Red Pine Lake Backpacking Hike

Overview: A consistent climb up Red Pine Fork brings you to one of Utah’s popular high-mountain lakes. Popular with day hikers and often a destination for overnighters, this is one of Little Cottonwood Canyon's most beloved hikes.

Start: White Pine trailhead

Distance: 6.8 miles out and back

Hiking time: About 3.5 hours

Difficulty: Strenuous

Elevation gain: 1,940 feet

Trail surface: Dirt path with rocks and roots

Best season: Summer and fall; snow in the upper elevations until mid-June

Other trail users: None

Canine compatibility: Dogs prohibited

Land status: Lone Pine Wilderness Area; Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest; watershed

Nearest town: Sandy

Fees and permits: No fees or permits required

Maps: USGS Dromedary Peak

Trail contacts: Public Lands Information Center, Recreational Equipment Inc., 3285 East 3200 South, Salt Lake City 84109; (801) 466-6411. Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Special considerations: All backcountry camps must be set up at least 200 feet from the trail, the lake, and all other water sources. Little Cottonwood Canyon is a watershed area, and no swimming or wading is permitted. No campfires are allowed in this wilderness area.

Finding the trailhead: From Salt Lake City drive south on I-215 to 6200 South (exit 6). Turn left off the ramp and follow 6200 South past Big Cottonwood Canyon, where the road becomes Wasatch Boulevard. Little Cottonwood Canyon is located 4 miles past the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Continue straight until you reach the park-and-ride lot at the base of the canyon. From here the White Pine trailhead is 5.6 miles upcanyon, just past Tanner’s Campground. White Pine trailhead is a large, busy trailhead with restrooms and room for forty-plus cars. If the lot is full, cars can be parked along the road.

Trailhead GPS: 40.575500, -111.680717

The Hike

Red Pine Lake sits in the Lone Peak Wilderness Area, which boasts of wildflowers in summer and an array of birds to watch throughout the seasons. Red Pine Fork, a drainage on the south side of Little Cottonwood Canyon, contains two high-mountain lakes: Upper and Lower Red Pine Lakes. This trail leads to the lower lake, but you can add on the upper lake as well. Camping is allowed at both lakes as long as you camp 200 feet away from the water’s edge. Campfires are not permitted in this wilderness, so make sure you bring a backpack stove.

Red Pine Dam was built in 1920 and still sits along the west side of the lake. Lake levels vary with runoff, which varies by season, but the area is always an alpine retreat.

The hike to Red Pine Lake begins at White Pine trailhead. The trail descends from the parking area next to the restrooms and follows a paved path down to a footbridge that crosses Little Cottonwood Creek and the official White Pine trailhead. The first 1.0 mile of the trail follows White Pine Canyon through beautiful alpine environs to the White Pine/Red Pine fork, where the trails to White Pine and Red Pine Lakes diverge. Take the trail that cuts behind the trail sign on a singletrack trail. You’ll reach the Red Pine bridge 400 feet past this junction. Cross the bridge and head west over the roots, rocks, and wooden bridges that lead you into Red Pine Canyon.

At 1.4 miles you enter the Lone Peak Wilderness Area. At 1.5 miles the view down Little Cottonwood Canyon opens to the Salt Lake Valley and then quickly, after a few hundred feet, drops back into the trees. This midsection of the trail provides the most challenge as it climbs steadily to the top of Red Pine Canyon.

At 2.7 miles you pass the bridge to Maybird Gulch. A trail sign indicates that you must go straight up the side of the streambed to continue up Red Pine Canyon. This section of the trail makes its way across water running downcanyon; the area is swampy for a short while before the trail becomes a boulder-strewn path at isn’t always defined.

When you reach Lower Red Pine Lake at 3.4 miles, there are plenty of rocks to sit on and enjoy lunch. The dam to the west can be crossed on foot to reach the other side of the lake. If you are planning to camp, remember that all backcountry camps must be set up at least 200 feet from the trail, the lake, and all other water sources. Little Cottonwood Canyon is a watershed area, and no swimming or wading is permitted. No campfires are allowed in this wilderness area.

Miles and Directions

0.0       Start hiking at the White Pine trailhead.

1.0       Arrive at the White Pine/Red Pine junction; follow the singletrack trail that cuts behind the trail sign. Cross a bridge in 400 feet and head west.

1.4       Enter Lone Peak Wilderness Area.

1.5       The view down Little Cottonwood Canyon opens to the north.

2.7       Pass the bridge to Maybird Gulch.

3.4       Arrive at Lower Red Pine Lake. Return the way you came.

6.8       Arrive back at the trailhead.

Option: From the lower lake it is about a 1.5 mile climb to the top of the Pfeifferhorn, a popular 11,326 foot summit. This off-trail route should only be attempted by experienced hikers.