Deseret Peak
(Deseret Peak Wilderness Area)

excerpts from the book
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day

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Distance: 8.4 miles (loop)

Walking time: 6 3/4 hours

Elevations: 3,613 ft. gain/loss
     Mill Fork Trailhead (start): 7,418 ft.
     Deseret Peak: 11,031 ft.

Trail: Most of the trail is well maintained and easy to follow. A portion of the return path, however, is not well maintained and can occasionally be confusing.

Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The upper parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from November through late June. For current conditions call the Salt Lake Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, at (801) 943-1794.

Vicinity: Deseret Peak Wilderness Area, west of Salt Lake City

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     Most of the western side of Utah is occupied by an interesting geographical area known as the Great Basin. The Great Basin is a vast, semiarid desert that extends from the Wasatch Front, across Nevada, to the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. The desert is not unbroken, though. It contains a number of narrow, isolated mountain ranges, running mostly in a north-south direction and separated by long desert valleys. The mountain ranges of the Great Basin are of great interest to evolutionary biologists because of their isolation. Life has developed in slightly different ways in each of the secluded ranges, making them ideal natural laboratories for the study of evolution.
     In Utah the best known and most accessible of the Great Basin mountain ranges is the Stansbury Range, in which Deseret Peak is the highest point. The Stansbury Mountains are almost the only Great Basin range in Utah with a good system of hiking trails. The uniqueness of the mountains was recognized in 1984, when a 25,500-acre area, including Deseret Peak, was selected for the creation of the Deseret Peak Wilderness Area.

     From the Loop Campground the trail proceeds up South Willow Canyon for 0.7 mile to Mill Fork. Here the trail splits, with the right fork leading to the Willow Lakes and the left fork to Deseret Peak. Take the Deseret Peak fork. For the next 2.3 miles the path meanders up Mill Fork, realizing an elevation gain of 2,200 feet and finally crossing the ridge at the head of the valley.
     At the top of the ridge you will encounter a 4-way junction in the trail with signs marking the way to Deseret Peak, Bear Fork, Antelope Canyon, and Loop Campground. The Deseret Peak Trail climbs again up the south side of another intersecting ridge and finally reaches the peak after 0.9 mile.
     Many of northern Utah’s most prominent features can be seen from the top of Deseret Peak, including the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front. Stansbury Island, 25 miles north in the Great Salt Lake, is thought to be an extension of the Stansbury Mountains. On most days it isn’t difficult to see Mount Nebo, 60 miles to the southeast on the southern end of the Wasatch Mountains. And in the west more of the Great Basin ranges can be seen, including the Cedar Mountains, 20 miles away.
     From the peak the loop trail continues northward, staying on the top of the summit ridge for about 0.4 mile and then dropping down 200-300 feet below the ridge on the west side. The trail is not as well maintained here and there may be some confusion at times. But there are few trees at this altitude, and you can occasionally see parts of the trail far ahead.
     Finally, 1.6 miles after leaving the summit of Deseret Peak, the trail makes an abrupt turn to the right, crosses to the east side of the ridge, and starts down again towards Mill Fork Canyon. About 0.7 mile after leaving the ridge the trail intersects the Willow Lakes trail, where you should turn right. From that point the path is much more distinct.
     As shown on the map, it is possible to cross the summit ridge and drop down towards Mill Fork about 0.4 mile before the main trail does so. Doing this saves about a mile of walking, but is unlikely to save any time as it is much easier to walk on the trail. You will recognize this alternative route because the Forest Service has placed an 8-foot-high juniper pole on the ridge at the point where the route departs from the main trail.
     After you meet the Willow Lakes trail it is an easy walk back to Mill Fork, from where you can retrace your steps for the last 0.7 mile to the Mill Fork Trailhead.

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