Check here for a post on Lake Mary! We love visiting all three sister lakes when we come up to Brighton. I believe getting to Lake Mary is the most difficult, and it’s really smooth sailing after that.
Where: Big Cottonwood Canyon, edge of Brighton Ski Resort
Grown up difficulty: medium
Five year old difficulty: medium to hard
Length and elevation: 4.4 miles and 1250 ft gain
To see: wildflowers, three lakes, moose, rocks to climb
You’ve already made it to the first, hardest lake, Lake Mary! Congrats. It’s shady now, with truly spectacular views. After resting at the first lake, you’ll follow the trail around the lake, heading away from the dam in the same direction you came up. The trail climbs, giving an excellent top view of the lake. Lake Martha comes up really quickly on your right. It’s smaller, off the trail a ways, and often has a moose grazing nearby.
There’s more wildflowers here, including paintbrush, lupine, asters, and bluebells. It’ll open back up after awhile as you hike higher, through a switchback, and then to another meadow.
Our kids love climbing around on the boulder field right before Lake Catherine. There are some beautiful views here of the other two lakes as well as the Big Cottonwood Canyon. The trail splits and either way will take you to the last lake.
Once here, we take a really long break. You’ve just hiked over two miles and you may have some whiny kids. Plus the rest is mostly downhill and your toes are going to get tired. We’ve seen moose here as well.
Such a beautiful area and hike. If you’re up for a longer, steeper hike, tack on Lake Martha and Lake Catherine to your Lake Mary hike. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Faves: wildflowers, three lakes, streams, shady areas
It’s still wildflower season up in the Wasatch Mountains. Lake Mary is a favorite of ours. Similar to Cecret Lake, the trailhead is at the end of a canyon road (though here you have the chance to drive through the peaks over into Park City). Big Cottonwood Canyon is a longer and less steep drive than Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Where: Big Cottonwood Canyon, edge of Brighton Ski Resort
Grown up difficulty: medium
Five year old difficulty: medium to hard
Length and elevation: 2.4 miles with 850 ft gain
To see: wildflowers, the lake, rock slides across the lake, a dam
The trailhead begins right by Brighton Mountain Sports. It’s fairly well marked and Google Maps displays it clearly. It’s just over a mile to the lake, but that mile is steep in places and unshaded for most. The meadows are full force during the summer months, and so are mosquitoes. Bring repellent!
You’ll hike underneath a ski lift and around a large granite boulder for the first half. There are a couple spots with shady trees where we rest and drink water. After this, it’s exposed until you get to the forest.
Walking through the rocky trail, you’ll pass a split off for Dog Lake (.1 miles if you want to tack that on!) and a small bridge over a pond a bit after. Right now there are tons of yellow Prairie Sunflowers on both sides of the trail. Soon you’ll see the large wall of the dam with the metal fencing on top. You’re almost there!
You’ll follow the dam along the edge, climbing up to the lake. Several streams cross the trail, so be careful or be ready to get wet. Soon you’ll reach the top and cross over the edge of the dam to the lake. This year the water is very high and beautiful. This is a watershed, so no dogs or swimming to protect our drinking water.
Watch out for the squirrels! These guys are very aggressive and will come really close as you rest and snack. Sometimes we stop here for good, and sometimes we continue on to Lake Martha and Lake Catherine. I feel like the hike to Lake Mary is the hardest part of the three lakes, but don’t let that deter you. Stop here if that’s what works for you.
We love this hike. It can be daunting with the elevation gain with the shorter distance, but the reward is a stunning alpine lake. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the lake the last time we hiked it.
Hardest: exposed trail, mosquitoes and heat depending on the time of year
Faves: wildflowers, deer, the lake
Gear: carrier if needed (I love my Kinderpack!), water, bug spray, water shoes
If you’re looking for streams, wildflowers, fossils, and a lake, this is the hike for you. The basin is truly breathtaking and the air is so cool up here. During the week, Alta charges $8/car to park at the Cecret Lake Trailhead. Starting the hike from this location means a 1.7 mile hike with just under 500 ft elevation gain. Plan on a longer hike if you’d like to walk around the lake (it’s gorgeous!). If you start from the Albion Basin, there is no charge for parking and the hike is closer to 5 miles round trip with around 1200 ft gain. We try to start at the Cecret Lake Trailhead as it’s a lot more doable for kids.
