Big Elk Lake

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Jul 8, 2015
I took my family out for an overnighter this weekend to Big Elk Lake. I was traveling with kids so needed to keep the hiking distance short, but I wanted to give them a good feel for backpacking and camping in the high Uintas. I was also hoping for a location with some decent fishing as well. Based on guide books I had been reading, Big Elk Lake seemed like a good trip to meet these criteria.

We headed out Saturday afternoon and were at the Norway Flats road (FS035) by 1:30. Norway Flats road starts out simple enough , but after about 4-5 miles it steadily becomes more and more rough. Keep following the signs for Forest Road 035 as there are several spur trails that branch off as the road makes its way to Little Elk Lake. A high clearance vehicle is definitely recommended. I hit the skip plates on my Jeep Liberty quite a few times going in and out. Recent thunderstorms created some large puddles on the road that were up to the bottom of my doors in places. After crawling this rocky jeep trail for 2 hours we finally reached the trailhead. A large thunderstorm hit just as we arrived to the trailhead so we waited it out in the Jeep before setting out on the trail.

The wild flowers were in full bloom and the meadows were lush and wet as we made our way to our final destination.

After a short trip North through the pines, the trail comes across a large meadow with Boulder Creek meandering through the center and several springs feeding into it. The meadow was very wet from the recent rains, luckily the trail skirts to the West to avoid a very messy slog through the center.

Avoiding the puddles as we pass by the meadow.

As we passed by the meadow the sun broke out and provided us with a nice double rainbow!

After passing the meadow the trail crosses over Boulder Creek and continues North to Big Elk Lake. The final section is a steep climb of 200-300 feet until you reach the dam and the lake. Big Elk lake is set in a stunning alpine basin just barely larger than the lake itself at an elevation of 10,020 feet.

We arrived to the lake a little before 8pm and I rushed to get my fishing gear set up and test the action on the lake. There was one other group camped on the East side. We chose an established camp on the dam to the South. The fish were rising in the evening light and we soon had landed 2 to supplement our dinner, a nice fat (for the Uintas) tiger trout and a pan sized brook trout. I had good luck using a fly and bubble set up with #16 black gnats or #16 parachute Adams. The other group reported that they were getting fast action on brass colored spinners.

The next morning I woke early to test my luck on the waters again. The weather was more cooperative this day with full sun and sparse clouds, a nice break from the heavy rains the prior evening.

Looking down the 'water fall' from the dam.

Looking West across the dam.

Looking North toward the pass that leads to North and South Erickson lakes.

The morning sun touching one of the peaks.

The lake is flanked by impressive cliffs on the western side.

Fishing in the morning was fast paced using the same fly and bubble set up from the previous night. I caught and released several small but feisty brookies and you could see fish rising around the entire lake. After a few hours the fishing had slowed and I returned to camp.

Wild raspberry canes were thick in the area around the dam. Unfortunately they were not yet fruiting. I suspect you could pick quite a few handfuls of berries in another week or two.

After a few leisurely hours enjoying the sunshine at the lake it was time to pack up and head back to the trailhead. The sky was deep blue with just a few fluffy clouds, a nice contrast to the cloudy skies the night before.

Photos of the wildflower patches just cannot do them justice.

Overall this was a nice trip for a compressed itinerary. The scenery was spectacular for such a short hike. The lake does see some moderate to heavy pressure for day use on the weekends, but if there is a crowd they clear out in the evening. A mid-week visit could result in having the lake all to yourself. If fishing is your thing you'll have good luck, primarily during the morning and evening. Another caution, Norway Flat jeep road is very rough (especially after rain), allow plenty of time for the drive as you will be in low gears most of the way. You may want to consider parking and hiking in 1-2 miles before the trail head if you do not have a high clearance 4x4 or ATV.

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I like to go outside.
May 31, 2015
I hope that when I have kids they'll be willing to go backpacking with my wife and me. Looks like fun! And those wildflower pictures are great too. Just seeing Indian paintbrush makes any hike worth it for me!


Sep 21, 2013
Great report! I enjoyed your pictures. I went up there for the first time a few weeks ago. Beautiful area.


Keep going.
Jan 17, 2012
Sorry to necropost on this older thread, but I just got home from a trip to Big Elk Lake and was searching for info about the area, and this thread was among the top results. Nice trip report! And jeez that road was rough! Driving into the Doll House in the Maze is much more enjoyable. However, the lake itself was a very worthwhile destination, and the raspberries near the dam are perfectly in season right now. I only saw four small groups of hikers (two bow hunters, two separate families, and two fisherman dudes) on the trail between FR35 and the lake. It was a nice getaway with some solitude on what is otherwise a busy holiday weekend in the Uintas.

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