Lake Blanche in Big Cottonwood Canyon is a leg-burner with one of the most gorgeous settings for a sunset at the end. It’s a bucket list hike for Salt Lake City—don’t skip it. Bring a headlamp for the way down, plenty of water, and lots of calories.
The hike itself covers approximately 5.5 miles, and gains over 2,600 vertical feet along the route—it’s a steep one even if you’re used to mountain life. Make sure you’re hydrated before you start and have at least three liters of water with you, you’ll need it. Those free samples of GU will come in handy along the way as well. Late summer thunderstorms aren’t uncommon in the afternoons and you’ll want a shell with you in case you get stuck in one.
A local favorite, this trail can be one of the busiest in the canyons, but if you time it right, you can avoid the main crowd. The hike will take anywhere from 3.5 hours to five hours, depending on your pace. If you push your edge, you might make it in three. A late afternoon hike with a walk down in the dark is highly recommended. If you have the next day off, turn this into a backpack/overnight—it’s worth the extra effort.
The trailhead is only a 28-minute drive from the Convention Center, just drop “Lake Blanche Trailhead, Brighton, UT 84121” into your GPS and get going. Parking is at the Mill B trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon. You’ll go about 4.5 miles up the canyon until you come to a very prominent S-Curve. There are a couple of free parking areas at the bottom of this curve.
You’ll enjoy a steady climb through aspen groves and the typical Big Cottonwood alpine evergreens for the first half of the hike. The trail is consistently steep, relentlessly so, but there are so many overlooks and scenic settings that you'll find plenty of excuses to stop and rest.
The final three-quarters of a mile gets steeper. While your legs won’t believe it possible after all the climbing they’ve already done, once you reach the summit you’ll be glad you put in the final effort. The trailhead summit at Lake Blanche (8,975 feet) shows you an amazing view of the 10,320-foot Sundial Peak to the south. Lake Lillian and Lake Florence are just to the south and east of Blanche. The surrounding cirque includes Monte Cristo (11,132 feet), Dromedary Peak (11,107 feet) and Sunrise Peak (11,275 feet).
Once you reach the summit at Lake Blanche, the view to the west delivers some of the best sunsets on Earth. That’s no hyperbole.
If you have the chance and want to stay overnight, you can setup anywhere along Lake Blanche—though others will appreciate if you tuck your tent away from the shoreline. The glacier-grooved rock faces to the north of the lake are cozy. Just keep in mind that campfire restrictions in the Cottonwoods could keep you from having a fire. While many choose to build small fires in spite of the restrictions, this is certainly not encouraged.
Whether you stay overnight or hike down in the dark, you won’t be disappointed. This is one of the best hikes in Utah and it’s totally worth the climb.