South Kings Peak is the second highest point in Utah. It is one of Utah's 17-21 13'ers-depending on the list. It is located nearly in the center of the High Uintas Wilderness Area in the Ashley and Wasatch National Forests. Reaching the peak after ascending Kings Peak only requires the loss and gain of about 400’ while crossing a saddle separating the two and 0.8 miles one way. The peak can be approached from all directions, with the north approach being the most common (via Kings Peak). The north approach Henry’s Fork, east Painter Basin, south via the ridgeline from Mt. Emmons and west from the Garfield Basin area. The north, east and west possibilities will all join at Anderson Pass and approach via Kings.
Prior to satellite measurements taken in 1966, the USGS had marked South Kings Peak as the highest peak in Utah. Any hikers going to Utah's highest summit prior to 1966 would have scaled South Kings Peak instead of the now official Kings Peak!
The Uinta Mountains are one of the few mountain ranges in North America that run east to west rather than north to south. Within the Uinta Mountains are about 2000 lakes, and some 900-1000 are full of trout. Along with the San Juans in Colorado, the Uintas have more contiguous area above timberline than any other area in the Continental United States. This is a beautiful area with many lakes, meadows, wildflowers, and some rugged peaks. Solitude is usually easy to come by once you leave the popular fishing holes behind.
One thing that makes Utah's 13'ers different, then say the Colorado 14'ers, is that the distances from the nearest roads are usually much greater for the Utah 13'ers. South Kings is about 32 miles round trip from the nearest road.
Utah's 12,000+ Foot Peaks With 200+ Feet Prominence
Utah's 12,000+ Foot Peaks With 300+ Feet Prominence
South Kings Peak as seen from the intersection of the Highline and Yellowstone Basin.
Getting ThereHenry's Fork Trailhead
This is the most popular trailhead. For other routes, see the route pages. From exit 39 on I-80 head South towards Mountain View on route 414 for 6 miles. At the “Y” (@ the Bronze Elk) stay right on route 410 heading towards Robertson at about 6.8 miles on 410 the road makes a 90 degree right hand turn, at this point you will want to go straight (or left) leaving 410. The road turns and stays gravel for the duration of the drive to the trailhead. Continue straight on the gravel road after leaving 410 for 12.3± to another intersection at this point turn left, right would take you to China Meadows (7 miles). After taking the left continue for 7.7± miles to a hairpin turn, at this point continue straight (or right) off of the previous road. Follow this for 3 miles to the Henry’s Fork Trail head. The last 3 miles of the road are not maintained in the winter months, so your temporary trailhead will start 3 miles sooner.
Swift Creek Trailhead:
First drive to the town of Duchene, which is along US Highway 40. From Duchene, turn north onto State Highway 87. Follow State Highway 87 until it joins with State Highway 134 (this is where state Highway 87 heads due east instead of continuing north) between milepost 15 and 16. Follow State Highway 134 north to the little town of Mountain Home. Where State Highway 134 begins to head due east at Mountain Home, Continue north on the Moon Lake Road. After five miles, turn east on the Yellowstone River Road and to the Yellowstone River Power Plant. Continue along the Yellowstone River road to the trailhead at the end of the road, passing the Yellowstone River Dude Ranch and two campgrounds along the way.
Uinta River Trailhead:
Note: These directions were updated as of November 2009 by SP member ZeeJay:
From the intersection of Highway 121 and Highway 40 in the town of Roosevelt in the Uinta Basin, drive west on 200 North (Highway 121). Stay on Highway 121 as it quickly bends to the north. Most junctions are marked with signs, but they are very hard to read in the dark. At mile 9.9, just after the actual mile marker 10 at a stop sign, at the hamlet of Neola go straight towards Uintah Canyon. At mile 16.7 continue straight. At mile 18, turn right to Uintah Canyon. At mile 21.9 turn right. At mile 22.2 turn left just after the bridge. Park at the trailhead at mile 25.6.
West Fork Whiterocks River Trailhead
There are several driving routes to the trailhead, but this is the quickest. A good road map is needed. From Roosevelt, take State Highway 121 north. This is where the elbow in Highway 40 is, right downtown, so the turnoff is easy to locate. Stay on Highway 121 north, follow it as is makes a sharp turn at Neola and heads due east. The highway will reach a "T" and turn south. At the "T", turn left (north) to the town of Whiterocks. From Whiterocks, drive northwest along the paved road. Not long after passing the fish hatchery, will be another junction. Go straight (not left). The road heads north, then east, then north again. At the next intersection, go straight and to the Elkhorn Guard Station. Continue straight on the Elkhorn Loop Road, up Pole Mountain, and to Forest Road 110 before heading to Pole Creek Lake. Don't take the Elkhorn Loop to Pole Creek Lake, but turn right onto Forest Road 110. If you reach Pole Creek Lake, you overshot the turnoff. Follow Forest Road 110 north for about four miles to the signed (for West Fork Whiterocks Trailhead) turnoff to the left. Turn left to the trailhead. Most of the Elkhorn Loop as well as Forest Road 110 is gravel, but usually in good condition for cars, provided you drive slowly.
