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  • Writer's pictureGreg Harlow Media

Visiting: Willow Lake, Utah

One of Utah's best kept secrets, a hidden gem near Salt Lake City, in Big Cottonwood Canyon. A gorgeous line up of aspen trees reflecting off a wind shielded lake, and a peaceful and popular Moose hangout. The trick is finding the trailhead...

Willow Lake has become my favorite spot in all of Utah.  It feels so distant from civilization in the mountains, but is only a 25 minute drive from Salt Lake City.

I have hiked to Willow Lake close to 10 times this year during different seasons,  and have never seen more than 5 people on the trail.  You can hike year-round,  but the best season is Fall, when the aspens change from green to vibrant yellow.  I snapped an autumn sunset photo at this location that trended #1 worldwide on National Geographic.

Willow Lake is sheltered from winds in all directions,  and sits still like a sheet of glass neatly surrounded by aspen groves.  It is so quiet, and always abundant with wild life. Everytime I have friends or family visit Salt Lake City, I take them on this hike. Its not difficult by any means, and its so visually entertaining, you won't even notice. If my 4 year old niece can do it, anybody can. Well, I carried her for awhile...but you get the point.

This young bull moose charged me after I got too close for this picture. You can see it in his eyes.

I have more Moose sightings at Willow Lake than anywhere I have been,  almost every single time I visit.  There are marshlands on the east side of the lake that create a perfect feeding ground and habitat. If you haven't seen a wild moose in person, it almost strikes you with fear. You don't expect them to be so big, their back legs are higher than an SUV. Listening to them call to each other as it echoes through the forest is a goosebump inducing experience.

Like I said, this hike is not difficult,  but finding the trailhead is.   Most likely why the trail is so empty. Willow Heights Trailhead does not have a parking lot,  you just need to know where it is,  and park on the side of the road of Big Cottonwood Canyon.  Here is a link of the Willow Heights trail head map:

The hike is 1.8 miles up,  with some elevation

gain as you make your way through the aspen groves.  The aspens tower over you for the first mile of the hike, and they offer tons of photo opportunities. Many people have carved their initials or left a love mark into the aspen bark.

Once the trail flattens out,  you will cross an open meadow,  filled with life. During autumn this can be a spectacular place to find some colorful images. You only have about half a mile left in the hike. Stay left (going right will lead you to the marsh) and follow the trail as it begins to loop around the west side of the lake. You will cross Willow Creek on a hiker-made bridge of logs.

Beautiful views of the mountains to the south, and sunsets here can be absolutely incredible.  The sun hits the line up of aspens to the east and they appear to glow.

If you are a fan of reflections,  this is the spot.  The line up of Aspen trees create an almost geometrical pattern on the aforementioned “sheet of glass.”

This is a great backpacking opportunity to relax by the peaceful lake, and listen as the natural amphitheater heightens every noise, as though it's right in front of you. The crackle of the campfire will never sound better. Dogs are not allowed, but you are allowed to camp.

Moose says hello to a Mallard Duck gliding by...

Plan to spend some time up here,  its so calming you won’t find yourself wanting to leave till dark.  So, remember your headlamp. I brought my mother up here and we forgot our headlamps, and thanks to modern technology, we used the flashlights on our cellphones.

This blog post is also featured on outdoor website The Outbound Collective:

Greg Harlow is a traveling photographer and videographer residing in Salt Lake City, Utah. Web:


P: (605) 430-9769

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