Lakes Mary, Martha, and Catherine

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.

OVERVIEW

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

Busyness: busy

AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/lake-catherine-via-brighton-lakes-trail

DETAILS

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.

REVIEW

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

Hardest: length

Gear: good shoes and socks, water, snacks

Lake Mary, Brighton Ski Area

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.

OVERVIEW

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

Busyness: busy

AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/lake-mary-trail

DETAILS

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.

REVIEW

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

Cecret Lake

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.

OVERVIEW

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

AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/cecret-lake-trail

DETAILS

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.

REVIEW

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

Twin Lakes

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.

OVERVIEW

Where: Brighton Ski Resort, starting from the back of Silver Lake

Grown up difficulty: easy to medium

Kid difficulty: medium to hard

Length and elevation: 760 ft up, 2.3 miles out and back

To see: lakes, trees, granite rocks

Busyness: medium to heavy

AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/twin-lakes

DETAILS

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.

REVIEW

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

Donut Falls

It’s been so hot in the valley that hiking is difficult. I know summer (especially high summer) is temporary, but avoiding sunburns and heat exhaustion is priority right now, while still enjoying the varying landscape. This week we went up to Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Due to morning swim lessons, we went in the afternoon, but thanks to afternoon thunderstorms the temperature was excellent.

We got to the trailhead around 12:30pm. This hike is easy and short with lots and lots of tree coverage. My 3.5 year old didn’t complain once, which was great because I ended up piggy backing my 6.5 year old after his shoe broke. This hike gets packed especially on weekends, so be prepared.

OVERVIEW

Where: Big Cottonwood Canyon, SLC. About halfway up.

Grown up difficulty: easy

Five year old difficulty: easy, as long as you start close to the actual trailhead

Length and elevation: AllTrails says 3.3 miles round trip, 550 ft gain

To see: foliage, river, waterfall

Busyness: BUSY. So so so busy.

AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/donut-falls-trail

DETAILS

Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of our favorite canyons. We go year round for hiking and for sledding and snow shoeing. This trail starts right before the Jordan Pines campground. There is a gate on the south side of the road that closes during winter. When it’s closed, your hike will start there. When the gate is open, drive through and park at the trailhead or anywhere close that parking is allowed.

There are a couple of hills at the beginning of the hike, but otherwise it is fairly flat. We worked on our flower identification and saw cow parsnip, monkshood, bluebells, asters, and twin berries. On the way to the waterfall, some red peaked out of the green bushes and we found wild raspberries!

At the end of the hike, you have to climb down some rocks (maybe 15 ft worth) to get to the river. We all sat on our butts as the rocks were wet from rain, and no one got hurt. Be careful here with littles. Then you walk along the riverbank until the trail ends. Cross the river (this time of year it was shallow and quite cold) to the opposite side, where a white placard is posted. We let the kids snack and play in the water here and didn’t climb further.

Alpine squirrels and chipmunks are all over this trail and they get super close to hikers. We didn’t feed them, but they tried to get into our packs when we set them down at the river. They can chew threw fabric so be aware!

I’m not comfortable taking my kids to the top, especially since I have fallen in a waterfall before, but tons of people do. The pictures look really neat.

REVIEW

This is a great little hike when you can start at the trailhead. Shaded, lots of foliage to point out (go in July if you want to see more flowers!), and waterplay. We made it there and back in about 2 hours, including a lot of time playing at the destination.

Faves: wild raspberries, waterfall, river

Hardest: climbing down to the river

Gear: shoes that can get wet, snacks, water, sunscreen

Tibble Fork Reservoir

One of my favorite parts about Utah is the landscape diversity. We love the mountains around us, and those mountains bring lots of lakes, rivers, and streams. Sundays are often slower days (but not always, and not recently), and we love to get out as a family then. This last weekend we headed up to Tibble Fork Reservoir in American Fork Canyon.

Within the last couple of years, a new dock and a decent sized sandy beach were added to the dam. The water is always cold due to snow run off, but it’s a beautiful destination. Bring wind breakers and sunscreen!

