Hiking Kings Peak in Utah: The Ultimate Guide

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Kings Peak is Utah’s tallest peak at 13,528 feet. Naturally, you might want to hike it! In this post, you’ll find all the trail information and tips for hiking Kings Peak. Kings Peak is a long challenging hike, but the views are totally worth it. Let’s dive in!

Amanda on the trail hiking Kings Peak

One of the reasons Kings Peak is so popular is that it’s the highest point in the state of Utah! After living in Utah for over 10 years, and hiking countless other mountains in the state, I finally tackled Kings Peak… and it did not disappoint.

Kings Peak is located in the Unita Mountains. One of the unique features of these mountains is that they span east to west. This can create some intense weather to watch out for (more on this below).

But first, let’s dive into some of the quick facts about the hike.

view of the Uinta Mountains from Kings Peak
View from the top of Kings Peak

Kings Peak Hike Quick Facts

  • Trailhead: Henry’s Fork Trailhead (While there are a few ways that you can access Kings Peak, Henry’s Fork Trailhead is the most common and direct route.)
  • Distance: about 28 miles roundtrip (There’s an option for a shortcut that cuts out about 3 miles. I will discuss the options in more detail below.)
  • Elevation Gain: about 5,496 feet (less if taking the shortcut)
  • Difficulty: Very Strenuous
  • Road Access: 2wd (When I was out there last, the road to the trailhead was in great condition. It’s a dirt road with some larger potholes on the last mile or two, but they’re easy to avoid. That being said, the road may become slippery and impassable in wet conditions.)
  • Water Availability: Year-round at Dollar Lake, other streams are available along the way depending on the time of year
  • Permit Needed: No advanced permits are needed, but there’s a sign-in at the trailhead
  • Best Time of Year to Hike: mid-July through early September, depending on snow and weather
  • Days Needed: I did this hike as a 2-night backpacking trip

Now that you have an overview of the hike, we’ll go into more specifics and some of the things I learned along the way.

a beautiful basin in the Uinta Mountains in Utah

Preparing for the Hike

This is a strenuous hike. It’s so important to be mentally and physically prepared to tackle such a long and steep hike.

Not only is there a lot of elevation gain, but you’re also hiking at high elevation which makes everything feel a lot harder! Altitude sickness is also possible at these elevations.

If you live in the Salt Lake Valley, I would hike Mount Timpanogos as part of your training and see how you feel. Kings Peak is harder and higher, but I think Mount Timpanogos is good training for Kings Peak.

RELATED >> How to Train for a Hike

Nick hiking Kings Peak in August

Best Time of Year to Hike Kings Peak

There’s a pretty narrow window in the year to hike Kings Peak if you want decent temperatures and trail conditions. I hiked it in early August and it was perfect.

I think between mid-July and early September is the most optimal time. Of course, this is dependent on the weather and yearly snowfall. 

In August when I hiked it, the trail was not super muddy and we didn’t have to hike through any snow. I like to read trail conditions in the comments on AllTrails to see what others are saying about the current conditions.

Earlier in the summer you’ll likely encounter snow and muddy trail conditions. Later in the Summer and into the Fall, temperatures drop and there can be new snowfall and freezing conditions.

And this brings us to the weather…

view from Utah's highest point

Weather Considerations for Hiking Kings Peak

When it comes to the weather in the Uinta Mountains, expect thunderstorms every day.

Due to the east-west layout of these mountains, the thunderstorms roll in FAST and they can be intense. Make sure you’re prepared with appropriate rain gear.

In addition, check the overall weather in the area before your trip and change plans if needed. Snow, freezing conditions, and lightning are not what you want to experience on the top of a mountain.

In general, conditions are best in the morning. For the best chance of reaching the summit before a thunderstorm forces you to turn around, get an early start! Reaching the summit will likely take you longer than you’re expecting. 

Dollar Lake in the Unitas
Dollar Lake

Hiking Kings Peak Trail Details

Trailhead to Dollar Lake

Most people start hiking the first day from Henry’s Fork Trailhead and camp around Dollar Lake. Dollar Lake is about 7.4 miles in and about 1,500 feet of elevation gain.

It’s a pretty easy day of hiking with amazing views. You even get to see Kings Peak from the Basin.

There’s no sign for Dollar Lake and you can’t see it from the trail, so make sure you have a good map and GPS.

At Dollar Lake, there are plenty of campsites. Some people choose to camp a little further past Dollar Lake to shave off mileage on the following day, so that’s up to you.

There seemed to be a decent amount of small streams and water sources scattered in the basin in August when I went.

on the trail hiking towards Gunsight Pass
View looking towards Gunsight Pass

Dollar Lake to Gunsight Pass

This is when things get intense. My biggest piece of advice – start early!! We were on the trail hiking before 6:30 a.m. and I wish we started sooner.

If you camped at Dollar Lake, the hike starts off easy up to Gunsight Pass. From Dollar Lake, Gunsight Pass is about 2.8 miles with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, so it’s a really nice gradual section of the trail.

At Gunsight Pass you have a decision to make – take the longer route, or attempt a shortcut via the Dome Peak Cutoff Trail.

The shortcut is hard to see from Gunsight Pass. It goes up a steep rocky section of trail, but it does cut out about 3 miles and some elevation.

The longer route goes down into Painter Basin and then curves back up towards Anderson Pass. You end up adding a little more ascent and mileage to your day.

view of Painter Basin from Gunsight Pass in the Unitas
Painter Basin view from Gunsight Pass
At Gunsight Pass hiking towards Kings Peak
A look at the shortcut from Gunsight Pass

Should you take the shortcut?

