White Pine Lake
(Wasatch Range)

excerpts from the book
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day

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Distance: 9.0 (round trip)

Walking time: 6 1/2 hours

Elevations: 2,540 ft. gain/loss
     White Pine Trailhead (start): 7,580 ft.
     White Pine Lake: 9,980 ft.

Trail: Well maintained, easy to follow trail

Season: Summer through mid-fall. Upper parts of trail are usually covered with snow from mid-November through mid-June. For current conditions call the Salt Lake Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, at (801) 943-1794.

Vicinity: Little Cottonwood Canyon, near Salt Lake City

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White Pine Lake (Wasatch Mountains)

 

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     Like Alexander Basin, ten miles to the north, the area around White Pine Lake has long been the subject of intense controversy between Utah’s environmentalists and ski resort owners. The original boundaries of Lone Peak Wilderness Area, created in 1977, were meant to include White Pine Lake, but lobbyists representing the nearby Snowbird Ski Resort succeeded in having White Pine Canyon excluded. Snowbird’s Gad Valley ski lifts are only one mile from White Pine Fork, yet in spite of the nearness of civilization the pristine alpine lake still has that wild feeling of remoteness. What a shame it would be to open it up to commercial activity.
     The trail to White Pine Lake actually follows an old jeep road that was built during the first part of this century to service small-claim mines in the canyon. The mining activity proved uneconomical, however, and it has been many years since the road was used. Now the Forest Service no longer allows motor vehicles in the area, and the vegetation has been so successful in reclaiming the track that in most places few hikers will scarcely recognize that they are following an old road. Because the trail was originally a road it is not as steep as it would probably otherwise be. But, by the same token, the winding route is much longer than necessary.

     From the parking area White Pine Trail first crosses Little Cottonwood Creek on a small wooden foot bridge, and then begins its long gentle assent up White Pine Canyon. After 0.8 mile it breaks out of the quaking aspen to meet White Pine Fork, and then abruptly swerves again to the east away from the water. Near the water’s edge the path splits, with the trail to Red Pine Lake departing to the right. If you cross the creek you are on the wrong trail.
     After a long switchback the trail again turns south and continues its meandering course towards the lake. The path never returns to the stream again, but it passes through several very attractive meadows. If you have sharp eyes you may spot the tailings of a few abandoned mines along the way, but time and nature have already healed most of the canyon’s scars and the forgotten mines are no longer obvious.
     As you approach the end of the trail the route makes a few large switchbacks up the east side of White Pine Cirque, just below the Red Baldy-White Baldy ridge, and then traverses westward along the talus slopes. Finally, the trail drops 120 feet into a small basin on the west side of the cirque, wherein is located the lake. White Pine Lake is about 300 feet wide and 600 feet long, about the same size as Red Pine Lake. The altitude is too high for lush vegetation, but there are some fair-sized spruce trees near the water’s edge and a few good camping sites on the south shore. The elevation of the lake is just short of 10,000 feet.

Traversing to Red Pine Lake
     To add a little off-trail adventure to the hike, some experienced trekkers might want to try traversing from White Pine Lake to Red Pine Lake and then return to the trailhead on the Red Pine trail. The traverse is not technically difficult, but there is no established trail between the two lakes. So be prepared for some scrambling across the bolder-strewn ridge that separates the two canyons, and don’t attempt it unless the weather is good. The best route from White Pine Lake to Red Pine Lake begins on the northwest shore of White Pine. From there it is possible to follow the contour of the land for about a half mile in a general westerly direction with little change in elevation. After a half mile you will reach the crest of the ridge, and Red Pine Lake will be visible below. From here it is just a matter of picking your way down the west side of the ridge to intersect Red Pine Trail a short distance below the lake. This traverse can also be done in the opposite direction, but it is less tiring to start from White Pine Lake, which is about 360 feet higher than Red Pine.

 

The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

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If you are interested in a supplemental map of the White Pine Lake area, we recommend:
Uinta National Forest (Trails Illustrated, map #701)

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