The Blacks Fork Ridge, the first four peaks of the route
The Uinta Mountains of Utah are an off-trail hiker's paradise. Many of the ridges offer fairly easy travel with great views in all directions. Typically, the ridges have steep sides with only a few access points, but once on top, are relatively gentle. Minimal scrambling is involved so that large distances can be covered in one day. Solitude is virtually guaranteed.
This page describes a route that covers the four peaks on the Blacks Fork Ridge, in addition to two more that are on the main east/west Uinta crest. All six are 12000 footers. The route is 21.3 miles long with a vertical gain of 6100 feet. It is mostly class 1 and 2 with just a few short easy class 3 sections. The Blacks Fork Ridge lies on the north slope of the Uintas, between the Little East Fork Blacks Fork and the East Fork Blacks Fork and is accessed via the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead.
Take I80 to exit 34 in Wyoming and head to Fort Bridger. Go 5.3 miles to a blinking red light. Turn right on Wyoming state route 414 and go 3 miles to Wyoming state route 410. Follow 410 for 13 miles. First you will see a sign that says the pavement ends in 750 feet. Shortly you will see another sign for "Blacks Fork River Access Area" and then another one that says "Wasatch Nat'l Forest/Meeks Cabin 13". If you miss the signs, don't worry, the three sets of rumble strips should wake you up. Do as the signs say and turn left. The road you turn onto starts out paved but soon changes to dirt. Follow the main road 23.6 miles to the signboard (just past a gate) for the East Fork Blacks Fork Trail. The trail start is just before the signboard. There is no parking right at the trail start. Instead, continue on the road for just a few feet and turn right and then left into the parking lot.
On the Wyoming side, the dirt road is beautifully graded and maintained and you can make good time. Once it crosses the Utah border it gets noticeably worse and once it passes the intersection with the dirt road headed for the Mirror Lake Highway, it gets worse still. It's somewhat rocky but is fine for passenger cars if you go slow.
The Blacks Fork ridge has a very distinct profile. If you know what to look for you can easily recognize it while driving to the trailhead. It is visible from both I80 and the dirt road leading to the trailhead.
From I80. From the L, W Oweep Peak is between windmills 5 and 6, S, Central, N, and NW Blacks Fork Peaks are between windmills 6 and 7.
From the dirt road to the trailhead, the Blacks Fork Ridge lies ahead
A sturdy bridge
A functional bridge
The hike starts at the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead. Cross the sturdy bridge and head south on the trail for 1.4 miles. Just after the stream crossing shown at right, which is the second of two that are very closely spaced, look for the Little East Fork Blacks Fork Trail diverging left. There is no trail sign but if you look for it the trail should be obvious.
At about 9800', the bushwhack section
At about 11400', looking ahead to point 11696
Follow the Little East Fork Blacks Fork Trail for .55 miles until just before a small downhill dip. Veer off the trail and begin bushwhacking to the crest of the Blacks Fork Ridge. The terrain is very gentle at first, but soon you will have to navigate a steep 1200' climb to where the ridge levels out. The trees are widely spaced, but there is considerable deadfall. Fortunately, virtually all of it is lying flat on the ground. Nevertheless, it is still tedious to have to keep stepping over stuff. After ascending to about 10400', the deadfall will be minimal. Treeline is at about 11000'.
The six peaks of the route
Ahead, all six peaks of the route will be in view. After climbing them, you will descend to the left of Peak 6 and come back through the valley on the left.
Mount Lovenia, Wasatch BM, and NW Wasatch at right
Once above treeline, the ridge is a mix of easy walking tundra and boulders. There are just a few sections where the footing is cumbersome. The Lovenia-Wasatch-Tokewanna ridge will be on view to your right.
Looking back at the start of the ridge. Bald Mountain is on the horizon at the right.
Looking behind you, on the horizon to the right is the very gentle Bald Mountain (11776'). Although virtually every other peak in the Uintas is more distinctive looking than this Bald Mountain, it has a distinction most of them do not. It's got a real name! as labeled on the official USGS map. It also has a benchmark on top of it.
The first two peaks of the day are shown in the pictures below. In the first picture is the serrated N Blacks Fork Peak on the left and to its right with the snow patch is the almost flat-topped NW Blacks Fork Peak. In the second picture you are looking back at the peaks and the positions are reversed. It is very straightforward to get to both of them, you just follow the ridge crest.
Looking ahead to Peaks 1 and 2, Northwest and North Blacks Fork Peaks
Looking back at Peaks 1 and 2
As you descend NW Blacks Fork Peak, there is a very interesting view of East Lovenia. You will be staring straight at its rugged northeast ridge and be able to see the cliffs ringing the top of this peak.
