Hiking

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo taken by Kiffer Creveling.

Typically when you think of Alta, you are likely to think of skiing or hiking. What most people don’t think about are the natural wildflowers that grow all over the area. High-altitude wildflowers are some of the most rugged plants because of the environment they live in, residing in elevations near 8,500 feet or even higher. The blooming time of these flowers does not usually occur in the spring, but is instead delayed to the end of July, or even early August.

The Albion Basin wildflowers are something that everyone should have the opportunity to visit because of the uniqueness of those flowers. When you head up Little Cottonwood Canyon, you’ll begin to see the sea of flowers that flows around every canyon. Pay close attention to all of this, as the colors will change the higher up the canyon you get, as flowers of different elevations bloom at different times.

Wide shot of wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

When you reach the top, where the Alta parking lot is, you can take the free shuttle that will drop you off on the Cecret Lake trailhead. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes between shuttles. The other option you have is to walk up to the trailhead through the Albion Basin meadow. If you are an ambitious hiker, then this is the option for you. You can walk next to the stream to see the flowers that need more water, which look completely different than the flowers in the meadows. Look carefully for the ground squirrels that have made their residence in the hills. Sometimes they’ll even peek out of their holes to ensure dominance over any approaching competition. Their presence makes the flowers even more fun to see.

Bluebell wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

The bluebells and Indian paintbrush make up most of the blue and red flowers that you’ll see in the basin. The yellow flowers across the basin on the west side of the canyon make up the second largest meadow basin at Alta. The hike up to this meadow takes quite some time, but allows you to gain a new perspective of the Albion Basin flowers.

Two of my favorite flowers to look out for are fireweed and elephant’s head. Fireweed is the faint purple flower that grows on tall green stocks that taper to the leaves. At the beginning of the summer at these high elevations, the flowers are near the bottom of the plant; as summer progresses, the flower blossoms move towards the top. Once the blossoms have reached the top, you know that summer has finished and that fall is near. Elephant’s head, on the other hand, looks just like what you’d think: a small pink flower that resembles the head of an elephant. It grows on a shorter plant that is typically located near water or a marsh.

Fireweed wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Remember as you go that the flowers are there to stay and for others to enjoy. Too many times you may see other visitors picking the flowers to make a bouquet. If you see this happening, kindly remind them not to do so.

Forest rangers have put up informational cards on a few of the trees on the hike up to Cecret Lake, allowing young kids and the inquisitive hikers to learn about local nature in the area. On these cards you’ll read about the moose and the natural habitat, including the flowers surrounding you. If you are lucky enough on your walk to see the flowers, you may also be lucky enough to see a moose on the loose. Be sure to stay away and let them be — don’t disturb them. Make sure you take your camera with you to share the beauty of these wildflowers with others, without taking them away and harming the environment.

 

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Opening Minds to the Oquirrh Mountains

Veiled in mystery by the legalities and the eminence of the adjacent Wasatch mountains, the Oquirrh Range serves as the 10,000 feet dividing line between the Salt Lake and Tooele valleys. Equipped solely with the knowledge of a BLM public lands route provided by an outdated hiking guide, and a strong desire to summit a couple of the Oquirrh’s more prominent mountain tops, I took to the westernmost ridge of Kessler Peak.

It seems that the majority of Salt Lake residents simply lack the desire to trek into the Oquirrhs, given the close proximity of the sublime, and comparably larger Wasatch Range. Those who have opened their minds and weekends to the western green peaks have often suffered for it. They are met with the intimidating barrier of red tape and prohibitions deterring even the most intrepid outdoorsmen from entering for fear of hefty fines — or worse. Painfully evident by the violently dissolved mountain that is now the main Kennecott mining facility, the Oquirrh Range remains in a perpetual state of contractual inaccessibility since Rio Tinto’s colossal 1872 land grab that still holds control to this day.

