Review: Hiking Marten Lake and Squaretop Mountain from New Fork Lakes

Review: Hiking Marten Lake and Squaretop Mountain from New Fork Lakes

Reading Time: 45 minutes

A portion of this hike is utterly worth it. A large section I have no interest in seeing again. All of it is better than a minute spent watching Jimmy Fallon. Not yet proofread.

➤Quick Facts

Information at a Glance

  • Time of Year: 12 Aug-15 Aug
  • Notable Features: New Fork Lakes, New Fork River, Kenny Lake, Lozier Lakes, Marten Lake, Marten Creek, Squaretop Mountain, Thompson Lakes, No Name Lakes, Cutthroat Lakes, Palmer Lake, Lake Creek, Doubletop Mountain, Willow Creek, Rainbow Lake, Martin Park
  • Total Miles: ~40 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-8815′
  • Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 7828, 9956, 11698
  • General Route: New Fork/Porcupine Trail 7137 ►Clark Creek Trail 7185 ►Off Trail to Marten Lake an Squaretop ► Clark Creek Trail 7185 ► Off Trail to Thompson Lakes and Then to No Name Lakes ►Doubletop Trail 7131 ► Trail 7186 ►Trail 7137
  • GPS Track Download Get a free Gaia account and download the data if you want to look at it in Google Earth

Interactive Map and Video


I had some time off and wanted to hike to Marten Lake, which had interested me since I’d seen a cool picture of it on Panoramio back in 2015. I’m always a bit sad that Panoramio got axed, but the platform was certainly poised to explode with misplaced imagery.

My options to get to Marten Lake were from Green River Lakes or New Fork Lakes, and I chose the latter. Having been to GRL so often yet never having never been to NFL, it seemed like a fun thing to do. I knew that I could do about 40 miles, and I could take 5 days to do it, so it wasn’t a real rush. Unfortunately, the forecast was for a very hot set of days, unlike the previous, cold, rainy hike to Atlantic Canyon. I much prefer colder and rainy.

My options for starting were up on the hill to the south of the lake (road 738/238 or Doubtletop Mountain Trailhead) or by Newfork Lake trailhead by the Narrows Campground. I ended up picking the trailhead by the lake just for ease of mind. My feet were still completely jacked.

Below: beef jerky? (Sorry for grossing you out…best to know what factors might have impacted my opinion of this hike.)

⤑Day 1: New Fork Lake Trailhead to Marten Lake

I got up early and arrived at the trailhead around 0910. The road in sucked once I got to the lake, but otherwise it was an uneventful trip. After I got there, a group of 6 people arrived, including a couple of older folks, though the rest were around my age. They seemed friendly enough and smiled and nodded at me.

After signing in, I set out at a decent pace, ascending through wooded, lush terrain until I broke out one bald hillside overlooking the lake. From there it was blasted, gradual loss of elevation to lake level at the east end of the lake. As I walked down, numerous kayakers passed hundreds of feet underneath me. I honestly didn’t have a great love in my soul for the look of New Fork Lakes, and the beating sun didn’t help.

Below: New Fork Lakes and looking into the canyon.

Speaking of the beating sun (which I suppose doesn’t really physically beat), for this trip I was wearing a Kuhl Airspeed shirt (revolutionary, and I’ll write a review of it), Sheath Airflow underwear (by far the best for hiking ever), and Kuhl Deceptr pants, as well as my goofy-looking Sunday Afternoons adventure hat (which keeps the sun off of my neck and face, and has retention slots for my glasses) and some sun gloves. In other words, I was protected from that hateful ball of flames in the sky.

I reached the east end of the lakes about 30 minutes into the hike and observed a grazing flock of geese, then passed over a creek which looked very silty. The trail stayed in the sagebrush to avoid the thicket-filled riparian zone, which meant more sun. I crossed another creek, and this one was much better if you wanted to get water, which I didn’t, and kept hoofing it, looking to the south to see the trail I might descend on the way back. I hadn’t decided yet where I’d really hike, and had a number of options depending on speed and how I felt about the entire affair.

