Hiking in Utah – 12 Day Hikes in the Salt Lake City Area
It's a beautiful time of year and time to get out and enjoy our Utah weather. A dear friend of mine, Scott, is an avid hiker and in my quest for getting fit and becoming more active, I asked him for a list of some of his favorite day hikes near the Salt Lake City area, that the family would enjoy.
You would have to know my friend Scott, he's a well traveled adventurer and he doesn't do anything small scale. The list he provided me was just too good not share. So here you go, I'm calling this list Scott's best list of hikes along the Wasatch Front. I hope it inspires you to get out and enjoy our beautiful Utah scenery while hiking Utah.
#1 – Ensign Peak 0.86 mile 1 hour Easy and Family Friendly.
Directions: The trailhead to Ensign Peak is located above the Utah State Capitol buiding. Take State Street North and turn right when you come to the state capitol. Proceed on Capitol Blvd. until you reach Ensign Vista Drive. Hang a left and you will see the trailhead on the North side of the road in about 1,500 feet.
The Hike Experience: Short up-and-back type hike. There are plenty of places along the short hike to stop & rest with permanent benches & sitting stones. Once you reach the top of the small peak you will be rewarded with generous views of the valley and a dose of history. Brigham Young made this hike after two days in the Salt Lake Valley while still sick with fever, but I'm sure he had plenty of water and support with him. Always take water with you when hiking, even if it's just a short hike.
#2 – Millcreek Canyon, length and difficulty vary. Family Friendly, Dogs off Leash on Odd # Days.
Directions: Head east on 3800 South and it will lead straight in to Millcreek canyon. There is a $3 fee which you pay when you exit the canyon.
The Hike(s) Experience: Millcreek canyon is one of my (and Millie's) favorite places to hike around. The hikes in this canyon vary in length from 1 mile (Rattlesnake Gulch) to over 14 miles (Pipeline Trail). This is also a great place for winter hiking (AKA snoeshowing) as there are several trails which are ideal for this (Burch Hollow / Bowman Fork Trails, among others). In Millcreek Canyon, dogs are allowed off leash on odd-numbered days (except in developed areas). Featured Hikes: Little Water Trail (4 miles) & Big Water Trail (5 miles). Both trails lead to Dog Lake, but Little Water Trail is a bit steeper and more rugged than Big Water Trail. Both trailheads are 9 miles up the canyon at the double parking lot. “Big” starts at the lower lot and “Little” starts at the upper lot. It is 2-2.5 miles before you reach the lake, depending on which way you chose – and once you get to the lake you can choose to take Desolation Trail up to Desolation Lake if you're not satisfied with all of the beauty and nature you've already seen to that point – it's just another 2 miles or so!
#3 – Mount Olympus 7 miles 6-7+ hours, Challenging.
Directions: The trailhead is well marked and is on Wasatch Boulevard around 5800 South
The Hike Experience: This intense, Class 3 hike is uphill for pretty much the whole 3.5 miles. The last part of the hike (maybe 1,000 feet or so) is very rocky/bouldery and a little extra care & scrambling is necessary. The main trail goes to the South Peak and offers spectacular views of the valley and of the Wasatch Mountains. This trail is pretty popular and one where it might be very tempting for you to cut through the switch backs. Just stay on the designated trail folks, take your time, and bring plenty of water. It would be wise to bring some snacks or lunch for this one as well.
#4 – Cecret Lake 2.5 miles Easy Family Friendly.
Directions: 11 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon, park in the Parking Lot on the left of the road. Frequently the upper road is closed due to summer crowds, etc.
The Hike Experience: This hike is located in the Albion Basin at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It's a simple hike with a rewarding scene at the top. The last 15 minutes or so before you get to the lake will probably get your blood flowing and will give the little kids a sense of accomplishment and “I did it!” when they get to the top, but it's not too difficult at all and very beautiful!
#5 – Bonneville Shoreline Trail, variable length Easy Family Friendly.
Directions: This trail is accessible from many areas along the Wasatch Front – I typically access this trail from around the U of U / Red Butte Garden area.