We also checked out the Tibble Fork Loop trail, but turned back probably a mile into the hike. The trail was extremely narrow and tilted toward the water, and my kids don’t know how to swim yet. It was still a lovely jaunt through the forest. 

Special note-you do need a National Parks Pass or to pay for a 3 or 7 day pass to get in. Bring sand toys and check it out!

5 Trails for When the Weather is Sketchy

This winter has had such weird weather. We’ve had a mostly mild one, but then the last couple of months the snow has dumped and melted, dumped and melted. The ups and downs have made for a high avalanche risk in the backcountry, and above certain elevations.

I’m not trained whatsoever in avalanche safety, so we’ve stuck to foothills and west/south facing trails, as well as paved ones. We have still been able to get outside for the most part, but have been playing it very safe. Here are some of our favorites! I’ll do individual, more detailed posts later, but this is a primer.

  1. Jordan River Trail. This paved trail is very close to our home, meanders along the river, and passes a remote control airplane park at the southernmost end. We’ve seen pelicans, cows, grass taller than us. I’ve heard there is a small set of hot springs at the very beginning of the trail, but we haven’t checked them out. We often start at Inlet Park in Saratoga Springs. 
  2. Utah Lake Parkway Trail. This  paved trail connects to the Jordan River Trail. It starts at North Lake Park in Lehi, in a small neighborhood. It passes fields, dense copses of trees, and abandoned structures. The hidden treasure though is the Utah Lake access trail. It’s short, unpaved, and super muddy. The mud is worth it (to me) to get down to the lake shore and get a nearly panoramic view of our valley. Bring something to deal with the muddy shoes after!
  3. Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Lake Bonneville existed until about 14,500 years ago. It covered the entire Salt Lake Valley and was about a third of the size of modern Utah. Because the lake existed for so long (it was formed around 500 million years ago!), significant deposits were left at various shorelines. The Bonneville Shoreline trail follows one of those. It has trailheads in most canyons throughout Utah County (I’ve started from Slate Canyon, Rock Canyon, east of Dry Creek Canyon). Use Google Maps to find a trailhead you want to use-the red pins are some options.
  4. Murdock Canal Trail. Another paved trail, this one sits atop the Murdock Canal. It’s pretty flat and open. Great for bikes, strollers, roller blades, wheelchairs, etc. There are trailheads from 800 N Orem to Highland Glen Park. Another one to use Google Maps for!
  5. Provo River Trail, of course. This busy busy paved trail is a favorite of many Utahns. It looks to start at the north east end of Deer Creek, go downhill through Provo Canyon, and follow the river all the way to Utah Lake. We usually use the portions around Bridal Veil Falls, the mouth of Provo Canyon, and near Fort Utah Park on Geneva Road. It’s usually well shaded, and it’s fun to watch the river change through the seasons.

What are your favorite places when getting up into the mountains isn’t an option?

Upper Falls, Provo Canyon

One of my hiking buddies noticed a waterfall a little east of Bridal Veil falls last year. She figured out how to get there and my kids and I tagged along. This pleasant hike is mostly flat, along the Provo River Trail. After a mile or so from the trailhead, a small path branches off behind a stone building. A brief climb takes you to Upper Falls, with great views of the canyon.

OVERVIEW

Where: Provo Canyon, starting from the bridge by the dam east of the Bridal Veil parking lot

Grown up difficulty: easy

Five year old difficulty: easy

Length and elevation: around 3 miles round trip with around 500 ft gain, depending where you park

To see: river, waterfall, cool rocks

Busyness: Provo River Trail is quite busy, but this branch off is not

Alltrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/upper-falls

DETAILS

Provo River Trail is one of our favorite paved trails. There is a lot to see, especially with the river and waterfalls, and in the summer it is significantly cooler than the rest of the valley.

For this hike, you can make it longer (closer to 3 miles) by starting at the main parking lot for Bridal Veil falls and passing picnic areas. If you’re in a hurry, take the same exit, but drive the road that follows the river as far as you can. Cross the bridge, then hike east looking for a building covered in graffiti.

