Planning and Day 1
My friend Ryan and I decided to do a backpacking trip sometime the week before the long Labor Day weekend. Since I had never done Kings Peak that’s where we decided to go. Ryan had done it at 16 with a scout troop from the Henry's Fork trailhead.
The night before we left I went over to his house to help plan the route and decide who would be carrying what (I got screwed here, as my pack was significantly heavier) While watching him pack he suggested the Yellowstone Creek trail from the Swift Creek trailhead which is a much longer approach than from Henry's Fork, but crowds were said to be almost non-existent. (Ryan and I got our information from David Rose's book 'Utah Thirteeners’ which I would think would be available at most recreation and small bookstores in Utah. I don't know where he got his copy.)
Anyway, we left SLC at about 6AM on Saturday, September 1 and got to the trailhead about 9AM through Duchesne and Mountain Home. The Swift Creek trailhead is on the Uintas' south slope and a 3-hour drive from SLC - another factor limiting crowds. I was a little nervous about such a long approach, as I hadn't logged many miles this summer. However, the trail is almost as easy as it is long. I would guess that less than 1/2 a mile from the Swift Creek trailhead the trail forks with the Yellowstone Creek trail bearing left (mostly straight) and the Swift Creek trail bearing right. We did about 7 1/2 to 8 hours of hiking our first day and we guess about 15 miles before rain decided its time to stop. We found a good spot to pitch the tent uphill from the trail and Yellowstone creek in the pines. There would be plenty of great campsites along this trail.
Summit Day . . .
The morning of Day #2 we slept later than we wanted to really easily and got a bit of a late start. We left our base camp with our day packs (a really good idea) and proceeded along the Yellowstone creek trail due north. From our basecamp the trail continues along the creek and then climbs a bit into an upper basin where Kings, South Kings and a few other thirteeners are within view. This upper basin is beautiful and easy hiking through mountain meadows. The trail does get faint through here but there are enough cairns to guide the way. About in the middle of this upper basin the trail intersects with what David Rose calls the Highline Trail. If I remember right, the sign also states this. We took a right (east) at this junction and headed towards Anderson Pass. The trail cuts across the upper basin and into a higher bowl with Anderson Pass straight ahead, Kings a little to the right and South Kings pretty much straight right. We took our lunch at the bottom of the scree field that rose about 900' to the pass and another 900' to the peak. Some great scenery on this west side of Kings.
After lunch we started up hoping to beat any weather to the peak. As soon as we reached the pass it started to rain on us with more ominous thunder in the distance. Luckily the rain was coming in sideways and we were able to get in behind some rocks just below the pass that gave us shelter from most of the rain. I would guess that we spent 1 - 2 hours on the pass waiting for weather to clear and debating going up to the peak with rain and lightning as hazards. We soon realized that by the time the weather cleared enough for us to go up that we could not hit the peak and get back to our base camp by dark. Nevermind that the rocks looked really slippery with all the rain.
On our way down at the trail junction mentioned above we turned around to look at the peak in the clearing weather there was a low rainbow. Check out the picture. We figured this rainbow made up for not making the peak.
Leaving and tips for this route
We took our time getting up to leave on Monday morning. We knew that we hiked up to our camp in about 7 1/2 to 8 hours so we guessed that it would take no more than 5 for us to get out. Well, because the trail is flat and rolly in places, and we were really tired, it took us 6 hours to get out. It was a long day. Plan on these long days on this trail.
When I do this trail again I plan on having two approach days. This will split up the long hike in and get my basecamp as close as possible to Anderson Pass at the end of the second day. This leaves more time to hit the peak and hike along the ridgeline towards more peaks.
During the three days we were on the trail we only saw 3 other parties for a total of about 10 people. Of course when we made it up to Anderson Pass there was many more people, but we pretty much had the trail and the west side of Kings Peak all to ourselves - on a holiday weekend. Well worth the long hike to avoid crowds mentioned in some of the other reviews.