Hiking Desolation Trail to the Salt Lake Overlook

Sometimes, you just need a quick hike to get away from the city. Lucky for those of us living in Salt Lake, we have many options, like the Desolation Trail to the overlook with a view of the entire metropolitan valley below. This short, 5-mile round trip hike over 1,310 feet is ideal for a morning stroll to start off your day on the right note, or an evening jaunt to a sweet spot for sunset viewing.

The Salt Lake Valley overlook on the Desolation Trail. (Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

The trailhead is located in Mill Creek Canyon, right next to the Mill Creek Inn. A small parking area with bathrooms is the starting point for this adventure, but because it has few spaces, you’ll be lucky to find a spot for your car, especially on weekends.

The start of the hike is marked by a sign behind the bathrooms, and the trail begins to climb up a side canyon (Thaynes Canyon) almost immediately. Soon, though, there’s a fork, with the left going to Thaynes, and the right heading up to the Salt Lake overlook via Desolation Trail.

The trailhead sign at Desolation Trail in Mill Creek Canyon. (Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

The trail is a series of switchbacks that can seem neverending. As such, tedium is a concern. But the trail never gets too steep with an easily walk-able grade and only a few rocky sections to be negotiated. As you gain elevation and the pine trees start to shade the landscape, the green north slope of Mill Creek becomes a forested sanctuary. Views of Thaynes Canyon and Mill Creek appear through gaps in the trees, and before long, you top out at a flat spot where a cluster of grey boulders and fins of rock appear with a view of the Salt Lake Velley far below. This is the overlook and the final destination.

The Desolation Trail winds through forests of pine on the way to the Salt Lake Overlook. (Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

The trail continues, eventually ending 18 miles later at Desolation Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon. But our short hike ends here, at one of the best places to view the city.

To successfully complete the hike, you have to pay attention, because there are a few side trails that will take you off course, especially at switchback corners. Be sure to take the path most well traveled, and whenever in doubt, double back.

The white boulders of the Salt Lake Overlook on the Desolation Trail. (Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

Desolation Trail is also a very popular hike that sees a lot of weekend traffic. It’s best to go on weekday mornings when most people are at work to avoid the crowds. The hike is appropriate for just about anyone of any age who is in decent shape, with no steep sections or technical areas. Also, dogs are allowed on odd numbered days.

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