There are many scenic drives in Utah not to be missed, one of the best near the Wasatch Front, or more precisely the Wasatch Back, is the Mirror Lake Highway. The Mirror lake highway begins just outside of Kamas Utah and ends about 12 miles south of Evanston Wyoming. In total the drive is about 63 miles, or about an hour and 15 minute drive if you proceed straight through the route and obey all posted speed limits. One of the great things about this drive however, are the many side adventures that it offers.
The route begins by turning east onto Center Street in Kamas and following the road as it
heads into the hills. Center Street quickly becomes highway 150 and you'll pass a few cabins and a smokehouse and grill before officially entering the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It should be noted that this is a fee area where you can purchase a day pass, or if you have a national parks pass that will work too. You'll pass plenty of campsites, picnic areas and turnouts where you can stop to enjoy the views. Several roads also depart from the main highway that lead to different recreation areas.
Twenty miles into the drive you'll come across Provo River falls. This is a great place to stop, stretch the legs and check out the falls. There is a parking lot, complete with bathrooms for those that need to make a quick pit stop. The view area for the falls is only about 100 yards down a well traveled trail and the view is definitely worth the walk. In spring, the falls overflow with water due to the snow melt, while in the later summer and fall months the falls slow to a trickle. To learn more about the falls visit our post here.
About 7 miles up the road from Provo River Falls is Bald Mountain pass, the highpoint of the Mirror Lake Highway and definitely a place worth stopping to enjoy views of the Uinta Mountains in almost every direction. The pass elevation reaches 10,715 feet, making it one of the tallest points in Utah that you can drive to without leaving the pavement. There are several pullouts along the pass that let you look south from the direction you came and North and East at Hayden Peak. Bald Mountain Trail head is also accessible from the pass and is a quick and steep hike to the top of Bald Mountain, elevation 11,942 feet. It's a great viewpoint anytime of day, but especially at sunrise and sunset.
From Bald Mountain Pass to Mirror Lake is a mere 2.5 miles, or about 5 minutes. This is the lake for which the highway is named. The Mirror Lake Recreation area has a large campground and day use area with plenty of parking. It is a beautiful mountain lake, and if you happened to pack your kayak or paddle board you can go for a quick paddle before jumping back in the car to continue your journey.
As you continue your journey from Mirror lake you'll pass by several camping areas and roadside lakes including Butterfly Lake, Tadpole Lake and several smaller unnamed lakes. 35 miles into the drive, or just about 4.5 miles from Mirror Lake you'll see a parking lot and trail head for Ruth Lake, one of my favorite spots to camp, hike and climb in the Uintas. The hike to Ruth Lake is relatively flat and only about a mile each way. It is a great hike to break up the drive and is very doable for small kids and people who don't consider themselves hikers. I'll post more about this location in the future.
As you continue the drive north from Ruth Lake Trailhead you'll enjoy some great scenery and pine filled air as you slowly descend in elevation. Approximately 13 miles from Ruth Lake, or 48 miles from Kamas you'll come across Bear River Lodge. In winter, road maintenance from Evanston stops just beyond the lodge. Bear River Lodge is a launching point for a great network of cross country ski trail, yurts and snowmobile trails. You can reserve the yurts year round, but the best time to visit them is in the winter. You can learn more about Yurt rental by visiting the BRORA web page here. You can also read one of my earlier posts to find out more about yurting here.
From the Bear River lodge the drive is almost complete and soon the pines will give way to grasslands and the occasional ranch house. From here you can head toward Evanston to get a bite to eat before taking I-80 back to Utah or you could turn around and enjoy the drive back to Kamas. I must admit, I usually turn around and enjoy the view again coming the other way and stop for a bite to eat in Kamas. High Mountain Drug for shakes and burgers or Summit Inn for Pizza are hard to beat if you are looking for a good meal after your Mirror Lake Adventures.
A few notes to keep in mind about the highway and drive. The bulk of the Mirror Lake Highway is closed during winter. Typically the highway opens in late May or early June depending on the snows and closes with snowfall in Autumn. You can check the current status of the highway at the UDOT website here. Also, the speed limit along the highway varies from 25 miles per hour where pedestrian traffic is high to highway speeds, so make sure to pay attention to these fluctuations. For those automobile enthusiasts looking at enjoying the curvy mountain roads, the canyon offers a lot of this from Kamas to Bald Mountain pass, but then straightens out quite a bit after the Ruth Lake Trail Head parking area. So you may want to turn around at Ruth Lake and enjoy the curves in reverse as you head back to Kamas.
Feel free to share in the comments your questions or recommendations for side adventures along the Mirror Lake Highway, I'd love to hear from you. Most importantly don't forget to get out and find some adventure.