Central Blacks Fork Peak at right
The next peak up is Central Blacks Fork Peak which has the distinction of having over 1000' of prominence. Again, you just follow the ridge crest to get to the top.
However, once there, mere mortals such as myself will have a difficult time descending the other side of the ridge because there is a series of cliffs on the south side about 50' high. To avoid the cliffs, backtrack a little and descend about 70' to the northeast to about the 12800' level and then traverse just below the cliffs. It shouldn't be particularly difficult and if you find yourself doing something beyond class 3 or with any exposure, there is an easier way. This section is the only tricky part of the whole route.
Traversing under the cliffs of Central Blacks Fork Peak, South Blacks Fork Peak lies ahead.
Looking back at the cliffs of Central Blacks Fork Peak
On the way to South Blacks Fork Peak, look to your right (southwest) for the perfect view of the Wasatch BM, NW Wasatch, Tokewanna Peak ridge. When ascending the peak, some minor scrambling will be found if you stick to the ridge crest.
At the summit of South Blacks Fork Peak you are done with the Blacks Fork Ridge and you turn southeast along the main east/west Uinta Crest towards West Oweep Peak. Descending the ridge and going up and over West Oweep Peak is all very easy terrain with lots of nice views. Most peaks in this area are strikingly red.
Heading to West Oweep Peak, in the middle
View from far side of W Oweep Peak towards the last peak, Oweep Peak at right
After traversing West Oweep Peak, there is a small bump in the saddle before you start climbing the last peak of the lot, Oweep Peak. Cairns have been set up along this section of the ridge. I'm not sure why, perhaps they were used for surveying purposes or to mark the county line between Summit and Duchesne.
On the bump between the Oweeps, Oweep Peak on the left
Heading to the west ridge of Oweep Peak
Heading up the west ridge of Oweep Peak
There is some minor scrambling towards the top of Oweep Peak which is reached through a series of steps.
First five peaks of route
From the summit of Oweep Peak, one can look back and see the first five peaks of the route.
Heading down to the trail 800' below
The ridge walk is now almost over as you descend to the Little East Fork Blacks Fork Trail. There are two options here. One is to follow the main Uinta ridge crest east down to Squaw Pass where the trail is reached. The other is to descend the minor east-northeast ridge to the trail. Although I had planned to do the former, I chose the latter because I could see this route the whole way down and it looked easy. I did not have a clear view of the former and at the end of a long day didn't want to do any unnecessary backtracking.
The trail is obvious and you can see it ahead way before you get there. On your way down, there will be nice views through the pass of Porcupine and South Porcupine Mountains as seen through Squaw Pass. Looking north, you will see your route out through the Little East Fork Blacks Fork drainage.
Porcupine and South Porcupine Mountains
Your way out, the Little East Fork Blacks Fork drainage
The trail starts out a little rocky, but once it flattens out the footing gets much better. As you descend all six peaks of the route will be visible for much of the way to your left and behind you. To your right lies the very red Squaw Benchmark ridge.
The first 5 peaks
Initially, the Little East Fork Blacks Fork Trail is very open and you can walk for a long way with views on both sides until finally trees predominate.
North and Northwest Blacks Fork Peaks are at left
Point 12451 on the Squaw Benchmark Ridge at right
Looking back towards Squaw Pass
Finally, you are in the trees
Follow the Little East Fork Blacks Fork Trail back to the East Fork Blacks Fork Trail and then follow that trail back to the trailhead.
A GPSr or a compass is useful for the bushwhack section.
There is a free campground at the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead. There are 7 official sites all of which have fire pits. Four of these have picnic tables and three do not. Even on weekends, I've seen at most three sites in use. There is no water so you need to bring your own.
It makes the most sense to do this route in a day since it is a loop hike. However, if you want, you could hike the 2 mile section to where the loop starts and set up camp there.
It took about 4.5 hours to get to to the first peak and another 3 hours and 40 minutes to get from there to the last peak and then another 5.5 hours to hike out for a total of not quite 14 hours round trip.
There are several other interesting hikes in the area as well, including the Squaw Benchmark Ridge, the Lovenias, and the threesome, Wasatch BM, NW Wasatch, and Tokewanna.
When to Climb
If you want to avoid snow, mid July through the beginning of September are the best months. Creek crossings will be significantly easier later in the summer. The dirt road leading to the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead is not plowed in the winter.
First 5 peaks of route on August-28-2009
Same 5 peaks 3 weeks later
Click here for the current weather forecast for the area.
I'm sure you've all heard that mountain weather can change fast. The first picture below shows the first peak of the Blacks Fork Ridge at 8 in the morning. The second picture shows all four peaks of the ridge and was taken four hours later.
Northwest Blacks Fork Peak at 8AM
The whole ridge, four hours later
The red line shows the trail. The blue line shows the off-trail portion.