Family Backpacking: Clyde Lake Loop

Two years ago we set off on our first backpacking trip as a whole family.  Jessica took a year off last year due to the birth of our newborn son at the time.  This year, the mountains called again and we had to answer that call.  That, and we're probably a little crazy.  With the new addition to our party, we doubled our mileage by doing the Clyde Lake Loop.  This was the same route I took Ellory out on last year for some daddy-daughter time.  I was so impressed then that I thought it would be a great one to lead the whole family on this time around.

- Day 1 -
Tuesday - June 28, 2016

"It's going to be a really tight fit trying to get this all into the packs, but I should be able to make it all fit," I told Jess.


And make it all fit, I did.

What would be different about this trip from the last one is not only would we have an extra child and more miles to hike, but one of us would have to carry the youngest in a child carrier pack.  This meant less gear to be carried by one parent and even more gear for the other.  

Let's see what the scale says...

Will's Pack

Just over 50 pounds for the big pack.

Jessica's Pack

Over 20 pounds for the kid carrier, minus our 20 pound child, Everett.  I still managed to cram in a tent, Jess's sleeping bag, her clothing, her toiletries, Everett's clothing, and his diaper supplies.  Strapped on the outside were a sleeping pad and a couple fishing poles.
And just for posterity's sake, here's a look at Willow's pack weight.

Willow's Pack

Just under 10 pounds.  Now Ellory's pack...

Ellory's Pack

A little more at 12.68 pounds.  She's the second oldest but her body type is more stocky. With the REI Passage fitting her body a bit better than it does on Willow, she would have to carry a bit more.  Willow would be tasked with using my Teton Sports Summit 1500 that's really designed to be just a day pack, but converts well as a junior sized overnight pack.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked Jess.  "While I'd love to have you and the boys along, I can still take just the girls if you think it'll be too stressful."

"It should be fine. The boys will enjoy it too," she responded.

With no argument from me, we loaded up the car and off we went.  Along the way, we'd make a stop at the famous Fairy Forest off the Mirror Lake Highway.  To get to it, we'd have to cross through a campground and then cross over a branch of the Provo River.  Later in the year the stream bed will be more of a trickling stream making a dry crossing much easier with more rocks exposed.  With a good snow year this past winter though, the water level was still flowing relatively high for this spot.  Fortunately, there was a long dry log to serve as a bridge.

Jess leading the way across the bridge

The kids, still sizing up the crossing

We couldn't believe that we'd never known about it prior to this year, for we had driven right by it countless other times over the years when driving up to Jess's family cabin further north up the highway and other trips into the Uintas.  We were also surprised by how big and expansive it was.  There was A LOT to look at.

Fairy Forest

The following photos are just a sampling of all the creative work that can be found there.

"Welcome Fairies"

"Family is Forever"

Found Faith. Where's Trust and Pixie Dust?


Fairy fireplace

Tinkerbell look-a-like

Unicorn castle

Silver and Gold

Pirate Ship

"Welcome to Fairytropolis"

Fairytropolis Hotel and Museum

Downtown Fairytropolis

Fairy wild west

"The Snake"

"Welcome to Grimville"



This skeleton loves lamp

Monster mash


Inside Out

"These are not the droids you are looking for..." (Photo by Jessica)

We had intended to paint some rocks at our home to bring up and add to the collection, but ran out of time with all of our other preparations we had to make.  Inspired by some other displays that had been created out of nothing but natural materials there, our kids found a spot on the outer edge to build their own little fairy house.

[Note: This whole area has since been cleaned up.  It was not in keeping with 'Leave No Trace' principles and was only destined to grow and expand in undesirable ways]

The kids building up a fairy home (Photo by Jessica)

A swing fit for a fairy

All finished, with fire pit and all

After we had our fill of fairies, we got back in the car where lunch was dished up and drove a few minutes more up the road to reach the trailhead.  There we geared up and got ready to go, pack buddies and all.

Pack buddies

With packs all loaded on, we were ready to hit the trail.  Here we go!

Starting up the Notch Mountain Trail

Eastern Lily Lake

After about a mile of a roller coaster trail, we arrived at the edge of Wall Lake.  It's always neat to see the headwaters for the Provo River flowing out of Wall Lake.  Not only because of a beautiful little cascading waterfall that begins the river, but because we live in Provo, where the river finishes it's journey as it feeds into Utah Lake.

Provo River Headwaters

We had passed by several day hikers, fishermen, and swimmers who were on their way back down as we had made our way up, but once at the lake there wasn't much of anyone else around.  I was surprised.  There was still a lot of day light and sunshine left.  Last year there were a few groups of 20+ boy scouts that had all claimed campsites above the south and east shores of the lake.  This time, it was all peaceful and quiet.  It was tempting to just pull up to a site there to camp, but no, there was a better spot I had in mind still to come.  Embracing the opportunity to still take a break, we were quick to get our packs off and turn the kids loose for a bit.  They loved being able to take their shoes off and splash around in the water.

