Garfield Basin or "Don't ever let me hike here again"


Jun 16, 2012
Well, on August 18, 2012, my wife and I took another couple to backpack to Spider Lake in Garfield Basin up in the Uintas. We had backpacked to Long Park and Swasey Lake before, but I wanted to make it further to Spider Lake. The friends, I should mention, were younger, but had never been backpacking before.

So I broke my first rule of introducing people to backpacking: I went somewhere I had never been before. Then I broke my second rule: I took them on a trail I knew to be pretty hard and long.


Well, the hike to Garfield is surprisingly tough. There are a lot of, what we call back in east Tennessee, PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs). There are just as many ascents coming out as there are going in. The trail is also crazy rocky, even by Uinta standards, making for slow hiking.

Luckily, the weather was nice, but it took us about 7 hours to go the nearly 10 miles to Spider Lake. We didn't see many people at all, so at least that part was nice.

But the whole trail and Spider were just trashed out. There was so much trash along the trail that eventually I ran out of places to put it in my pack and had to stop picking it up. At first I thought it was another careless scout troop, but at Spider I found a large broken glass bottle of Jack Daniels...I figured that probably wasn't a scout troop. So then I started thinking it was probably careless horse riders...there was a lot of evidence of recent horses on the trail.

I have never seen this much trash in a western wilderness...I was terribly disgusted by it.

Spider was very pretty otherwise, and we had the lake totally to ourselves. We heard a pack of coyotes at night, so that was cool.

On the way out the next day, I saw a helicopter hovering over some cliff bands, and it flew around for awhile. As we descended the mountain, they saw us and hovered right over us for a couple of minutes until we waved and they waved back. When we got back to the trailhead, there was a SAR in progress. We gave them our info and then headed home. We learned later that they found the missing woman down near Moon Lake.

The hike was long and hard, with all the ascents and rocks. I think my hiking companions wanted to kill me, but they all muscled through it. I don't know if I'll ever convince the new people to hike again, but we'll see. But don't ever let me hike that trail again. The reward just wasn't worth the effort, and the trash totally killed it. I want to think that all the trash was a result of one irresponsible party, but, if so, they really worked to trash the place.

Anyway, here are some of the pictures:




Rocky trail even by Uinta standards






The UHP helicopter just after checking us out.



10 miles up the trail...


Featured image for home page:


Aug 9, 2007
Sounds like a rough trip. I've gotta admit, I've never been all that impressed by most of the south slope of the Uintas. All the trails to get in are so much longer, scenery isn't usually as good and the frackin' horse packers. Not all of them of course, but enough that do it the wrong way to make them all look bad. Side note: perhaps it's because I just got done watching the latest episode of Survivorman, but that Jack Daniels bottle would make an awesome pot for boiling water in a pinch! :lol:


Jun 16, 2012
Good idea!

You're probably right...maybe I'll start sticking to the north slope trails.


I walk
Jun 25, 2012
Thanks for the TR and heads up.

On the helicopter checking you out... This comes up more than you expect. We should all know how to wave them off that you are ok or ask them to land. See page 61 of this reference from the fire fighter guys for the land here and wave off signals.

pdf of signals


Jun 16, 2012
It's funny you say that. When we first saw the helicopter about a 1/4 of a mile away, I told the others in my group not to wave at it so we didn't risk making them think we needed rescuing. And then when the chopper saw us and hovered just above us, there was an awkward moment when we all just sat there and looked at each other. After a few seconds, we decided to give a casual wave to the chopper. The guy on lookout then waved back and the chopper moved on.

I knew I had seen hand signals before, but I didn't remember what they were, so I came home and looked for some hand signal pictures to add to my phone for reference. I didn't find any good ones, so your link helps a lot.

That seems like a good idea. Thanks for the link!


Jun 16, 2012
After all that worry that I didn't know how to signal the helicopter on this trip, last night I noticed what was printed on the underside of the lid of my wife's backpack the whole time. Her response when I pointed it out: "Yeah, I knew it was there."



Feb 24, 2012
the problem with these south slope trails is you have to go so far to get to the goods... defnitely some PUDs.

all the trash doesn't surprise me much, the uintas have long suffered from this, especially the south slope stuff. i've seen some crazy horse packer camps and trash around atwood and kidney lakes. the worst trash i've seen lately is at deadhorse. there is a huge pile of shit up there on the far end of the lake, 20 feet from the water. all sorts of garbage. truly disgusting.

that said, I went into garfield for the first time this year. i was VERY pleasantly surprised how awesome it is. I don't tend to expect much from the alpine basins on that side of the divide, but garfield is probably the nicest one. really really good, but we were up there by tungsten and north star. definitely on my "go back" list.

thanks for TR :twothumbs:
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