Best Time of Year for Backpacking the Uintas in Utah

billygoat

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When is the best time of year to go backpacking in the Uintas? Every time I read the forecast it seems like a 40-60% chance of rain and lightning. Is there a better time of year to go if I don't want to get rained on? Should I keep watching the forecast waiting for it to clear up, or is that as good as I'm going to get?

I'm looking at going from the Highline trailhead over Rocky Sea Pass to the lakes on the other side, but am hoping to fish and bring my dog. If anyone has any suggestions I'm all ears. When it rains there in the summer, is it usually a persistent heavy rain or more like scattered showers?
 

Jackson

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#2
The summer stuff is usually scattered showers, but they can be persistent sometimes. An example: last year, I had 5 good storms (downpours with big lightning and thunder) roll through in 4-5 hours. It's very difficult to know how things will really be until you're in the thick of it.

My opinion is that the best time to go is September and October. Hardly anyone else is there, the mosquitoes are gone, the trails are snow free and not soggy, and the chance of getting precipitated on goes down. The downside is that the nights are a bit longer and a bit colder.

Oh, and another plus for going in fall. If you are in the right place at the right time, you can hear the elk bugling.
 

Nick

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#3
The storms are usually monsoon-driven so they're reliable in the afternoons, and reliably turn off in time for dinner. Bigger systems are usually easy to see in the forecast. Right after Labor Day is probably the perfect time for the fewest bugs, people and storms and still warm.
 

Perry

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#5
We all wish we could pin down the weather in high mountain areas like the Uintas but unfortunately, they are high mountains areas which present their own version of weather a lot of the time. I am reminded of what Bruce Tremper wrote about forecasting mountain weather in "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain"...

"For the past 25 years, part of my job has been forecasting mountain weather. I can personally attest that forecasting weather is a difficult proposition and forecasting mountain weather is doubly so. Even when I have all the latest computer models and satellite and radar images in front of me, I'm generally right about four out of five times and specifically right only about half the time. When I don't have all the technology in front of me - when I'm out in the mountains without even my trusty National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association (NOAA) weather radio - and I'm in an unfamiliar area, I feel like I'm doing pretty well if I'm right half the time - only about the same as flipping a coin. In other words, without technology, I suck. The moral of the story is: Use technology."

I try to make the best guess I can about the weather in the Uintas but in the end the mountains may have other plans so just be prepared and enjoy the splendor of these beautiful mountains rain or shine. Unless there is a major weather system in the forecast I wouldn't worry about it too much. Actually, for me, the bug situation in July would be a bigger deterrent for me than the monsoonal weather.
 

WasatchWill

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#6
I echo all of this! For example, last year on the Highline in mid-August, we had one day of clear skies in the afternoon (our first day), followed by waking up to mostly overcast skies that turned into light but persistent drizzle for a good while, with one good appearance of the sun in mid-morning before it all cleared out early that evening. The next two days were the typical Uinta summer weather of clear skies in the morning and evenings with lots of ominous looking storms flaring up and looming around in the afternoons, one of them that hit us with a bit of hail. Our last day out looked as if it was going to stay clear for the day. The week before that, I had my family up there and we had nice weather for the afternoon, but as evening came, the skies quickly filled out with nice storm that shut us in until much later in the evening. Skies cleared out through the night giving way to another beautiful morning.

July-August can be among the most beautiful times to be up there because of all the greenery and wildflowers, but you'll be lucky to have 1-2 days in a week where storms don't flare up at some point in the day (typically in the afternoons) and there may be one day in a week where storms fire up much earlier and hang out for most of the day, while another day, it can be great all day before a big storm rolls in to conclude the day. That's just the way the monsoon pattern goes. Same goes for any high alpine mountain wilderness environment out here in the mountain west. June-July is also when mosquitos are usually at their worst and many measures must be taken to keep them at bay before they taper off in August.

As others said above, September and early October can be beautiful in their own way. The green meadows will have gone brown and lost their flowers and color, but that is made up by the reds and yellows of some of the trees and shrubbery. Trails are much drier, fish are hungry, crowds are thinned out, and of course skies stay clearer (though an occasional system can still erupt and even produce snow on higher ridges).

In short, if you want to experience them now, don't let daily storms stop you. Bring some rain gear, have a good shelter ready to set up, and do your hiking as weather allows. The average day will give you beautiful, clear mornings followed by some afternoon thundershowers, before giving way to a clear, calm night, but as I just showed, some days can vary from that typical pattern. You'll almost always have some time of the day where skies are mostly clear with some beautiful scenery to enjoy and hike through though. If you find yourself above tree-line when you see storms start brewing, it's time to get back down below tree-line ASAP. To minimize lightning risk, you don't want to get caught up on a peak, ridge, or pass when the storms build up.
 
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Nick

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#7
Do you feel like August gets about the same amount of rain as July?
The monsoon pattern is usually just as active in August as it is July. But I second what others have said. Don't let that stop you, it's part of the fun.
 
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Jackson

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#9
This is a very good guide to reading clouds and predicting storms in the mountains. It gives a really good, detailed explanation of how storms form and why it's more likely in the mountains.
I came across it last week, and the information is very useful. Excited to put it to the test soon.
 
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#10
My favorite is July, I am a sucker for the green meadows and wildflowers, and those are at their best mid July. Rain doesn't bother me too much, it's just water, and it usually clears out before bedtime so you can get dry before nightfall. Mozzies on the other hand can be reason enough to avoid going in July as they are pretty brutal at that time of year. By mid August they are much more manageable.
 
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#11
I hiked 8 days in the Uintas in late August in 2015. I had excellent weather for most of the trip. It sprinkled a few times but the rain always seemed to be somewhere other than where I was, or so light that it wasn't even a bother. Rain doesn't bother me when it's an occasional afternoon storm, but it really sucks when a system rolls in that hangs out for more than a day with overcast, rainy skies. That did not happen in the 8 days I spent there.
 

billygoat

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Are the mosquitoes bad during the day this time of year or just in the evening?
 
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#14
Are the mosquitoes bad during the day this time of year or just in the evening?
Last weekend in Amethyst Basin the mozzies were pretty bad starting at around 3PM, and only abated for a short while during a hail/rain storm. Yeah, I know that doesn't help allay your worries about either storms or mosquitoes, but I had a wonderful weekend in the Uintas despite both.
 

Jackson

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#16
Probably not good during the day either. You're thinking too much though, just go enjoy and be prepared.
This. No matter the weather or bugs, you'll have a great time!
 

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