Behind the building is the dirt path that will take you to the waterfall. It is steep after this, but really short. We only saw 3-4 others on this part of the trail when we went.

There’s not really anywhere to sit and snack, but the water feels great during the hot summer, and my son loved checking out all of the different rocks.

REVIEW

Faves: waterfalls! My kids do great when a waterfall is the destination/

Hardest: the steepness

Gear: I need ankle support for steep hikes like this. Snacks, water, sunscreen will be helpful too.

Accessible Hikes: Cedar Hills Parkway

I stumbled upon this trail in the early fall. My daughter and I were in the area and had a couple of hours before needing to pick up my son from school, so I browsed Google Maps, found this one, and checked it out. Luckily it was a great shaded path!

OVERVIEW

Where: Cedar Hills with a couple trailheads, including one at the intersection of Cedar Hills Drive and Forest Creek Drive

Grown up difficulty: easy

Five year old difficulty: easy

Length and elevation: short or long, if you double back or if you walk over to the Highland Trails portion near the golf course

To see: trees changing through the seasons, the Pleasant Grove Ditch creek

Busyness: low

DETAILS

This is a stroller-, bike-, and wheelchair-friendly hike. It’s paved and shaded. There are a couple of playgrounds on the southern end of the trail, which I used as rewards for longer exercise.

Homes are fairly close to the trail, but with the creek and the shade it feels magical. Fall was such a treat and I watched the leaves change dramatically over a few weeks. If you’re not going for a full sweat, letting the kids search for treasures can be a super fun activity.

This is a really beautiful walk and a great option when you want or need a paved and scenic trail.

REVIEW

Faves: the quiet trove of nature within a residential community

Hardest: none

Gear: you choose! Walk, stroller, bike, blade, chair. I always bring water and snacks.

Fifth Water Hot Springs

Early in the fall we hiked to Fifth Water Hot Springs. This 5 mile round trip hike is up Diamond Fork Canyon. The colors of the trees and water were fantastic this past year, and the distance was totally worth it.

OVERVIEW

Where: Diamond Fork Canyon, Spanish Fork

Grown up difficulty: easy

Five year old difficulty: moderate due to length

Length and elevation: 5 miles, 780 ft gain

To see: a bridge, the river, hot springs

Busyness: busy

Alltrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/fifth-water-hot-springs-trail

DETAILS

This trail has become increasingly busy over the last few years. It’s great for day and night hikes, and parking is near impossible on weekends. Our  hiking group went on a weekday morning and even then, parking was difficult to find. There is no cellphone service. Pack up lots of snacks, maybe lunch, and make sure you’re planning for the dip in the pools with extra clothes and towels.

The beginning of the hike has vault toilets. There is a bridge shortly after the beginning-don’t cross it! The bridge you will cross is about a mile to a mile and a half into the hike. There are a couple spots where people camp, and a couple spots where the trail has washed out. Remind your kids to watch their step! We passed a really neat twisted tree on the east of the river.

A little over a mile from the bridge, you’ll notice the smell of sulphur which means you’re getting close. The hot springs will be on the right side. There are several to choose from, with the lower ones being cooler generally than the upper ones. This past year, the pools were a gorgeous blue that stood out against the fall leaves.

We spent around 30-45 minutes in the pools before changing and heading down. These springs have become so popular and unfortunately people are not following the guidelines of “leave no trace“. Make sure to pack out what you pack in.

Because of the length of this hike, my kids were exhausted for the last half mile or so. We sang songs and played their favorite games (I spy and 20 questions), but be prepared for whining. And have extra snacks in the car! PS: The road up to this hike closes for the winter, resulting in a 14 mile round trip excursion.

REVIEW

Faves: the hot springs, the bridge

Hardest: the length

Gear: a good carrier (Kinderpack is my favorite), lots of snacks, a backpack for towels and plentiful food, lots of water, fleece and good shoes