Photograph Wildlife at Willow Lake



2.2 miles

Elevation Gain

629 ft

Route Type


Added by Greg Harlow

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

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.  Listening to them call to each other as it echoes through the forest is a hair-raising experience.

This hike is not difficult,  but finding the trailhead is.  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.  Dogs are not allowed.  

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 and offer tons of photo opportunities.  A very visually entertaining hike.  

Once the trail flattens out,  you will cross an open meadow,  and finally reach the south side of the lake.  Stay left 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, and then all the sudden,  through some dense vegetation, and... there it is.

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.”  Expect to see plenty of wildlife.

There are great backpacking and camping opportunities as well,  as you are allowed to camp here.  I can't think of a better place to relax in a hammock, and listen to the fire crackle loud and clear.  You will not be bothered,  even the abundant wildlife go about their business.

Plan to spend some time up here, you probably won’t want to leave till dark.  So don’t forget to pack your headlamp.

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We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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