Fall

Willow Lake is worth the hike

The drive up the Big Cottonwood Canyon itself is enough to take your breath away. The full spectrum of nature’s palette can be seen in the trees lining both sides of the road.

 

Turn up the volume on some Fleet Foxes or Flatbush Zombies and soak in the beauty — the scenery is perfect for any music genre. Once you reach the Willow Heights Trailhead, hop out of your car quickly because the canyon breeze is immediately refreshing. Parking is a first-come, first-served free-for-all. Praise the powers that be, we somehow found a spot at noon on a Sunday when the canyon is usually swarming with people looking for an escape from everyday life.

The hike to Willow Lake is not long, certainly not an all-day trip. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in 600 feet of vertical elevation gain. The trail is three-quarters of a mile and clearly marked, making it easy to follow; however, it is quite narrow, so remember the trail etiquette your mom taught you. So much elevation gain in so little time means it is considerably steep for the first half-mile.

It’s not for the faint of heart or for those with two left feet, as the trail goes quite high up into the Wasatch Plateau. Willow Lake itself sits nestled in a basin at an elevation of 9,400 feet.

The trail ranges all the way from a nature walk to nearly unmanageable in its short duration — just enough fluctuation to keep you on your toes. The fall colors are spectacular. The entire trail carves its way through a grove of aspens, all in their autumn bloom, with intermittent spruce and fir trees.

After a half-mile of nearly vertical trekking, the trail begins to even out, signaling that the end is near. Upon exiting the thick growth of yellowing aspens, you suddenly find yourself out in the open. The trail now seems flat, and you can feel the relief washing over you. Looking ahead, though, you see yet another rise of the path in the distance. Ultimately, the trail falls into a small basin just beyond that view.

Willow Lake isn’t quite what I imagined and, in all truth, leaves a little to be desired. After that mountainous climb, it could well be described as anticlimactic. But that’s hardly the lake’s fault. Without a previous good snow year, alpine lakes can appear a lot less impressive in a dry fall than in a wet spring, and we all know what little snow the whole valley saw last winter.

Willow Lake is small, shallow, and a tad sloppy. But it is beautiful. In the early hours of the morning and last hours of daylight, you can see moose looming in the thick willows surrounding the area. The changing aspens reflected in the surface shimmer, as if the lake were made of gold. In Utah, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mountain lake that isn’t beautiful, no matter how big or small (or how painful the climb).

Standing on the shoreline of Willow Lake provides gorgeous views all the way around. You can even catch a glimpse of Solitude to the south. For those looking to extend their hike, feel free to walk the perimeter for some extra leg work. The surrounding flat meadow is a welcome change of pace and makes for a perfect stroll if you aren’t ready to leave.

If you’re like me and find yourself itching for outdoor adventure, then you should head to Willow Lake sooner rather than later. Don’t let the initial hill deter you from this alpine lake. Buckle down and make the climb.

k.broschinsky@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kamrynlinda

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Go for a climb this “Rock-tober”

Are you feeling it, too? It’s really quite beautiful, once you think about it. Things are happening around Utah. The backgrounds of our Instagram selfies are changing to beautiful hues of gold, red, and orange. The soft smell of decaying leaves (and is that pumpkin spice?) is gently blowing in the breeze. It’s that time: Fall is upon us.

Send-tember is over, and Rock-tober is in full swing. What does this mean? Well, if you like to climb, you may realize that the temperatures around the state are beginning to calm down. The canyons in the Wasatch and the desert towers in central Utah are not quite as swelteringly hot. Plus, at least normally, for one glorious month out of the year, conditions around the state become just right to open up a veritable buffet of climbing opportunities.

Let’s do some math. Fall Break is nine days long. That’s nine uninterrupted days of pure freedom. Better still, that’s nine whole days of prime climbing time. I’m no math major, but that’s seven more days than our average weekend. Sounds to me like an opportunity.

While many people may be finding themselves running home to their families or going on sight-seeing trips around the state and beyond, you could be taking advantage of this prime weather to head down and climb in southern Utah without having to worry about getting back late Sunday night in time for classes the next morning. Or you could stay in the valley and climb along the Wasatch Front. Each day is a new opportunity for morning pump, mid-day crushfests, and evening epics.