The Notch through a notch

Playtime (Photo by Jessica)

Catch me if you can!

Ooh..sand and stones!

Our fab five

During our break, a group of 15 scouts and their 3 leaders rolled in with fishing gear and began to set up nearby.  A few other backpackers, a couple with their dog and another lady with her dog had also passed us up as they appeared to be hiking on above Wall Lake as well.

Rested and eager to get on to our desired campsite, we loaded on our packs again and continued our little trek.  Our destination of choice was a cozy little site Ellory and I had found on the opposite side of the lake we had camped at the year prior.  We had hopes of finding it vacant once we arrived or else it would be off to look for a suitable alternative site.

Group Shot

A lake with no name

Ascending the switchbacks

Ellory, taking it all in

Three Sisters

A little more playtime

Once we got to the top of the little cliff band and Hope Lake about half way between Wall Lake and Twin Lakes, we paused for another brief but well deserved rest to enjoy the views back down from where we had come.

Looking southward at Haystack Mountain

Cliff Lake near the center, Mount Watson on the right

Everett enjoying a rest from his ride

Hope Lake

The Notch above Hope Lake

The steepest part of the whole trip was now behind us, but there'd still be some more uphill hiking before we'd be done with it for the day.  Once we did finish out the final few stretches of uphill hiking, we just had to take another little rest.


To help Raylee and Lennox hike a little faster, I gave their little legs and backs a break from their packs by carrying them along different stretches of the trail for them.  Once we reached the junction of the Clyde Lake trail with the Notch Mountain trail we had been hiking, we knew we didn't have long to go now.

Approaching Twin Lakes

Moments later, we were standing between Twin Lakes and could see that our desired site was indeed vacant.  Our wish had been granted.  All we had to do was cross the little inlet that flows into the lower of Twin Lakes from the upper lake and then navigate our way around some snow banks on the other side.

Inlet falls feeding Lower Twin from Upper Twin

At camp at last!


My hammock

Our dog, Sophie, thought our pile of gear made a good bed for a nap.

Nap time for one of us

Some may wonder how the bathroom thing works with all the young kids.  Well, here's one of our secrets.  We have a lightweight foldable potty seat that can easily be set over a hole dug out between 2 to 3 rocks.  It makes a convenient little latrine.


After camp was all set up, dinner made and eaten, and some unsuccessful fishing, we were privileged to a nice sunset.

Alpenglow over lower Twin Lake

Alpenglow on Bald Mountain

Sunset over lower Twin Lake

Grand Finale

To end the day, we gathered around the fire for some good old fashioned s'more making and other goodies before calling it a good night.

S'more time!

A good night

- Day 2 -
Wednesday - June 29, 2016

The night before, I had made sure it was ok with Jess if I were to leave camp early in the morning and make an attempt at bagging Mount Watson's summit.  Upon hearing that it would only be a little over a mile away, she approved.  Now that it was morning, I struggled between wanting to sleep in a bit longer and wait for a bit more light or get going earlier so as to return earlier, possibly before the others awoke.  At about 5:45, the clouds began to light up and that was all it took to get me up and going.  I quickly changed and gathered my little summit pack and set off for Watson, capturing some photos of the beautiful sunrise as it transpired along my way.

It had been another struggle between wanting to look back to soak up the sunrise and continue pressing forward to Mount Watson in the opposite direction.  The compromise was that as I kept moving forward, I could periodically turn back and see the sunrise from a multitude of vantage points.

Sunrise through the Notch

Sunrise over Notch Mountain and Clyde Lake

Sunrise over Notch Mountain and Clyde Lake

Getting higher, both the sun and myself

Even higher

The trickiest part of the morning journey was route finding and picking my way through the trees up a steep slope between Clyde Lake and the northeast ridge of Mount Watson.  Fortunately, the slope was short-lived and before I knew it, I was standing at the rocky ledges leading up to the ridge.

At the base of Mount Watson

There, I was greeted by some mountain goats out having an early breakfast.  I'm sure they were enjoying the sunrise too. 

Mountain Goats in the middle

A little closer

Moving away

I began climbing up the little ledges, picking off the shortest line I could to the ridge.  Once there, the view was too good not to sit down for a moment to take in the view and have an early snack.

Snack time. Booker Lake, Clyde Lake, Notch Mountain, Reid's Peak and Bald Mountain all visible

Three Divide Lakes with John Lake in upper right

Three Divide Lakes

Looking northwest toward Smith and Morehouse

Still resting

Hayden Peak now visible above Notch Mountain

Sunrise panorama from part way up Mount Watson

It was almost tempting to just call it good there.  I didn't see how I could top that experience of quiet and peaceful solitude, pondering on the joys and blessings of life.  The sun was now fully above the horizon and the colors faded and that made it easier to get up and continue up to the summit.

