Spring is officially here, and if you’ve been cooped up all winter, there is no better time to start exploring Salt Lake City’s stellar backyard than right now. Here in Utah, we are incredibly lucky to live so close to such amazing and recreationally friendly mountains. Although known for the “greatest snow on earth”, the Wasatch is a year round playground.
A few tips to remember before heading out:
• Hike with a buddy
• Always bring the ten essentials: Map, compass, sun protection, food, water, rain jacket, headlamp, first aid kit, fire starter and knife.
• Have fun!
If you’re new to the mountains and not quite sure where to start, I’ve got a list of hikes that are sure to get you into full-fledged hiking mode. From mountain lakes to lupine wildflowers and peak bagging in between, these hikes are some of the best in Utah. The best part is none of these hikes are further than an hour from downtown.
1. Cecret Lake
Trailhead Location: Little Cottonwood Canyon
Distance: 1.5 miles Round Trip (RT)
Difficulty Rating: Easy
This is one of my absolute favorite hikes. The gates, located at the very top of Little Cottonwood Canyon’s paved road, don’t open until the snow completely melts, but this hike is well worth the wait. After reaching the gates, a dirt road takes you the rest of the way to the trailhead – just continue until you reach the end of the road. This hike is the easiest on my list with a great payoff at the end. Keep an eye out for moose and don’t miss the wildflowers in July.
2. Willow Lake
Trailhead Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon
Distance: 1.5 miles RT
Difficulty Rating: Easy
This may be one of the easiest hikes on my list, but it’s probably the hardest to find. The trailhead is 11 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. There’s a small sign on a rock that marks the trailhead. Once you reach 11 miles, start searching for a trailhead on your left. There’s plenty of parking on the right side of the road. The trail is steep but short. Most of the hike is thick with aspens, which make this an incredible hike in the fall. Toward the end, the trail levels out and the trees open up. Keep going a little further, and you’ll be rewarded with a tranquil lake that reflects a line of willows along its shores.
3. Grandeur Peak
Trailhead Location: Millcreek Canyon
Distance: 5.5 miles RT
Difficulty Rating: Moderate
This one is a classic – a great peak to hike for a first timer. Head up Millcreek Canyon for 3.2 miles and park at the Church Fork picnic area, which will be on your left. The hike is pretty gradual until you reach the saddle. Then it’s another stretch to the summit. The 8,299 foot summit overlooks the city to the west, Parleys Canyon to the north and Mount Olympus to the south. This hike is fantastic.
4. Mount Timpanogos
Trailhead Location: American Fork Canyon or Sundance Ski Resort
Distance: 15 miles
Difficulty Rating: Moderate Endurance Fest
Timpanogos is a very popular hike, and for good reason. It may be long, but that’s why it’s also categorized as a moderate hike. It’s not very steep and will get you above 11,000 feet. The Timpanooke trail starts in the American Fork Canyon or the Aspen Grove trail starts near the Sundance ski resort. The best time of year is the last half of July when the wildflowers are in bloom and most of the snow is off the trail. If you’re up for a little bit of a thrill, continue south on the trail after reaching the summit and slide down Utah’s only “glacier.” You may want to do this with a jacket wrapped around you and forget it if you have short shorts. After the nice slide down, you’ll end up at Emerald Lake and the hiker’s shelter. This is a great place to set up camp and turn the trip into an overnighter if you’ve brought the gear. If you’re not feeling like you want to push it to the summit, you can always stop at the saddle and still enjoy a great view. Keep an eye out for mountain goats in the meadow and moose along the trail.
5. Mount Olympus
Location: Wasatch Boulevard
Distance: 6.4 miles RT
Difficulty Rating: Strenuous with a mild technical scramble at the end
This climb is not for the weary of heart. Complete exposure to the sun makes this steep hike even harder, and rattlesnakes are abundant. Don’t let that scare you, though. A slow and steady pace will get you to the top. The trailhead is a few miles south of 4500 S. on Wasatch Boulevard, and parking is limited, so start early. Once you reach the saddle, there’s a mild technical scramble to the top. The views are outstanding and will leave you wanting more.