Utah's Lonely Deseret Peak Wilderness

Deseret Peak Wilderness has everything the popular Wasatch Range does, except the crowds.
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Deseret Peak Wilderness has everything the popular Wasatch Range does, except the crowds.

Wanted: hikers to revel in lush aspen groves, alpine lakes, and an 11,000-foot-high ridge walk offering views spilling more than 100 miles into four states. You'll find untrammeled meadows. Abundant wildlife. Trout streams. Within spitting distance of Salt Lake City. Uncrowded. Apply in person: Deseret Peak Wilderness, Stansbury Mountains.

Okay, so the managers of Deseret Peak Wilderness haven't stooped to placing personal ads in local papers to attract attention in a town smitten with the Wasatch Front and points east. But things do get mighty lonely in this lofty playground on the other side of Salt Lake City. My forays here have been notable for the abundance of wildlife and the absence of one particularly noisy, two-legged species. I know several wilderness rangers who even tempted fate and hiked through Deseret last July Fourth holiday. They didn't see a soul.

One of my favorite routes through the wilderness is the walk up Mill Fork to the Stansbury Crest Trail to North Willow Canyon. Total length on this end-to-ender: 15 miles. A variation that avoids the need for a car shuttle involves turning south on the Willow Lakes Trail at the Pockets Fork junction to return to Mill Fork trailhead. It makes an 8.4-mile loop that's perfect for satisfying a last-minute urge to hike among tall peaks and sleep surrounded by great scenery.

If you're determined to reach the top of Deseret Peak, the toughest part of the journey may not be the 3,600-foot climb, but instead maintaining your focus as grouse, marmot, elk, Indian paintbrush, and glacier lilies compete for your attention. Once on the summit, linger awhile and look for a small herd of wild horses that hangs out by Big Creek Canyon.

If a high-altitude camp is to your liking, stroll a half mile down the Antelope Canyon spur trail to a southwest view framed by quaking aspen.

Or you could pack several gallons of water and make home for the evening in the bowl on the peak's northwest flank. All of which is good information to know, because you don't read the personal ads anyway, right?

QUICK TAKE: Deseret Peak Wilderness, UT

DRIVE TIME: The Deseret Peak Wilderness Area is 47 miles (1 hour) southwest of Salt Lake City.

THE WAY: Take I-80 for 20 miles west, and exit at UT 36 south. Go 3.5 miles to UT 138 west, which you follow for 11 miles into Grantsville. A sign on the west side of Grantsville directs you to the South and North Willow Canyon areas. Turn left at the sign and go south 5 miles to a signed turnoff for South Willow Canyon (Mill Fork trailhead).

TRAILS: There are 24 miles of maintained hiking trails in the 25,000-acre wilderness.

ELEVATION: Ranges from 5,600 feet at the mouth of Antelope Canyon to 11,031 feet atop Deseret Peak.

CAN'T MISS: The views from Deseret Peak take in four states. Also, luxuriant meadows and aspen groves on the Mill Fork strike a cool, green contrast to the salt plains below.

CROWD CONTROL: Expect to see a few peakbaggers on the Deseret Peak loop on summer weekends. Camping spots on spur ridges or side trails are quiet. Solitude rules on the Bear Fork Trail. Deer-hunting season is in late October.

PIT STOP: Robin's in Grantsville is a great place for milkshakes.

WALK SOFTLY: Deseret's sensitive meadows deserve a break. Camp and hike on gravelly or rocky surfaces that can handle the wear.

MAPS AND GUIDES: The USGS 7.5-minute quads covering the wilderness include: Deseret Peak East, Deseret Peak West, North Willow Canyon, and Salt Mountain. Available through MapLink at (800) 962-1394.

MORE INFORMATION: Contact the public-land information center located in the map department at the REI store in Salt Lake City during afternoons and evenings, Wednesday through Sunday; (801) 466-6411. Or contact the Salt Lake Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, 6944 S. 3000 E., Salt Lake City, UT 84121; (801) 943-1794.