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Utah's Wasatch Hiking Trails

Desolation Lake Trail
A Moderate Hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon
Deslation Lake Trail
Hike
Photo Gallery
  • Length: 7.4 miles round trip (Lately I've seen the mileage designation for this trail to be anywhere from 7 to 8.2 miles, I'm sticking to what it says in my older, trusty guidebook)
  • Elevation Gain: 1900 ft (lake)
  • Highest Elevation: 9,240 ft at the lake
  • Trailhead: 9 miles into Big Cottonwood Canyon, designated as "Mill D North" trailhead

Desolation Lake Desolation Lake has many trailheads. The hike described in this article starts at Mill D North Fork in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The hike is a moderate one, and unless you are in tip-top shape, allow several hours to complete it. And, it is a popular one for both hikers and mountain bikers, so you are likely to have company.

Desolation Lake The trailhead is on Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. As you travel into the canyon, after about 9 miles and just before the Spruces Campground, there is a large parking lot on both the North (unpaved) and South (paved) sides of the road. The Mill D North Fork trailhead is on the North side of the road.

The 1900 ft elevation gain from the trailhead to the lake is not one of the more strenuous grades in the Wasatch, but there are some stretches that are downright nasty. (My hiking buddy commented "This is one steep Mother--I think he was talking about Mother Nature). On the whole, the trail varies between very steep to nice, easy stretches of flatness.

Desolation Lake Trail At 1.8 miles, about half-way, you come to a junction. If you are feeling really energetic, maybe take the left fork for a side trip to Dog Lake . It is only .6 mile from this junction, but it is very steep. Continue on the right fork for another 1.9 miles to Desolation Lake. Just after this junction is one of the more, shall we say, challenging sections of the slope. But hang in there, because after that it gets a lot easier, with several long stretches of fairly level trail. The scenery is beautiful at any season, whether you see the new spring shoots, the wildflowers of summer, the colors of autumn, or the snow-covered landscape of winter. And there are varying views of peaks, meadows and aspen or evergreen forests.

Desolation Lake Desolation Lake lies at the bottom of a 550-foot-deep bowl that was scooped out by a glacier during the last ice age. You can continue up the trail on a very strenuous grade to above the lake and on the crater rim for a spectacular view. From the crater rim down to the lake is a very exciting ride on a bike, and it is common to see several bikers high up on the rim, just marvelling at the view before starting the screaming descent into the bowl. Pack a lunch and sit for awhile, enjoying the scenery before heading back down.

For more pictures from this hike, check out the Hike Photo Gallery.

Backroads of Utah
by Theresa A. Husarik

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