On this first day of Fall, it might seem odd to feature a hike like this, but it is one of the best times to hike Deseret Peak. But, now that summer is over, the time for longer weekend hikes make this perfect perfect.
Whether it’s for Operation on Target, hiking to prove you can do hard things or just to stand on top of the world, a crew or troop will be rewarded with 360° vistas from the 11,031 feet summit of Deseret Peak.
According to Adam Provance, this is “the highest point in the Stansbury Mountain range, located in western Utah, and can have patches of snow along the trail and on the summit into mid-summer. After a moderately strenuous nine-mile roundtrip hike, one gets great views of the Bonneville Salt Flats to the northwest, the Great Salt Lake to the northeast, and the expansive Utah desert to the west.”
Those views for most Scouts are the crowning moment of the climb, but if you can get a few nearby troops or parents to signal you with mirrors from the valley floor and you signal back, the excitement on your peak will be unparalleled. And, for Operation on Target, this peak is one of the few in Utah with a 360° view.
I have a good Scouting friend, Steve Frisby, that takes his New Scouts on a nearby hike once or twice a year. As he summits, he calls me and I grab my 12″x12″ mirror to blast him back. Parents are staged throughout the valley who also signal back. The Scouts’ yelps of joy on the peak are absolutely delightful to hear over that phone!
Okay then, enough of the rewards on top, let’s get back to Adam’s treatment of his weekend adventure:
Distance – 9 miles round trip
Approximate hiking time – 6 to 8 hours
Elevation at trailhead – 7418 feet
Elevation at Deseret Peak summit – 11,031 feet
Elevation gain – 3,613 feet
Difficulty – Strenuous
Trail – well maintained, dirt, rock, some scree (small loose rocks)
Amount of water recommended – 2 liters
Bathrooms – Yes, located at trailhead
Seasons to climb – early summer to mid-fall
How to get there:
Take Interstate 80 West from Salt Lake City. Go about 20 miles on I-80, then take Exit 99, which takes you to Highway 36. Drive south on Highway 36 for about 3.5 miles. Take the right turn onto UT-138. Stay on UT-138 for 11 miles, and almost drive all the way through Grantsville. (UT-138 becomes Main Street) Turn left (south) onto West Street. There should be a sign for South Willow Canyon. After 5.1 miles south on West Street/Mormon Trail, take a right turn onto South Willow Canyon Road and go for 7.3 miles. The last four miles are unpaved, but a passenger car should have no problem on the road. The road ends at the Loop Campground. (Camping is available at the trailhead near the Loop Campground. Individual sites cost about $14.00 a night. Information on campgrounds can be found on this website, but this area has five other campgrounds in South Willow Canyon. They have picnic tables, fire pits, and restrooms. They are usually open between late-May and mid-October.)
From the Loop Campground, follow the unpaved road to the end of the campground and you’ll see a small parking area, bathrooms, and a sign that reads Mill Fork Trailhead.
Hitting the Trail!
At the start of the hike, you’ll find yourself in relatively shady aspen trees that gradually give way to conifers as you gain altitude. At 0.7 miles from the trailhead, you’ll cross a small stream, which is usually only ankle deep. Shortly after the crossing, you’ll come to a trail junction. Take the trail on the left to Deseret Peak. There should be a trail marker as well.
Around 1.1 miles from the trailhead, the trees will give way to valley with several switchbacks, that for the next 2.3 miles will gain 2,200 feet of elevation. Take plenty of breaks and enjoy the scenery. The last part of the climb to the ridge is the steepest, and the loose scree makes the going a little slow.
Once on top of the ridge, it is relatively flat. Take a minute to catch your breath, take a picture or two, admire your progress and then get ready to start the last leg of the hike. By this time, you’ve hiked 3.0 miles and gained a total of 2624 feet of elevation from the trail head. Now begins your march to the summit of Deseret Peak. A couple of trails convene at the top of the ridge. Take the one that heads right. (west) Deseret Peak is to the southwest.
At this point, you are out of the trees and the hiking surface is primarily rock. There is little shade on the final summit push, so come prepared with a hat and sunglasses. From the top of the ridge, which felt more like a saddle to me, it is only 0.9 miles to the summit. Along the summit trail, don’t be tricked by the false summits. Upon reaching the top of Deseret Peak, you’ll see why it’s so special. Since it is so isolated, no other mountain ranges block the views. It is one of the few peaks that has unobstructed views of the vast Bonneville Salt Flats. On a clear day, it is not unusual to spot Pilot Peak, some 60 miles to the west in Nevada, and 60 miles to the south you can see Mount Nebo, the highest peak in the Wasatch Mountains.
After plenty of pictures and a snack, be sure to sign the climber’s log, found in a small bottle on the summit, and take one last look at the beautiful expanse in all directions. To return to the trailhead, you have two options:
Option 1 – You can retrace your steps and return the way you came. Going back this way seemed to be shorter, faster, and easier to follow than Option 2.
Option 2 – You can do a big loop by taking a trail that continues up and over Deseret Peak and takes you over the other peaks to the south, then down a ridge trail that can be a little tricky to follow. At 2.3 miles from the summit, you’ll find a sign pointing to South Willow Fork to the left, and the Loop Campground, where your car is parked, to the right. Take the right, and follow this trail which is better maintained than the previous parts. From this point, you are 2.2 miles away from the trailhead, where you started, and the hiking is easy. At 1.5 miles after you turned right on your current trail, you’ll come to another trail intersection. Go left. This completes the loop and puts you back on the trail you started from the parking lot. Retrace your steps back to your car!
For hikes like this one, we recommend shoes with good traction and foot support and remember to bring lots of water.
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