Hike of the week: Cooling off at Desolation Lake

Hike of the week: Cooling off at Desolation Lake

(Cara MacDonald, KSL.com)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Looking for a stunning hike in the mountains, yielding unique views without eating up your entire day?

Look no further. Desolation Lake is a seven mile hike which most people can complete in under four hours. Though the trek is steep and may tire out the hiker on the way up, the terrain isn’t challenging to navigate and clearly marked trails get you to your destination without much stress.

Cara MacDonald, KSL.com
Cara MacDonald, KSL.com

Begin by driving nine miles into Big Cottonwood Canyon and park at the Mill D North trailhead, which is on the left side of the road when driving up the canyon. Note that there’s a restroom and a large, open area with a creek to your right as an indication you’re in the right place. A large sign, nearly impossible to miss, is visible next to the well-defined trailhead.

Hike through dense woods and alongside grassy meadows and a rushing creek for a couple of miles, until reaching a visible sign that indicates Dog Lake to the left (0.6 miles away) and Desolation Lake to the right (1.9 miles away). Hang right and follow the winding trail through foliage that has quickly transformed into quaking aspen trees until reaching the lake.

Hikers on the last stretch of trail before the lake; Cara MacDonald, KSL.com
Hikers on the last stretch of trail before the lake; Cara MacDonald, KSL.com

Desolation Lake is characterized by its crystal clear waters that provide shimmering views of the pebbles and sand within. Toward the middle, the water looks bluish green with a sparkle only found at high elevation mountain lakes.

Note that though the trail climbs around 1,900 feet in elevation, it’s a steady uphill hike that mountain bikers are able to traverse, and as such, it is not too strenuous for enthusiastic hikers.

Neither dogs nor swimming are allowed at Desolation Lake or along the trail, according to The Outbound. Camping, on the other hand, is allowed and there are a number of trees perfect for hammocking as well.

The lake is in a mountain valley with many areas to explore without losing your way, and many hikers will walk up to the ridgeline overhead. However you choose to enjoy Desolation Lake, the hike offers something for just about everyone.

Due to the heavy snowpack and late snowmelt this year, there may still be snow on the hike. Consider bringing snowshoes and appropriate gear just in case, or hold off on the hike until mid to late July. Even in the dead of summer, the heat tapers off as elevation increases and hikers can cool off at the top.

Quick facts

Trailhead: Begin at the Mill D trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon, according to Utah.com. The trailhead is also for Dog Lake, which is the same trail as Desolation until it splits at a clearly marked diversion halfway up. The trailhead can be found at coordinates (40.69767, -111.740876) and Desolation Lake is at (40.659973, -111.60237).

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.

Length: About 7 miles out-and-back, according to Utah.com.

Elevation gain: 1,900 ft, according to the Outbound.

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Cara MacDonald enjoys both engaging in outdoor recreation and writing about it. Born and raised in Utah, Cara enjoys skiing, rock climbing, hiking and camping. She is passionate about both learning about and experiencing the outdoors, and helping others to learn about and explore nature. She primarily writes Outdoors articles centering around wildlife and nature, highlighting adventure opportunities, and sharing tips and tricks for outdoor recreation.


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