Commonly considered one of the crown jewels of the Uintas, Naturalist Basin is a fantastic long hike or overnight backpacking destination. Plus, it's dog-friendly! You can hike or run with your dog off-leash once you're away from the trailhead and enjoy the trail's abundance of shade and water.
Following the route described, you will see nine lakes, one waterfall, and expansive views. It comes with a price, though. Because of its popularity, this trip suits someone looking for great views rather than seeking solitude. But once you get to the basin past Jordan Lake, you can feel isolated while you soak in all those epic views.
Start at the Hayden Pass trailhead, about three driving miles from Mirror Lake off Mirror Lake Highway (Highway 150). The route is an out-and-back, so this trailhead will serve as the start and end of your trip.
The first 6.4 miles of this route are below treeline and can get pretty crowded near the beginning, so be patient. Starting at the Hayden Pass trailhead, you will descend gradually for 1.2 miles. You will arrive at the Scudder Lake Trail junction 1.7 miles into the trail. The main trail (Highline Trail) goes right past the lake (and is visible from it), but take the side trail if you want a closer look at the lake. From this junction, it will be gradually uphill until you reach the basin shelf.
At 5 miles, you will reach another junction that forms a loop. Heading west will take you toward Morat Lakes, while heading east will lead you to Jordan Lake. I believe the better option is to head toward Jordan Lake for a few reasons:
- This route has a more gradual ascent to the top of the basin shelf. On the contrary, the Morat Lakes option has a brutal and rocky climb to the top.
- The view of Morat Lakes coming down from Blue Lake is epic. While you can see this from either option, popping out from Blue Lake with this view makes it much cooler.
Once you get to the eastern edge of Jordan Lake, you will start the 240 ft ascent to the shelf of Naturalist Basin. This is the most challenging part of the hike but is doable for fit hikers.
At the top of the shelf, the trail will grow more and more faint until it eventually disappears altogether. However, because you are above treeline now, navigation shouldn't be too much of an issue. In addition, because this part is all off-trail, you will encounter noticeably fewer people. Even though it adds some distance, I strongly recommend heading northeast toward Shaler Lake. This tucked-away lake feels isolated and offers fantastic camping spots with views of the valley below to the south and Spread Eagle Peak to the north.
A short walk northwest from here will connect you to the long Faxon Lake. LeConte Lake (also great camping) and Blue Lake are west of this lake. The 12,428 ft Mount Agassiz Peak dwarfs Blue Lake. Ironically, Blue Lake is not the bluest lake on this hike. As you head south from Blue Lake, you will see a gorgeous view of the bluer Morat Lakes and a cascading waterfall that adds to the dramatic views.
Descend the rocky and steep trail down to the Morat Lakes. Following the trail further will take you to the loop junction again. Return 5.1 miles the way you came.
Despite the crowds at the beginning of the trail, Naturalist Basin shelf feels surprisingly isolated. I enjoyed spending time on the shelf and exploring all the different lakes up there. If you are looking for a quick and scenic overnighter or a long hike, backpacking Naturalist Basin offers an excellent adventure for you and your dog.