Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dog Lake, Wasatch Range, UT

Goin’ to the Dogs!
Contributor: Nancy Henry

Location: Dog Lake can be reached from either Mill Creek Canyon via the BigWater Trail (end of Mill Creek Canyon Road) or from Mill D North Fork Trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon (Trailhead is 8.6 miles up Big Cottonwood, on the left, across
from Spruces Campground).

Cost: Free

What to expect: Beauty!! The wildflowers peaked late this summer, so we picked the perfect weekend to take in their splendor. It also made for some spectacular photo ops. We have also done this hike in the fall and it was incredible – lots of golden aspens.

We have only done the Big Cottonwood option, so what I say from here on out pertains to that one. There is plenty to see on the trail for kids. The beginning has some big rocks for climbing, and there’s a place to stop next to the stream about ½ way up. After the long hike, the lake is definitely the reward. We kept enticing our 4-year-old with the lake and the dogs; otherwise I’m not quite sure he would have made it. The whining immediately turned to glee when he rounded the corner and saw a dog bounding into the water after a ball. “Mom, I want to do what that dog
is doing!” – and he took off running. “Wait, no! You can’t do what the dog is doing!” Thankfully, he wanted to throw the ball to the dog, not dive in the water after the ball.

The lake is set in a wooded area, unlike most of the mountain lakes in Big Cottonwood. The reflection of the trees in the lake adds to the scenery. It’s a great place to kick off your shoes, throw some rocks in the lake, and see your share of different dog breeds. Oh, and have lunch if you happened to be smart enough to bring it.

Important stuff to know before you go:
- Dogs are allowed at the lake (hence the name), but only via the Mill Creek Canyon trail. You cannot bring dogs into Big Cottonwood Canyon because it is a watershed area, but the lake itself has no surface outlet, so dogs are allowed there. For kids, no matter which way you hike, the lake is the reward – all kinds of dogs, big and small, chasing all kinds of stuff into the water! What more could a kid ask for!
- Hike is 5 miles round trip from either trail, and approximately 1400 feet elevation gain. I would typically not recommend this for 4 –year-olds, but we remembered it as shorter and brought ours (having last done it about 3 years ago when he was riding in a backpack.) It is generally not too steep and has quite a few flat sections, however, the end is very steep.
- Mountain Bikers galore! But only on even days – well, we didn’t know this before our hike, which we did on August 6th – enough said. Constant jumping to the side of the trail. On the upside, all bikers were very polite. Also, the kids enjoyed watching them pass by.
- Bug spray is needed! We had just camped in Big Cottonwood Canyon two weekends before so we did know this – we just forgot. If not for meeting some friends on the trail who saw us slapping and scratching and were generous with their bug spray, we would have surrendered to the army of biting flies and headed back.
- Guidebooks say expect 1.5 hours up to the lake, but with one set of little legs and one kid in a backpack it took us just over 2. Since we set out at 10:00, we should have brought our lunch up with us, rather than leaving it in the trunk of the car – lesson learned.


  1. Amazing photos of the kids climbing. How old is Esme? And what did you use for a harness for her. My son is 2 and LOVES rocks. We like canyon hikes because he loves climbing over all the boulders.

  2. We have a kids Petzl Simba Climbing Harness. It goes up over the shoulders for more support. Esme is 18 months and likes to "climb" too, though Dad helps her up most the way at this point. But the harness will adjust down for her size (20 lbs.) and up to fit both my 3 year old boy and 5 year old girl... at the younger ages the hardest part is coming back down...check out the climbing tips article for tips on how to make it easier on them...