#NotHiking

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.

Watercolor

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!

Drawing

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.

Parks

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.

Sledding

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?

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.

Primrose Overlook via Horse Flat Trail

Last summer I browsed through AllTrails’ most popular hikes local to me, and found a few we hadn’t done. One was the Primrose Overlook Trail via Horse Flat Trail up American Fork Canyon, sometimes called Hensky Overlook. It is definitely in my top 3 hikes now.

OVERVIEW

Where: American Fork Canyon, from the Summit Trailhead

Grown up difficulty: easy

Five year old difficulty: mostly easy, moderate at end

Length and elevation: 3.2 miles, 800 ft gain

To see: forests, meadows, amazing overlook of Timpanogos

Busyness: low

Alltrails: https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/utah/primrose-overlook-via-horse-flat-trail

DETAILS

This hike! The beginning is a little tricky to find. Park on the small circular road that surrounds a vault toilet at the summit trailhead, and look for the trailhead on the south side of the road. Consider downloading the trail details from AllTrails before leaving your home, as you likely won’t have internet access on this hike.

You’ll hike through a beautiful forest first. Blue reflectors dot the trees along the path, and in the summer, gorgeous wildflowers surround you. Last summer (2017) the bugs were pretty bad, so make sure you bring some kind of repellent. A couple meadows separate the forest, giving you great views of mountainsides.

The two times I’ve hiked this, I didn’t see any big wildlife, but it is such a quiet trail that I wouldn’t be surprised to run into deer or moose. The last part of the trail is quite steep. We took turns slipping and made time for several breaks, but I promise that the steep part means you’re really really close.

The trail ends out on this amazing plateau that gives an almost 360 degree view. Mount Timpanogos and Timp Falls will be to the south, and Heber and Midway will be to the east. We took a long break here, snacking and drinking water, and existing in awe.

REVIEW

Faves: all of it, really. The meadows, the forests, the final overlook are fantastic.

Hardest: the bugs and the final steep climb.

Gear: bug spray, snacks and water, comfortable hiking shoes, hats for sunshade, sunscreen

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

Big Spring Hollow

OVERVIEW

Where: Provo Canyon, Vivian Park

Grown up difficulty: easy until last stretch, then moderate

Five year old difficulty: same

Length and elevation: 4.2 miles; 1,177 ft gain

To see: meadows, aspens, bridges, mountain views

Busyness: busy busy

https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/utah/big-springs-hollow-trail

DETAILS

Big Spring is a family favorite. It’s one of the first hikes I went on after moving to Utah, back when I hated the outdoors. The drive through Provo Canyon and Vivian park is spectacular year round. The springtime at Big Spring is luscious and green. Summer is hot and louder with wildlife around and the full river. In autumn, sounds of rustling and falling leaves surround you. Winter provides more of an opportunity to spot animal tracks while snowshoeing. Sunset and the golden hour are unbelievable here, especially in the big meadow. My brother and his wife took some wedding pictures here and I was so jealous.

You’ll start at a parking lot and head into the forest. Though camping is prohibited, don’t be surprised if you pass some tents. Aspens, Rocky Mountain Maples, and firs will be on both sides of you. There are a handful of trails leading off the side of the main one, but we don’t usually venture off. You’ll cross the river a few times on bridges-my kids look forward to splashing in the water in warm weather. About ¾-1 mile up, you’ll come to the big meadow. On the west is the river, and all around you is waist high grass. Continuing through the meadow, you’ll pass more trees and cross more bridges. Toward the spring the hike becomes steep-but you’re almost there. At the springs a bridge and big rocks will greet you. Here we often have lunch or snacks and explore a bit before heading back down.

