Well, a little later than I'd like, I finally pushed the button and ordered the Trails Illustrated maps that I want. I got Wasatch Front North and High Uintas; both of them highlighting wilderness areas in the mountains of northern Utah. The High Uintas Wilderness area encompasses much of the entire Uinta range, which is quite primitive; a long stretch of undeveloped wilderness that runs almost due East West along the Wyoming border from Dinosaur National Monument nearly to the Salt Lake area. The Wasatch Front, on the other hand, are more traditional Rocky Mountains; a range that runs nearly due north/south along the eastern edges of the Provo and Salt Lake Valleys. Because of their proximity to relatively large metropolitan areas, the Wasatch is full of recreational opportunities that are frequently availed by locals on weekends and holidays. And because King's Peak, the highest point in Utah, is in the Uintas, that particular route is often busy as well.
Once I have my maps and can find the time to actually make my detailed plans (which I need to do soon!) I can make my final hiking routes and figure out exactly what I'll be doing and make my best plans for exactly when I'll be doing it.
My thought is, in part due to my lack of recent experience, the fact that I'm not used to the altitude, and the fact that I'm not in the best shape of my life, is to take it fairly easy, and to break myself in, so to speak. It'll take me a good two days to drive from my home in the northeastern Midwest to the hiking area. I'll take a couple of days in a local hotel before going out in the tent and warm-up with day-hikes, is my plan.
Although subject to change, I'm thinking of exploring the Lone Peak Wilderness area my first day--a small wilderness area east of Salt Lake. I might summit Lone Peak itself, but we'll see how I feel. The elevation is relatively low compared to the Uintas (the summit itself isn't much higher than where I'll be base-camping in the Uintas!) but the elevation gain is quite a bit more. The second day I'm in the area, I'd like to summit Timpanogos, in the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness, east of Provo and very near to Sundance Ski Resort (where the film festival is held.) Like Lone Peak, the elevation isn't too bad, but the elevation gain is more than I'll do in the Uintas later. I might actually break this one up into a two-day excursion and spend the night near Emerald Lake. It's a long day hike for someone who's probably not going to be moving too fast.
Assuming these warm-up hikes go well, my plan is to enter the Uintas from the north and head towards King's Peak, summiting the Utah highpoint, before heading south and hitting South King's--Utah's second highest peak, and less than a mile from King's along the same ridge. In part to take it easy, in part to enjoy the experience more, and in part to try and find some solitude, I won't be coming in on the Henry's Fork trailhead, but rather one of the trailheads a bit further to the west. This gives me a chance to see some other iconic Uinta peaks (like Red Castle), enjoy the ambiance of the mountains more, get more acclimated before I head to 13,500+ King's and South Kings, and maybe most importantly, avoid the crowded route. No doubt I'll see other hikers as I approach my destination, but I hope to have at least a day or two of solitude on either end of my summits day.
Depending on how fast I hike and how much time I still have left after doing this, I might then head south for a bit and see Goblin Valley State Park as well as the Wild Horse and Bell slot canyon loop before heading home. Or, I might stop on the way home by Devil's Tower and/or Mount Rushmore. I don't want to get too aggressive with plans before I really know how much I'm going to be able to pull off, though. I might not make as good a time as I'd like to think, due to weather, due to just me not wanting to push myself, or any other number of factors. How much and what I see after the "main hike" in the mountains will probably remain open options that I can choose from at the end as time and energy permit.
And, of course, my plan is relatively non-detailed right now. I don't even have a proper map yet, much less a lot of good beta on the route, so it's subject to change over the next few weeks as I round up details and see how realistic all of this really is.
And, you have to remain flexible on the ground. I may have a solid plan to summit on a certain day and have to call it off due to thunderstorms or something. A good plan is good--in fact, essential--when planning a backpacking trip, but the ability to flex your plan on the fly if necessary is important too.