Where: Little Cottonwood Canyon, the last parking lot of Alta’s Summer Road
Grown up difficulty: easy
Five year old difficulty: easy
Length and elevation: 1.7 miles with around 500 ft gain
To see: wildflowers, streams, deer, moose, the lake, snow
Busyness: well traveled, busy on weekends for sure
Firstly, mosquitos. Be prepared with spray or whatever repellent you choose to use. The trail is well marked with wooden signs pointing the way. There is a campsite at the trailhead as well with a pit toilet. There is limited parking (though they’ve added an extra lot!) so coming early is best. You will cross a few streams on your way to the lake.
Most of the trail is through wildflower fields, surrounding you in yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink. We even have seen a marmot! On the east side of the trail around the part where the trail and service road are the same is a big rock with fossils on it. Try to find it! We love it. The last bit of the trail is up a granite hill with two switchbacks. You can hike around the lake on a fairly well marked trail. There are fun rocks to scramble around on near the lake on the west side and some great places for picnics too. Just watch out for the alpine squirrels! They want all your food.
Such a fun summer hike. We’ve done it in the fall as well during Snowbird’s Oktoberfest and while the flowers are gone, it’s a lot emptier. With a child in a carrier the switchback portion will be more difficult, but my 7 and 4 year olds hiked it happily.
Hardest: mosquitos and switchbacks
Faves: the streams, wildflowers, and cooler air
Gear: mosquito repellent, waterproof or water shoes, snacks, water
Sometimes, you’ve driven an hour and have planned to hike for a bit before heading anywhere else. And your kids aren’t having it. They’re tired, hungry, bored, what have you, but you need them to last a bit longer. Ever happened to you? I feel like this is a super common experience. Here’s a little list of some ideas to put in your distraction toolbox.
-wildlife brochure: guys you know I LOVE these. I can’t get enough of the Pocket Naturalist guides and everything similar. I’ve gotten some on Amazon, some from local buy/sell/trade pages, and some at National Park gift shops.
-plant and flower brochure: spring and summer are perfect times to whip these out and work on your plant and flower identification. We’ve been practicing for a couple of years now and have a good handle on identifying a few plants.
-bird brochure: another Pocket Naturalist guide. We have tons of interesting birds here (pelicans, grouse, warblers, eagles, falcons, hawks, vultures) and they’re mesmerizing.
-magnifying glasses: get up close! examine the different shapes and colors found on the plants and rocks you come across.
-binoculars: looking at waterfalls, specific rock outcrops, even animals can help focus kids on something besides how tired they are.
-snacks: obviously. We pack lots of Annie’s bunnies, fig bars, trail mix, sometimes protein bars to feed these littles. Sometimes I have to remind the littlest to keep walking while she’s eating.
-small toys to hold: not my favorite because they can get lost, but small toys helps my kids use their imagination and can keep them going pretty well.
-songs and games: we like taking turns picking songs to sing (plus it helps us make more noise so we don’t surprise any wildlife). We also love playing what we call “The Rainbow Game”. We try to find every color of the rainbow in nature. Sometimes we do two sets, one of just wildflowers and another of anything else. It gets my kids observing what’s around them and describing it too.
-friends: it’s surprising how much better my kids hike with friends around. The complaining drops almost completely and we move so much faster. Hike with friends when you can!
Any tips I should add to my toolbox? What helps your kids hike?
Hiking with kids in the desert during summer is quite different than in the winter, but still demanding! It’s hot and we’re close to the sun.
Hydration and sun safety are my biggest focuses. There’s a balance between not overheating and staying safe from the sun, and it’ll take some trial and error. Lightweight, wicking clothing and breathable shoes are a priority over here. Last summer we all wore Keens which helped keep us cool. We’re going to try out Chacos this year too. Hats and sunglasses helped make hiking a little novel for my kids, and we all use zinc based sunscreens. Badger is my favorite. I’ve also made my own but it’s not always possible.
There are a few options for water. One is traditional water bottles. When my youngest still needed to be carried, I clipped my 32oz Hydroflask to my Kinderpack. Now she’s walking, so I can carry a daypack with water inside. I have a few daypacks (Cotopaxi, Gregory, REI) with special packs for hydration bladders. A friend has a super cool Camelbak fanny pack that has a pocket for a hydration bladder! I also picked up a filtration bottle to use on longer hikes, which we have used.
My kids wear Camelbak Scouts and carry their own water and snacks. Sometimes I don’t have my four year old wear anything extra to help conserve energy. On shorter hikes though, she enjoys it. They love the bladders that come with the backpack, though the little likes to bite through them. They’ve never consumed all of their water thankfully. I keep a 64oz stainless steel water bottle in the car filled with cold water for after hikes. We usually fill up everyone’s water bottle once we’re back in the car.
