Navajo Lake Loop: Trail Review

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Snow at Cedar Breaks.

Last week I went running at Navajo Lake for the first time. It was a cold morning, and a few hours before dawn the area saw its first snow of the season. There was a bit of snow on Cedar Breaks when I drove up the canyon from Cedar City. The temperature was in the low 30’s when I arrived at my destination.

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Parking area east of the trail.

Navajo Lake is about 25 miles east of Cedar City, Utah, just a few miles west of Duck Creek Village and a few miles southeast of Cedar Breaks. It is a beautiful alpine lake at an elevation of about 9,000 feet above sea level. On the east side of the lake there is a new parking area with access to the loop trail, which is where I left my truck and started out on foot.

Navajo Lake Loop course map
Navajo Lake Loop Trail as mapped on my GPS watch during the run. For more details and interactive views, click here.

I took the trail in a clockwise direction, crossing south over the road and then west along the south side of the lake. The trail is single track almost all of the way around the lake. On this segment it passes through a pine forest with gentle ups and downs, and even though you are just 50-100 feet south of the road there isn’t much traffic and you hardly know it is there. Through the trees there are lovely views of the lake, and you pass by campgrounds just next to the trail.Navajo Lake Loop course elevation profile

DSCN0127At about 3.5 miles there is a fork in the trail, with one way going toward the lodge at the lake and the other going up into the hills. I took the trail up into the hills, and lost sight of the lake for a few minutes as I climbed 300 feet up the hillside. After you get up a few switchbacks there are some nice views of the lake, and I stopped to get a few pictures there. DSCN0132The forest trees have been ravaged by a bark beetle, and in some areas about 2/3 of the trees are dead. (This dead wood is part of why the 2017 Brian Head fire was so huge.) I saw about 20-30 acres of forest where the dead trees have been felled and their dead branches have been piled up, ready for winter bonfires. Hopefully that will prevent a big wildfire from taking out the Navajo Lake area someday.

DSCN0135Another fork in the trail at about mile 4.5 leads to the Virgin River Rim Trail to the south, and I made a mental note to come back someday to explore that trail. The sun came out from behind the clouds as I followed the lake loop trail west, and I couldn’t help but take several pictures of a lovely aspen grove with yellow leaves glowing in the morning sunlight. DSCN0134At about mile 6 the trail ends abruptly at the road, about a mile west of the lake, and I ran east along the road towards the lake for about half a mile before turning north on a dirt road which loops around to the official Navajo Lake Loop Trail head. The Marathon Trail also starts here, which heads north towards Brian Head, and I made another mental note to come back and explore that trail. There is an outhouse, but no drinking water at the trail head.

DSCN0139The north shore trail is one of my favorite sections of the loop. You are never more than about 150 feet from the lake, which is always in view, and the trail winds through grassy slopes sparsely covered with aspens. I could see reflections in the water of the yellow aspens on the south shore. DSCN0141For various reasons I have been binge running for the past few weeks, ever since the Tushars Trail Half in July, missing a lot of weekday runs but still doing longer runs on weekends. This ineffective training schedule is starting to catch up with me, and I am feeling it in my left hip by this point in the trail. But I still had a lot of fun enjoying the view and I even started to warm up a bit in the sun.

DSCN0147Another one of my favorite trail sections is on the northeast side of the lake, where the trail winds through a lava flow with jagged basalt rocks all around. By the time you get to the lava flow you are only about half a mile from the parking area where I left my truck.

My recorded distance for the whole run was 11 miles, with a vertical gain (and loss) of about 1000 feet. DSCN0146If I had taken the fork towards the lodge and gone on the road instead of taking the loop up in the hills behind the cabins it would have cut at least a mile from the loop and eliminated at least half of the vertical gain, but I would have missed out on some nice views. If you don’t want to do the whole 11 mile loop you could use the dike to cut across the lake and shorten your run. I brought my family back later in the day for a short hike through the lava field, and down across the dike. That hike ended up being about 2 miles.

The Verdict

DSCN0130The Navajo Lake Loop Trail is a great place to run. It is short enough that it can be done by mere mortals, and it is not overly technical. You do need to bring your own water and fuel. The views are beautiful, the air is clear, and there are many options for exploring side trails. I can’t say much about how crowded the trail is during the summer months, because I ran it on a weekday morning on a very cold fall day and had the trail all to myself. This is definitely a place where I will visit again.

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