Sunday, October 15, 2017

Willow Heights Loop

Willow Heights is one of my favorite go to hikes when I want something short and amazing. It a great trip through a stunning aspen forest that leads to a beautiful alpine lake. I almost always see moose on this trail, and usually don’t see too many people. It is great during spring and summer, but phenomenal during fall (if you catch it before the leaves all fall).

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Quick Details:

Length: .75 to the lake. About a half mile around the lake and about 1.5 down the other trail. So a 2.25 loop, or a 2.75 figure eight to go around the lake as well.
Difficulty: DR4. It is short, but can be quite steep.
Elevation Gain: 600 ft.
Restroom: No. Closest one I can think of would be at the Silver Lake Nordic Center.
Dogs? No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed.
Other Info:

To Get Here:

Head up Big Cottonwood Canyon past Mill D you will pass the Silver Fork Lodge on the right, and then look for the faint trail on the left. If you reach Solitude you have gone too far.

If you want to take the alternate trail up, park on the side of Big Cottonwood Canyon road just below Canyon Vacation Rentals. There is no parking in the little residential neighborhood so don’t try. Hike up the narrow road, take the first right and the trail head is at the end.

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Trail marker.

The Trail:

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Well darn we are too late for the Aspens. But no matter, I still love this trail.

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Oh yay, a small patch that hasn’t fallen yet.

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At about an eighth of a mile or so the trail goes from fairly flat to steep and rocky.

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Bald hillside.

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Starting to see some snow.

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The peaks across the canyon.

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Even without their leaves I love hiking through this aspen forest.

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Lone pine tree.

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Looking up.

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The trail through the forest.

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Hitting a more mixed forest.

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When it starts opening up that means you are almost there.

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The meadow before the lake.

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Some patches of color left up there.

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Looking back down and across the canyon.

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We have reached Willow Lake and it looks like we have a visitor.

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We seem to have caught her enjoying dinner.

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Going around to the best side to view the lake. (the west side).

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She didn’t seem to mind us and the 3 other people up here quietly watching her eat.I lost track of how long we watched her but it was a while.

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With the trees above.

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I love the water running down her face.

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Just a magnificent beast.

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I was a little concerned someone had fastened a belt around the poor things neck, but getting a closer look at it I think it might be a radio collar. I guess I have just t never actually seen one before. I did still report it just to be safe. I’d rather do that than do nothing if something is off about it. They got back to me and did confirm it is a radio collar, and that they have been tracking her for 5 years no. Cool.

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Reflection in the lake.

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Another shot.

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Switched back from the telephoto lens to my standard. This should give you an idea of how much distance we kept between us and the moose. I try to give as much space as possible to avoid an incident.

Willow Lake

Panoramic.

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Moose and aspens.

We decided that she was far enough away, not agitated at all, and distracted eating, that it would be safe to continue around the lake. We were just sure to be quick, and quiet while making no sudden movements.

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Nearing the north shore.

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The willow shrubs the lake is named for and some aspens.

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We have gone through this way in the past but it looks a little more overgrown right now than it used to be.

Due to the willows, going around the lake is not really going around the shore. But that’s okay, it is a nice forest you go through.

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More aspens.

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A little bit of leaves left. I didn’t see it today, but somewhere along the way is the split to Dry Lake. It’s only another 3 quarters if a mile, and kind of neat.

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Hiking through the aspens.

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Little bit of fall color left.

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Pretty forest.

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Some snow on the east side of the lake.

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Some patches of color on the peak above.

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There is a small opening to allow you to view the lake from this side. Ms. Moose is still enjoying dinner.

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Well we made it around the lake and we noticed this alternate trail heading SW instead of the one we came up going SE. We noticed a trail split on the way up and hoped it would connect to that. Worse case scenario I know there is an alternate trailhead.

I don’t particularly recommend that without really knowing where you are going. We got, well semi lucky. This trail is a little less steep, but about twice as long.

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Looking across the valley towards the trail we came up.

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I think those are the mountains above Lake Solitude.

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The thin trail down into the woods.

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Willow Creek. When the leaves are littering the floor this much, be extra vigilant for water. It can be hard to tell where solid ground ends and water begins.

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There was a little bit more color on this trail.

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We were starting to worry that this trail was taking us quite a bit more West than we wanted to go.

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Luckily it swung back the other way eventually.

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Its a little patchy, but I am just happy that we didn’t completely miss the aspen color this year.

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Willow Creek again. After this the trail switches back to heading west again. If there is a connection back to the main trail, I would suspect it would be around here, however we did not see one. I might investigate more next time I am up here in the spring.

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More color.

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Wacky curved tree and some more color.

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Color shot of the day I think.

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Eventually we came to this trail split. The trail going forward appears to be the main trail, however we wanted to head back to the east I kind of felt like this was going to be a mistake, but ignored it.. Well, that was definitely a mistake as you will see in a moment. Stay on the main trail.

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It did allow us to see some more golden aspens.

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Pretty forest.

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Trail is getting a little thin.

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Crap. End of the line.

So, while I will absolutely respect their wishes, and not cross onto their private property, I just wish they would have put a sign back at the main trail split. Would have saved us a good quarter mile or so. Sigh, oh well, at least it is pretty.

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More pretty forest.

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Back to the main trail.

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Hah, we definitely chose our trail split poorly, as almost immediately we hit the alternate trailhead. However, we aren’t done walking yet.

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Now we have to walk down the road past a bunch of cabins. You pop out on Mountain Sun Rd.

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Some color through here.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures through the neighborhood, but just work yourself downhill. There was one turn left onto Moose Track Ln.

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And eventually it will spit you out onto Big Cottonwood Rd. And it will be just below the Canyon Vacation Rentals.

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Hiking back uphill along Big Cottonwood Rd.

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Willow Creek is dry down here. It must be diverted a little higher up somewhere.

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And before long I can see where we parked. Okay, that wasn’t too bad.

From the lake back to the trailhead ended up being about 1.5 miles, so just double what the main trail is. Not horrible, and well, it is fun to make a loop and see new things. Not sure if we’d ever do it again, but it was fun. Plus its a good way to extend the hike and get more trail in if the short trail wasn’t enough for you.

I still absolutely love this trail! It’s short, super pretty and a great way to see some moose. It’s also a great way to get away from the crowds in the canyon. Sometimes there can be quite a few people, but often I find it to be fairly secluded as well. The alternate trail we took down while having a easier elevation gain, was longer and had some blah neighborhood walking, however it was absolutely deserted. 10 squirrels for the main trail and loop around the lake. 9 squirrels for the alternate trail.

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As for difficulty, both trails have some elevation to climb. You just need to decide if you want to get it over with quickly or not. DR4.

Dogs are not allowed as Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed.

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