Below: Trail after the lakes.

An hour and 12 minutes into the hike I encountered my first hikers, who appeared to be a couple in their 60s. They were hiking out at a decent clip. The lady commented on my gear and said I was prepared for all the sun. She was very interested in my cheap gloves and asked me where to get them. We chatted briefly and continued on our separate ways. The track here began to climb above some backed-up stream/pond areas below. I saw tons of trout hitting the top but didn’t feel like clambering down to fish, so I made my way forward, crossed a creek, and entered into a forested section of the trail, a welcome respite from the heat.

Below: the backwaters spot with fish where the nice couple zipped by the other way, as well as some other sections of trail in the area.

That didn’t last too long! Soon I was sidehilling through more sagebrush and entering the canyon proper, with the walls closing in on both sides. An odd, off-shoot trail seemed to go to the river, and I felt that it seemed like an outfitter spot (typically very nice), but I didn’t make the time to check it out. The trail otherwise ended up above steep, cliffy walls through which the river crashed quite some way below.

4 miles in, I came across a very nice creek in deep shade and got out my water bladder to filter some water. I also ate some berries that I found and listened in shock to Nancy Pelosi saying that she would ensure America supported Israel even if our own nation crumbled to the ground. This was prior to the Hamas nonsense (I write out all my notes for a trip, typically during the trip using my stylus, then import the notes, and when I eventually get time, I upload them in non-stenographer style with my pictures), so I was rather shocked.

Below: into the wilderness I went, but then stopped at the spot with the culvert to be lazy.

I also used the time to read some. A man in his 50s with a lone dog passed me heading uphill. He was dressed for speed and seemed to be a day hiker. I’m not sure that I’d want to day hike the area, but I guess it would beat sitting at home contemplating dying empires.

After my irresponsibly long, 30-minute break, I pressed onward again and was happy that the constriction of the canyon walls meant that I was now in the shade more often than not. This portion of the trail became fairly mundane, and I found myself routinely calculating my pace and wondering if I could make it perhaps all the way to Marten Lake. The challenge to that would be the wicked climb, but if I made a 3mph pace it was easily doable, though the 3mph wouldn’t be. A solid 1.5 mph would net me 15 miles by sundown, and that seemed really easy. In fact, the topo showed that I could likely hit blazing speed on some flats, which would allow me some fishing time along the way.

Below: more trail and some whortleberries.

Just over 5 miles in I came to an awesome section of river with giant pools and huge boulders in the river. I stopped, fished, and ate some gummy worms, but sadly I didn’t get a bite. This area is likely overfished due to how exceptionally alluring it is. Because it was so close to the trail, I decided not to go skinny dipping (no one gets to see that for free), and after 20 minutes, I left.

Below: makes you want to go swimming.

500 feet beyond the pretty pools I came to the river crossing. It was shallow, but after searching upstream, I found no easy way to cross. I didn’t want to soak my injured toe or take off my shoes, so I went back downstream 20 feet and used downed logs and massive boulders as a Tomb-Raider-like crossing experience. Ha! Take that, river crossing. I was pretty surprised that I made it. Definitely not one for the butt-scooters like my very own mother.

Below: the river crossing which I did without getting my feet in the water.

Beyond the crossing the trail ascended to well above the river. Although it was less than 3/4ths of a mile to the next crossing, this portion of my journey seemed to stretch on into eternity. A myriad of small streams cut through (and flowed along) the trail, making for a boggy experience. Finally, at mile 6.5 a leftward hook in the trail brought me to the next crossing. Looking to the southern walls of the canyon, I saw a couple of chutes that looked like the would more-or-less access Palmer Lake, but they weren’t the Palmer Lake trail. In my mind I wondered if perhaps I should make my way up to Palmer Lake now. An ex-girlfriend (super great woman) was named Palmer (now Briggs), and numerous “Palmer” features are in the area, from the lake to the peak. Who was this particular Palmer?

Below: the trail between crossings.