If you’re still not getting my message, let’s look at average temperatures in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons during this time of year: low- to mid-60s. What does that mean? Your climbing ability rises about two to three whole letter grades in this temperature. I don’t make the rules — these are just the facts, people.

Need some ideas? Grab a few crash pads and go bouldering in the Secret Garden, located near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon (only about 20 minutes from campus). Or, for more of an adventure, head down to Moab, camp for a few days, and go climbing at the infamous Wall Street. Not too far away is Indian Creek, which is well-known for its top-tier sandstone crack climbing. Now is not a bad time to make the drive and experience what all the hype is about.

If you don’t quite have all the gear, check out Outdoor Adventure’s equipment rental program. They have quite the inventory, and U students receive a small discount on rental fees. A bouldering pad is $6 for the day. You can even rent climbing helmets, harnesses, and shoes. Or grab a tent, sleeping bag, and every other camping essential you need to sleep at the base of your next objective. Now there’s really no excuse.

So get out this Fall Break and go climbing. The weather is great, school is a non-issue, and your friends finally have no excuse to not act as your belayer for the day.

t.dickinson@dailyutahchronicle.com

@thatdickinson

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(Don’t) Keep your eyes on the road

Sometimes you just need to roll the windows all the way down, blast some music, and drive. Luckily, the Wasatch is the perfect place for that. You can hop in your car and catch some beautiful scenery out of your window in a short distance. Here’s my roundup of the best places to put the pedal to the metal.

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Distance: 15 miles to the top of the canyon

If you have ever spent anytime in the Wasatch, you have likely journeyed up Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is only a 25-minute drive from Salt Lake City to the mouth of the canyon. From Salt Lake, exit I-215 at 6200 South and follow signs for Brighton and Solitude ski areas. Though you may say that you have seen it a million times, every season — or every day for that matter — the canyon will morph into something entirely different. Even if you don’t feel like embarking on any hikes, there are plenty of places to stop off on the side of the road to admire the sweeping cliffs. You may even catch a glimpse of some brave climbers scaling the walls.

If you feel like going for a short nature walk, consider checking out Donut Falls. It’s a short hike on flat ground, making it a great way to take in the scenery and stretch your legs. The canyon is steep and winds all the way up with some pretty harrowing hairpin turns. But don’t let the twisting road stop you from making it all the way. Brighton perches at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon and provides an awesome end point to your scenic drive. Pack a lunch and take it all in.

Little Cottonwood Canyon

Distance: 7-mile scenic byway

Little Cottonwood Canyon is a drive you shouldn’t miss. From Salt Lake City, exit I-215 at 6200 South and follow the signs for Snowbird and Alta. The canyon truly does present you with the best the Wasatch has to offer, even without leaving your car. Unlike Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood Canyon is less narrow and winding and more expansive, though still plenty steep. There is lots to do and see on your drive up the canyon with wilderness areas flanking either side of the road.

You can also stop off at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to walk around or take advantage of the swanky amenities at The Cliff Lodge. When you reach the top of the canyon, you will end up in Alta, which boasts amazing wildflowers in late summer, vibrant fall colors and a skier’s paradise in winter. Once at the top, you can gaze at the riveting view down the canyon.

Salt Lake To Park City Via I-80

Distance: 30 miles, one-way

The drive on I-80 from Salt Lake City to Park City is scenic and straightforward. If you like to cruise at high speeds on the open road, then this is the Wasatch scenic drive for you. Try using the right lane to slow down a little and enjoy the scenery. The towering mountainsides, covered in forest, give you breathtaking views from every angle.

The drive is fairly steep until you roll over the top of Parley’s Summit. Once you are over the summit you begin to coast down toward Park City, which is a great place to explore at the end of your drive. The city is not only home to great restaurants and stores but is also surrounded by some incredibly scenic Wasatch terrain.

