With a handful of high alpine lakes surrounded by majestic, rocky peaks, Amethyst Basin is sure to please. This classic High Uintas hike can be completed as a long day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip. The trail is suitable for most hikers in good physical condition and may be good for children with some hiking experience.
The hike to Amethyst Basin begins at the Christmas Meadows Trailhead (40.822571,-110.80123), just east of Highway 150 on the north slope of the Uintas. The trailhead is best reached from Evanston, Wyoming but can also be accessed from Kamas, Utah.
- From I-80 in Evanston, drive south on Highway 150 for approximately 31.3 miles to the signed turnoff for Christmas Meadows on the east side of the road.
- Continue for 4.3 miles on the gravel road, following the signs for the Christmas Meadows Campground. The trailhead is located about 200 yards beyond the campground at the end of the road.
The trailhead has two parking areas. The lower area is for general parking and the upper area is reserved for those with trailers. There are vault toilets available at the trailhead.
NOTE: The Christmas Meadows Trailhead is part of the Mirror Lake Recreation Fee Area. You must display a recreation pass in your vehicle to park at the trailhead. Purchase passes at any of the self-serve kiosks in the area, the Forest Service office, or from some local retailers.
The hike to Amethyst Lake begins by winding gently along the edge of beautiful Christmas Meadows. This section of the trail has a few small elevation changes but is generally quite easy. The biggest challenges are getting around some of the large mud holes and small stream crossings along the way. Wooden hiker bridges have been built over many of these obstacles but it may still require some care to keep your feet dry, especially early in the season.
After about 2.3 miles, just past the last wooden footbridge, a sign indicates the border of the High Uintas Wilderness Area. About 200 yards past the sign you will arrive at the signed junction for Amethyst Lake at 40.790439,-110.794907. Turn left here onto the Amethyst Basin trail.
From here the trail becomes significantly more difficult as it climbs steeply up the hillside. After a short distance, Ostler Creek becomes visible on the right, providing exhilarating views of a series of raging waterfalls. This is a great place to stop and take a break before continuing up the steep trail ahead.
Beyond the waterfalls, the trail gets steeper and climbs away from the stream, eventually gaining nearly 1,000 feet from the junction below to the first meadow in lower Amethyst Basin. From here the trail continues to gain elevation but at a more relaxed pace as it cuts through a mix of dense forests and small meadows leading south into the basin.
About an hour beyond the lower meadow, the trail arrives at a much larger meadow at 40.762853,-110.770491. The views of Ostler Peak and the distant Amethyst Lake Cirque are sublime from this point. This meadow is at the heart of Amethyst Basin and provides a great central location for accessing many of the attractions in the area. If you are backpacking, this is a great spot to setup a base camp away from the crowds that tend to gravitate to the nearby lakes.
Just after entering the large meadow, the trail crosses Ostler Creek. There is no bridge here so be prepared to get your feet wet. There is often a makeshift log bridge about 50 feet downstream from the trail, but be very careful as the current can be quite swift, especially early in the summer.
Soon the trail arrives at a small lake with mesmerizing blue-green waters. This lake is unnamed on topographic maps but is often referred to as Emerald Lake or BR-24, which is its forest service designation. Emerald Lake gets its unique color from melting ice under the rocks above, a phenomenon common to some of the other lakes in the basin including Amethyst and Ostler.
From Emerald Lake, continue on the main trail for about 0.9 miles to Amethyst Lake. Surrounded by a dramatic cirque of crumbling cliffs including 12,718-foot Ostler Peak, Amethyst Lake is truly a sight to behold. This is the ultimate destination for most who make the hike into the basin.
For those spending the night, camping near Amethyst Lake is not advised as the lake is near tree-line elevation and provides little or no shelter, making it a poor place to be during thunderstorms. More protected campsites are plentiful lower in the basin. No campfires fires are allowed with ¼ mile of Amethyst or Emerald Lakes.
The fishing at Amethyst Lake can be good for small brook trout but due to the heavy visitation it receives, it usually is not the best place in the basin to wet a line. Better fishing can usually be found at less-visited lakes such as Ostler Lake or Toomset Lake. Ostler Creek is also great for fishing, especially where its flow slows down as it meanders through the meadows.
While the main trail only passes by Emerald and Amethyst Lakes, there are more interesting lakes in the area for those with the time and necessary navigation skills. Ostler Lake sits in the forest about a half mile northwest of BR-24 and offers good opportunities for camping and fishing. There is no official trail, so be sure you have a map and compass and the necessary skills to safely find your way. The off-trail route to Ostler is best started from the north side of Emerald Lake.
Round trip distance to Amethyst Lake and back to the Christmas Meadows trailhead is approximately 13 miles.
Rules and Regulations
- No campfires allowed with ¼ mile of Amethyst or Emerald Lakes.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of water sources or trails.
- Keep dogs under control at all times.
- No littering.
- Pack out trash.
Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the High Uintas. Much of this trail passes through open terrain that may be hazardous if lightning strikes. Seek shelter if a storm approaches.