Amethyst Lake
(High Uintas Wilderness Area)

excerpts from the book
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day

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Distance: 13.2 miles (round trip)

Walking time:
     day 1: 4 1/4 hours
     day 2: 4 hours

Elevations: 1,950 ft. gain/loss
 Christmas Meadows Trailhead: 8,790 ft.
  Amethyst Meadows: 10,360 ft.
  Amethyst Lake: 10,740 ft.

Trail: Reasonably good trail most of the way, but very rocky in places. Can also be muddy in spots, especially in the early summer before all of the snow has melted. A compass is useful for finding Ostler Lake.

Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow until July. 

Vicinity: The High Uintas Wilderness Area, near Kamas and Evanston, Wyoming

 

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     Easily accessible from Salt Lake City, the hike to Amethyst Lake and Basin is probably the most popular hike into the rugged, north-slope drainages of the High Uintas. The Uinta Mountains are bisected by a long, winding spine of Precambrian rock that runs for about a hundred miles in an east-west direction across northern Utah. The north and south facing slopes of this ridge are punctuated by a dozen or so glacier-carved valleys which end abruptly against the quartzite cliffs of the central spine. It is in the back of one of these glaciated valleys, the Stillwater Drainage, that Amethyst Basin and Amethyst Lake, are located. There are several other alpine lakes within the Stillwater Drainage, but Amethyst Lake is the largest.

Day 1
     For the first two miles the trail to Amethyst Lake meanders along the east side of Christmas Meadows, a pleasant, open grassland surrounding Stillwater Creek. This is a popular fishing area, and there are usually a few fly fishermen along the creek. The meadow is also favored by grazing animals, and it is not uncommon to see deer and moose grazing nearby. So many people visit Christmas Meadows now that in the last 20 years the moose have become almost tame.
     Shortly after leaving Christmas Meadows you will encounter a forest service sign informing you that you are entering the High Uintas Wilderness Area, and five minutes later the trail forks. A smaller sign has been nailed to a tree at the fork instructing hikers that they should take the left fork, leading away from Stillwater Creek, to reach Amethyst Lake.
     Soon after leaving Stillwater Creek the trail abruptly becomes much steeper, gaining 600 feet in the first half mile. The route is also very rocky here, and hikers carrying a backpack should take care not to twist an ankle. The monotony of the tiring climb is broken by several picturesque cascades along Ostler Creek only a few feet from the trail. After the first half mile the grade decreases, and the trail settles down to a more gradual but steady climb upward. Occasionally the path breaks briefly out of the trees to give hikers fine views of Ostler and LaMotte Peaks, which lie just above the lake. Then, 2.5 miles after leaving Stillwater Creek, the trail passes Amethyst Meadow, a picture-book wetland with a stunning view of Ostler Peak on its south side.
     Amethyst Meadow is an ideal place to make camp, and I suggest you pitch your tent here. Although the lake itself is only another mile up the trail, it is much harder to find good camp sites at Amethyst Lake. You are more apt to have a good night’s sleep at the meadow, which is 400 feet lower and better protected than the lake. In consideration of others, however, please pitch your tent at least a few hundred feet from the trail and away from the water.
     You will probably have a little time left for some afternoon exploring after you have selected a camp site and taken off your packs. I suggest you save Amethyst Lake for the morning and check out Ostler Lake. If you have your camera along you can get a magnificent picture of Ostler Peak from across Ostler Lake in the late afternoon sun.
     At the edge of Amethyst Meadow, just beyond the point where the trail crosses Ostler Creek, you will see a sign that says “Ostler Lake, 1/2 mile”. Unfortunately there is no reliable trail to Ostler Lake, but it isn’t too hard to find if you have a compass. From the sign, head straight into the woods along a compass bearing of about 240 degrees (slightly south of magnetic west). After walking about 0.4 mile and gaining about 240 feet of elevation you will cross a rocky ridge and be greeted by Ostler Lake. The lake is roughly circular in shape, about 700 feet in diameter. If you can arrange to be on the east shore of the lake about an hour before the sun goes down, and if the wind is calm, you will see an unforgettable reflected view of Ostler Peak in the shaded water.

Day 2
     After breaking camp, you will want to visit Amethyst Lake, the highlight of the trip. Leave your packs in the meadow-the lake is only 30 minutes away, and you can pick them up on the way back down. After the trail crosses Ostler Creek it continues south for about 0.2 mile along the west side of a smaller stream. Don’t cross the stream until you arrive at the unnamed lake from which the stream flows. This small but scenic lake (400 feet in diameter) is also a good place to camp if you prefer to spend the night next to a lake. Upon reaching the unnamed lake the trail crosses the stream and heads east into the basin. Amethyst Lake is about 0.8 mile further. The trail may be hard to follow in the early summer when snow covers parts of it, but don’t worry too much about staying on the trail. Just proceed into the basin, keeping the talus slopes of Mount Ostler on your right, and as the valley gets narrower you will soon run into the lake. Amethyst Lake lies in the extreme southern corner of Amethyst Basin, at an elevation of 10,740 feet. The lake is quite large-850 feet across and a half mile long-and is enclosed on three sides by the rocky slopes of the 12,000-feet-high Ostler-LaMotte ridge.

 

The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

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If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Amethyst Lake area, we recommend:
High Uintas Wilderness (Trails Illustrated, map #711)

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