Similar to the above, but instead of turning left at the West Fork Whiterocks Trailhead, turn right and drive about eight miles to the trailhead below Chepeta Lake. Most of the Elkhorn Loop as well as Forest Road 110 is gravel, but usually in good condition for cars, provided you drive slowly.
Approaching Kings Peak (to the left) with South Kings Peak in the background to the right.
These are meant to be overviews only. For much more detail, see the route pages.
The most popular route is from the north and Henry's Fork
, Dollar Lake, over Gunsight Pass, Painter Basin, Anderson Pass, and over the summit of Kings Peak. This route is about 32 miles round trip and usually takes three days. It is a beautiful route, but also the most crowded.
The Swift Creek Route
is a southern route and offers a viable alternative that is less crowded and not that much longer than the standard route. It is recommend you take the highly scenic alternate route over Bluebell Pass, Milk Lake, and to Anderson Pass. This includes many miles of off-trail travel, but the going isn't that tough and the scenery is fantastic. The route is about 40 miles round trip and usually takes four days.
The Uinta River Route
is another southern route. It is highly scenic and has large lakes and meadows. It goes up the UInta River, over to Chain Lakes, Atwood Lake, Painter Basin, and to South Kings. It is a long route (almost 50 miles), highly scenic, and usually takes 4-5 days.
The West Fork Whiterocks River
route is another long route (51 miles round trip) and usually takes five days. The route goes over Fox Quent Pass, follows the Highline Trail to Painter Basin, to Anderson Pass, and south over Kings and finally to South Kings. It is a scenic route, with lots of huge flower meadows and several large lakes.
Another possible route is from the 70-mile long east-west Highline Trail
. You could begin this hike all the way from Hayden Pass on the west, but the shortest route is from the east and Chepeta Lake. This route joins with the West Fork Whiterocks Route (see above) at Fox Lake.
For the hard-core, here is one last possibility. This is a spectacular ridge run; the Kings-Emmons Ridge
. Using the same standards that are used for the Colorado 14’ers, this ridge route has no less than eight 13’ers. This is the highest continuous ridge in Utah, one of the highest in the United States, and certainly the highest in the United States outside Colorado. You will climb Kings Peak from the Uinta River or Swift Creek, follow the ridge over South Kings and then all the way to Mount Emmons, where you will descend either the Uinta River or Swift Creek routes back to your vehicle. The route takes 4-5 days to complete.
Looking east into Yellowstone Basin.
No permits are required.
There is camping at the trailhead (Henry's Fork Camp Ground) and plenty of good campsites all the way to just before Gunsight Pass. Painter Basin has some nice campsites as well.
When To Climb
The normal summer season is July through September. Mosquitos are very thick in July. The Henry's Fork trailhead is usually open from May until sometime in October or early November. Between those two dates, the road is closed 3 to 3.5 miles from the trailhead.
In winter, South Kings is usually is 5-day climb via Henrys Fork. Climbing the Uintas are rather unique in winter because the most difficult part of the trip is actually covering the realitively flat ground to get to the mountain's base. This is because of typically very powdery snow below treeline. Usually, once you reach the steeper parts of the mountains; the parts above timberline, the going actually gets easier because the snow is blown rock-hard. Here
is a mid-winter trip report of an experience in the Henrys Fork Basin, and it will give you an idea of what type of conditions to expect.
Henrys Fork and the Swift Creek Trailheads, are the only practical winter accesses to South Kings in winter. If you were to attempt the Uinta River Route, West Fork Whiterocks, or Highline Trail in winter, for example, the round trip distance would be over 80 miles!
View of South Kings Peak and Kings Peak from the summit ridge of "Painter Peak" in July.
Information regarding the conditions for climbing South Kings Peak can be obtained from Wasatch-Cache National Forest, 8236 Federal Bldg., 125 S. State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84128, (801)524-3900. Click Here
for additional information.
Weather Forecast for Central Uinta Mountains
Here are some average highs and lows from the 13,123 foot elevation (4000 meters) in the Uintas (about the same altitude as the summit):