With this corporate acquisition and grand expanses of private purchases, virtually the entire eastern face of the Oquirrhs is restricted to public use (with some exceptions to the far south). While some exploit the negligence of private landowners and trail-blaze in this region outside of the law, those who prefer risk-free, legal natural emersion are ultimately out of luck. Thankfully, the back westernmost face of the range offers a patchy network of BLM land allowing access to those extra-determined to explore Oquirrh terrain without paying heavily for it.

Following the guidance and antiquated advice of a 7-year-old online hiking guide, I made my way to that western back side with hopes of surmounting the ridgeline connecting Kessler and Farnsworth Peaks without deliberately breaking any laws. The guide I relied on did accurately get me to the approximate location of an access point, though it failed to compensate for the nascent housing developments along the base of these mountains.

The overlying drawback of hiking in a largely neglected public land is the total absence of trails, and the consequential abundance of wildlife and wilderness left to flourish independently of human obstruction. When I arrived, I was without the helpful understanding that the access point was at the perpendicular bend, and I began much farther back than I ought to have. I was thus left to bushwhack through dense, arid fields of overgrown dead grass, and the ubiquitous webs of hobo spider webs strung among them (yes, hobo spiders). Long pants and socks are highly recommended in this area in anticipation of the venomous arachnids that call it home — exercise caution.

Aside from the apparent danger of overgrown desert wilderness, the back face of the Oquirrh Range is beautiful. It serves as a tangible reminder of the desolate nature the remaining untamed American West provides.

While my lack of preparation and foresight forced my dejected party to turn back before completing the trek, an impetuous push up the ridge will eventually place you atop Kessler Peak. It is connected by an extended ridgeline to Farnsworth Peak, the more dominant of the two. Note: A section of this ridgeline is private land. Trespassing is not encouraged and would be done at your own risk.

Even if not for the explicit purpose of surmounting some of the more obscure peaks surrounding the Salt Lake Valley, exploration west of the Oquirrhs is sure to provide you with a palpable sense of connectivity with our forgotten 19th-century wild-western past. At the very least, you will come across the disheveled rusted railway spikes, and the scattered animal bones that are evocative of it. The radiant and largely untouched natural beauty is something worth seeing.

Immersion into this incredible yet inhospitable expanse requires only preparation and consciousness; all else is scenery.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Reaching Heights in the Uintas

The high alpine is an environment so sodden with life and beauty that it has drawn words of praise from everyone, including the likes of John Muir and beyond. Truly, “the mountains are [always] calling,” but with classes and busy schedules, it is sometimes harder than that famous line makes it seem. Nevertheless, a bit of tedious time management can free up a weekend to head out and connect with the most spiritual and uplifting of natural places. In Utah, this means a trip to our tallest range, the Uintas. Here are a few of the best mountains to stand atop, triumphant and graceful, in our state’s most dominating range.

King’s Peak

King’s undoubtedly lands at the top of anyone’s list. If the stunning 6,000+ feet of prominence (how high the actual peak separates from the ground) doesn’t take your breath away, and if the beautifully exposed final ridge walk can’t do so either, then at least you can say you’ve stood on the tallest point in Utah. The most popular route to sack this peak is Henry’s Fork. From there, the trip is a little over 12 miles one way, and it gains about 5,200 feet of elevation, making it possible to ascend in one day. It’s more typical to take two days or a long weekend and split up the mileage a bit. Other approaches include one from Yellowstone Creek Trail (17 miles one way) or Uinta River Trail (50 miles round trip). All routes will eventually end at Anderson’s Pass which is just an hour ridge walk away from the summit of King’s Peak.

Mount Emmons

Although three peaks in Utah tower just a little higher than Emmons, this mountain is massive and visible from far away. It practically draws you to its peak. There are two approaches to get to the top. The Uinta River Route covers 27 miles round trip and 5,600 feet of elevation, while the Swift Creek Route notches just below it at 25 miles and 5,400 feet of elevation. Emmons itself rises to a sturdy 13,440 feet, but it only flashes 930 feet of prominence. Regardless, the route is far less trafficked than King’s, and it can offer an incredible rewarding outing if enough effort is put forth.

