The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Red Castle Lakes in Utah

Red Castle is located in the the High Uintas Wilderness, and it’s one of my favorite places to go backpacking in Utah! Hiking to Red Castle Lakes is such a beautiful and unique adventure. If you’re planning your own trip to Red Castle, this post has everything you need to know.

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Lower Red Castle Lake in Utah

In this post we’ll cover:

  • the best time to backpack to Red Castle Lakes
  • quick facts about the trail
  • trailhead information
  • is a permit needed?
  • additional helpful information
  • example trip itinerary

Backpacking to Red Castle in Utah

The average temperatures at Red Castle Lakes in Utah

Best Time to Backpack Red Castle

This hike is best done between July and September.

The peak elevation is over 10,000 ft and so the temperature can get very cold at night – even in the middle of Summer.

See the average temperature graph above.

The first time I did this backpacking trip, I went in August. The second time I did it, I went in September. Both times, it was very cold at night.

In addition, the Uintas receive a lot of snow in the winter months making this trail muddy, snowy, and cold in Spring and through early Summer.

While June might look like a good time to go based on temperature, there will likely be a lot of snow in June, making it a more difficult hike. I suggest waiting until later in the Summer if possible.


Quick Trail Facts

Mileage:

  • From the China Meadows Trailhead to Lower Red Castle Lake – about 10 miles one-way.
  • From the China Meadows Trailhead to Upper Red Castle Lake – about 13 miles one-way.

Elevation Gain:

  • about 1,400 feet

Days Needed:

  • I think this hike is best done as a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip so you have time to explore and enjoy the area!

What To Expect on the Trail:

  • This trail, and the camping around Lower Red Castle Lake, is very popular – especially on the weekends. The additional camping around Upper Red Castle Lake will offer a little more solitude if that’s what you’re looking for.
  • Wildlife sightings – I saw a large moose in the lake last time I was there!
  • There are tons of meadows, wildflowers, lakes, streams, and photo opportunities along the hike and at Red Castle.
  • Expect mosquitos early in the season. Hiking later in the Summer/Early Fall is almost bug-free.
  • This trail is rated as moderate. Please keep in mind that you must take your personal experience, physical fitness, and backpack weight into consideration. In addition, this trail is at considerable elevation (it peaks at over 10,000 ft), so if you’re coming from sea level, that will be an additional challenge to consider.
  • In my opinion, the trail is pretty easy to navigate, but still make sure you at least have a map and a compass, or a GPS device. The Gaia GPS app is a great navigational app for your phone. Nick and I both have it. In the app, you can download maps for offline use, record your hiking track, and so much more. You can use my link here for the Gaia GPS app (affiliate link) and it will give you a 20% discount on a membership!
Red Castle hike in Utah

Trailhead Information

Trailhead Options:

There are two trailheads options to get to Red Castle Lakes:

  • China Meadows Trailhead (most popular and easiest)
  • East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead (longer and more challenging)

I’ve hiked them both, and while starting at the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead is a beautiful hike, it’s a lot more physically challenging, requires navigation on several different trails, and is very exposed – leaving you in a potentially dangerous situation if afternoon thunderstorms roll in – which they almost always do in the Unitas.

So all that being said, I think the China Meadows Trailhead is the best place to start this hike!

Getting to the China Meadows Trailhead:

Take Wyoming State Highway 410 South out of Mountain View for about 8 miles. Continue straight on to Uinta County Road 283 (unpaved gravel) and continue to Forest Service Road 072. Warning, it’s easy to drive right past Uinta Country Road 283, so just pay close attention here so you don’t miss it!

Follow the signs past the Stateline Campground and past the China Meadows Campground to the China Meadows trailhead.

From Salt Lake City, the drive to the trailhead is about 2 hours and 30 minutes.

To get an early start on your hike, I recommend arriving the night before and camping at one of the nearby campgrounds.

NOTE: There’s no cell service in this area.


Is a Permit Needed?

No permits are required for backpacking to Red Castle Lakes in the Uintas.

However, overnight parking at the trailhead is $3.00 per vehicle per day. You can pay for this at the trailhead. Bring cash.


Additional Information

  • Dogs are allowed. (yay!)
  • Be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms. Seriously. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Unitas over the years, and in the Summer months, there’s almost always a thunderstorm in the afternoon! They come in fast and strong, so make sure you have extra layers and rain gear to stay warm and dry.
  • You can fish in both Lower and Upper Red Castle Lakes! Just make sure you have a Utah fishing license before your trip.
  • On my last trip, it snowed on us during the hike, we saw a heard of sheep and two moose! Check out the vlog below for a peak into my Red Castle Backpacking trip:

Possible Trip Itinerary

As I mentioned above, I think this backpacking trip is best done as a 3-day, 2-night trip. Below is a possible itinerary:

Day 1

Start at the China Meadows Trailhead in the morning, and hike in the 10 miles to Lower Red Castle Lake. Set up camp for the afternoon and relax by the lake. Fish if you brought fishing gear and enjoy the red glow from the castle at sunset.

Day 2

Day hike the 3 miles (one-way) to Red Castle Lake. Spend the day wandering around the lake, fishing, taking photos, and relaxing. Hike back to camp at Lower Red Castle Lake when you’re done exploring.

Day 3

Wake up at camp, enjoy the morning, and then hike the 10-miles back to the car.


Red Castle is definitely a bucket-list Utah backpacking trip!

I hope this guide was helpful and that you have an awesome trip! If you have any questions, just ask me in the comments below.

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5 Comments

  1. Are you sure you mean “Upper Red Castle”? There are three lakes up there: Lower Red Castle, Red Castle, and Upper Red Castle. Did you go to all three? Just trying to get some clarification here because you only mention two and you have to go right past Red Castle Lake to get to Upper Red Castle Lake. Thanks for some great info!

    1. You are correct. When I wrote “Upper Red Castle Lake” I did mean Red Castle Lake (which is further up than Lower Red Castle). I’ve updated the post with this correction. I have not been to Upper Red Castle Lake. As far as I know, there’s not a trail that goes to it. Hope this helps!