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 Utah Travel Center ActivitiesHiking • Lake Blanche

Sundial Peak, across a frozen Lake Blanche

Distance: 5.6 miles (round trip)

Walking time: 4 1/2 hours

Elevations: 2,580 ft. gain/loss
    • Lake Blanche Trailhead (start): 6,320 ft.
     • Lake Blanche: 8,900 ft.

Trail: Popular, well maintained trail

Season: Summer through mid-fall. Snow can be expected on the upper parts of the trail from mid-November through mid-June. For current conditions call the Salt Lake Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, at (801) 943-1794.

Vicinity: Big Cottonwood Canyon, near Salt Lake City

     Lake Blanche is one of the most popular hikes in the Salt Lake City area, not only because the walk is relatively short and the trailhead easy to get to, but because of the scenic beauty and the geologic attractions within the Lake Blanche Basin. Blanche and its two sister lakes, Florence and Lillian, sit in a high alpine basin that was dug out by a glacier during the last ice age. Long straight scratch marks and deep polished grooves, etched out by the glacier, are still clearly visible on the stone surrounding the lakes. Picturesque Sundial Peak (10,320 ft.), which the Wasatch Mountain Club uses as its emblem, rises abruptly from the south shore of Lake Blanche, and Dromedary Peak (11,170 ft.) is only a mile to the southwest. Blanche, its two sister lakes, Dromedary Peak, and the Sundial are all part of Utah's 11,300-acre Twin Peaks Wilderness Area.

     From the trailhead the path begins climbing immediately, and continues to climb at a fairly steady grade of about a thousand feet per mile all the way to the lake. The trail crosses Mill B South Fork once, after 0.3 mile, and then stays on the east side of the canyon for the rest of the hike. About half way to the lake the trail leaves the stream and veers to the east in order to avoid some cliffs at the head of the canyon. Also at about this time you will leave the quaking aspen and enter into a conifer forest.
     As you climb towards the lake you will see frequent evidence of winter and spring avalanches, and in at least one area a rock slide has obliterated the trail. When you reach this part of the path just proceed across the slide area and look for the trail continuing on the other side. Such gaps in the track are never very long, but they do serve to warn hikers of the potential dangers of hiking the Wasatch in the early spring.
     When you are near the top you will begin to see the Sundial rising behind the pass at the head of the canyon. The trail gets steeper here, but you can take heart in the fact that you are almost at the end. Lake Blanche is just on the other side of the pass. As you approach the lake be sure to look for the long scratches in the polished red rock, scraped out by the glacier that carved Lake Blanche Basin about one million years ago.
     Most hikers don't bother to visit Lake Florence and Lake Lillian. The two smaller lakes can't actually be seen from Lake Blanche, but they are only a short walk away and shouldn't be missed. Walk to the old dam at the west end of Blanche and you will be able to look down on Florence and Lillian, about 120 feet lower and 200 yards away. The view of the Sundial isn't quite as spectacular from Florence and Lillian, but if you enjoy solitude either one is a much more peaceful place to eat your lunch than Blanche. Also you are more likely to see deer and other wildlife there.

Content provided by David Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order his book Utah's Favorite Hiking Trails.

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