Mount Powell

Acclaimed as the most beautiful of Utah’s 13ers — or 13,000 foot mountains — Powell can offer one of the most pleasant winter ascents anywhere in Utah. It sits nearby maintained and plowed facilities, meaning the roads should be passable year round. Almost every face of the mountain can be ascended without much difficulty, and the mellow slopes mean prime backcountry skiing is plentiful. If you do try to attempt a winter ascent, be well prepared and up to date on avalanche dangers and safety. In the summer, however, no special skills are required — just determination to battle through the mosquitoes and a good judgment when it comes to thunderstorms.

Tokewanna Peak

If solitude and remoteness are what you’re searching for, Tokewanna is where you’ll find it. The trails are poorly marked, especially towards the summit, and although it is the closest Utah 13er to a road, it is still a 15 mile roundtrip journey. If you’re good with a map and compass, and a little bit lucky, you’re almost certain to be one of the few to experience standing on the peak of a 13,000 foot mountain with no one else in sight. Middle Fork Blacks Fork is the most used trail to ascend the peak, meaning it should be the easiest to follow. Still, there are no promises of an easy route find to the top. This adventure is one you have to work for yourself.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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A Gem in the Pacific Northwest

In southwestern Oregon, amid rolling hills of vineyards and proud forests of ponderosa pine trees, is Crater Lake National Park, the remnants of the former Mount Mazama Volcano that erupted over 7,700 years ago.

Crater Lake NP is Oregon’s singular National Park and with every passing year its popularity increases. Just last year, a recordbreaking 756,344 people visitors to the park had a chance to take in its gorgeous vistas.

Crater Lake owns the accolade of being the deepest lake in the U.S., and that’s not the only thing that makes it unique. If not for precipitation, the lake would be a giant hole in the earth, devoid of any moisture, as there are no inlets or outlets to the lake. This is also the reason for the lake’s existence, as that lack and its location in the rainy Pacific Northwest ensures that the water remains. For an average of eight months out of the year the park is covered in snow; during the other four months rainy days are frequent. When I visited at the end of July, there was still snow covering mountain tops as well as trails that led to higher elevations.

Don’t let this deter you, the rain and snowfall only serve to enhance the park’s beauty. When the sun shines across the lake, the translucent blue water practically sparkles as it contrasts with the lush green and brown forests that surround it. In the middle of the lake sits Wizard Island, the volcanic cinder cone standing as a reminder of how this piece of earth looked so many thousands of years ago.

What to do

There are many wonderful ways to take in the views around this lake, including a boat tour out to Wizard Island and summiting its mountain peak, a spectacular way to see the lake and watch the water as it surrounds you. These tours are $41 for adults, and $27 for children.

If a relaxing scenic drive is more your thing, though, you’re in luck: The park offers a trolley that provides a 2-hour tour and travels the entirety of the rim trail. The ride comes complete with a park ranger to answer all your questions and educate you on the history of Crater Lake. The trolley is also much more affordable than the boat tour, starting at $17 for children and ending at $27 for adults.

Last but not least, for those that like to go it alone there are a plethora or hiking and biking trails to choose from. Occasionally parts of the rim trail are closed to motor vehicles to allow bikers more space for themselves. This year those days will be Saturday, September 9th, and Saturday, September 16th. There are 16 different hiking trails with an almost equal selection of easy, moderate and difficult trails.

Fishing and swimming is allowed on certain parts of the lake, and from Monday-Saturday there are ranger talks, hikes and other activities to participate in.

How to prepare

If you plan on visiting Crater Lake soon, it’s best to make reservations ahead of time. As the popularity of the park increases it’s becoming ever more difficult to find lodging. There are 111 rooms total to be found at the two hotels inside the park, Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village, and campers have 230 sites to choose from at either Mazama or Lost Creek campgrounds. Backcountry camping permits can also be obtained in person, on the intended day of camping and free of charge, for backpackers that want to get away from the crowds.