This time the crossing was a bit deeper but had zero places to make it across without wading, so I resigned myself to shucking my shoes and crossing. The water was pretty dang cold. On the other side I used a large boulder to sit down and let my feet dry while I ate some trail snacks. Nightly Offensive AKA Slightly Offensive provided me with some entertainment as I snacked.

After making my way through some arid forest, I came out to a truly beautiful section of canyon/valley with a long, verdant park. This 1.5ish-mile section of trail is really flat and I made some good time. Along the way I encountered some grouse as well as a group of 6 young guys who were resting on their way out. We conversed a bit and I found that they had come down from Palmer Lake. They wanted to know where I was going and I told them perhaps Marten Lake or somewhere thereabouts. They seemed to have great reservations about my stated goals, and warned me that it was going to become an ungodly uphill slog. We parted ways and I kept on. About .5 miles before the Palmer Lake Trail, the day hiker and his dog passed me going back downhill. He asked me if I knew where the Palmer Lake Trail was. I pointed him to it and he sighed a great sigh,

“Well I missed that. Too late now. Maybe next time.”

Below: the trail is much prettier after flattening out around mile 6.3.

The area is a bit confusing, with numerous, well worn paths going off to places unknown (I suspect camping spots for those less pedal-to-the-metal), while the Palmer Trail itself at the branch point is nice at first and then becomes faint.

About 100 feet before the actual trail to the canyon I passed a very nice cascade and considered getting water, but didn’t feel that thirsty…then I stumbled on he trail divergence and decided to go down to the river, where I elected to fish, eat, and get some water after all. It was a nice break and the brook trout were biting (when are they not?). On the JRE, Stephen C. Meyer discussed his views on theism. While I like Meyer’s work (and Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying have said on their podcast that from a scientific perspective, his challenges to the neo-Darwinian models are striking, correct, and must be dealt with in the future), I found that he did a terrible job communicating his views to Rogan, and Rogan, for his part, came across as both extremely dense during the discussion as well as philosophically unintelligible.

Below: enjoyed this spot.

After some time I packed it up and got back on the trail, which made a switchback uphill, meandered a bit, and then beelined through the forest for perhaps half a mile. I could see on the topo that I was approaching switchbacks, and found myself very tempted to cut straight through where they began toward the Lozier Lakes Trail, as I didn’t need to go up to Porcupine Pass. The shortcut would have been .22 miles, rather than the .80-ish via the trails. In the end, I elected to go with my (maybe wrong) theory that laminar flow is faster than turbulent flow, and just took the switchbacks. There was nothing exciting about them, though the area around Porcupine Pass was somewhat scenic.

Below: the climb to Porcupine Pass. The last picture is looking up toward the Lozier Lakes flats.

After taking the right-hand branch toward Lozier Lakes, I noticed that the hillside was much steeper than I had reckoned, so perhaps the shortcut would only have been short in distance, rather than time and effort. I soon arrived at a thundering cascade and was becoming a bit thirsty, but the ravine in which the creek pounded down seemed unappealing to me, so I continued up switchbacks. The views back down the canyon were awesome.

Below: the cascade and looking back at the pretty section of the hike.

Around 4:15PM, I got to a flat section of trail where one crosses the creek. It was time for gummies and water, and I was glad that I’d waited to get water until I’d found such a scenic spot. I left after about 25 minutes and crossed the creek with a small hop, ascending the path slowly but steadily, and soon breaking out to views of a large field. At this time of year, still green, it was beautiful.

Below: a magnificent place for lunch.

About 10 minutes later I crested a little hump and looked upon Kenny Lake. The. Views. Were. Amazing. I was sorely tempted to camp there, but I noticed an older couple camped right between the lake and the trail and I didn’t want to rob them of their solitude, so I headed straight north, climbing toward Marten Lake. The hillside wasn’t too steep, but I was pretty pleased to take a couple of minute-long breaks to take pictures, as the day had been fairly long for me by that point. I also harvested and ate some wild onions!

