Willow Heights Lake

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Salt Lake City's Incredible Hiking and Biking Trails
pages 86-88

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Willow Heights Lake Willow Heights Lake

     Salt Lake has been blessed with an abundance of fresh water in the lakes and streams of the nearby Wasatch Mountains, and the city government has long played an active role in preserving these precious resources. Indeed, Salt Lake City would probably not be such a desirable place to live today were in not for the pristine watersheds like Willow Heights Lake east of the city. Not only do the protected watersheds ensure an adequate supply of clean, fresh water, but they also offer bountiful opportunities for outdoor recreation. Most of the watersheds above Salt Lake are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, but there are also many lakes and streams in the mountains that lie on private land. For more than a century the Salt Lake City Government has been actively engaged in acquiring threatened privately-owned watersheds to protect them from development.
      In most cases, the protected areas that have been acquired by the city government are open to the public for limited recreational use, and many of them have become popular hiking destinations. Willow Heights Conservation Area, below Willow Heights Lake, is one such place. Salt Lake City purchased the land from the United Park City Mines Company in 2001 in order to save it from becoming a housing development. The 155-acre two million dollar purchase included land surrounding Willow Creek, a 0.8-mile-long stream that flows from Willow Heights Lake, through Willow Heights Meadow, to Cottonwood Creek. Willow Heights  Lake itself lies north of the Salt Lake acquisition, but it is within the boundaries of Wasatch National Forest and is also protected from development.
      Upon leaving the road the Willow Heights Lake trail soon settles into an unrelenting climb up the southeast side of Willow Creek. The grade is not unreasonably steep but it is consistent; you will gain about 500 feet of elevation over the first 0.4 mile. Initially the trail passes through a dense forest of quaking aspen, but about half way to the Willow Heights Lake it breaks out onto a flat, treeless meadow that in midsummer is full of wildflowers.
      As you approach the north end of the meadow you will come to a junction where two other trails depart from the main trail. The trail on the left is an older trail that ends further down Cottonwood Canyon in a residential area. The trail on the right, after a long 0.4 mile detour, arrives on the northeast side of Willow Heights Lake. I suggest you continue walking north on the main trail at this point, and within 200 yards you will come to the northwest corner of Willow Heights Lake.
      If you want to circumnavigate Willow Heights Lake just continue walking east along the north shore. Ideally the path would turn south when it reaches the east side of the lake, but there is a dense thicket of willows growing in the drainage, and in order to avoid this obstacle the trail continues east for another 250 yards before turning south to complete the loop. If you are observant you will see another trail departing on the left near the point where the main trail turns south. This is the trail to Dry Lake.
      If you are in the mood for a longer hike you might want to consider following the trail to Dry Lake. As the name suggests, Dry Lake is usually dry by the end of summer. It is much shallower than Willow Heights Lake and only about half the size. Nevertheless, it can be a nice extension to the hike described above. After departing from the main trail the Dry Lake Trail continues to follow the drainage east of Willow Heights Lake for another 0.1 mile to the Dry Lake drainage. It then turns north up the Dry Lake drainage for 0.2 miles before arriving at the southern end of Dry Lake. The round trip distance of a hike that goes to both Willow Heights Lake and Dry Lake is 2.8 mile, with an elevation gain of 960 feet.

Note to web developers: You may copy this material onto your site, but in return please include a link to my home page www.utahtrails.com. Thank you, David Day (utahdavidday at gmail.com)

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