As the number of visitors to Crater Lake National Park steadily climbs each year, this caldera lake becomes increasingly recognizable as a gem in the Pacific Northwest, and an icon of the always amazing creations of Mother Earth.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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Learning from Mistakes: Antelope Canyon and The Wave

Contributor story from Vien Voraotsady. Photo credit to Vien Voraotsady. 

We originally planned on doing a photography tour in one of the Antelope Canyon slots, but when everything ended up being sold out, we winged it.

On the way through Kanab, Utah, we found the best coffee shop: Willow Canyon Outdoor. This shop not only fulfilled our coffee craving, but we were able to peruse books, outdoor gear and clothing. It was the perfect opportunity for my wife, Ange, to find a hat that was all her own (one that wasn’t mine).

After our stop in Kanab, we made it to our hotel in Page, Arizona, on Friday after driving six hours. Page is a great area to visit with plenty of places to eat. There was also the added bonus of the Horseshoe Bend trailhead being five minutes from our hotel. We enjoyed the rest of our day there, and we watched the sunset from the bend’s top.

The next morning, we drove one hour back to Kanab to put our names in The Wave lottery at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center. There are two ways to get into the competitive lottery — online or in person. We were taking the latter option, and as we strolled in at 8:30 a.m. to put our names in we were excited, because the parking lot was empty. “We might have a shot!” Then the park ranger reminded us Arizona and Utah are in different time zones in the summer. We missed the drawing by 30 minutes.

The Wave permit lottery happens every morning at 9 a.m. The park rangers start taking names at 8:30. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the 10 to have your name drawn — there are upwards of 50-90 people each day depending on the season — you receive your permit for the following day (i.e., Saturday’s drawing is for Sunday’s permits). Lesson learned: be aware of time changes.

Kicking ourselves for this, we headed back to Arizona for our tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon at noon. This tour cost us $25 per person, and we booked it online the day before. By the time we got to the parking lot, it was windy, and in this sandy area we were quickly covered in grit. I recommend bringing hats, bandanas, desert scarves, and sunglasses to keep sand out of your eyes. You will get sand all over your camera equipment, so make sure you have a filter for your lenses.

There were about 15 people in our group. Our guide, Darren, was knowledgeable, talkative, and funny. We learned a lot about the Navajo Nation’s history as we waited our turn to descend the ladders into the slots. The beginning of the tour started with a descent on a steep, steel ladder to get to the slot. As we walked, we gradually climbed ladders up, and we eventually came out of the slot to the topside. It was about a 1 mile hike that took an hour and a half. It was breathtaking. We had plenty of sunlight, and a great tour guide. Along with entertaining and informing us along the way, Darren would help people in our group find the best settings on their camera phones for the best pictures, and he gladly took any photos you wanted. Using my Nikon D750, 90 percent of my pictures turned out great.

Photo by Vien Voraotsady

After we went back to our room, we were off to our 5 p.m. Upper Antelope Canyon tour we also reserved online. We met at a parking lot/gift shop in Page where we were shuttled to the site. This tour cost us $52 a person, and there were about 20 people in our tour group. Our guide wasn’t as talkative as Darren, but he did point out all the great photo places with a laser pointer. This tour was shorter, and it was an out and back whereas the lower canyon was a full loop. The lighting during this tour wasn’t favorable, but that could have been because the sun wasn’t over the slots. Using my backup camera, the Nikon D7000, only 10 percent of my pictures were keepers. This tour didn’t allow flash or the use of a tripod which was too bad — it had an awesome sand fall in the middle.

Photo by Vien Voraotsady

My favorite was the Lower Antelope Canyon tour. I’d like to go back and do the photographer tour in the future.

After that, we went back to Horseshoe Bend to stargaze. Even with our headlamps, we were a little leery of the ledges, but we had fun.

Photo by Vien Voraotsady

When Sunday came, we were ready for a detox, so we went to the Buckskin Gulch trail. Supposedly, there is a beautiful slot canyon with some water, but we didn’t make it since we only had two hours. We parked at the Buckskin Gulch trailhead, hiked for an hour and never found the slot entrance. We later found out it is a 4.4 mile hike to get to the slot canyon. If you want to see it, start at the Wire Pass parking lot. Make sure to bring cash or checkbook to pay the $6 per person permit fee.