I just realized that I don’t need to type “Below” because that’s implied. So here’s looking back at where I had lunch, up into the mountains, along the trail, and then at Kenny Lake. Wild onions don’t need to be explained.

The route I chose avoided Kenny Lake entirely in order to not disturb the older hikers, but it wasn’t the most direct route, as it took me up to almost 11,100′, and I ended up cautiously climbing down a small rockface at one point, then crossing some high-elevation springs and creeks. Continuing beyond Kenny Lake would have allowed me to beeline much more directly for Marten Lake. Still, it wasn’t the end of the world, and I happily made my way between deep ponds situated among slabs of granite.

Looking down at Kenny plus some views of the pothole ponds.

Just before 6:15, I popped out with a partial view of Marten Lake. The eastern and northern edges had plenty of grassy spots to camp, and while there were no large trees, rocky features offered wind breaks. As I made my way down toward the lake, I was gradually able to see to the west. One decent spot existed at the western edge of the lake, while the southern shores were steep. A massive boulder field reached down to the water about 1/2-way along the northern shoreline, so getting over to the west seemed like more effort than it was worth.

Marten Lake. Not sure why I took the second photo.

As no one was around, I decided to prioritize scenery for my camping desires, though I still wanted to abide by the rule of staying away from water. I swear I’m the only one that cares about this, and that others don’t doesn’t bother me, but does make me feel goofy…of course, I abide by it mostly to avoid ruining pictures if others want to have clean shots of the scenery.

Walking along the eastern grasses I made my way across a few, soggy streams, then came to the outlet. Some big brook trout were hanging out in there! Cross the creek I found that the northern edge had stunning views of the distant peaks as well as a nice look down into the canyons. The grass here wasn’t soggy, so my only real debate was to be on the lake-facing side or the mountain-facing side, as a small hump prevents you from having views of both (unless you want extreme wind).

Views from the outlet.

I set up my tent near a large boulder and had a nice view of the lake and then found that the wind was just not to my liking, so I picked up the whole tent and carted it down until I found a flat spot with less wind, looking down into the Green River. By this time it was around 7:20 and the sun was going down. The shadows were NOT warm, so I quickly set out to load up my water bladder, a process which involved a 220-foot walk to the cascade out of Marten Lake. Getting water was much easier farther from the outlet.

Looking towards Tourist Creek, Desolation Peak, Flagstone Peak, Klondike Peak, etc. I would like to basecamp around 10,700′ in the Tourist Creek area and then explore around the place. So far my efforts to get my friends to access the area via different routes have not panned out.

Once the water was done, I scrounged around for a little firewood. Well downhill (1000 feet lateral, 200 vertical) there was a stand of trees, but I was able to find enough ancient, dead material that I was satisficed I could take a camp shower without freezing my nipples off. With that done, I prepared dinner, which was Next Mile Meals Buffalo Style Ranch Chicken (I brought my own burrito shells), Bushka’s Kitchen Unstuffed Peppers, and a chocolate brownie.

Dinner was…fine. The view was killer.

The Buffalo Style Ranch Chicken wrap was pretty good and rehydrated well, though it still was a bit dry (not crispy as if it hadn’t rehydrated correctly, but more akin to eating overcooked chicken). I would eat it again, but it wouldn’t be a go-to meal for me. The Bushka’s Kitchen Unstuffed Pepper tasted…healthy. Pretty favorless. I’m not a huge fan on quinoa, so that didn’t help my opinion. Anyway, it came across as a lot of flavorless filler, so I’ll avoid it in the future.

I mean really. The view. God blessed my butt with this one!

The sun was properly down at 8:30 and I didn’t finish dinner until 9:30. The shower after that was quite dang cold, and the fire was rather meager. The wind truly cut through any heat being offered. I found myself glad to be done, but I was grateful to have the salt crust of the day washed away. (I have actually been cut by my own salt before.)

I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight thanks to my Kindle and watching an episode of The Peripheral. Despite the cold night, I slept very well.

