Backpacking to Lake Mary from Brighton

I’m not a big fan of short scout outings.  You know the kind: drive up on Friday night, eat, sleep, eat and return home by 10am the next morning.  Can you accomplish anything in that short a time?  Will the boys benefit?  Is it even worth the effort?  I’m somewhat over-exaggerating the scenario, but this is sometimes the case as we find our scout activities conflicting with team sport commitments and other family obligations throughout the year.  For me, when the choice comes down to a quick trip or nothing at all, I’ll take a short outing and make the best of whatever time we can get.  After all, there’s always next month to try for a longer one.

That said, here’s a destination that supports a short scout outing if you’re pressed for time and live along the Wasatch Front.

The adventure starts from the Brighton Ski Resort at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon.  There are a number of ways to get to the “Brighton Lakes” of Mary, Martha and Catherine.  More specifically:

  1. From the Silver Lake trailhead, hike up to Twin Lakes (1 mile) then over to Lake Mary (2 miles total), Lake Martha (2.25 miles total) or Lake Catherine (3 miles total).
  2. From the Milly Express chair, follow the ski run up to Twin Lakes (1 mile) and then over as listed above.
  3. From the Mt. Majestic Lodge, hike the Lake Mary Trail up to Lake Mary (1 mile).

We chose the quickest route for the trip we did back in June since it was our first time there.  I know a 1-mile hike isn’t much of a challenge by Scouting standards, but this area does have some notable elevation gain so they didn’t get off all that easy. Besides, our plan was to drop our packs, set up camp, grab something to eat and explore a nearby peak to watch the sun set on a beautiful summer evening!

So you might be thinking; with this being such a short drive and an even shorter hike, how can you make this more of an adventure?  How about these ideas:

  • Fish in any of these alpine lakes
  • Explore adjacent connecting trails
  • Hike to Clayton Peak, the top of Brighton’s Great Western chairlift
  • Hike to Catherine Pass and over to Sunset Peak for a great view of these lakes
  • Take a different route as you head back down to the car the next day
  • Bring your younger scouts who might be intimidated by a backpacking trip

I know the clear water also looks tempting to go swimming in, but you can’t.  These high-elevation lakes and reservoirs provide culinary water to Salt Lake Valley residents.  As a result, NO SWIMMING is allowed in the Brighton lakes.  That also means your Troop will need to camp 100 feet away from any shoreline.  That could be tough since the terrain up there is pretty rugged and flat spots are few and far between.  We had a fairly large group for our outing and found a nice spot near Dog Lake* that accommodated us well while still maintaining Forest Service rules.

So is it worth it?  I think so.  Whether you hike one mile or five, it’s another opportunity to teach and grow.  Don’t skip it because you think there won’t be enough time.  The boys still have to think through their gear, cook a few meals, make sleeping arrangements and need to be around friends outside of their typical home environment.

Here’s a Google Earth file of a few routes in this area so you can pick the one that best accommodates your timeline.  An elevation profile is also shown below for the Lake Mary Trail.  Later this month, we’re planning to go back again but from the Alta side this time. I’ll post more details following that trip…

*Despite the name of the lake we camped near, dogs aren’t allowed in this watershed area either…not to be confused with the other “Dog Lake” not far down canyon on the Desolation Trail from Butler Fork or Mill D North trailheads.

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