Want to see your work here? Send story and photo pitches to c.koldewyn@wasatchmag.com.

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Peakbagger’s Double Traverse: Mount Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob

Resting along the jagged divide bordering the Millcreek and Big Cottonwood canyons, Mount Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob are two idiosyncratic peaks connected by a single mile-long ridge, both surmountable in a single day. While these peaks are closer to sea-level than some of the Wasatch’s more formidable, with Gobbler’s Knob at 10,246 ft. elevation, and Raymond a mere 5 ft. lower,  this hike is strenuous and not for the faint of heart… or lungs. Courageous mountaineers willing to brace the summer heat and an 8.3-mile trek, however, will be rewarded with access to sublime wildflower meadows and a unique perspective of the Cottonwood Divide, Salt Lake Valley, and beyond.

Gobblers Knob (Left) and Mount Raymond (Right) at a distance

Getting there

The ridgeline connecting these peaks is accessible from two routes: Alexander Basin from Big Cottonwood Canyon, and Bowman Fork from Millcreek Canyon. Which route is preferable/easier is a subjective question wrought with controversy; since I have only had the opportunity to undergo the latter, though, I’ll stick with that one.

To reach the Bowman Fork trailhead, follow Millcreek Canyon Road approximately 4.5 miles to the Terrace Picnic Area. It’s very easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled for signs. A narrow, paved road will lead you up several curves to a small parking lot near the trailhead.

Not far from the trailhead, you will be presented with signs directing you towards either Elbow Fork or Bowman Pass — keep towards Bowman pass the entire duration of the hike. Like other trails in Millcreek, dogs are permissible (off-leash on odd-numbered days). If you intend to summit Gobbler’s Knob, bring your pup; Raymond is a bit too technical for paws.

The trail progresses along a winding stream and later converts to steep switchbacks, flourishing alpine forests, and meadows. Midway, a fork presents itself between Alexander Basin and Baker Pass. Continue towards Baker Pass. Note: particularly during this time of year, the trail is near overgrown with varied foliage. It is quite beautiful, though be prepared for mild bushwhacking — long pants are recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trail eventually lets off atop the smooth ridgeline between Gobbler’s Knob and Mount Raymond. At this point, you can progress either way. Continue left (North) for Gobbler’s Knob, and right (South) for Mount Raymond.

Mount Raymond 

Summiting Mt. Raymond requires an additional 1 to 2 hours and a good bit of scrambling. The trail carves along the ridgeline south, which grows progressively steeper until stabilizing before the final ridge. This section is not recommended for dogs.

 

Summit ridge at a distance. The beaten trail is barely discernable in the photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Wildflowers along Mount Raymond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The traverse becomes a bit dicey as the slope transitions into a jagged knife-ridge. While daunting in appearance, this ridge is not entirely too difficult or exposed and requires only class-three scrambling. Be conscious of your step, and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty.

Initial push up the knife-ridge. Climb along its jagged spine.

Approaching the peak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs fail to adequately capture the beautiful perspective atop the apex. The chain of jagged peaks ahead is the Cottonwood Divide (Broads Fork Twin Peaks far right).

Mount Raymond is the tail-end of the Wildcat Ridge separating Big Cottonwood Canyon and Millcreek. Expert mountaineers braver than me can traverse the entire ridgeline as far as Mount Olympus — this precarious traverse demands technical climbing skills over 11.5 miles of exposed ridgeline known for its significant rattlesnake population.

Climb down the way you came.

Gobbler’s Knob

Gobbler’s Knob is the most recognizable of the two due to its clear visibility from the Salt Lake Valley and distinctive saddleback shape. Powder-hounds are known to summit the mountain in winter months to carve through its untouched snowpack and steep incline; this activity is typically discouraged in consideration of the periodic avalanches occurring along its slope each year — and the skiers who have lost their lives to them. The Folklore circulated by the Wasatch’s earliest settlers warn of a supernatural presence in the knob’s forests after dark— more on that here. While steep and exhausting in and of itself, Gobbler’s Knob is the easiest of both peaks by far. Nothing technical, bring your pup.

