Zebra Canyon Hike & Mini Slot Adventure, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Escalante, UT

Distance: 5.3 miles 

Difficulty: Easy, with some deep sand walking in a wash, minimal elevation gain (~390ft). Trail is unmarked, but obvious. Great for trail running.

Colorful pink and white striations on the rock walls give this canyon its name, but you’ll earn your stripes for immersing yourself in the watery slot canyon at the end. The hike is quite pleasant, but 100% exposed so it’s a “no go” on hot days. It’s also a no-go in monsoon season.

The murky water in the slot can be knee to neck high depending on how much rain there’s been lately. While the slot is only about 200 yards long, memories of your mini slot adventure will be enduring.

Getting there:  From Escalante, take Utah 12 E for 4.9 miles and turn right on Hole in the Rock Road, 8 miles on dirt road to the first parking area on the right. Cross to the east side of the road and follow the path.

Note: if you’re claustrophobic, or have fuller body dimensions, you may want to opt out of the slot canyon immersion as it quickly narrows to about a foot of body wiggle room.

Happy Trails!

Hats off to Hank, but keep ‘em on for the Honaker Trail, Goosenecks State Park, Mexican Hat, UT

Distance: ~5 Miles RT, Out & Back (Down and Up)

Elevation gain: ~1,800

Difficulty: Somewhat strenuous due to consistent descent and ascent, some slippery footing and scrambling—minimal “exposure” as far as danger level, but 100% sun exposure. Not for the weak of knees or heart. Poles recommended.

Named after its creator, Henry Honaker, this rugged route dates back to the 1890s and the heyday of Utah’s Wild West gold rush. Thank him for this scenic, cliff-hugging trail that originated as a supply route from the San Juan River to the rim ledges. While the gold rush here was short-lived, the trail has been a long-lived attraction for scientists, geologists, recreational hikers, and rafters. The dramatic geological formations date back 300 million years and are a source of fascination for all.

As you descend the trail, you may note how the rock colors and their composition change. As you pause to take in the panoramic views, catch your breath, and gulp some water, keep your eyes open for fossils (including crinoids, brachiopods, and various trace fossils). In the dry and sometimes unforgiving desert, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when all of this was underwater.

The yellow numbers that you’ll see painted on the cliffs are remnants from a 1952 field symposium on the rocks of the Honaker and Paradox Formations, not a tabulation of the numerous switchbacks though they may seem so.

While it’s always a reward to jump in a lake or a river on a hike, the silty San Juan River may refresh you but likely won’t dazzle you with her mud-colored water.

The Honaker Trail is a great, off-the-beaten-track adventure hike and a must-do for geology buffs. We only encountered a couple of rafters exploring the bottom reaches of the trail.

Notes: Of course, you must drive into Goosenecks State Park itself to enjoy the main panoramic viewpoint while you’re there. The feature photo is from that viewpoint as are these next two.

On a clear day, you can see Monument Valley in the distance. Bring an excess of water & Gatorade—what you think is too much will be just right. This trail is completely exposed, so get an early start if you’re going in the summer and be equipped with sunscreen, a hat, and EXTRA water. (Yes, I know I mentioned that already.)

Getting there: There are no signs for this trailhead. It’s marked only by a huge cairn pyramid at the start of the trail and at the bottom. At Goosenecks State Park, take the dirt road at mile marker 3 (before the entry gate) and stay left when it forks. A 2WD car can make it to the first unmarked “parking area,” and it’s just  .25+ to the trailhead from there. Otherwise, a 4 WD, high-clearance vehicle can take you to a “parking area” closer to the trailhead.

It’s a scenic drive as well.

Oh, and here’s a pic of Mexican Hat along the way. Beauty everywhere you look.

Happy Trails!

Summiting Magnificent Mount Timpanogos: Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Wildlife, & Wild Views—Oh my!

Elevation gain:5,384ft

Mileage: ~15 Miles RT

Summit: 11,752ft, the 2nd highest mountain in Utah

Difficulty: Hard, strenuous – due to altitude, elevation gain, and ~1.5 miles ea way of an unstable, tortuous, talus field

Happened to be in the area and made the spontaneous decision to hike Mount Timpanogos. So glad I did. By far, Mount Timp (as the locals call it) is my new, all-time favorite hike / peak. And I’ve done a ton of hiking across the country and around the world. I couldn’t stop smiling all the way to the 11,752-foot summit and back. Ok, maybe my smile was a bit of a grimace through the 1.5 miles back and forth across the treacherous talus strewn avalanche field.  Rest assured, the grimace quickly reverted to ear to ear, exuberant glee once I reached the summit and then again as I descended back down to the lake.

What’s make Mount Timpanogos so wonderful, you ask? Well, the title gave it way, but in case you missed it:

  • Abundant colorful, wildflowers of more varieties than I’ve ever seen
  • Dazzling waterfalls around nearly very switchback
  • Pristine alpine lake and snow field a couple miles from the summit
  • Muscular mountain goats guarding the upper slopes and frolicking by the lake
  • 5,384 ft elevation gain in altitude delivers a fitness challenge and solid workout
  • Sweeping views of Utah Valley from the saddle and spectacular panoramic views from the summit

This hike had it all—absolutely enchanting.

