An Epic 13-Mile Mountain Run at Desolation Lake

Tom Bracken
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Escape the heat and hit the Desolation Loop for an epic 13-mile trail run through mountain meadows to pristine lakes at the top of the Wasatch. Experienced trail runners will enjoy Desolation Loop’s beautiful, well-maintained singletrack, and 2,400 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead is a quick 30 minutes from the sweltering downtown summer heat.

Desolation Loop is easy to find. Take I-15 to the 3300 South exit, then head south on Wasatch Blvd. Take a left at the 3800 South intersection and head straight into Mill Creek Canyon. Drive up the canyon until you find the Big Water parking area. Due to its convenient proximity to the city, the canyon is a popular destination during the warmer months. While there’s plenty of parking, it can get a bit crowded—especially on Saturdays. Remember to bring $3 cash per car—that’s the day fee for use of Mill Creek Canyon.

Make sure you’re hydrated before the trail run and bring plenty of water with you. Sunscreen is always a great idea up here and remember a headlamp if you get started later in the day. Check the weather before you run. If thunderstorms are rolling through you’ll want to bring a light shell and a mid-layer is always good to have at the very beginning or end of the day.

View of Mount Raymond from a peak above Desolation Lake.
Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
View of Mount Raymond from a peak above Desolation Lake. Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah Andrey Zharkikh

The trail begins at the Upper Big Water parking area at the very top of Mill Creek Canyon. Take the Upper Big Water Trailhead (on the right as you pull into the parking lot) towards the first three easy miles to Dog Lake; then the trail goes up a grade or two and grinds its way to Desolation Lake and the Park City ridgeline.

Keep an eye out for moose bathing or grazing around the lake. Please resist the urge to do like the moose and jump in the lake, it’s a watershed and not allowed. However, it is alright to have dogs in Mill Creek, but once you cross to Desolation Lake, you’re in the Big Cottonwood Canyon watershed and you can’t bring dogs there.

From Desolation Lake, you’ll enjoy views of high-alpine bowls and incredible wildflowers.

Soon, you’ll pass Red Pine Lake and continue along the ridge before heading back down Mill Creek. There will be a bunch of forks the rest of the way down. At all of the forks, you’ll want to go left. You’ll get some nice long stretches of straight singletrack on the run down towards the Big Water trailhead. There are also a couple of small streams to cross on your way down as well.

As you approach the fork with the large bridge to your right, you’re almost to the bottom. You will end right where the trail began at the Upper Big Water parking area.

After your run, be sure to hit Hector’s for some delicious Mexican food. The fish burrito has quite a following in Salt Lake City. Just cross I-215 and head down 3300 South. You’ll see Hector’s on your right. Enjoy!

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