Hiking Deseret Peak in the Stansbury Mtns
The grandeur and beauty of the Wasatch Mountains, coupled with their close proximity to Salt Lake and surrounding metropolis, makes for very crowded mountain trails during summer weekends. Hikers, mountain bike enthusiasts, rock climbers, and out-of-state tourists flock to the cool mountain passes of the Wasatch to escape the concrete, steel, smog, and sludge of the cities.
The Wasatch Mountain trails, peaks, lakes, and passes are becoming inundated with people, especially on weekends. On any given Saturday morning one merely trades the rat race of the cities for the rat race of the Wasatch.
There are other viable options available for misanthropic alpinists, however. Deseret Peak is one such option. The highest peak in the Stansbury range, Deseret Peak offers all the beauty, grandeur, and accessibility of the Wasatch, minus the crowds.
The Stansburies rise up just west of the city of Grantsville. These mountains offer expansive views of the Great Salt Lake, the West Desert, and the Wasatch Mountains, contain crucial summer mule deer habitat, and serve as home for cougar, bobcat, golden and bald eagles, and a wide variety of other species. The foothills of these mountains are covered with sage and juniper, and higher elevations contain aspen, fir, and pine. The higher passes are incredibly lush and green, especially at this time of year, and cascading streams flow out of tongues of ice and snow that still cling to the ridgelines.
The most popular, and arguably most beautiful, hike in these mountains is the one to Deseret Peak. Found within the Deseret Peak Wilderness Area, the trail winds through aspen and pine, meanders up a glaciated valley, and switchbacks up to a grassy saddle that is a perfect spot for lunch. The trail then follows the rocky ridgeline to the peak, where one can see, on a clear day, the Deep Creek, Silver Island, Newfoundland, Fish Springs and other such West Desert mountain ranges, the Wasatch all the way down to Nebo, and the hazy blue Great Salt Lake and its barren, beautiful islands. The trail then follows the ridgeline north for a while and then drops back down into the basins and forests. Another option would be to ridge walk north or south from the peak along the spine of the range, where one could travel for miles in either direction, following emerging hiker paths and established game trails.
Those forests of aspen and pine are full of mule deer; I must have come across at least fifteen the time I was up there, and many of the encounters were close ones. In fact, I spent about an hour and a half watching a doe and fawn feed on a slope that was only fifty yards away from my position. I was downwind from her and holding perfectly still, and I don't think she knew what to think of me, so she decided to make a big show. She would snort, leap in the air, and hop about ten yards, then swing her head around and look defiantly into my eyes. My lack of reaction would start the process over, and I had to exert all kinds of self control to keep from chuckling at her ridiculous behavior. The encounter ended in a stalemate; I got tired of her, she got tired of me, and we both walked off on opposite paths. All the deer I came across were fat, beautiful, and healthy.
The Stansburies are 45 minutes west of Salt Lake. To get there drive west on I-80 to the Grantsville exit. Drive through town until you see the Forest Service/BLM signs that mark the road that goes south to North and South Willow Creek recreation areas. Go up the South Willow Creek road about 8 miles to the trailhead.