Started the trail in a steady rain, and walked up a verdant paved path for about a mile and a half or so before the pavement gave way to the elements.  Plentiful wildflowers and sparkling waterfalls distracted from the effort of the climb and the sun’s radiance soon highlighted all of the beauty, mist rising. The trail is easy to follow with plenty of switchbacks to help mitigate the elevation gain. It felt almost tropical at times.

The lovely Hidden Lake Basin and Emerald Lake are destinations for many, including the mountain goats.

Those who push on beyond the mile and ½ talus torture field and onward and upward still, are well rewarded at the summit.

Pay your respects to the kings of the mountain along the way. If you have good eyesight, you might spy the summit hut from thousands of feet below. It’s a bit daunting and exciting because it seems so far away, almost out of reach.

From the summit, you’ll take in dizzying 360 degree views of Utah Valley and Utah Lake to the west, Lone Peak and American Fork Twin Peaks to the north and expansive views everywhere in between.

Disclaimer: I experienced Mt. Timp in her July glory. I was told by locals that I wouldn’t recognize her in the Fall when the waterfalls are dry, the wildflowers have disappeared, and the green meadows have turned to yellow hay. Others report that Fall colors are nice here. Someday, perhaps I’ll be back to see for myself. In the meantime, if you’ve been in another season, let me know what it was like.

Notes: I’d say hiking shoes are a must to navigate the talus field. There were some hard core, ultra runners in trail runners. (I know – WOW!) Hiking poles are also a nice to have, given the elevation gain and loss. Layers are always smart at altitude. Be aware of weather changes and avalanche danger.

Getting there: I-15N to Pleasant Grove, exit 275. Follow N County Blvd and UT-92 E to the Aspen Grove trailhead.

Stay tuned: I’ll be posting the videos soon!

Happy trails!

Lovely Lower Calf Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante, Bolder, UT

Lovely Lower Calf Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante, UT

Distance: 6 miles to the lower tier of the waterfall (~8+ to the upper tier)

Elevation: ~500 ft

Difficulty: Easy (with a fair amount of thick sand walking)

Highlight: 126-foot cascade into a pool, giant petroglyphs

Only had time for the lower tier of perennial Calf Falls – it did not disappoint, but the people did. Unfortunately, my itinerary landed me here midday on a Sunday. Not the time to visit–far too many humans for my liking…

As you can see, this amazing gem is definitely worth a visit. Lower Calf Falls cascades over a nearly vertical cliff face into a large pool several feet deep and is enclosed on three sides by sheer Navajo sandstone walls. Pick up an interpretive pamphlet at the trailhead to learn about the flora along the trail and giant petroglyphs in the distance (too far to get a good pic).

Without question, Grand Staircase Escalante is National Park caliber and deserves to be preserved and protected. Stay tuned for more posts on this area!

Soapbox: If you bring pets, please pick up after them! This trail and falls area is small and quickly becoming overrun and overused. One fellow watched me watching him get a bag out to pick up his big Labrador’s poop, and then when I turned away, he walked away from it. ARRRGH! No respect for fellow hikers or nature. They should permit this hike, at least on weekends, and fine those who litter/leave dog poop. Don’t get me started about the imbeciles who bag poop and then leave it. I can’t get my head around people who go somewhere to appreciate nature and then defile it.

Getting there: Take highway 12 to the BLM-managed Calf Creek Recreation Area. Parking lot has limited parking. Go early or you may have to park along the highway.

Gardner Peak Trail Is Quite Grand, Pine Valley UT

Distance: ~7.7

Elevation: ~2,100 ft

Difficulty: Moderate to hard, depending on your fitness level and route-finding skills

Highlights: Forest, meadow, wildflowers, rock gardens, peaks with panoramic views

Terrain: At times sandy, rocky, sooty, and scrambly

I found the Gardner Peak Trail in Pine Valley quite grand. Indeed, it may be my new favorite Pine Valley hike. The Gardner Peak Trail delivers on several levels—it’s varied and interesting all the way to the top. It’s a steady, but fairly gentle climb (2k) through forest, through nature’s rock gardens, through a meadow, (and a recent burn area), and on up to a couple of peaks—2 rocky and the one, eponymous, taller tree-lined Gardner. Pick a peak, any peak, and play. Plenty of grippy, rock scrambling opportunities. The panoramic views are a delightful reward as well. The trail is easy to follow until you get to mile 3, then it becomes a route-finding exercise, or a create your own route. The trail is runnable if you’re up for it.

At about .75 the trail connects with the Canal Trail, which is both runnable and mountain bike-able. (Stay tuned: I will be coming back on 2 wheels for the Canal Trail and will report then.)

Notes: If you’re going to the top, I suggest using a GPS or the AllTrails app.  Also, your feet and ankles might be happier in hiking boots. If you have tender knees, a pole or 2 might come in handy on the descent. Dogs & horses are allowed.

Check out these other Pine Valley hikes:

Forsyth Trail

Brown’s Point

Whipple Valley

Happy Trails!