Friday, October 4, 2013

Mirror Lake Utah Horse Camping

 This is Horse Camping Paradise at 10,000 feet. Mirror Lake Horse Campground was our base camp.  Here is the link to reserve these horse campsites. Mirror Lake   #70, 71, 72 are nice ones. Some are pull through.  If you have a Senior National Park Pass, you can get the camp sites for half price. ($9 instead of $18). We stayed in site #71 two years in a row (2008-2009).  The campground does not open until around July 15 and closes shortly after Labor Day.    Nights are chilly, but daytime temps are wonderful.

by Bonny Lake

Route to Mirror Lake Campground from Salt Lake City

Shows Bonny Lake and the Horse Campground

Showing the Horse Campground, Trailhead to Bonny Lake/Highline Trail and the location of Altar Falls.

(Click on any of the photos to open enlarged images)

Photos from 2008:

Bonny Lake

Finally made it to Naturalist Basin after 7 miles and 3 hours of ROCKY trail. If you venture on this trail, be prepared for an ALL day ride.

 Gatman Lake, the only lake we saw in Naturalist Basin

Naturalist Basin

Altar Falls on the Duchesne River (more of a creek at this point.)

Photos from 2009:

View from Campsite #71
One of the feeders in the camp.

All set up on the tie line.

Our canopy was helpful for shade and rain protection.

The first ride was to "Altar Falls"...gorgeous and SECLUDED.

The "Altar" Rock...

One of the meadows on the Altar Falls trail.

One of the lily ponds on the Altar falls trail...
The next ride was Bonny Lake.

The next day we headed to the Crystal Lake Trailhead.  For more photos and information on this trailhead see:

The red trail is the one we were planning on doing and can be done by hikers, no problem.  The blue path is the one we actually took, going up to Wall Lake via Cliff Lake and then back down and up the other easier side.

 Here's Wildbound and Rio all decked out in trail gear, including a Super Duper trail first aid kit.

The first meadow on the way to Cliff Lake.....little did we know what lay terms of rough, steep, rocky trail. Unfortunately, I did not get photos of the worst chief concern was survival.

The trail was so steep and rocky, we had to dismount and lead the horses. Wayfarer struggled and in one particularly difficult spot, he refused to go further. He held his leg up as if it were hurt. Naturally, I was concerned. Couldn't go up OR down. My companions were way ahead. I was engulfed with feelings of powerlessness, frustration and highly emotional concern for Wayfarer's well being. After what seemed like hours, but was actually minutes, Bob came back on foot to assist. He was able to assertively coax Wayfarer into forging ahead. He assured me this was the "worst" part and it got better from here on and he was 80% sure that we would not have to descend this way, because we were planning riding a "loop".
After more rocky steep trail eventually, we made it to Cliff Lake. Onward, we went with our goal to pass several lakes and go "cross country" around Wall Lake and down the other trail back to the trailhead.

Satan's Staircase

Cliff Lake
Cross country, trying to find Wall Lake

Even with a map, we became confused about which lake we were passing and we missed a critical fork in the trail, going cross country and ending up on the upper "wall" side of Wall Lake.

 This photo does not truly show the huge drop off down to the lake. On the other side of the lake, we could see our eventual destination, but with no idea how to get there.

We took advantage of the lovely place to relax and have lunch with a view of Wall Lake.
We backtracked and found the trail and the missed turn off and went to Watson Lake. Nice lake, but we could not continue on horseback because of the huge boulder field that was impassable by horseback. Cowboy Bob: "I forgot about THAT part....sorry."
We WILL have to go back down Satan's Staircase.

We DID make it back down the Staircase and then went UP the trail to Wall Lake from the other direction. This was a much nicer trail.

We stopped at Wall Lake for a while.

And viewed the "Wall" on the other side...that we had just been on the top of.
All in Experience. I did not want to repeat Satan's Staircase, so we looked at trails on the map to plan the next day's experience. I was very much drawn to the trail out from the Bald Mountain trailhead (not the one up the mountain), but the one to Clegg and Notch lakes. I was given the strong impression to do this trail. It was an amazingly beautiful trail...rocky, but not steep. Had lush meadows, trees, streams, lakes, mountain views. Definitely, one to go back to. It would be a great place to backpack.

Bald Mountain Trailhead to Clegg and Notch Lakes

 Clegg Lake

 Clegg Lake

Pond by Clegg Lake

Notch Lake...

Lunch stop at Clegg Lake on the way back.
On our way out, we drove to the Crystal lake trailhead again to try the Crystal Lake trail, but the parking lot was full. We drove on the dirt roads back by the Washington Lake campgrounds, found a place to park and thought we would just "ride around" a bit. We rode through a meadow of cattle, did a little cross country, then found a road/trail to a place called Haystack Lake. We had left our map back at the truck, so we were just hoofing it. 
Our route to Haystack Lake.

We reached Haystack after a while....beautiful lake, totally unplanned trip.

Later, we looked at the map to see what "trail" we had followed to get to Haystack Lake. Wait a minute....that "trail" was not on the map. It did show up on Google earth.

There were some meadows for a bit of cantering...
We packed up and went back to camp and holed up for naps, while a rainstorm went through.

The next morning, we packed up the horses and gear, broke camp and headed out the Wyoming way to ride the Stillwater Trail out from Christmas Meadows, which has a horse trailhead, but no facilities for horse camping in the established campground.  Dispersed Horse Camping is allowed in the National Forest.

Map showing our route north from Mirror Lake towards Wyoming to get into Christmas Meadows

Fun trail, a little bit of everything, including LOTS of mud and bogs...a few river crossings.

River crossings and rocks

Rock/river crossings

And Rock fields...luckily there was trail through this (albeit Rocky)

And beautiful forest glades
A quiet, streamside place to lunch. (Stillwater Fork of the Bear)

Beautiful trail, beautiful trip...
Here are some photos of a day ride we took in 2011, repeating the Bald Mountain Trailhead ride to Clegg and Notch Lake. They show how beautiful the area is, but not the rocky trail.

Notch Lake


  1. Which trail maps do you recommend for us, if we stay in Mirror Lake Campground and ride out from there. I'm looking at National Geographic maps.. #709 or #711?

    1. Sorry, I am not familiar with those maps. I would run a search for "Mirror Lake" topo maps. Keep in mind most topo maps are decades old, but they can help.