Hiking Utah: The Top 5 Hikes
Utah accounts for some of North America’s most extensive and singular backcountry—and some of the world’s most utterly gorgeous landscapes. With more than 70 percent of the wide-open and canyon-gouged state declared public land, hikers and backpackers will find it futile to trace every nook and cranny—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try via a lifetime’s worth of adventures.
Here we’ll consider five of the very finest hiking trails in Utah, from the snowfields of the Middle Rockies to the slickrock outback of the Colorado Plateau. The list includes short, easy footpaths and challenging, multi-day expeditions, with some options in-between, too. In short, there’s something for virtually everyone here. No matter which of these treks you tackle, you’re guaranteed jaw-dropping scenery of the highest caliber.
Grand View Point Trail
Canyonlands National Park, one of five national parks in Utah and a crown jewel of the Southwest, encompasses a mesmerizing tract of the Colorado Plateau not far from the adventure hub of Moab. Anchored by the Green and Colorado rivers and their deep-cut confluence, the park includes three districts: Island in the Sky (a tapered mesa edged by the rivers coming together), the Needles (a magnificent tract of sandstone spires), and the Maze (a deliciously remote nest of canyons memorably celebrated—along with Grand View Point itself—by Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire).
The 2-mile round-trip Grand View Point Trail has an epic payoff for how little it demands; beginning from the Grand View Overlook on paved, wheelchair-accessible sidewalk and ending on smooth, forged Navajo Sandstone slickrock, it’s beautifully maintained throughout. It leads along the juniper- and pine-peppered shoulder of the Island in the Sky to its southern end, where, at Grand View Point itself, you’re treated to an astonishing panorama. Gaze out over the gleaming bench of the White Rim, the loom of Junction Butte, the rock fins of Monument Basin, the Needles and the Maze, distant spires like Candlestick Tower, and far beyond to skyline mountain ranges such as the La Sals and the Abajos.
You can easily complete the walk to Grand View Point and back in an hour or so, but you may just find yourself transfixed at the vantage. Sunrises and sunsets, needless to say, are downright unreal from this Island in the Sky perch.
As physically low-key as the Grand View Point hike is, keep in mind that the mesa-edge dropoffs are very real and unguarded; if you’ve got kids in tow, keep them close. And, as anywhere in the Utah canyon country, you should embark well equipped with sun protection and water.
Little Wild Horse Canyon
Slot canyons are a Utah specialty; there may not be another corner of the world with so many gorgeously indented sandstone defiles. You’ve got plenty to choose from as a hiker, from the popular (Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch) to the farflung and unnamed. Some are fairly pedestrian, requiring little more than a stroll (or an ankle-deep stream wade); others are suitable only for those with advanced canyoneering skills. A beautiful BLM-managed cleft in the San Rafael Reef of central Utah, Little Wild Horse Canyon falls on accessible and non-technical side of things—it’s only about six miles from the hugely popular Goblin Valley State Park—and offers a great introduction to the magic of these tucked-away labyrinths.
From the Little Wild Horse Canyon Trailhead, head up a wide wash to a fork about a mile in. Take the right-hand way up Little Wild Horse Canyon; the notch on the left leads up Bell Canyon. Heading upstream, you’ll marvel at the tight, sheer-walled narrows—some passable only by easing through sideways. Depending on the season and conditions, you may slosh across shallow potholes or be tramping dry ground the whole way. It’s nowhere difficult (unless you’ve got high-grade claustrophobia, that is).
Eventually you’ll come to a dryfall in the upper canyon. You can turn around here to make an easy four-miler of a hike. If you want more sightseeing, surmount the dryfall and loop around to the head of Bell Canyon to the south, then walk that somewhat broader gorge back to the fork—about a 9-mile circuit.
Besides bringing enough drinking water, you need to be cognizant of the weather to safely hike Little Wild Horse Canyon (or any other slot canyon, for that matter). Flash floods are extremely dangerous here, and may arise from surprisingly brief or distant downpours. Pay attention to the weather forecast and reschedule your hike if there’s any chance of significant rain in the region.
Angels Landing (Zion National Park)
The 5-mile hike to Angels Landing and back in Zion National Park is among the more celebrated hikes in the U.S., and for good reason. If you’re plagued by vertigo, steer clear of this one; otherwise, the climactic vista is something everyone should get the chance to appreciate firsthand.