 

The mountain’s saddleback apex — a great place for lunch before making your way down. To return to the car, you need only follow the trail back down in the same direction. Another trail from the connecting ridgeline carves into the Alexander Basin route — shuttle cars if you would like to do both (note: dogs are prohibited in Big Cottonwood Canyon, however, so any pup you bring to the other would need a stop-off point if you want to do both).

Transient sun rays captured from Gobbler’s Knob at dusk.

Aspen forest near the ridgeline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be conscious of your body and exercise caution; food, water, and sun-protection are essential — best of luck.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

 

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Utah’s Backpacking Gems

Summer brings about the liberation of one of life’s most valuable resources — time. For the adventure-minded, more time means longer trips, and longer trips usually mean backpacking. In a state where outdoor recreation is world class, there are surprisingly few trails long enough to warrant a hearty backpacking trip. When excavated deep enough, however, a few diamonds emerge from the rough. Here are some of the shiniest.

Coyote Gulch

This is one of those places so famous in Utah that it’s hard to live in the state one month without having heard of it. Located about 33 miles down Hole in the Rock Road in Escalante, Hurricane Wash provides the ideal trailhead for a longer trip into this area. Typically, the 26 mile trail is hiked as an out and back at 13 miles each way, but a shuttle car can be used at one of the many other trailheads leading into the gulch to cut out some distance. Coyote offers beautiful scenery all around the trail, two different arches, a hidden lagoon, and numerous other unique points of interest. Since it is backcountry, waste should be packed out and fires are prohibited. A free permit is required, and it can be picked up at nearly every trailhead.

Uinta Highline Trail

For a traditional, high alpine, long trek, look no farther than the Uintas. The mightiest range in Utah is home to one of the most stunning backpacking trails the state has to offer. Over 100 miles of elevated path guides the way across some of the most stunning points in Utah, including King’s Peak. Never dipping below 8,000 feet, the trail is snowed in, and it is typically not passable until July. When hikeable, the trail boasts a ridiculous amount of wildlife. Everything from moose to coyotes are common. As part of this, it is maintained, but rough and remote. At times, only spaced out cairns will mark the way, so a good map and navigation skills are critical for anyone interested. No permit is required.

West Rim Trail

Arguably Zion’s most famous backpacking trip, the West Rim Trail offers a perspective of the massively popular park that most of the tourists will never see. Starting at Lava Point and descending 19 miles into the bottom of Zion Canyon, this trail renders views of both back- and front-country. It can be done as a strenuous day hike, but taking two days allows time to tack Angel’s Landing on to the end of the second day as a bonus. If done as a multi-day trek, a backcountry permit is necessary, and camping is restricted to one of the nine backcountry sites.

Narrows Top Down

The Narrows is arguably Zion’s second most famous hike, conceding only to Angel’s Landing. In order to see all of it, however, you’ll need to hit it from the top down. This is a 16 mile hike, starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch descending a steady 1,500 feet to the typical Narrows trailhead. A shuttle will be needed to get you from the park to Chamberlain’s. This hike is usually not possible in spring due to the high water flow. If the river is running over 120 cfs, Zion will close the Narrows. This means June is usually the earliest the hike is open. Like the West Rim Trail, the hike can be done in a day, but who would pass up a chance to camp in the Narrows? A permit is required for both the overnight and day trip options.

The Maze

The Maze district in Canyonlands is a classic Southern Utah trip. Hard to access trailheads surround one of the most remote places in the lower 48 states. Little water is offered throughout the treks, so careful planning and preparation are required. Due to its inaccessibility, trips are rarely shorter than three days. Many routes contain low grade climbing maneuvers and a 25 foot rope is recommended to shuttle packs up. Many of the hikes are exposed, and hot in the summer. It is best to go in fall or spring. When there, be cautious. This place is truly extreme and remote. Self sufficiency and proper preparation are essential for enjoying your time in The Maze. However, a successful trip can be rewarding as the area is stunningly beautiful, and solitude is easily found. Permits are required for all trips to The Maze.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Zion: An Outdoor Paradise

Zion National Park. Photo taken by Esther Aboussou.

