La Sal Pass is a serene alpine retreat hidden in plain sight amid Eastern Utah's arid canyonlands. Visitors to any of the nearby national parks or monuments may admire the La Sals on the horizon and long for respite from the desert sun, but they might not imagine how easy it actually is to access this isolated mountain range.
La Sal Pass Road (FR 0073) in the Two-Mile and Moab Front regions of Manti-La Sal National Forest is one route to beat the heat by gaining higher ground. Reaching an elevation of 10,140 feet, the road follows a mountain pass between some of the most prominent peaks in the La Sals. South Mountain towers to the south, while Mount Tukuhnikivatz and the tallest in the range, Mount Peale, dominate the skyline to the north. The ascent takes you out of the scrub juniper landscape, up into mixed conifer and ponderosa forests and then leads into splendid stands of aspen (fantastic in the fall) before reaching the high-elevation spruce-fir. Here you will feel suddenly transported to the far north and forget the barren desert you left behind.
The road is unpaved but accessible for passenger cars as long as conditions are fair. Wet and/or freezing weather can leave the road impassable for all but OHV four-wheel drive vehicles. Also keep in mind that the road is closed through the winter until conditions improve in the spring. The best access is from the south via Upper Two-Mile Road, even though this is more out of the way if you are driving from Moab. The alternative is to take La Sal Pass Road from the west via Pack Creek Road, but only high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles should drive up this side of the pass.
There are no designated campgrounds along the road, but dispersed camping in the national forest is allowed. Even though it is roadside, treat camping here as if it were backcountry because there is no one to clean up after you in this pristine alpine environment. The most popular area to camp is at Medicine Lakes (mile 6.8), where there is a large clear area, pit toilets, and stocked rainbow trout for fishing. Another pleasant spot to camp is Beaver Lake, just down the road from Medicine Lakes, which also has a pit toilet.
There are a number of hiking trails in the area that make fantastic day trips from camp, and horses are allowed on some trails. Walk short loops around Medicine Lakes and Beaver Lake, or hike the rugged South Mountain Trail. For a demanding alpine trek, you can take Tuk Trail from the top of the pass and gain the talus-covered spine between Mount Tuk and Mount Peale. From here, the truly intrepid wanderer can summit Mount Tuk or explore the exposed ridgeline. Be cautious hiking at elevation during the summer monsoon season, however, because violent storms are prone to pop up in the afternoon. To be safe, plan on getting up and getting back down before noon.