Give yourself four or five hours for this masterpiece of a perambulation. You strike out from the Grotto Trailhead astride the North Fork Virgin River (the industrious stream responsible for much of Zion’s world-famous scenery), reachable via the shuttle bus that, from March through October, serves as motorized transportation along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive for all park visitors. You’ll climb the West Rim Trail up the lush hanging defile of Refrigerator Canyon, then negotiate the tight switchbacks of Walter’s Wiggles to Scouts Lookout. You’re nearly there—and Scouts Lookout affords a fine prospect itself, making it a rewarding turnaround point—but the ultimate quarter-mile up the narrow, precipitous Hogsback to Angels Landing demands some nerve. Bolted-in chains serve as handholds for the most precarious stretches. Go slowly and carefully, especially if (as is often the case) you’re also dealing with a crowded path, or if the trail’s at all icy or slick.
Your razor’s-edge walk along the abyss brings you to a heavenly prospect. Your view of Zion Canyon stretches from the mouth of the Narrows far downstream. The Great White Throne, a commanding, freestanding minaret of Navajo Sandstone, soars some 2,400 feet above the canyon bottom to the immediate southeast. If you’re lucky, a soaring California condor or two will serve as the icing on the cake. It’s the kind of scene that goes straight to the heart (and may just crop up in dreams down the line).
Mount Timpanogos isn’t the highest summit in Utah (that honors belongs to 13,528-foot Kings Peak in the Uintas—see below); it isn’t even quite the loftiest point in the Wasatch Range, given Mount Nebo’s a couple hundred feet higher. But “Timp” is, unquestionably, one of the great peaks in the state: a colossal, 11,752-foot ridge massif sweeping steeply up from the Utah Valley.
The Timpooneke Trail, some 14 miles round-trip, commences at Timpooneke Campground in the American Fork Canyon, ascends the Giant Staircase (where you can detour to handsome Scout Falls on the way), traverses Timpanogos Basin, and then navigates to the summit via Timp Saddle. The views over the Utah Valley and into the Wasatch high country are fantastic. Other attractions include the snowfield/rock glacier in the peak’s northeastern cirque (which some hikers riskily glissade to shorten their descent); Emerald Lake below that snowfield; and, a bit off the main trail northwest of Timpanogos Basin, the wreck of a B-25 airplane that crashed on the mountain in the mid-1950s. Plus you’ve got a good chance of spotting wildlife—from moose and mule deer in the lower conifer-aspen woods to mountain goats, marmots, and golden eagles above timberline.
Beyond an out-and-back day-hike or overnighter via the Timpooneke Trail, you can make a more challenging Timpanogos adventure (and check out more waterfalls) by circuiting back to your trailhead via the rougher Aspen Grove Trail and a connecting path. (The Aspen Grove Trail is the other main course to the summit, approaching from the east.)
What’s a non-technical hike in summer and autumn becomes more of a mountaineering challenge when Timp’s snow-covered. An ice axe and other climbing gear may be required in winter and spring, and you should be heedful of avalanche danger.
This grand traverse of the backbone of the Uinta Mountains ranks among the preeminent alpine trails in the Rockies. The Uintas, notable as one of the few west-east oriented mountain ranges in the Western Hemisphere, are Utah’s rooftop, much of it a vast tundra plateau scalloped with glacial cirques and pierced by massive peaks. Threading no fewer than eight passes and passing within striking distance of many summits—including the state high point of Kings Peak—the Highline Trail is a long-distance trekker’s dream.
Its full length between Hayden Pass on the Mirror Lake Highway in the west and U.S. Route 191 in the east approaches 100 miles, though it’s easy to lop off some mileage on the eastern side by using the Leidy Peak trailhead as your start (or end) point. A thru-hike is definitely a weeklong undertaking at least, and, given how much of the trail is above 10,000 feet, demands some real conditioning. You’ve also got to be prepared for the fickle weather of the alpine zone—and completely lightning-savvy.
The rewards for enduring pelting hailstones and wild electrical storms are many: lonesome lake basins, windswept passes with yawning views, krummholz limber pines and Engelman spruces, the opportunity to side-trip it up to the crown of Kings Peak. Navigating from cairn to cairn, soaking up the alpenglow on snow-laced summits, watching the ravens circle over headwater valleys, you’ll feel like a high-country pilgrim treading sacred ground with each step.
Utah’s too big, too marvelous, too otherworldly for a list such as this to do its hiking trails full justice. What about Delicate Arch, the outback of the Grand Staircase-Escalante, the bison range of the Henrys, the glorious ins-and-outs of the Waterpocket Fold, the heroic long-distance odyssey of the Hayduke Trail (named after one of Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang characters), etc. etc.? Well, give any of these five highlighted footpaths a try, and just try not to get completely and utterly hooked on the Beehive State’s backcountry. You’ll be back for more.
(1) Trails.com (multiple online trail guides)
(2) Summitpost.org: Mount Timpanogos & stem pages
(3) Little Wild Horse Canyon
(4) Utah.com: Hiking