The Hike Experience: Remember Lake Bonneville? You might if you are Dr. Who, but otherwise you probably learned about it in Utah History class in Elementary School (or have no idea about this ancient lake that used to occupy our valley). The Bonneville Shoreline trail, as you may have already guessed, actually runs along the shoreline of former lake Bonneville and spans miles and miles. This trail runs pretty much parallel to the Wasatch Mountains and offers nearly-instant gratification with beautiful views of the valley below. It's a great running or biking trail and you can decide how long you want to stay on the trail. It also hooks up to countless other trails that are awesomely wonderful (like the Living Room up by the U). I've heard of people biking this whole trail which starts somewhere up in Idaho I beleve, and goes down to Santaquin. That's a long ride but I bet it was so fun!
#6 – Parley's Historic Nature Park, variable 1 hour Easy and family friendly.
Directions: This trail is located just off of I-80 E at the 2300 East exit. Turn left at the first street once you exit and it is on the left side of the road.
The Hike Experience: This is another out-and-back “hike” located next to Tanner Park and is an off-leash area for dogs once you reach a certain point. This is an easy trail with one hill – once you are down the hill there are trails going throughout the whole little canyon for you to enjoy. There are also some dog-free trails if you'd like part of your hike to be sans-K9. The distance and elevation gain/loss is variable as you can decide which trails to take or when you are done. If you take your pets, please clean up any mess they make and always take water with you when you are hiking.
#7 – Donut Falls 1.6 total 1 hour Easy Family Friendly.
Directions: This one is a few miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is near the Jordan Pines picnic area – unfortunately, it is not identified very clearly as Donut Falls anything, but there's always a bunch of cars there so it's pretty easy to identify where to park. If the road is open, you can drive up the road to the trailhead parking lot (past some private cabins and such). If the road is closed, plan on adding about 30-40 more minutes on to your hike to walk the paved road portion up to the trailhead.
The Hike Experience: Lots of shade and hiking through the forest. The last bit (if you want to get up in to the cave where the falls are), is a wet one and you get to climb through the water. Be careful and you'll be fine. The trail is relatively short and easy, yet still robust and rewarding in terms of views, smells (aside from the outhouse at the trailhead), and wildlife. This one can get a little crowded, especially during the weekends and holidays but is a must-see! You do not need to get your feet wet in order to view/appreciate the falls and see why it is called “Donut” Falls! There is one rocky step-down when you get to the river, so be sure to stick with your party and help those who need it.
#8 – Lake Mary, Martha, Catherine (Brighton Lakes) 4.2 Total ;2-5 hours.
Directions: The trail starts at Brighton Resort.
The Hike Experience: Lake Mary is the first lake and the largest of the three sister lakes and is just 1.1 miles up the fir and spruce-lined trail. It's a perfect spot for picnicking or for your favorite lakeside recreational activities and can get busy for this part, but heading up to Lake Martha and Catherine, you'll see less people around and can enjoy the tranquility of these beatiful lakes! 4.2 miles roundtrip to check them all out. You'll be glad you did!
#9 – Bells Canyon 2m to Reservoir. Variable length. Challenging.
Directions to the Trailhead: This one is on Little Cottonwood Canyon Road around the corner from the entrance of Little Cottonwood Canyon. This trailhead is well-marked and easy to find.
The Hike Experience: This one is relatively easy (the first mile or so) and it leads to a reservoir, then another ways (and a little bit more difficulty) to get to some beautiful falls. This part of the trail is pretty busy but still has some great scenery and is quite enjoyable. The trail proceeds past the reservoir for another 8+ miles, but this part of the trail can be much more difficult. The difficulty of the hike is rewarding with spectacular views and you can connect to South Thunder Mountain or Big Horn from here. This trail can be very dangerous, especially on the slippery rocks by the falls. Always exercise caution when hiking.
#10 – Elephant Rock – Mueller Park Trail 3.6+ variable length, Easy
Directions: Accessible from 1800 S. in Bountiful (Mueller Park Drive). From Salt Lake: Take the 2600 S exit from I-15 and head east. The road will curve and turn in to Orchard Drive. Turn right on 1800 S / Mueller Park Drive and proceed to the trailhead.
