Milk Lake Loop, Uintas, August 2009

Posted by on Aug 31, 2009

We spent 5 days and 4 nights on this trip and logged 32 unique miles of trail on the big loop, one of the nights was car camping near the trailhead. We started and ended at the Swift Creek Trailhead in the Yellowstone drainage. We made a big loop by heading up through Swift Creek, over Bluebell Pass, a night at Milk Lake and then the long hike along Yellowstone Creek to get back to the Swift Creek Trailhead.

The first day was tough. We car camped nearby which happened to be my then youngest dog, Patina’s first camping trip. She kept us up all night long obsessed with all of the noises around. Add to that that the fact that we would be putting down about 9 very rugged miles and gaining 3000 feet and it was a tough day.

Here is a very approximate map of our route. I didn’t save GPS tracks so this is just me drawing a line on Google Maps. Do not use this for navigation.

View Milk Lake Loop – BCP in a larger map

Driving into the Yellowstone drainage
Yellowstone drainage

Getting ready at the Swift Creek trailhead. This was my first trip out in my new Taco. Photo by Nate H.
First trip for my new Taco

The sometimes very tricky Swift Creek crossing, I think this was around 4 miles into the hike. It could be a real problem earlier in the year.
Crossing Swift Creek

Patina getting swept down Swift Creek. Photo by Nate H.
Patina getting washed away

Another crossing a mile or two further up the trail. This one isn’t as bad. Photo by Nate H.

Patina and I, high in the Swift Creek drainage. Photo by Nate H.

Swift Creek pano
Swift Creek Drainage, Uintas

Descending into our unnamed lake. There was no trail for the last mile or so and this slope was a little tricky on our tired feet.
Our lake for the night


In the morning we discovered that some of Patina’s paws had blown out a bit on the long hike in. She was not very happy and spent most of the morning sitting by the shore acting very sad and picked on. We almost pulled the plug and turned around here but we decided that I would carry her food and see how she hiked with just an empty backpack. I eventually ended up carrying her backpack too.
Not a happy dog

One of the many unnamed lakes we passed on our way to Bluebell Pass
High Uintas Wilderness

Bluebell Pass in the distance. The name sounds so nice and fluffy, not really how it is in real life.
Heading towards Bluebell Pass

We ran into a group of cowboys on horses as we were hiking up the pass. Hate to say it because I know there are some really respectful horse people out there but these ones fit the stereotype, not friendly whatsoever, acted like we were on their land or something. And to top it off they didn’t even share any of the beer they were drinking as they went past.
Horses on the pass

The view into Swift Creek from the Bluebell Pass trail


We tried to be nice!
And they didn't even give us a beer

We spent a few minutes on top of the pass but we were cut short by an approaching storm. We raced pretty fast to get down to lower elevation in the Yellowstone drainage.

Overcast, Rain, Sun

The rain would come and go so we kept hiking but eventually the trail dissipated and we were route finding. After an hour or so of hiding under ledges and bushwhacking we finally found the correct route and were on our way back uphill towards Milk Lake.
On the right path now

The meadow just below Milk Lake
Just below Milk Lake

The first sight of Milk Lake and yet another storm, elevation 10,988 feet.
First view of Milk Lake

The fishing was slow but what we got was huge. The view was enough to make up for it.

It rained on and off all afternoon.


Milk Lake

The one fish I caught. Fortunately is was huge, probably still the biggest brookie I’ve caught up there.


Why having a short haired dog isn’t necessarily a good thing. They get cold!
Why short haired dogs can be a bad thing

Nate and I doing a selfie on our way out of Milk Lake the next day
Leaving Milk Lake

One of these has to be South King’s Peak, not exactly sure which.
South King's Peak

From Milk Lake it was all downhill. We were thinking about slamming it out all that day but we had another thing coming. This is a junction with a lot going on at what felt like halfway down.

After a very long stretch with no water we took a much needed break at a spring. On the map it looks like the trail is right next to the river but in reality you’re up on a ledge 50-100 feet above the river for miles on end. Typically I would expect a lot of little creeks and such to intersect the trail but there was nothing. By this point it was hard work just to get my poor dog up and moving again after stopping.
Sooooo tired

We camped that night at a nice site above the river. In the morning we figured we would have about 3 miles left. After a couple of miles the trail finally made it down to the same level as the river. Sonny was desperate for a drink here and fell in while trying to scale down the big rock.
Accidental swim

One of the few views from the long trail along Yellowstone Creek. 99% of the time you are down in the trees. I don’t think I’ll take this route again.
Yellowstone Trail

The last 3 miles turned into 5+ and we were finally done. 32 miles total, not bad for my one big Uintas trip of the year.

View the full set of photos on Flickr.

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1 Comment

  1. avatar
    July 1, 2013

    If you’re ever down in that area again take a few nights in the Garfield Basin. There are a few lake up there like Superior Lake, Spider Lake, Gem Lake and some unnamed lakes where I have caught several brookies over 18 inches long! Great fishing, great scenery, and chances are you won’t see another soul.


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