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U.S. Forest Service

Intermountain Region Viewing Area


Thumnbail map and directions to the Viewing Area. Silver Lake Map (PDF, 2.9 MB)

Silver Lake sign Silver Lake sign. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Silver Lake. At over 8,700 feet, Silver Lake is a placid and lovely sub-alpine lake surrounded by willow, sedge and forested plant communities. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

A family walking along an interpretive trail at Silver Lake. Because of its proximity to a major metropolitan area and easy access, Silver Lake is an ideal place for families to spend an afternoon hiking, fishing, and enjoying the wonderful diversity of plant communities and wildflowers. Photo by Larry Stritch.

An interpretive sign at Silver Lake describing pollinators. Wildflowers rely on pollinators for their reproduction and survival. Flower forms are designed to attract different types of pollinators. See how many you can observe. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Silver Lake Loop Trail, Big Cottonwood Canyon

Forest: Wasatch-Cache National Forest

District: Salt Lake City Ranger District

Description: Silver Lake is located at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon at 8,760 ft. This popular, family-friendly destination is a beautiful place to hike during the hot summer months of July and August when the mountain wildflowers burst into bloom. The trail around the lake and its associated wetlands is about a mile long, most of it along a wheelchair accessible boardwalk. There are picnic tables, interpretive signs, and fishing access points along the route. For the adventurous hiker, several other trail junctions intersect with the Silver Lake Loop trail including the Twin Lakes Trail, Lake Solitude Trail, and the Brighton Lakes Trail. At the Silver Lake Visitor’s Center you can pick up a trails map and an excellent wildflower guide of the area offered for sale by the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation.

Viewing Information: Flanked by exquisite mountain summits, the Silver Lake Loop trail can feel deceptively short for the casual hiker. However, for the observant or budding naturalist, this simple one-mile trail can be a daylong adventure. The variety of plant and animal communities and species biodiversity surrounding this small lake is impressive indeed. There are aquatic wetlands and sedge meadows, emergent seeps, willow thickets, conifer forests and aspen groves, and over 100 species (see Silver Lake Plant Checklist PDF, 1.2 MB) of plants! Insects, birds, moose, and other wildlife are abundant.

The wildflower displays begins in mid-July and continues beyond late August. Some of the early bloomers include shooting stars (Dodecatheon alpinum), white bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata), elephantheads (Pedicularis groenlandica), not to mention an array of willows, sedges, and rushes (yes, they do have flowers!). Lovely pink geraniums (Geranium viscosissimum), blue penstemons (Penstemon spp.), columbines (both yellow and Colorado columbine) soon follow. Yellow and blue composites (asters, showy goldeneye, Senecio spp.) and pink fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) continue to bloom well into the summer months. Hiking the Silver Lake trail will enchant you whether you spend an hour or a day.

Safety First: Everyone in your party should carry a liter of water. Insect repellent is a good idea, also, as mosquitoes can be troublesome at certain times of the year. Please be careful of the moose that live in the area. Do not approach moose you may encounter near the trails - they are wild and unpredictable! For your own safety avoid these animals. Please do not pick the wildflowers. Picking wildflowers prevents them from blooming the following year. Leave them for others to enjoy!

Directions: On the east side of Salt Lake City, take I-215 to the 6200 South off-ramp (Exit 6). Drive south following the road signs to the Brighton and Solitude ski resorts. Follow the signs to Big Cottonwood Canyon Road (7000 South Wasatch Blvd.) and continue driving 14.2 miles up the canyon to the Silver Lake Visitor’s Center. The Silver Lake loop trail follows the boarded walkway around Silver Lake.

Ownership and Management: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Salt Lake City Ranger District.

Closest Town: Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Additional Photos

Colorado columbine. A pale form of the Colorado columbine (Aquilegia coerulea var. ochroleuca) is one of the most elegant wildflowers found in Utah’s mountains. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Yellow columbine. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a second columbine along the Silver Lake Loop trail, the yellow columbine (Aquilegia flavescens). Photo by Larry Stritch.

Bog orchids and pink elephantheads. Wet seeps are a treasure trove of beautiful but overlooked flowers such as these tall and stately bog orchids and pink elephantheads. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Elephantheads. Elephantheads (Pedicularis groenlandica) really live up to their name! Photo by Larry Stritch.

Shooting stars. In early springtime, be sure to look for alpine Shooting stars (Dodecatheon alpinum) – they really like their feet wet. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Shooting stars. If you look carefully, you may see the white form of alpine shooting stars. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

A wild pea. A wild pea (Lathyrus sp.) and one of its pollinators. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Photographers on the boardwalk around the lake. The boardwalk around the lake offers many opportunities to stop and take wildflower photos without impacting fragile plant communities. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Equisetum hyemale. Equisetum hyemale (Scouring rush horsetail) is not a rush at all, rather a close member of the Fern family. The hollow, evergreen stems contain silica which led pioneers to use them for scouring utensils. The "coneheads" enclose spores rather than seeds. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Spotted coralroot. Look under the deep shade of conifer trees to find this little gem of an orchid, the spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata). Photo by Larry Stritch.

Western monkshood. Western monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) grows in moist habitats and meadows. Its deep blue flowers are alternately arranged on 4-5 ft. tall stems. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Photo by Larry Stritch.

A lush sedge meadow surrounding Silver Lake. A lush sedge meadow surrounds Silver Lake. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Carex utriculata. Carex utriculata (water sedge) grow in large swaths around many wet habitats throughout the northern hemisphere. The plants have triangular stems, which support spikes with many glossy fruits called "achenes." Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Littleflower penstemon. Along the dryer edges of the sedge meadow grows the lovely bee-pollinated littleflower penstemon (Penstemon procerus). Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Pink-flowered fireweed. In forest openings at the height of the summer months, you will often see the tall pink-flowered fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). It is a favorite plant of bees, supplying nectar for a delicious fireweed honey. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Sticky geranium. Sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) is one of the most common springtime flowers in our mountains. The large pink flowers have dark-colored veins that act as nectar guides for visiting bee pollinators. Viscosissimum means sticky, a reference to the glandular hairs on the stems, leaves and flower stalks. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.