Honestly, hiking in the mountains during the spring and summer is a blast. The wildflowers are sprouting and growing tall (did you know Cow Parsnips can grow to 9 feet tall?) and we love working on plant identification. We play games where we find all the colors of the rainbow, the smallest and biggest flowers and leaves. I’d love to work on bird call identification together.
We love these identification guides for trees, wildflowers, animals, and birds. The kids love looking at them in the car while driving to the hikes as well as carrying them along while walking. We’ve collected several different sources over the years, from Amazon and National Park gift shops. I do prefer Utah-specific ones, as it helps narrow down the possibilities.
Additionally, there’s a free app called Utah Wildflowers I downloaded this past month. Take note of the color, number of leaves, type of stem, and location of the flower and this app will help you identify it. It’s been so much fun for us.
What are your tips for spring and summer hiking? Favorite parts? Have fun out there!
The day after we explored the Parowan Gap, we headed south to Snow Canyon State Park. We were looking for sun and warmer temperatures, and hoping for smaller crowds. I think we made a great choice.
My family had not been to Snow Canyon before, and we decided the night before to visit this state park which left us slightly unprepared. We managed to have fun still, and that was a good lesson for me (the chronic over-preparer). The temperature climbed 10-15 degrees as we descended into St. George. We drove through the red rocks into the north entrance of the park. Pro tip: they don’t take credit cards at the gate, so bring cash if you have it!
We stopped at the teeny visitor’s center to pay our fee, use the bathrooms, and to see if there were any stickers the kids liked enough to add to our collection. Then we drove back up to the Butterfly Trails. I’m not sure how long this hike technically is, as we really struggled to stay with the trail markers and ended up on a different trail altogether-the Petrified Dunes Trail.
These dunes were fantastic. The kids loved exploring around, looking at the different vegetation (I just read that the annual rainfall in Snow Canyon is just 7.5 inches a year!), and finding the unusual to us trail markers. We gained and lost a lot of elevation as we traveled to the end point of the dunes trail. This was the first hike where everyone carried their own lunch and we stopped to eat together. It was really nice to not be the designated carrier!
We chatted with a Friend of Snow Canyon volunteer who told us how the visitation numbers have exploded in recent years. They’ve expanded their trail system and are working on expanding the parking options, as the lots fill up by 11AM many days.
After this hike we headed down to Jenny Canyon. This tiny hike is a fun slot canyon, and it gave us a good taste of how fun sandstone can be. This hike only took 10-15 minutes, after which we headed across the street to the actual sand dunes.
All of the sand was heaven for the kids. It had warmed up greatly by this point and the sky was mostly clear. We spent a couple hourshere, building sand castles and playing frisbee. It was near the end of this where I realized none of us had sunscreen on and that I hadn’t even thought to bring it! We won’t forget next time, especially with how burned my husband got.
Next time we visit, I’d like to see the lava tubes and Johnson Canyon, as well as try to make it out to some petroglyphs the volunteer told us about. Snow Canyon is now one of my favorite places and I think my kids will remember the sand dunes if nothing else for a long time.
In March, we had family in town with cousins similar in age to my kids. They love adventures too so we decided to meet down in southern Utah and have ourselves a good time. I have a couple of friends who have spent a lot of time down south near St. George, so I reached out to them for some ideas. Word of mouth helps so much.
We got an AirBNB in Cedar City, to save a little bit of money and to be away from most crowds. I didn’t realize it was spring break for many students (my kids and their cousins are homeschooled so it’s not applicable over here) but I was so pleased with our lodging and our destination choices. Have you used AirBNB? It is my favorite way to travel.
On the drive to Cedar City, we stopped in Parowan to see two big attractions: dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs. Just a few miles off the highway is a cliffside on BLM land that has several fossilized dinosaur tracks. Seeing dinosaur tracks in real life, and being able to compare our hands to their size, was just fascinating. The kids climbed all around on the rocks and my husband who works with geologists pointed out many spots where fossils may be hiding underneath other layers of rock.
Next we headed down the road to the Parowan Gap petroglyphs. We had seen petroglyphs in Moab, on the Delicate Arch trail, a few years back, but this was just fascinating. We talked about how each culture and religion has it’s own creation story and ways of explaining things that happen.
