For a mountain hike with superb scenery, wildlife viewing opportunities, and few other people, Deseret Peak in Utah’s Stansbury Mountains is tough to beat. Deseret Peak’s list of superlatives make it irresistible to serious peakbaggers, but this area sees a fraction of the traffic that the Wasatch Range does. The highest point in Tooele County and the highest point in the Stansbury Mountains, Deseret Peak is also in the small group of Utah mountains with over 5,000 feet of prominence. Being so much higher than the surrounding terrain, the summit offers views over 100 miles in all directions and is one of the best vantage points overlooking the Great Salt Lake, the West Desert, and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
As if that weren’t enough, trails on either side of the mountain allow you to hike to the summit and back to your car without retracting your steps (except for a short stretch near the trailhead). The trail starts from the Loop Campground parking area and takes you through a dense forest of aspen and Douglas fir. After a stream crossing you’ll reach a fork at about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead. To hike the loop clockwise, stay left, following the sign for Deseret Peak. You’ll return to this point from Pockets Fork after reaching the summit. The trail continues up into Mill Fork, a bowl-shaped glacial valley with a steep headwall at the upper end. After a series of switchbacks the trail tops out at a saddle where a four-way junction appears. As the sign indicates, take the trail to the right to continue to Deseret Peak. The open alpine terrain above is home to many wildflowers in the late spring and summer.
The trail skirts several false summits on the way to the true summit, about a mile from the intersection. At the summit, a rock shelter provides a bit of a wind break, and views in all directions are unobstructed, from Pilot Peak in Nevada (more than 60 miles to the northwest) to Mount Nebo to the southeast. To finish the loop, follow the trail descending the north ridge from the summit. The trail leads down the ridge in a series of switchbacks, then descends Pockets Fork, the drainage just north of Deseret Peak. This area has abundant mule deer and elk, and you may see hunters in the fall. The next trail junction will take you back to the Loop Campground (right), or left to South Willow Lake. A magnificent viewpoint sits about 50 yards from the junction.
The usual time to hike Deseret Peak is spring through fall, as the long gravel road leading to the trailhead is closed in winter. Winter ascents will require skis or snowshoes as well as a longer approach and attention to avalanche conditions.