⤑Day 2: Day Hike to Squaretop Mountain

I woke up at 0730, but it was chilly and I didn’t even know what I wanted to do for the day, so I sat in my tent and looked at my map. It looked like I could march over and up Squaretop from my tent, but I wasn’t certain. I hydrated like crazy while waiting for the sun to hit my tent, then (after looking at my salted shirt) got out in my underwear. No one else was around, though a couple of golden eagles soared above, looking for lagomorphs or rodents to eat. My Kuhl shirt was notably salty from the strenuous hike the day before.

Salt crusts and yummy foods.

As I warmed up, I snacked on nuts and Gardetto’s, then did some successful fishing. At 1030, after deciding that Squaretop seemed an easy bag, I set off for the mountain with a smaller water bladder.

Morning fishing.

After walking about 300′ vertically down and a half mile overall, I realized that I forgot the filter for my bladder. Unlike the previous day, a high, broken layer was forming to the distant west (much better than the few, thin cirrus clouds of the morning), so I was protected from the sun. Looking at the edges of Squaretop, I realized that I’d have some opportunities for fresh water anyway, and I could certainly did a natural filtration pool if I needed, so I pressed on. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone else, but having grown up in the mountains without running water, electricity, or telephone, it presented at most a 30-minute delay to me.

Heading to the saddle between Squaretop and the ridge near Marten Lake (there is a second Marten Lake below this saddle) involved a lot of easy walking along grassy slopes, one dive through a small, treed area, and quite a tedious traverse of a massive boulder field. If I had to do it again, I’d take the elevation loss and regain to avoid the boulder field, as following a small rivulet would have added 1/2 a mile of travel but saved me time and also danger.

That looks like an easy way up! And it is easy enough, but not the way I went. The other two pictures are just views along the way.

The boulder field started out with massive boulders that took a great deal of time to calculate a route through, then became much smaller, looser stones on a much steeper slope. I was relieved when I finally got to some hardpacked soil, but the loose pebbles made it somewhat scary, too. The 10,700′ contour ended up truly not being a friend of ol’ Lucas. At least I had wonderful views of the creek making its way down to the Green River!

Are you actually reading the bolded stuff like some sort of nerd? Sarah, dear sister, you should be since I pay you to proofread thise so now if u don’t catch this i know i lost monsy. Anyway, there was a little trail up to Marten Lake from the Green River which I only saw as I climbed. I’d never seen this trail on satellite images, leading me to suspect that it’s partially a game trail. Whatever creatures made it only made it intermittently. Other than that, you can see portions of brickfields and various views on the way to the saddle.

I reached the 10700′ intersection with the draw leading to the saddle just before noon and began climbing. A steep section with grass was a do-able ascent, but I wanted to look down on the second Marten Lake, so I made for the saddle proper. It seemed that perhaps I could climb the cliffy area abutting the saddle and not have to backtrack, anyway. When I arrived at the saddle, I was impressed with the scenery. Truly amazing. I also took a hard look at the western flank, wondering if I could climb it on the way back to avoid that hellish boulder field.

The other Marten Lake from the saddle. As I take these notes I wonder to myself why I didn’t visit it. Now I have to in the future. So close…oh well, perhaps it will be a nice way to access Squaretop.

Having stared at the other Marten Lake for long enough, I ascended the rock buttress, coming within about 100′ of where I’d descend in the future. I picked my way up carefully, but it wasn’t a scary climb. While falling would hurt and you might break something, there is plenty of room to avoid open exposure and certain-death falls. Because of how steep it was, going down would be harder to do–it would be more difficult to see what was ahead of you, and you’d have to actually climb down small segments, which I find a lot harder than climbing up.

Views from the route up. Pretty easy. Would he harder to pick your way down.

The climb ended at about 11,300′ or so. I made my way northeast avoiding a pseudopeak and sticking to flatter ground. I broke out the gummies on my way and enjoyed them. I was able to look down on Lake 10,900 after only a small climb down the hillside, and it was attractive enough, though not worth scurrying hundreds of feet down to visit, as the depression it sits in restricts your views and you’d only see maybe Greeley Point.

Views from the top.