The Hike Experience: It's about 3.6 miles up the trail to Elephant Rock, but you can continue on if you'd like. 13 miles of out-and-back trail with awesome scenery. Plenty of shade and great for kids, it can get a little crowded. Word is spreading about how spectacular the view is from Elephant Rock – definitely check it out! If you're feeling more adventurous, keep on going! This is a great runner's trail if you're in to that sort of thing.
#11 – Lake Blanche, 6.6 miles: 4-5 hours Advanced Strenuous.
Directions: Accessible from Big Cottonwood Canyon the trailhead is about 3 miles up the canyon at a big S-curve.
The Hike Experience: This hike is awesome for me because of Sundial Peak. It always makes me smile seeing that awesome jutting peak when you get to Lake Blanche – or even catching a glimpse of its reflection in the lake – so awesome, but yeah — this hike is pretty steep and is great for someone looking to get their heart pumping! Plan on stopping to catch your breath and always bring water when you are hiking. It's very close to Lake Florence and Lake Lillian once you get up to Lake Blanche, so make the extra effort and see all three – such a beautiful trio!
#12 – Red Pine Lake / White Pine Lake, 7.3 miles. 4-5 hours. Moderate.
Directions: Red Pine Lake trail can be accessed located 5.5 miles up the Little Cottonwood Canyon, at the White Pine Lake trailhead. You can also access White Pine Lake or Maybird Gulch from this trail as well.
The Hike Experience: Simply incredible views await you at the top of this sometimes steep, but not too rough trail. I've only been on this trail once, but it is one I want to go back to all the time. It was a little busy when I went, but not too bad – given how extraordinary the scenery was I was surprised there weren't more people there. Also, don't stop at Red Pine Lake as there are a few “upper” lakes nearby that are just spectacular and you'll be sorry you missed them!
#13 Bonus: Stewarts Falls: Stewart Falls is one of the most scenic and photogenic waterfalls in northern Utah. It falls in two tiers and is over 200 feet tall. Located near Mt Timpanogos just past Sundance Resort, the well marked trail is easy to follow.
Once you reach the view of the falls from the top, don't skip taking the well traveled trail to the rivers bottom. The descent from the ridge down is rather steep (especially for little ones) but this is a great family hike. Fall is an amazing time to take this hike for the spectacular colored leaves.
Directions: Take Interstate 15 to the Orem 8oo North off ramp (Exit 272). Turn east onto 800 North. Follow it for 3.7 miles to the mouth of Provo Canyon and as the road splits, take the left curve to go up the canyon (US 189). At the tunnel take the left on UT 92 toward Sundance. Travel past Sundance Ski Resort and past Aspen Grove, You will come to a ranger fee station, the parking lot on the left just past the station, park there. Note that on heavy hiking days the parking lot can get full.
Five Hiking Tips:
#1 – Bring water and some nutrition. Choose high-protein, dried foods like granola or power bars. These will help you pack in the calories without taking too much space.
#2 – Take along a small first aid kit, pocket knife and flashlight. It should go without saying, but even what you might think is going to be a small venture, could turn out to be more than expected. It never hurts to be well prepared.
#3 – Let someone know where you are and agree when you will check in with them when you get back.
#4 – Layer your clothes. It might be hot in the city, but it cools off fast in the mountains. Layering is the best way to prepare yourself fluctuating temperatures.
#5 – Bad knees? Get trekking poles. You'll love how much easier on the knees and back they make on your decent down. Poles range in price from $15.00 to into the $100's. So, you will want to do a little research. I personally own the above pictured BAFX – Anti Shock Hiking / Walking / Trekking Trail Poles, currently $21.99 and have like them very well. See the Poles here >>>
You might also find Greg Witt's book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles a useful addition to your hiking quest. While my copy has not come yet, I've had many hikers tell me it's a great resource. (Amazon.com $8.21)
*Thanks so much to my good pal Scott for providing this awesome information. On a side note, Scott's pic is not among those above as he is much more likely to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.
Do you have a favorite trail to hike? Feel free to share in the comment section.
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Originally posted August 12, 2014 by Joani