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Red Pine Lakes

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Basics
Location:
In Little Cottonwood Canyon southeast of downtown Salt Lake City
Length:
7 miles roundtrip
Difficulty:
Intermediate
Time:
3-4 hours
Elevation Change:
2000 feet
Season:
June to October

Description

Located in the heart of Utah’s Lone Peak Wilderness Area, Red Pine Lake definitely ranks among the prettiest of the Wasatch Mountains’ high alpine lakes. It is a popular day or overnight hike and you are bound to meet many other trekkers along the way. If you are looking for more solitude there are also several possible side trips off the main trail that receive far fewer visitors.

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Location:
In Little Cottonwood Canyon southeast of downtown Salt Lake City
Length:
7 miles roundtrip
Difficulty:
Intermediate
Time:
3-4 hours
Elevation Change:
2000
Season:
June to October
Additional Details:
From the parking area the trail winds down a short distance to Little Cottonwood Creek, which it crosses on a wooden foot bridge, and then proceeds at a gentle upward slope along the east side of White Pine Canyon. The first part of the trail is actually an old jeep road which was once used by small-claim miners in the upper part of the White Pine Canyon. The mining activity long ago proved uneconomical, however, and today few signs of this piece of Little Cottonwood’s history are evident. Vehicles are no longer allowed on the trail.

About a mile from the parking lot the trail breaks out of the aspen trees to meet the water at White Pine Fork, and at this point the Red Pine Lake trail branches off to the right. Red Pine hikers must cross another foot bridge to follow a smaller westward trail. The elevation at this junction is about 8,040 feet, or 460 feet higher than the trailhead parking lot.

Half a mile farther the path rounds the ridge separating Red Pine Canyon from White Pine Canyon and again bends to the south. At one point the terrain drops off precipitously on the right, opening up a panorama of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Tiny cars can be seen meandering up from the canyon mouth on a gray thread of asphalt two thousand feet below, but after a few hundred feet the trail ducks back again into the trees and the brief contact with civilization is lost. The grade then becomes somewhat steeper as the path climbs deeper into Red Pine Canyon. Finally, at an elevation of 9,030 feet and a distance of 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail reaches the creek in the bottom Red Pine Canyon. At this point there is another junction in the trail, with the path to Maybird Lakes crossing Red Pine creek on the right. Red Pine Lake hikers should continue straight ahead on the east side of the creek, but not before pausing to appreciate the beauty of this spot. The forest now has turned from aspen to conifer, and there is an abundance of wildflowers along the grassy river bank-perfect for a short break.

Large patches of snow often lie across the last mile of the trail, sometimes until mid-July. This section of the canyon is well shaded on all sides except the north and the snow seems to last forever. The path also gets noticeably steeper near the top of the canyon, but finally, at an elevation of 9,600 feet, it abruptly levels off. The lake is a five or ten minute walk to the left from the top of the canyon.

The setting of Red Pine Lake is exquisite. The rugged crest that separates Little Cottonwood and American Fork Canyons, as well as the Wasatch and Uinta National Forests, lies just beyond the lake. Pfeifferhorn Peak (11,326 ft.) juts out prominently only a mile to the southwest, and to the north, across Little Cottonwood Canyon, Dromedary Peak (11,107 ft.) and Superior Peak (11,132 ft.) are clearly visible. The lake itself is about 600 feet across, with a smaller bay protruding on the south end where the forest comes right to the water’s edge.

Upper Red Pine Lake
Southeast of Red Pine Lake, 0.4 mile distant and 400 feet higher in elevation, lies Upper Red Pine Lake. There is no established trail to Upper Red Pine, and very little vegetation exists around the lake. The setting, however, is spectacularly wild and rugged. The lake, which is about the same size as its lower twin, lies directly beneath the dramatic ridgeline. The best way to get there is along a small stream which comes down from the upper lake to the southeast side of Lower Red Pine. The route involves some scrambling over boulders but is not technically difficult.

Maybird Lakes
As mentioned earlier, the trail to Maybird Lakes leaves the Red Pine Trail about 2.5 miles from the highway, or about one mile down from Red Pine Lake. The Maybird Trail branches to the west, crossing Red Pine Fork on a narrow wooden bridge just after Red Pine Trail first meets the creek. It then follows a fairly level route for about 0.5 mile in a westerly direction before turning south again for the assent through Maybird Gulch to the three tiny Maybird Lakes. The first lake is about 1.3 miles from the Red Pine trail junction at an elevation of 9,660 feet, and the second and third lakes are situated a quarter of a mile further up the gulch. The lakes are all small, only 100 to 150 feet across, and the trees surrounding them are stunted. The gulch is filled with the breakdown of the nearby cliffs, and there is not enough soil to support a more luxuriant forest.

Basic Directions
From Downtown Salt Lake City, head south on I-15 about 8 miles to the I-215 Belt Route. Take I-215 East about 5 miles to 6200 South (Exit 6). Bear to the right off the exit ramp onto 6200 South and head east. (It'll turn south after a bit and merge with Wasatch Boulevard, but just stay on the main road.) After about 2 miles is a light at Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. (On the southwest corner of the intersection is a 7-Eleven gas station and mini-mart.) Continue straight through this intersection heading south for another 2-3 miles. The road will bear to the left and take you up into Little Cottonwood Canyon. The trailhead is 6 miles past the canyon entrance on the south side of the road. (Note: Along the trip from downtown you'll see large signs to the Alta and Snowbird ski resorts. These resorts are at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, so if you follow those signs, you'll get to Little Cottonwood Canyon just fine.)

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