The most iconic hike on the Wasatch Front shines in all seasons

Lake Blanche Trail offers plenty of distractions from incessant climb, plus a rewarding view at the top

(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sundial Peak overlooks Lake Blanche in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. Neither snow nor sun keeps hikers from enjoying the beauty of one of the most iconic hikes on the Wasatch Front.

If you had to pick just one trail to explain why Utah has some of the best hiking in the world, you wouldn’t go wrong picking Lake Blanche. Perhaps that is why our readers requested it more than any other hike when we asked where to go next after launching Trib Trails with a hike to the Bear Canyon Suspension Bridge last week.

Though the Lake Blanche Trail climbs relentlessly on its way to the lake and Sundial Peak, it isn’t so steep as to be sadistic. And it often showcases many of the area’s best assets: wildflowers, pine and aspen groves, wildlife, waterfalls, creeks, lakes, overlooks and some of the most rugged and majestic mountains on Earth. Perhaps that explains why it’s popular in every season.

Those hiking it in the next couple months should expect snow on the trail and be wary of avalanches. You will want to bring sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare and would benefit from cleats and hiking poles. In summer, bug spray and sunscreen are essentials. In any season, remember to bring plenty of water and pack out your trash.

Do you have a favorite hike, or just an area or region you’ve been curious about exploring? Let us know and we’ll look into it.

(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) Views from the Lake Blanche Trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

The hike: Begin in the Mill B Trailhead parking lot, following a paved road east along the creek. The Lake Blanche trail branches off to the right about 275 feet from the parking lot. In a few hundred feet, you will cross the stream on a bridge. The trail steepens into a steady incline as you head southeast up Mill B South Fork. In the spring months, you are likely to encounter snow along the ascent, and crampons or snowshoes and poles are recommended.

The straightforward trail follows along the creek for about 2 miles, with aspen and pine providing cover and wildflowers popping at about a mile in. Then the trail gradually veers off to the left into a set of switchbacks. At the final switchback, you will encounter a daunting scree field. Fortunately, there is no need to cross it as the trail resumes a few steps above to the right. The final stretch of trail boasts views of massive granite cliffs. As you approach the lake, which may still be covered in snow into June, the iconic Sundial Peak comes into view. Lake Blanche’s scenery is one of the best rewards of any hike in the Wasatch range. There are plenty of spots to rest at the lake, and if you are still feeling the wanderlust, the trail extends along the right side of Lake Blanche down to two more lakes, Lake Florence and Lake Lillian. Camping is allowed here, but campfires are not.

(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) Views from the Lake Blanche Trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Getting there: Drive 4.5 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon and park in the Mill B South Trailhead parking lot. If it is full — which it can be before 7 a.m. on weekends — or if it is closed for the winter, park in the lot a few yards further up the “S” curve or along the road (careful not to block the bike lane/shoulder). The Lake Blanche Trail starts on the paved road near the restrooms.

Former Tribune staffer Lennie Mahler contributed to this report.


Region: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Destination: Lake Blanche

Distance: 6.9 miles

Time: 5 hours

Elevation Gain: 2,746 feet

Dog Allowed: No

Restrooms: Yes (locked in winter)

Biking: No

Trailhead: Mill B parking lot, at the bottom of the “S” curve

Difficulty: 4