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  Deadhorse Lake, West Fork Blacks Fork



©David Rose
Total Distance: 21 miles roundtrip
Days Needed: 2-4 days
Rating: Moderate
Starting Elevation 9,600 ft
Deadhorse Lake Elevation:: 11,000 feet
Maps: USGS 7.5" Kings Peak and Mount Powell; US Forest Service High Uintas Wilderness special map.

Directions to Trailhead

From Salt Lake City, drive east on I-80. Take the Hwy 40 exit, heading south. Leave Hwy 40 at the Kamas exit, and drive into Kamas. Following the signs to Mirror Lake and Uintas, turn onto Hwy 150. About 3 miles beyond Mirror Lake you'll pass the Highline Trailhead. Continue driving for about 15 miles, then, at a sign pointing to "East Fork Boy Scout Camp" and "Blacks Fork River", turn right onto a dirt road.

This graded dirt road is called the North Slope Road. It's suitable for most cars but just rocky enough in sections that you'll probably drive slowly. Stay on this road for 16 miles (about 1.5 to 2 hours) before reaching the turnoff to the West Fork Blacks Fork trailhead. The North Slope Road is the main road; all side roads and turnoffs are obvious. Along the way you'll pass a Boy Scout Camp at 1.6 miles, a prominent road to your left at 2.4 miles, Carter Creek Camp at 3.8 miles, Mill Creek Turnoff at 6.1 miles, Elizabeth Ridge summit at 11.1 miles, and finally, Little Lyman Lake road junction at 16 miles (cumulative distances).

At the Little Lyman Lake junction the road makes a quick right hand bend and ends at another road junction with a sign. The "West Fork Blacks Fork" road turns sharply right and goes back west following the stream. This road is very rough for non-4WD or low-clearance vehicles. I made it all the way in my passenger car by driving slowly and strategically around rocks and potholes. But there's no telling what conditions will be like, and you could almost hike as fast as drive it (that is, if you care about your car!). About 1/3 mile after the start, you'll pass a road to your left that crosses the river on a bridge. Continue straight ahead, driving another 4 miles until the road reaches a major stream crossing.

Some maps label this crossing as the trailhead, even though the road continues for another 3.5 miles before reaching the actual hiking trail. It's probably given this label because many people stop here due to a potentially treacherous crossing -- even some 4WD vehicles have gotten stuck here in the soft sand and gravel. Except in late summer when the water is low, it's recommended you park here. There's car camping in the trees before the river and plenty of parking space in the flat area right next to the river. (I'll refer to this area as the "car park", and I'll call the beginning of the actual hiking trail the "official trailhead.") If you do make it across the stream in your vehicle, be aware that the road on the other side gets worse and, without question, is only suitable for 4WD high-clearance vehicles.


Route/Trail Notes

Assuming you leave your vehicle at the "car park", you'll need to ford the river. Hikers shouldn't have any problems wading across. This road from the river to the trailhead near the wilderness boundary is easy to follow. If there are side tracks, they are very minor ones; stick to the main road. The road will pass through a couple of gated fences.

The road goes through a meadow for about mile before entering the forest. In approximately mile you'll come to a trail junction with the Bear River - Smiths Fork Trail, which runs east-west. A sign points left toward the "Middle Fork Blacks Fork"; the right-hand trail angles back downstream towards "East Fork Bear River"; and of course you'll go straight ahead across the stream to "Dead Horse Lake." About 1 mile from the Bear River - Smiths Fork Trail junction the road crosses the river again. On the other side of the river there's a meadow where the road finally ends and the hiking trail begins. This is the wilderness boundary and official trailhead where you can sign the trail register. At the south end of the meadow you'll see a building or cabin of some sort.

However, you can avoid wading this stream (and another crossing), by staying on this side next to the river and route finding until meeting up with the trail again. You'll probably meet it somewhere in Buck Pasture (which, by the way, has a footbridge at the upper end for those of you who followed the trail). The walking is flat and easy and you shouldn't find much if any deadfall to impede progress. You may even see a faint trail in some spots, probably made from sheep and deer. There is no danger of getting lost because the drainage is narrow and the trail stays near the stream all the way to Dead Horse Lake.

Back on the trail in Buck Pasture, you'll follow it on the east side of the river for about 5 more miles. It's pleasant walking with grand views on both sides. There is at least one old weathered cabin alongside the trail (one in particular is near it's last breath-- the roof has long since caved in, and a tree has fallen with perfect aim across the middle, breaking the tree in two and almost knocking the cabin over).

You may be wondering where the lake is as you look ahead into the upper basin. Dead Horse Lake is not actually in what appears to be the center of the upper basin, but instead is further to your right, higher than you might think.

About a mile and a quarter before Dead Horse Lake you'll again cross the river, which is much smaller by now, just one of the tributaries. Then you'll start gaining elevation quickly -- as much elevation in the last mile and a half to the lake as you have gained since the trailhead. About mile from the lake, the trail crosses the stream and ends at a junction with the Highline Trail coming in from your left. Go right, following the Highline Trail uphill to the lake. You may find this last mile surprisingly taxing (especially if you've carried a heavy pack this far).

The best camping at Dead Horse Lake is on the north side. You can cross the outlet stream on boulders. The camping spots get more and more sparse and rocky the further you walk west along the shore. Be sure to pick camping spots away from the lakeshore, following the "200 feet from water wilderness rule."

Although this basin in general gets fewer visitors compared to some areas of the Uintas, the camping spots at Dead Horse Lake itself are heavily used, since virtually everyone who comes into the upper basin will camp at this lake. For this reason, you may consider camping at EJOD Lake as long as you don't mind the exposure (above treeline).

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