My kids didn’t quite grasp how new email and phones are (hi I clearly remember the sound of dial up and how I’d get yelled at when someone picked up the corded phone to call out and heard the internet sound), but we talked about how the petroglyphs were ways to communicate and to document experiences and thoughts. It was a good opportunity too to show my children how not everything is for us. We don’t really understand the glyphs but that’s okay, we don’t need to.
The signs say the glyphs are from several different indigenous groups from around a 1,000 year time frame. We used this opportunity to talk more about Leave No Trace.
Here are a few more resources about the Parowan Gap:
This winter is lasting a long time! We’ve had quite a bit of avalanche danger the last few months, and because I have small kids and minimal avalanche preparedness training, we’ve been avoiding hiking in the mountains to keep safe. We homeschool and hiking is a pretty integral part of our weekly routine, so we’ve had to make adjustments. Here are some ideas if you’re going through similar frustrations.
Paved Trail Walks
I have a list here of different valley trails we really like around Utah County. If you search my “accessible” tag, you’ll find some more paved trails. My kids have really enjoyed riding their bikes along the Utah Parkway Trail, which connects travels fairly close to Utah Lake. While the lake is really quite gross, it looks beautiful from a small distance. Other options are the Jordan River Parkway which has many different locations you can drop in from, and parts of the Provo River Trail. The Cedar Hills Parkway Trail is gorgeous as well.
A year or so ago we bought IKEA’s watercolor palettes and cardstock paper. These non expensive products work quite well for my kids! We’ve been following YouTube tutorials by Let’s Make Art and my 7 and 4 year olds have been able to follow along. My 4 year old has a bit of a harder time but is definitely engaged and interested for the first 15-20 minutes. I started watercoloring last year with Michael’s Artist Loft brand of watercolors, brushes, and paper. Sarah Cray of Let’s Make Art has done a phenomenal job of making watercoloring accessible to many of us. Try it out!
My son LOVES Art for Kids Hub, also on YouTube. The supplies list is small, too! Permanent markers, paper, and colored pencils are all you need. The host is so kind and encouraging and really great with kids. He’s a father who draws with his kids, and he gives kids a lot of confidence in their skills. My son has loved displaying his artwork in our living spaces and talking about drawing them.
We play at our neighborhood park most days, even in the snow. It’s right outside our house, so we put on our snow clothes when we need to and head out. I walk around the perimeter for my own exercise and my kids get to play. As long as the wind isn’t strong and it’s at least 15 degrees, we’ve played at this park. Use Google Maps to find new parks near you and check them out. My kids like to build snowmen at parks.
Cosmic Kids Yoga
YouTube again, for the win! Cosmic Kids Yoga practices are so kid friendly. She’s engaging and expressive and fun. My daughter requests Cosmic Kids several times a week and she has dozens to choose from, with time frames of 15-45 minutes. It’s a great way to get exercise in as well as work on breathing, mindfulness, and strength.
We have a couple of spots that we love sledding at. Well, my kids and husband enjoy sledding at. I’m not huge into sledding, so I prefer to snowshoe around while they play. Win win, right? One spot is right off of Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, near the Jordan Pines campground. We also like sledding at the Stewart Falls trailhead. There are decent hills and sometimes there are no other people around.
Today we went on a walk and saw leaf buds on trees, so spring is so close. What tips do you have for getting through the last bit of winter?
We have a few years long tradition of doing a weekend trip for my husband’s birthday. January is a hard month and having something to look forward to after the holidays has been very good for my mental health. Two years ago I booked a cheap condo at Bear Lake, and it ended up being so cloudy we couldn’t see the turquoise! We also had to cut our trip short due to an incoming snowstorm.
Last year we splurged on a, AirBNB right outside of Zion National Park. The location was ideal, the casita was super cute, and the park was empty. Empty! However, it also snowed and rained the weekend we were there, while the week before had been in the 60s.
This year he requested Arches. We found an AirBNB that was nicer than the pictures indicated, and 15-20 mins from Arches’ visitors center. Moab is pretty empty in January as well and the park was pretty deserted. Part of this is due to the ridiculous government shut down, and part is due to the time of year. We’ve been to Arches a few times, but this was the first winter experience.
