Skyline Trail, Fishlake National Forest. Or, One of the Most Amazing Hikes I’ve Ever Been On.
Prior to departing the morning of my hike I had scoped out a few possible places, but I was unable to ascertain if my car would be able to get to the trailheads so I decided to stop at the forest service ranger station in Beaver on my way. Lucky for me I was told my Honda Civic would have no trouble getting to the east trailhead of the Skyline Trail, which was my first choice. Unfortunately however, because I waited until the ranger station opened and then had to drive more than an hour to the trailhead, I got a late start – one that would ultimately prevent me from doing the full 16 miles roundtrip.
This was my third time in Fishlake National Forest, but my first drive up through the canyon into the highest peaks along SR-153. I was seriously floored by the beauty and the scale of the mountains and canyons, not to mention the dribbles and swathes of yellow, orange, and red painted across the slopes. If I hadn’t been so eager to hike the Skyline Trail I could have easily chosen a dozen places that would have been spectacular to hike in. In any case, I drove straight to my destination, up and over the peaks of the Tushar Mountains before dropping down to the Big Flat Trailhead at 10,000 feet.
I set off, calculating a turn around time that would get me back to my car an hour before sunset, and entered aspen forest, brightened by the sunlight that was streaming through the yellow leaves. Before long I began taking side trips to overlook the valleys below, drawn by glimpses of some of the most amazing colors I’ve ever seen, dabbled across the tree cover. I won’t given you a detailed description of the trail as I went along – I’ll save that because I’m definitely returning to do this entire trail next year – but the 10-12 miles I hiked generally followed ridgelines between the peaks and rimmed the sub-alpine slopes of the Tushar Mountains resulting in the sensation of walking at the top of the world. With 360 degree views common throughout the trail, it really does feel as though you’re hiking through the sky.
With that elevation however comes additional, sometimes imperceptible fatigue. I had figured that I would come close to finishing the 16 miles, adding in extra time for my inevitable sidetrips and photo-taking delays, but upon reaching a trail junction that marked my distance traveled at 4 miles, I realized that I was hiking (as far as progress on the trail goes) at close to 2 miles per hour which is far slower than my normal pace when alone and much slower than I felt I had been hiking. Unless of course the forest service was messing with me. But anyway, I realized my lack of progess meant I had no chance of completing the trail so I stopped worrying and recalculating in my head and just enjoyed the beauty and solitude around me. I have no idea how far I actually got but I do know that as I approached my turn around time I lost the trail and climbed about 600 feet up a mountain before confirming it. I got some pretty great views though so no complaints.
I know I’ve used these words to describe different places many times before, but this was an amazing, fantastic hike. And yes, it’s now become one of my favorites. To me there is very little that is better than hiking across mountains, climbing peaks and crossing spruce-filled hollows. Adding in views of the most spectacular, vibrant fall colors I’ve ever seen and the complete peace that comes from hiking alone without seeing another person made this an absolutely perfect hike.