If you’re short on time this summer, yet still anxious to explore the best that the Beehive State has to offer, look no further than the beautiful backyard of Southern Utah. Just outside of Cedar City lies 229 square miles of red rock country, towering canyon walls, dense forests, and beautiful sandstone buttes. This landscape is encapsulated inside the boundaries of the famous Zion National Park.

Zion is a paradise for outdoorsy people of every kind. There are activities and hikes anyone can enjoy, and the scenic drive alone is enough reason to go. Because of the wild popularity of the park, it’s best to plan a trip just before the summer tourist season kicks in to full gear.

If you’d like to spend a few nights in Zion National Park, there are three campgrounds, and there are 176 campsites to choose from. These range from $20 to $30 for the week, depending on which site you choose. The more expensive ones include electricity. Reservations in advance are a must. These sites fill up quickly, and they tend to be full throughout the entire season. In areas surrounding the park, there are primitive campsites such as Lava Point Campground up in Kolob Canyon that are based on a first-come first-served basis.

The best part of Zion is the diverse landscape it offers. There is so much to do, and there is even more to explore. You can bike, hike, ride, or climb your way through Zion National Park and still find yourself yearning for more. Out of the 18 hikes to choose from, a few of the top attractions are Angels Landing, The Narrows, and The Subway hikes.

Zion National Park. Photo taken by Esther Aboussou.

There are amazing views to be had as you summit the 1400 feet of Angel’s Landing. Navigating the tight passageways and trudging through the knee-deep water of The Narrows is an unforgettable experience. The Subway is a workout, and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. A permit is required for this 9-mile banger, and you’ll need to be skilled in route-finding, swimming, and rappelling to make it through the intense slot canyon.

Don’t let this scare you away, however. Zion has quite a few easy to moderate trails that provide gorgeous views. The Upper Emerald Pool trail is a 1 mile hike that leads to a beautiful waterfall of refreshing water at the base of a cliff. The 3.5 mile Taylor Creek trail is a quiet trek that gives hikers amazing views of the majestic double arch alcove.

A visit to Zion National Park can provide awe-inspiring views and adventure, or solitude and relaxation. It all depends on which parts you choose to explore. What is certain is that this utopia of Utah wildlife and lush scenery is a treasure of the western United States, and it is an absolute joy to behold.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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The Most Underrated of the ‘Mighty Five’

Every summer there’s the magical little period of post-school, pre-work freedom. Ideally, this is a week or longer, allowing for some kind of big, planned trip to take place. This year I had a weekend. With much whim and little planning, we stuffed the trunk and backseat of my friend’s Subaru and headed off to Capitol Reef for a night. Little did I know I’d be stumbling into Utah’s most underrated national park.

Our expectations were low; nobody in our group really went to Capitol Reef. I had seen stunning pictures of the park on random Instagram posts before, but I was suspicious. Plenty of places in Utah caters to what I call the “tourist adventurer.” These are people who make it seem like they are incredibly remote when in reality they’re standing off the side of a highway. I did not want to be swarmed by the masses as we all crammed into a little parking lot and hiked a quarter mile to some awesome geologic formation. I wanted to actually be remote.

We decided to head to the visitor center where we knew we could get a map and ask the ranger’s advice on where to go. After a few PB&J’s and some deliberation, our decision had been made. We packed up lunch, hit a few of the touristy day hikes, and then headed off to our real adventure.

After an hour of getting lost, two hours of high clearance, dirt road navigation and good music we reached the imposing sandstone formations known as Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon — aka our campsite. Soon, our tents were pitched just outside the park on BLM land, but still within view of the Temples. We enjoyed dehydrated beef stew, red beans with rice, and beef stroganoff as the last of the sun’s light fell across the towers. A few more hours and their dark silhouettes provided the perfect juxtaposition to the star encumbered sky.