Faves: meadow, bridges, final spring (which is now capped, bummer)

Hardest: steepness at the end

Gear: carrier if you have a child that cannot walk the whole trail (Kinderpack is my favorite), fanny pack for snacks and bug spray/sunscreen, water bottle with carabiner to hook to chest clip, hiking shoes or sandals, kids’ hydration pack, hats (check here to see how I carry everything)

Horsetail Falls

OVERVIEW

Where: Alpine, starting from the Dry Creek Canyon parking lot, at the end of Grove Drive

Grown up difficulty: moderate

Five year old difficulty: moderate to difficult, due to steepness

Length and elevation: around 4 miles round trip with a 1800ft gain

To see: dead and decaying horse, huge rock, meadow, aspens and pines, great view of valley

Busyness: medium

All Trails link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/horsetail-falls-trail

DETAILS

This is a steep and beautiful hike. After a short exposed climb (by feet; no rock climbing needed), you’ll enter a forest. A horse died right off the trail in the summer of 2017, and if it’s warm you will smell it. It’s close to the beginning of the forest portion of the trail. Around ½ of the way to the overlook of the falls is a clearing with a massive boulder where my kids like to take a long rest and explore a bit.

Five to ten minutes after the rock is the meadow. Sometimes we call it here, and rest and eat and turn around. Sometimes we continue on. The trail after the meadow is through stream beds, and in the spring will be very wet and muddy. We did this hike at the beginning of November and it was still muddy in parts. The trail splits and rejoins in two or three portions after the meadow as well. You’ll pass over two small streams that cross your path, and one has a log bridge over it, and the other is small enough to step over.

After the streams, there will be a small trail off to the left of the main trail. This takes you quickly to the overlook, where I prefer to stop if I’m hiking with kids. We sit, snack, take pictures, and rest. This spot is visible on Google maps, because the spot is a huge granite block that has no tree cover.

If you want to continue on, you can go back to the trail fork or climb through some boulders ahead. The trail stays steep as you get closer to the waterfall. To get to the base of the waterfall, keep your eyes out for a hard to spot trail on your left. Sometimes there is a rope here to help with the descent and ascent here, since it’s quite steep and has very loose dirt. Hiking through some brush will take you to a place to climb down to the base. If you choose to get in the water, be very careful. I played around in the water with some friends (no kids came with us) and ended up falling hard and sliding down rocks and hitting my head. The rocks are extremely slick due to moss and there is no grip in some areas, therefore I would not take young children down to the waterfall. If you do, be safe.

Another option is to continue on and find the trail that takes you above the waterfall. We did with our children, and while there are great views of the valley, the cairns take you past the waterfall and you can’t see the waterfall anymore. It was a disappointment to us and our kids. Consequently we prefer to stop at the overlook, and everyone is happy.

REVIEW

Faves: the final views, the magical forest the trail goes through, looking out for the trail markers (dead horse, big boulder, meadow)

Gear: shoes with good traction, kids’ hydration pack, walking sticks if you want more support hiking down, carrier, water bottle, snacks on snacks on snacks

Timp Falls

Fall colors behind Timp

Quick Look

Where: Alpine Loop, Mt Timpanogos trailhead

Grown up difficulty: easy

Five year old difficulty: easy

Length and elevation: This is a guess-3 miles and 800 ft gain

To see: aspens, mountain peaks, glacier, waterfalls

Busyness: not too busy during school days, busier in summer and on weekends

Note: This link is for the entire Mt Timp summit trail. The waterfalls are only 1-1.5 miles in.

Alltrails link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/mount-timpanogos-trail-from-aspen-grove

Through the aspens

Detailed Summary

This hike is a family favorite for every season but winter-only because we’ve never tried it in the winter. Most of the trail is actually paved, though narrow. You can see the waterfalls from almost the beginning. In the spring, many plants are covered with tent caterpillars. Flowers bloom all along the trail and the little valley behind Timp. There’s decent shade all along, and areas to sit and watch the waterfall once you reach it.

If you continue on past the first landing, you’ll come to a switchback and then to a second set of falls. These are my favorite, as you get a great view of the landscape and the falls are less traversed. I have tried snowshoeing with adults on this trail, but we lost the trail quickly and just played around. Depending on the winter, the trail may be covered with ice and you’ll need spikes or crampons. Usually we can hike this trail from late May through November. In September, be wowed with the changing leaves. It’s wonderful.

Fall colors on the trail

Faves: watching the foliage change through the year, the second set of waterfalls

Hardest: none

Gear: carrier if you have a child that cannot walk the whole trail (Kinderpack is my favorite), fanny pack for snacks and bug spray/sunscreen, water bottle with carabiner to hook to chest clip, hiking shoes or sandals, kids’ hydration pack, hats