As a teenager, I read and grew fond of an old sappy novel called Return to Red Castle by Dorthy Keddington. It stars a rugged mountain-man and some of my favorite mountains… The High Uintas.
A couple years ago my dad took me and a friend into Red Castle. It was my first time in this magnificent place. I have been longing for a long time to return. I have spent this summer living in my family’s cabin in the Uintas. A few months ago I caught wind that the snow had finally melted off of Red Castle… I was eager to return to my favorite place.
Some friends and I picked a weekend to make the 10 mile hiking trip in. The morning after we arrived, we marched our tired, aching bodies up to Upper Red Castle Lake for some fishing. The guys had plenty of luck reeling them in… Me, not so much.
We had been warned on the hike in by a group of frazzled scouts that every afternoon a thunderstorm rolled in. We were greeted by multiple large, ominous thunderstorms promptly at noon. They seemed to come from every direction to meet, here at, Red Castle. For some reason we decided to take the trail to upper, Upper Red Castle Lake despite of the impending storm.
We reached the shores of the upper lake just as the storm really decided to show us its strength. The guys didn’t seem nervous but I definitely was. I sat huddled in my rain jacket as lighting struck the high rock walls around us. We heard boulders struck and then they came crashing down. The dark teal lake rippled as large raindrops pounded it…and us. The lighting, thunder and rain became more than we wanted to be withstand so we sought shelter under a rock overhang.
That afternoon we had returned to our camp site with a hearty bag of fish and all collapsed in our tents exhausted. After I had recovered a bit, I set up my hammock with a perfect view of Red Castle, grabbed a blanket, sat and finished Return to Red Castle for likely the thousandth time… At Red Castle. It was an absolute dream.
That night the three of us sat around the camp fire long after the sun had set and the fish had all been eaten. We gazed upward as the night sky began to sparkle. Around 11pm we walked down to the shores of the lake and faced Red Castle. The mountain stood highlighted by the night sky, looming and rugged. We fought off the chill of the night air as we worked to capture long exposure photos.
Red Castle has an awe about it–I don’t even know how to describe it. Standing in the exposed basin of Upper Red Castle Lake I felt a spirit. It was a silent thunder that assures me, a minuscule human, that I am not in charge here, that some higher, much stronger power is. My feeble attempts to describe it will never do it justice.
The next morning we woke, packed and began our hike back to the trailhead. As the mountain of crumbled rock began to fade behind me, my heart again began to ache for my next return to Red Castle.
I would rate the trail into Red Castle at a medium difficulty level for the experience hiker. From the trailhead, the trail meanders slowly (and I mean slowly) upward toward the Red Castle Basin. No real elevation is gained on this 10 mile tract of trail and it is almost entirely flat the whole way. The only real climb is the last mile when you’ll encounter a set of switch backs.
At Lower Red Castle Lake, the camping is good. There are numerous spots to pitch your tent nestled along the lower lake in the trees. The trail between the lower and upper lake also host a variety of picturesque camping spots.
The trail continues another 2 miles upward to Upper Red Castle Lake. This area is more exposed and there are fewer trees.
Reaching the Trailhead:
Follow Wyoming State Highway 410 South out of Mountain View about 8 miles. Where the highway makes a sharp right turn to the west go straight onto Uinta County Road 283 (gravel) and continue to Forest Service Road 072. Follow the signs past the Stateline Campground and past the China Meadows Campground to the China Meadows Trailhead.