High alpine wildflowers

Approaching the summit

The summit still looked a good distance away, and I questioned if I'd be able to do it as quick as I had planned.  Committed, I continued to pursue it.  As it turns out, it was a lot closer than it looked.  After a few basic class 3 moves just for fun, it was a fairly easy ridge walk the rest of the way.  Moments later, I was standing on the summit.  The colors of the sunrise may have been far past expired, but the the views were still breathtaking.

From the summit: lots of lakes and the High Uintas range on the horizon
Looking southwest



Summit cairn

Summit pano

Summit selfie

While I would have enjoyed soaking in the views for a little while longer, I had accomplished my goal and now desired to get back down to my family and minimize the time away from them.  So on down I went.  This time, I'd return around the other side of Clyde Lake, exploring some of the terrain along the way.  I paid a quick little detour visit to a lake with no official name on any maps but at least one person has called it "Cave Lake" on their site.  It featured one side still covered in snow and ice, making it look like a mini glacier.

"Cave Lake"

"Cave Lake"

"Cave Lake"

"Cave Lake" reflection

There were a view other little tarns and a little bays back along the shoreline of Clyde Lake that offered up a few nice reflection shots too.

Tarn reflection with Mount Watson by Clyde Lake

Tarn by Clyde Lake

Clyde Lake bay

A few minutes of cross country navigation had me back in the area of our camp at Twin Lakes looking back up at the mountain I had just come down from.

Mount Watson

Also from near our camp, was a great view out across Wall Lake.

Wall Lake

Wall Lake and Mount Watson

As I returned to camp, I found everyone had recently awoken, getting ready for the new day.

Where's breakfast?

The kids got to wander and explore around a camp a bit while breakfast was made.


And exploring

Finally, breakfast was ready.

Getting ready to serve breakfast

Everett usually has a nap in the morning so I offered up my hammock to Jess so she could lay down with him and rock him to sleep.  

Nap time

The other kids and I took advantage of the free time to do some fishing.  We all tried different lures and bait and had no luck until the end, when I tried a spinner and caught a small tiger trout.

Little tiger

Once Everett had awakened, it was time to pack up the rest of our gear and get on our way over to Clyde Lake where we'd take another good break and try a bit of fishing there.

Mount Watson over a tarn

Mount Watson over Clyde Lake

Willow practicing some iPhone photography at Clyde Lake

Once we had arrived at Clyde Lake, we looked back and noticed some dark clouds brewing in the east.  I wasn't too worried about that because the typical weather patterns move in an easterly direction.

Storm clouds to the east

But then there were some dark clouds to the southwest as well, that looked like they could travel our way.

More storm clouds to the south

Due to the uncertainty of the weather we didn't stay as long as we had expected to.  I still took a few minutes though to see if I could catch any more fish.  After a couple casts with a mosquito fly, I pulled up a little brook trout.

Little brookie

The clouds continued to build so we gathered up and began making our way finishing the loop back to our car.  Along the way, we passed by many other lakes including Watson Lake, Long Lake, Petite Lake, Clyde Lake, and Crystal Lake.

Traversing the lake shore


Storms looming over Notch Mountain, Reid's Peak, and Bald Mountain

Reid's Peak and Bald Mountain over Wall Lake

Watson Lake with Mount Watson above

Petite Lake with Mount Watson above

Once we reached the edge of the rise overlooking Clyde Lake, we knew didn't have much further to go.  Once down to the shore and around to the other side, we'd be on our final mile.

Cliff Lake from above

Cliff Lake

Rounding Cliff Lake

Cliff Lake's Cliff

Down on the boardwalk


Approaching Crystal Lake

With Crystal Lake now in view, it was like rounding the corner to the home stretch.

Crystal Lake

And then there we were, on the homestretch, coasting along the last few hundred yards.


And back at the car at last.  At this point we were all equally as excited to be back at the car where some cold drinks and lunches awaited as we were to get to our camp the night before.  Of course, being able to take the packs off for the rest of the day had a lot to do with that.

All safely back

One more group shot

A trip to the Uintas wouldn't be complete without a stop for ice cream in Kamas or Heber along the way.  We opted for Dairy Keen in Heber.

Happy hikers

All aboard!

And with that, our trip was complete.  Despite the heavy packs for Jess and I, it was worth every step.  That said, I think we'll stick to destinations no more than a mile away until the younger of the kids can all carry more of their own gear.


  1. Such a cute backpacking family. Love that the kids have a "pack buddy" - what a great idea. It's so nice to see that you get all the kids out! - Alicia @

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  3. What a fun trip! You guys are fantastic getting your even REALLY small ones out! And what troopers they are! 10 years ago, I took my daughter here when she was 6 camping at Twin. We didn't go up the notch and just came back the way we came, by Wall Lake. I remember it getting a little steep as we approached Twin Lakes, thus we decided to stop there. The view IS incredible from up on the bench.

    1. The Uintas sure are a special place with great views to be had almost anywhere up there. It was definitely an adventure getting all the little ones up the trail and the gear up there and back. As far as the whole family goes though, we're probably going to stick to camping with the car for the next couple of years.


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