OverviewPeak 12825 is the high point of the Red Castle Ridge located on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains of Utah. It is one of the most striking peaks of the Uintas and lies in the heart of a very scenic area, teeming with beautiful lakes.
Peak 12825 has no official name and there is disagreement over an unofficial name. In the "Utah Mountaineering Guide", Michael Kelsey refers to Peak 12825 as Red Castle. I think this is in error because on the USGS 7.5 min Mount Powell quad, the words Red Castle are clearly plastered over 12338 and 12700, the two much more castle like peaks on the north end of the ridge.
Locally, when people talk about the idea of climbing Red Castle, they are referring to 12700, not 12825. Other sources such as Lists of John and Google Maps refer to this peak as South Red Castle. But still another source (Scott) refers to South Red Castle as 12694, the minor bump just south of 12825. Therefore, since it has no official name and there is no agreement to an unofficial name, to avoid confusion I am going to refer to it as 12825-UT.
Peak 12825 has a prominence of 485' feet putting it at number 27 of 118 on Scott's list of 12000 footers in Utah with over 200 feet of prominence.
This peak is very remote as are many of the Uinta 12000 footers. Consequently, it sees few visitors but it is an easy summit to climb and people have obviously been there as there are cairns near the summit of both it and the smaller 12694 located just to its south. Although there are lots of people in the Uinta basins, few people seem to make it up to the summits. I have gone on many trips and have only seen other people (or evidence of them) who looked like they were actually summitting something 3 times, except for Kings Peak and Bald Mountain. If you don't like crowded summits, the Uintas are the place for you.
If a peak that looked like 12825 was close to a major population center, it would get climbed all the time. Plop it down within 1 hour of Boston, make the hike be less than 5 miles one way, and you'd be fighting people off with a stick at the summit. Peaks that can be viewed from roads get climbed, but peaks that are seldom seen get few visitors.
Like many high Uinta Peaks, most notably Emmons and Gilbert, the summit of 12825 is fairly flat. From the actual summit, you can just barely see the tip of Red Castle (12700) sticking up to the north. Red Castle is the most rugged looking feature of the entire Uinta range.
However, if you descend about 200 vertical feet (a quarter mile) down the north side of 12825, a stellar view of all three of the rugged peaks on the north end of the ridge appears.
Although it is worth climbing Peak 12825 for this view alone, excellent close up views are also had of Mount Powell and Wilson Peak. A little farther away are Henrys Fork Peak, Kings Peak, and South Kings Peak. To the east lies Smiths Fork Pass Lake and to the west lies Red Castle Lake, which according to Davis and Veranth in the book "High Uinta Trails", measures 168 acres and is the largest natural lake in the Uinta Mountains.
On the east side of the Red Castle Ridge, the north face of 12825 has the sheerest cliffs. Stuff falls off of it all the time so avoid getting close to it. If you explore the area west of East Red Castle Lake and pause for any amount of time, you will for sure hear the clatter of spontaneous rock fall.
Getting ThereTake I80 to exit 34 in Wyoming and head towards Fort Bridger. Go 5.4 miles to a blinking red light at a 4 way intersection. Turn right onto route 414 and go 3 miles to route 410. Turn right onto route 410. Go 6.8 miles and continue straight onto a dirt road (#072) where route 410 bends right. (Note that this is the second time route 410 bends right.) Continue on the dirt road/#072 11.9 miles until you reach a big intersection where the road to Henrys Fork (#017) leaves left. Continue straight on #072 towards China Meadows and follow the main road 6.5 miles until you get to the sign for the China Meadows Campground, shortly after crossing Smiths Fork. Do as the sign says and turn left onto #125. Note that on the USGS map, the left turn is marked #072, but in reality, #072 continues straight ahead. Continue .7 miles to a fork in the road just after crossing a cattle guard. Straight ahead is the horse trailhead and a right turn takes you to the hiker trailhead.
There is a $2 fee to park at the trailhead for up to 5 days. The America the Beautiful Pass does NOT cover it. However, if you have a senior or access pass you only have to pay half.
Normal wilderness area rules apply.
There are several established campgrounds along the road to the trailhead (Stateline, Bridger Lake, E Marsh Lake, and W Marsh Lake). There is a campground that is signed "China Meadows" .7 miles before the trailhead. At the trailhead itself there is a campground signed "Trailhead" that is in 2 sections, one for folks with horses and one for hikers. There is no water at the trailhead so you have to bring your own. There is a fee to camp.
There are numerous places to camp along the trail. The terrain is fairly flat and is a mix of widely spaced trees and meadows. Water along the trail is plentiful. You may not camp within 200' of any occupied campsite, trail, or water source.
When to Climb
The best times would be from the very beginning of July through the end of September. The mosquitoes clear out at the end of August.
RoutesAs the crow flies the nearest trailhead is China Meadows to the north at 9.5 miles. The shortest realistic route from China Meadows is about 12 miles one way.
From China Meadows via Smiths Fork Pass
The map at the left shows the way that I went, but other variations are possible. I also made a short side trip to 12407 which is on the other side of Smiths Fork Pass. The whole thing was about 28.5 miles round trip with about 4360' of elevation gain and took about 13.5 hours.
Start from the China Meadows Trailhead. Follow the East Fork Smiths Fork Trail 9 miles to where it forks to bypass Red Castle. You will be in the woods most of the way and only gain 1300' in elevation during this stretch. The trail is well maintained, easy to follow, and has generally good footing.
At the 9 mile mark is a sign that points left for "E Red Castle Tr." and right for "Red Castle Tr.". You want to take the left fork and immediately cross a bridge.
Follow the trail about another 3.7 miles to Smiths Fork Pass gaining another 1000 vertical feet. From the pass, head west along the ridge as shown on the map. Turn NW to ascend Point 12694 and then turn south along the ridge to get to 12825. The off-trail section is straightforward class 2. To return, you can either retrace your steps or head SE from 12825 as shown to get back to the trail.
Other Possibilities from China Meadows
There are 2 cliff breaks in the Smiths Fork Pass Lake area which look like they are viable routes to the summit of 12825. If you want the shortest possible route to the top, then you might want to investigate either of the chutes marked with arrows in the picture at left. I have not gone either of these ways myself, but am virtually certain that although shorter they are more difficult than either of the ways described above and not as scenic.
To get to the chutes, leave the trail at the south end of Smiths Fork Pass Lake and stay on the west side of the lake until you come to them. If you take the chute on the right, then the one way distance from the China Meadows Trailhead is just over 12 miles one way.