on the trail. Finally, if you want to add a little luxury to your sleep system a good down pillow will make your nights more restful.
Using a lightweight quilt instead of a more traditional sleeping bag is a good way to reduce your pack weight.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories
Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
DO I NEED A PERMIT?
No permits are required.
You will need a fishing license if you choose to fish while hiking the Henrys Fork Trail to Kings Peak.
The gorgeous lakes and expansive scenic views from the top of Kings Peak make Henrys Fork Trail an enticing and memorable adventure.
If you're looking for more hike ideas in Utah, read our "Best Backpacking Trips in Southern Utah" roundup post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other high alpine hikes in the Rocky Mountain West.
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.