Backpacking trips for the beginners and the experts


(Photo Courtesy of Nate Furman)

It’s so hard to compile a list of any “bests” in the Wasatch. I’ve had the pleasure of growing up in the Salt Lake Valley with Mount Olympus, Twin Peaks, and Lone Peak providing a wonderful backdrop to my daily routine. As I’ve immersed myself more and more into backpacking and climbing, an entire world has been opened up to me, and I’ve realized that of all the uncertainties in life, one thing is definite: The Wasatch Mountains are pretty rad.

With that being the case, there are a lot of “bests,” no matter your chosen form of recreation. In this list of the best backpacking locations in the Wasatch, I’ve decided to only include two entries: a relatively beginner trip for quick after-work expeditions and a formidable ascent into the heart of our local mountains.

1. Willow Heights

Have you ever woken up to a fantastic view of a serene lake? I don’t even know why I asked that question. If you have, you probably want to go back, and if you haven’t, you should join in on this sacred practice. Willow Heights is a relatively easy beginner trail with one of these notable and worthwhile destinations.

The trailhead is located only about a third of a mile east of Silver Fork Lodge on the north side of the road. As you hike, you’ll find yourself meandering for three quarters of a mile through aspen groves, rising less than 700 feet in the process. The best part of the whole trail, though, is Willow Heights, the beautiful alpine lake at the end. This makes for a perfect place to spend the night and an even better view to wake up to the next morning. Keep a lookout for moose and other local wildlife.

As is usual in our local canyons, remember that you’re in a watershed area, so always be sure to camp at least 200 feet from the water and trail, pack in what you pack out, and don’t bring your dogs along for the hike.

2. Lone Peak Cirque via Jacob’s Ladder

All around, this is a tough one. Right off the bat, the Jacob’s Ladder trailhead is tricky to find (including clear directions in this article would simply take up too much room). Once you do arrive at your destination, you’ve got quite the hike ahead of you. At more than six miles long and more than a mile (5,650 feet) in elevation gain, this destination is for the experienced backpacker only.

The trail starts out in relatively bland frontcountry but then explodes into a wonderful alpine haven after 9,000 feet. Every time I visit, I can’t help but think I’ve been transported into the Sierras. Camp in the pine trees that arise at around 10,000 feet and enjoy the night surrounded by serene wilderness. Wake up the next morning to finish the hike to the summit, or just lounge about and watch climbers as they ascend the renowned 600 foot granite faces. I’ve honestly never been to a place so close to home that I love so much. Easily my personal favorite hike and backpack trip in all the Wasatch.

Final note: As we move later into the year, it is important to note that most, if not all, trails in the Wasatch are growing more and more technical. As temperatures drop and snow falls, it would be completely foolhardy to not bring appropriate insulation and food, as well as proper tools for traveling on snow. Additionally, please do not travel in the backcountry without knowledge of the terrain through which you are traveling, especially if there is a risk of avalanches. We are very lucky to be living so close to such an amazing locale, let us do our part to keep it clean and keep ourselves safe to experience it another day.

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