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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Desolation Lake Trail and Overlook - Fall in Big Cottonwood Canyon

I used to think nothing beat the colors of New England Fall.  The deep reds, subtle oranges, and crisp yellows of the New England Autumn just makes your heart leap.  Couple these changing colors with the drop of humidity, warm sunny days followed by cool sweater weather nights, and fall in New England is easily one of my favorite seasons. 

Fall on Desolation Trail  

And then I moved to Utah.  Sure, there is a serious lack of trees, especially here in the city, but a drive to the canyons will solve that.  At the bottom of the canyons you may not be very impressed, but as you climb up the canyon, the colors will POP.  The yellows of Utah are the most stunning to me, and coupled with the reds and the oranges, the mountain looks like they are on fire.  

The one thing I am missing is that drop in temperature and cooler nights.  Downtown, temperatures were still hitting the 90s during the day, and nights were still AC weather.  I am waiting for that crisp New England weather so I can start baking apple pies. 

The canyons are the perfect place to escape some of that city heat, and see Utah's amazing fall colors. And while you can drive the Aspen Loop, or drive up and down the canyons, a long hike through the woods is the best way to experience Autumn in the American West. 

 I am officially in love with Autumn Aspens 

Desolation Lake and Overlook
(Desolation Trail and Wasatch Crest Trail Spine )

Trailhead:  Mill D North, Big Cottonwood Canyon    Season:  Mid summer to fall (due to high altitude snow accumulation) (This hike was September 26th, perfect time for fall leaves).   Distance:  7.4 RT to the lake, 8.75 RT to get to the ridge and back.   Elevation:  Start at 7,927' to 9,577' (2,303' gain).   Dogs: No - Big Cottonwood Canyon Protected SLC watershed.   Kids: Maybe, easy trail to follow but due to its long distance I would say no.    Camera:  Nikon 3200 DSLR

Mill D Trailhead 

The trail starts off at the Mill D trail head at the top of the canyon  There is a large parking area on both sides of the street.  It is quite a ways up the canyon so be patient and drive carefully up the canyon.

Mill D Trail head and Desolation Trail 

Big Cottonwood Canyon

The trail is well defined and easy to follow. For the first half mile, keep your eyes on the gorgeous peak to your right. 

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Fall in Big Cottonwood Canyon

When you reach a junction to go left towards Dog Lake or right to Desolation Lake, keep right to Desolation Lake.  If you want to keep the hike short, Dog Lake is an okay option (you can check out my Dog Lake post here).  Desolation is much prettier and is worth the extra hike. Do note that this is a very popular downhill mountain bike trail.  You will encounter a lot of mountain bikers coming down the narrow section of the trail- keep your eyes open and share the trail. 

Desolation Trail to Dog Lake or Desolation Lake 

Fall on Desolation Trail  

Fall on Desolation Trail  

The reds, greens and yellows in this field were fall perfection.  

Moose on the Desolation Trail  

I have a serious Moose fear (like, I have nightmares about hiking with moose).  They are beautiful and I enjoy watching them, but I have a large fear of coming around the corner to an aggressive moose on a trail.  Moose are not normally aggressive, but can when:  it is a female with her calf, or males during the mating season (rut) in the fall.  I came around the corner to see this female moose laying about 20' off the trail with her calf.  Thankfully her calf was older, and this was a popular trail with a lot of hikers and bikers in front of me.  I nervously and briskly walked by and survived to tell the tale. 

Desolation Lake 

Finally you reach Desolation. This gorgeous and quiet lake had an emerald hue and was the perfect place to have lunch and relax before climbing the last half mile to the ridge. 

Desolation Lake 

Desolation Lake 

Desolation Trail

Desolation Lake and Trail
Heading up to the ridge adds another mile+, but is so completely worth it.  Looking back, the view of the lake and the peaks, with the fall colors is breath taking.  

Desolation Trail

Desolation Trail meets the Crest Trail

At the Ridge !

When you reach the ridge you will have cell service again, and see park city on one side, and the Desolation Lake basin on the other side.  You will also see a lot of mountain bikers coming across the ridge and down the Desolation trail. 

Park City below the ridge 

Desolation Lake 

This is the perfect long day hike to see fall. The aspens, the lake, the meadows and the wildlife- this is a perfect way to spend a weekend. I would plan this hike ASAP as the colors wont last, and snow will be making its way to the top of the canyons soon. 

Happy Hiking,

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  1. Replies
    1. Thank you SO much! It is such a beautiful place to photograph

  2. These photos are gorgeous!!
    What a beautiful place to live! :)
    And, that moose photo is so cool!

    1. Thank you! It really is a gorgeous place to live! The moose was a wonderful yet terrifying experience! I always try to respect nature and wildlife and we are the ones crawling into their space! Thankfully Mama moose was very respectful :)


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