Monday, June 17, 2019

Backpacking to South Willow Lake

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Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
South Willow Lake is a high alpine lake in the Deseret Peak Wilderness, West of Salt Lake City, Utah. It is a fairly steep trail but only 3.5 miles to the lake. The best time to backpack here is mid-June - October, when the winter gate is open and the trail is mostly free of snow. There are two routes to get to South Willow Lake via the Deseret Peak TH or the Medina Flat TH (aka Stansbury Front Trail). 

Because I have been to Deseret Peak twice, I wanted to switch things up and take a new trail. The Stansbury Front Trail follows an old mining road (now an ATV road) for 2.5 miles before turning into a single track trail. The last mile makes a few small switch backs before arriving at the lake. This area is great for a quick overnight trip (what I did), or an intro into backpacking for newbies - just be prepared to get a workout in. This is also a dog friendly area, with plenty of water and shade. Backpacking to South Willow lake is also a great early-season option before the Uintas are ready and clear of snow.

From SLC, head West on I-80 and take exit 99 for Tooele, UT. Drive 3.4 miles, then turn right on HWY 138. Drive 10.8 miles and turn left on S West St (you will also see a large brown sign for South Willow Canyon here). Drive 5.2 miles and turn right at the signed "Medina Flat" - it's 0.2 miles past the Ranger Station. It's a dirt road, but well-graded. Any car can make it. There is a port-a-potty at the TH. The drive from SLC is about 1 hour 20 minutes.

Here's a driving map.

GPS of Medina Flat Trailhead: 
40.49598, -112.57714


Distance: 7 miles RT
Elevation gain: 2,460 ft
Time: 2-3 hours one way
Dog friendly? Yes off leash
Kid friendly? Yes, for older kids
Fees/Permits? None


Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
We parked at the Medina Flat TH, and the trail is now called the Stansbury Front Trail. There is a port-a-potty and parking for roughly 30 cars. Be advised that horses also use this trail, so have a leash handy.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Within 5 minutes of hiking, cut through the gate.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
At the first trail intersection, turn left. Hiking straight would take you over to the North Willow TH.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
You should now be hiking West, along the old mining road, still used by ATVs today.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
There was so much snow melt in June 2019, that the "trail" was now a stream.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Old mining structure.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Whew, the trail is steep in sections! Glad my pack only weighed 16.5 lbs!
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
At 2.2 miles you'll see the official Deseret Peak Wilderness sign. 

The pack I'm using is my new 30 MILE (30 liter) pack by Waymark Gear Co. My goal this summer was to be able to do a solo, overnight backpack trip using this pack and I was able to fit everything! This was my first time being able to backpack with a 30L pack, rather than my usual 50L. 

Get 10% off your entire order from Waymark Gear Co, using the code "GOAH19" at checkout!
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Just to the left of the wilderness sign is a nice swimming hole for the dogs.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Don't forget to look back! The snowy peaks in the distance to the right are Butterfield, White Pine, and Kelsey Peaks!
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Around 2.4 miles you'll see two boulders on the left and a pile of trees. I tried taking the trail through the boulders but it died out within 10 feet, so there's not actually a trail. Keep hiking up the road around the pile of trees. Just beyond this is a steep hill, and then the trail changes to a single track route. From there you only have 1 more mile.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Working our way up some small switchbacks. See the white line/crack in the wall ahead? South Willow Lake sits right below that. We were so close!
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
But first, a few snow patches to cross. Charlie was fired up to see snow again! Charlie wears the Ruffwear Palisades Pack

Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
The trail is under there somewhere...
Backpacking to South Willow Lake
Looking back down to where I hiked up from.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Finally, we made it! As expected, South Willow Lake was still frozen!
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
The temperature started to drop so I quickly set up camp and made a very small fire.

My solo tent that I use is the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tent, which weighs a mere 26 ounces! Switching to this Ultralight tent has helped me save a LOT of weight from my pack. 
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Snuggling in the tent! Plenty of room for 1 person, 1 dog plus some gear.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Good morning!
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Time to wake up and make breakfast! If you're looking for a sweet sunrise spot, this is it!
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Walking around the lake. Because everything was frozen over, I had to walk back down the trail for a few minutes to be able to filter water.
Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness
Time to head back down! This time I changed into my water shoes, kept my Darn Tough socks on for insulation, and it felt great!



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Check out what I carried in my pack!


Things I normally carry for 2+ night that I left out on this trip
Removing all those items helped me get my pack down to 16.5 lbs for one night!



Route via Stansbury Front Trail 




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Backpacking to South Willow Lake, Desert Peak Wilderness