Commonly thought of as one of the crown jewels of the Uintas, Naturalist Basin is a fantastic overnight backpacking destination. Following the route we've described, you will see nine different lakes, one waterfall, and plenty of expansive views. It doesn't come without a price though. Because of its popularity, this trip is more suited to someone looking for great views rather than to one seeking solitude. Still, once you actually get to the basin (past Jordan Lake), you can feel pretty isolated while you soak in all of those epic views.
Start at the Hayden Pass trailhead located about 3 driving miles from Mirror Lake off of Mirror Lake Highway (Highway 150). The route is an out-and-back so this trailhead will serve as the start and end to your trip.
The first 6.4 miles of this route are below tree line and can get pretty crowded near the beginning so be patient. Starting at the Hayden pass trailhead, you will descend gradually for 1.2 miles. 1.7 miles into the trail you will come upon the Scudder Lake Trail junction. The main trail (Highline Trail) goes right past the lake (and is visible from it), but take the side trail if you want a closer look of the lake. From this junction on will be gradually uphill until you get to the basin shelf.
At 5 miles, you will reach another junction that forms a loop. Heading west will take you toward Morat Lakes, while heading east will lead you to Jordan Lake. I believe the better option is to head toward Jordan Lake for a few reasons:
Once you get to the eastern edge of Jordan Lake, you will start the 240 ft ascent to the shelf of Naturalist Basin. This is the toughest part of the hike but is definitely doable for fit hikers.
At the top of the shelf, the trail will grow more and more faint until it eventually disappears altogether. However, because you are above tree line now, navigation shouldn't be too much of an issue. In addition, because this part is all off-trail, you will encounter noticeably fewer people. Even though it adds some distance, I strongly recommend heading northeast toward Shaler Lake. This tucked away lake feels very isolated and offers fantastic camping spots with views of the valley below to the south and Spread Eagle Peak to the north.
A short walk northwest from here will connect you to the long Faxon Lake. West of this lake are LeConte Lake (also great camping) and, finally, Blue Lake. Blue Lake is dwarfed by the 12,428 ft Mount Agassiz Peak. Ironically, Blue Lake is actually not the most blue lake on this hike. As you head south from Blue Lake, you will be brought to a gorgeous view of the bluer Morat Lakes. You will also see a cascading waterfall here that adds to the dramatic views.
Descend the rocky and steep trail down to the Morat Lakes. Following the trail further will take you to the loop junction again. Return 5.1 miles the way you came.
Despite the crowds at the beginning of the trail, Naturalist Basin shelf feels surprisingly isolated. I really enjoyed spending time on the shelf and exploring all the different lakes up there. If you are looking for a quick and scenic overnighter, backpacking Naturalist Basin offers a great adventure.
Ah yeah, no permit is needed on this trip!
Be sure to bring:
With snow commonly lingering into end of June, shoot for July - September for the best weather in the Uintas.
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