Our expectations were well exceeded. Capitol Reef can lead you into a trap of “tourist adventurers” if you stay on the surface. Venture deeper into the park, though, and you can visit sites like Cathedral Valley, where you’ll find something far different.

In this hidden gem, we were met with total solitude and expanse, even though it was Mother’s Day. The main road, which houses most of the park’s visitors during their time, was relatively uncrowded. The parking lots at the hikes would fill, but barely. Just hours farther south, Zion would be entertaining bus after bus of tourists, while in Capitol Reef we saw equal views and far fewer tourists.

After just 24 hours in the park, my perception of it shifted completely. Capitol Reef holds the stigma of being unimpressive or not worth visiting, but as I found out, this is utterly untrue.

The park is nearly twice the size of Zion meaning there are far more backcountry and off-the-path places to explore. As the least visited national park in Utah, it is not hard to find a landscape totally devoid of people. Even the nearby towns are small and relatively unobtrusive. BLM land surrounds almost every border of the park, offering free camping wherever you go. Everything about this place is wild, expansive; and entirely underrated.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Getting Out the Hiking Boots

Have you retrieved your hiking boots out from underneath your ski boots yet?  It’s that time of year when you should, as the snow begins to thaw from the trails in the Wasatch Front. Each day the hiking trails begin to emerge as the sun warms their meandering paths, and the leaves on the trees transition from brown to green.

Hiking opportunities in this weather are endless.  There are so many local hiking trails that you could go on a new hike every day, continuously exploring new territory.  The canyons that are adjacent to the Salt Lake Valley are the perfect place to begin.  Each canyon has streams and rivers, resulting in a luscious fern bed full of life and moisture.

One trail that you can visit just 30 minutes from the University of Utah is up Millcreek Canyon.  The gate four miles up the canyon will open in July, and won’t close until November.  Seven and a half miles past that gate you will come across 1000 Springs, one of the natural springs in Millcreek Canyon.  Beneath the Springs, there is a pond that is home to a family of beavers.  If you are lucky when you are hiking along the road you’ll see one working on a dam.

Another beautiful hike  in Millcreek Canyon is the Pipeline Trail. Beginning approximately half-way up the canyon, you are actually walking along an old pipeline trail. The overlook at the end puts you in the perfect location to view Salt Lake in the distance.

To the South is Neff’s Canyon.  Neff’s Canyon is very steep but has a multitude of hikes for every level. You are hiking just north of the magnificent Mt. Olympus and it has impeccable views of Salt Lake City. There is even an old cave that you can hike past called Neff’s Cave — one of the deepest caves in North America. Don’t worry about falling in, though, as the entrance has been blocked off. Instead, you can use a flashlight to stare into the abyss to satisfy your curiosity. Continuing up the canyon you’ll have a view over the top of Grandeur Peak as well as passing the Mount Olympus Spring. Dogs are allowed up the canyon, so don’t forget to bring a water filter if you want to enjoy some of the fresh spring water.

Continuing south, the next two large recreation canyons you’ll reach are Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Each canyon has their own unique hikes and adventures. Since the two were formed by different forces — river and glacier erosion respectively, the canyon walls vary drastically in steepness. Big Cottonwood Canyon offers many hikes that are about the same steepness in ascent from the beginning to end, whereas Little Cottonwood typically has very steep beginnings that taper off once you reach the high mountainous valleys.  The views at the tops of both will keep bringing you back for more.

These options are good anytime, but particularly for spring weather. If you find yourself available for a hike on a more summer-like day, some hikes that you should definitely put on your list are Lake Blanche, Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, Cecret Lake, and Red and White Pine Canyons.

These hikes give you the opportunity to reach far-off peaks if you so desire, but will also allow the inexperienced hiker to practice their skills.

No matter where you go now that snow is a little less common in the weather forecast, remember to use the buddy system and never hike alone. At the very least be sure that someone always knows where you are.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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