It depends. I took the longer route into Painter Basin. At first, I regretted it, but I didn’t love the look of the shortcut and figured the longer route was the safer option. The longer route is a really beautiful hike and the trail was easy to follow.

We were planning to take the shortcut on the way back, but by that time, it was pouring rain and we did not want to navigate a steep downhill over loose wet rocks, so we took the long way back as well.

I spoke to a few other hikers and got mixed reviews about the shortcut. If you’re comfortable navigating steep rocky terrain, then the shortcut might be fine for you.

For others, it seemed like it took them a lot longer to go the shortcut because the terrain was more difficult for them to hike. If it’s raining or wet, I would probably just take the longer route to be safe.

Whichever way you take, you’ll end up at Anderson Pass.

Anderson Pass view of the Uinta Mountains
View from Anderson Pass

Anderson Pass to the Summit

Anderson Pass is a nice place to stop and take a break before the final climb to the top. I had a good snack here, drank some water, and mentally prepared for the last push.

From Anderson Pass, you have about 0.7 miles left to the top and about 800 feet to climb. This was the toughest section of the trail for me.

The high elevation makes it difficult to breathe and this section of trail is on steep rocks and boulders. I put my trekking poles away and used my hands.

I don’t love super-exposed scary hikes, and I felt fine on this trail, but you really have to pay attention to where you’re stepping and watch out for the rocks that wiggle.

At the summit, you get absolutely incredible views in all directions. It really is worth the climb!

Amanda and Nick on the top of Kings Peak

Very shortly after we got to the top, Nick saw lightning in the distance. We immediately packed up and started heading down. You do not want to be on that ridge trying to hike down steep rocky terrain in a thunderstorm!

Luckily, we got down from that section of the trail before the rain hit us. Then we hiked in the rain for about 2 hours and made it back to camp at Dollar Lake.

You can watch our entire adventure in my YouTube video below:

3 DAYS Backpacking UTAH’S TALLEST PEAK *yikes*

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is possible along the trail to Kings Peak. Most cases of altitude sickness are seen at elevations above 8,000 feet, but it has been observed at lower elevations.

Everyone is susceptible to altitude sickness, but it varies from person to person and to unpredictable degrees. Acclimatization does not preclude altitude sickness and it’s not related to a person’s fitness level. 

Hydration, rest, nutrition, and ascending gradually are all really important in helping to prevent high-altitude illnesses. 

Some signs and symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) are headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, and disturbed sleep. AMS can progress to the more severe HACE and HAPE, which are life-threatening. 

Always pay attention to your symptoms and take extra caution when hiking at high elevations. If experiencing symptoms, descend in elevation! 

view from Kings Peak in Utah

Backpacking Gear Highlights

I won’t go into every piece of backpacking gear that I packed, but I do want to highlight a few things that I was really glad I had: 

Trekking Poles

I love hiking with trekking poles! Trekking poles help on the uphill and the downhill. They help you stabilize on varying terrain and really take the impact off the knees on downhills.

I found my trekking poles useful all the way up to Anderson Pass, at which point I stored them for the final climb to the top.

Electrolytes

Staying hydrated is crucial while hiking and electrolytes are key in doing that. I love the packets by LMNT. They’re so salty and delicious! I like to start my day sipping on salty water and then I have another during or after my hike as needed.

Backpackers Umbrella

Umbrellas are becoming more and more common on the trails. After my trip to the rainforest in Ecuador, I realized that an umbrella would solve all of my hiking in the rain problems.

Nick did a little research and discovered these ultralight umbrellas for hikers. They’re awesome! It makes hiking in the rain so much more enjoyable.

Extra Meals

I’m so glad I packed extra meals and snacks because I ended up eating a lot! Right now I love Peak Refuel meals. They’re so delicious and they have a lot of protein.

We packed extra and ended up eating one for lunch after getting back to camp from the peak. Is there anything better than a big meal after a tough hike?

view of South Kings Peak from the top of Kings Peak
View of South King’s Peak

Common Questions for Hiking Kings Peak

Do you need a permit to hike Kings Peak?

You do not need an advanced permit to hike Kings Peak, but there is a sign-in kiosk at the trailhead.

Can you hike Kings Peak in one day?

People do hike Kings Peak in a day, but that’s intense and I don’t recommend rushing it. It’s so beautiful along the entire route and it’s nice to be able to spend a couple of days enjoying it all and maybe even spotting a moose or two!

How far is the Kings Peak Trailhead from Salt Lake City?

From Salt Lake City to the Henry’s Fork Trailhead is just under a 3-hour drive.

Amanda backpacking Kings Peak

Overall, this is one of my favorite backpacking trips in Utah!

The views are incredible and the fact that you have to work so hard to get to the summit makes it even sweeter when you get there.

I was so grateful that we were able to get up and down the steep ridge before any thunderstorms rolled in.

That being said, I knew that no matter how prepared I was, I might not make it to the summit due to weather or altitude sickness. I tried to make sure I was okay with that before I started hiking.

It can be so hard given all the effort and time that goes into these trips, but it’s important to make good decisions about when to turn around and not get so caught up in reaching the top that you put yourself in danger.

There’s so much beauty down in the basin, so even if you don’t make it to the top, just being out in that remote landscape is incredible.

I hope this helps you as you’re preparing to hike the highest point in Utah!

If you have any questions or would like to share your experience with others, please comment below!

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