We stopped in the visitor’s center first to get some souvenirs, donate money, and chat with a ranger about conditions. My husband was most looking forward to hiking Delicate Arch, but the ranger advised against it due to ice. I have YakTrax but no one else has spikes, and the last little bit of that trail is a bit sketchy. I’m pretty risk averse these days so we chose some flat trails to experience. When our oldest was 18 months we hiked Delicate Arch with some family. I wasn’t into hiking at that point but have very fond memories of this one. My son was really fussy during the hike and so I waved the group on and sat on the side of the trail and nursed him. Then he fell asleep and I hiked with him strapped to my front the rest of the way. I got a lot of high fives and comments by people impressed by me, and I remember feeling proud of myself for figuring out how to make it to the arch with a baby.
After the visitor’s center, we went straight to the Landscape Arch trailhead. This way we got to drive through the entire main road and see quite a bit. We parked at the Devil’s Garden trailhead and got our warm clothes on. It was around 35 degrees and there was snow and ice on the ground. Baselayers, fleece, hats, and gloves helped a lot (check my post if you need help figuring out winter clothing! Adults too.). Two massive ravens were perched on the rooftop bikes next to us, getting ready for a good time.
We hiked this trail three years ago when our kids were 3 and a few months shy of a year. I did put the sis on my back for a bit as the trail was super icy in spots. Because it is mostly flat I wasn’t concerned for our safety, and the kids genuinely enjoyed sliding around. It took us about half an hour to reach the arch, and we enjoyed the sunshine and the views and the red rocks before heading back to the car. This hike is under 2 miles round trip. We called it a day here and picked up pizza on the way to the AirBNB.
The next day we checked the weather and decided to leave that night instead of the following day as we had planned. A big snowstorm was headed through our route home this year again, and while we have snow tires, we didn’t want to be caught in a canyon with high winds and heavy snow. We reevaluated our ideas and decided to hike Park Avenue and then drive to the Delicate Arch viewpoint.
Park Avenue was so perfect for hiking with kids. Besides the descent into the canyon at the first of the trail, it is largely flat. While usually a pretty popular hike, we only saw two other humans. We walked along tall sandstone walls, admiring the way erosion has carved shapes from the canyon’s edges as well as the rock under our feet, and seeing which small sandstone bowls were covered with ice. We had many opportunities to discuss staying on the trail, leaving no trace, and being so careful of the biological soil crusts. This hike is about 2 miles round trip and pretty easy.
Next we drove to the Delicate Arch viewpoints and had lunch in the car. After eating we hiked up to the upper viewpoint for a better look at the arch. We did see several people around the arch but felt confident in our decision to not go without spikes. This hike is short and somewhat steep, but our three year old had no problem. We took some pictures and then headed out of the park.
My favorite NP is Canyonlands, and my husband took us there as a last stop before heading home. Something about the salt edged lower canyons next to the river, the series of cliffs down to the valley floor fascinate me. I love it. We stopped at the Green River overlook for a few minutes and then called it a trip. Hopefully we can head back in less icy months to hike Delicate Arch.
Twin Lakes is one trail option that branches off from Silver Lake, the accessible one up at Brighton Ski Resort. Twin Lakes climbs above Silver Lake on a decently steep slope, presenting you with beautiful views first of the lake and then the surrounding valley. It is a fairly exposed hike, but the lake is really quite pretty.
This hike starts at the back of Silver Lake. My post here covers Silver Lake pretty thoroughly. We’ve seen moose here on the boardwalk a few times, and the kids love to watch the fish in the water. At the backside of the lake, once you’ve hit dirt trail, there is a branch off for Twin Lakes and Lake Solitude. Twin Lakes heads to the left and Lake Solitude continues straight. Take the left branch, up the side of the mountain that borders Silver Lake.
This portion of the hike is quite exposed and the slope can be steep at times. If it’s near freezing, consider spikes and hiking sticks for your safety. You’ll hike through small boulder fields and evergreens, and get to see signs of ski season. Of course, the view is enhanced with the elevation gain, as the valley and mountains around Brighton are picturesque. Twin Lakes is a reservoir, so toward the end you’ll see signs of that, like metal railings around the edge of it.
At the lake, we like to explore a bit and have our snacks. The pines and firs around it bring a heavenly scent to the area.
This hike is one of the harder ones my kids have done. We’ve had a decent amount of whining with the combination of exposure and elevation gain. They love throwing rocks in the lake at the top, and you deserve a good break there after the climb (especially when you have to carry the snacks, water, and the child!). Use your distraction toolbox (friends, snacks, songs, games) and point out the different plants, animals, and bugs you see. If you can take friends along, do that!
Faves: the lakes, wildlife, trees
Hardest: exposure and climb
Gear: good shoes, snacks, water, possibly spikes and hiking sticks