Hike to White Pine Lake in Little Cottonwood
White Pine Lake is a beautiful reservoir high in White Pine Canyon, nestled in an alpine cirque at 10,000 feet where the water is held back by a small dam. The lake is the main draw here for hikers in the summer months, and for good reason. The clear, blue water, surrounded by an amphitheater of cliffs and granite peaks, is one of the classic lake views in the Wasatch Mountains.
The trail to White Pine Lake starts at the White and Red Pine trailhead parking area, located 5 1/2 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon, just down from Snowbird. The trail starts out behind the bathrooms on a paved section that descends to the stream bottom, where Little Cottonwood Creek flows beneath a wooden foot bridge. After crossing the bridge, the route goes down-canyon for a bit before it reaches a National Forest sign at a fork. At this point, you can choose to go right toward Red Pine, or continue left into White Pine Canyon.
The trail to White Pine Lake at this point looks more like a jeep road, because it once was, decades ago. It makes a few switchbacks to the east before turning south and straight up the canyon.
Scrub brush soon transitions to pine forests and aspen groves as elevation is gained. Looking back across Little Cottonwood Canyon, you can see the immense Tanner slide paths that release monster avalanches in the winter. It’s an impressive view that only becomes more dramatic as you ascend.
Eventually, the peaks of Red and White Baldy come into view over the pines. The sight of these two peaks gives the impression that the lake must be close, but there is a long way yet to go.
As the trail continues to meander through the woods, it never gets too steep or technical as it traverses the east side of White Pine Canyon. The route winds over several rock-covered ridges, each one a “false summit” as you think the lake must be just over the next rise. Finally, after hiking to nearly tree line, the trail crests a boulder-strewn ridge, and descends to the backside of White Pine Lake.
From the shore, you can see the dam on the north side, with the dramatic red peaks of Little Cottonwood Canyon providing a backdrop against the pale water. At the lakeside, you can enjoy lunch with a sweet view, or continue up in an attempt to bag the summit of Red or White Baldy.
After you’ve had your fill of White Pine Lake, you can retrace your steps down the canyon to the car. The trail is always obvious and there is never a need for route-finding.
For an added adventure, White Pine is also a great place to stay the night as the lake is an easily accessible spot for a quick backpacking getaway. As long as the campsite is 200 feet away from any lake, stream, or trail, the entire canyon is your bedroom.
If you go: The trail to White Pine Lake is 4 1/2 miles for a round-trip hike of 9 miles. The trailhead begins at around 7,600 feet and rises to 10,000 feet to White Pine Lake. Overall, the trail is very easy as it never gets too steep or has any obstacles that requires scrambling. Generally, you can hike to the lake from May through November, though late spring snowstorms can leave the lake buried into July.