Guardsman Pass Scenic Backway from Park City to Wasatch Mountain State Park

Distance: 15 miles, one-way

If you are in the mood to escape the masses on the main roads and get onto something a bit more rugged and secluded, look no further than the Guardsman Pass Scenic Backway. Once you are in Park City it is only 2.7 miles to the Guardsman Pass road. There are multiple directions in which you can head, but one of the best is the branch that takes you over to Wasatch Mountain State Park near Midway, Utah.

The road is a bit rough in places and ranges from paved to gravelly to washboard, but it is definitely doable without four-wheel drive. Just be aware that heavy rain and other weather conditions can make the road a bit treacherous. The route passes by meadows, aspen groves, and towering evergreens. This drive is especially spectacular in the fall when the colors are at their peak.

f.rhinehart@dailyutahchronicle.com

@Unchained116

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Editor’s Note, Sept. 2015

I don’t like pumpkin spice. That’s right, all you latte-loving lunatics, I won’t be mobbing a Starbucks or Trader Joe’s any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love fall.

There’s magic in the leaves changing colors (plus, I hear orange is apparently the new black). Now is the chance to raid your nearest Target for knitted hats and watch “Hocus Pocus” until you croak. But most of all, it’s the perfect time to enjoy the Utah outdoors … before the skiers descend (yes, that does sound like the name of a low-budget horror flick at Sundance).

To help you get outside all you can before the snowfall, we’ve filled this issue of Wasatch Magazine full of trip ideas for an adventurous October. It’s our annual “Fall Break Guide,” and inside you’ll find stories leading you to Bryce Canyon, sending you good vibes from Montana, and calling you to join us in Tahoe. You can also check out our guide to hiking around a scenic Utah lake or climbing at Indian Creek.

For memorable travels this Fall Break, we’re here to help you get all your ducks in a row (because I hear those critters also hate pumpkin spice). Quack!

c.tanner@dailyutahchronicle.com

@CourtneyLTanner

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Explore the beauty of Bryce

One of the most interesting and sought-after national parks in the United States is Bryce Canyon. Nothing else comes close to the beauty of the red rock — especially in the autumn. Tourists come from all around the world just to look at the naturally forming hoodoos and cliff faces, and I suggest you spend your Fall Break doing the same.

Bryce Canyon National Park is a little more than a four-hour drive south of Salt Lake City. Fill up with gas in Beaver — it’s the last chance for a while, and it’s a little more expensive once you reach Panguitch.

The most exciting land feature you’ll see before arriving at the park is the Red Arch Tunnel, which you can drive through. Once you arrive at Bryce Canyon, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. After that, there are two campgrounds inside the park at which you should be able to reserve a spot prior to leaving on your trip.

If you arrive in the evening, the best time to view the entire amphitheatre will be at either sunset or sunrise, because the shadows from every hoodoo will enhance the scene.

The first overlook you’ll come to is Sunrise Point. When the first light of the day hits the spot, the hills sing. The colors come alive. You can hike into this natural amphitheatre by following the Queens Garden Trail. Hoodoos tower above you as you walk. But don’t get too distracted by the rock formations — it’s a long way down to the bottom if you slip and fall.

Once you finish the Queens Garden loop you’ll meet a junction — you can either head back to the top of Sunset Point or continue doing another hike called Peek-A-Boo Loop. Follow the latter, if you have the time. It’s a blast walking in and out of the strange land formations. Be sure to bring a lot of water with you on the trail because there aren’t any filling-up stations until you get back to the top.

Once you get back to your car, stick around for the sunset. While you’re waiting, practice a special trick with ponderosa pine trees. Put your nose to the tree and take a whiff. There should be a slight sent of vanilla. If so, then you’ve correctly identified a ponderosa.

At your campsite, cook up some dinner and wait for the stars. Since Bryce is so far away from any major metropolitan areas, there is little light pollution to get in your way of viewing the Milky Way. But don’t stay out stargazing too late because you have one more destination to see the next day before you head home to Salt Lake City: Bryce Point.

This location allows you to view the entire landscape that Bryce Canyon has to offer all at once. Take it in and enjoy the beauty around you this Fall Break.

k.creveling@dailyutahchronicle.com

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