Choosing Battles

So. I have a three year old. Have you met three year olds? They’re called threenagers for a reason. My daughter has a strong personality and deeply held opinions, like wearing dresses and jelly sandals every day. Even when we hike. Maybe especially when we hike, because she can tell it bugs me.

This is a battle I’ve chosen not to fight. In fact, I made her wear her hiking shoes this week, and she got blisters. She’s been fine hiking in her jellies up until now, so the joke is on me. She also loves her ratty “beautiful princess dresses”. I’m letting it go, because she hikes just fine in them. They get dirty which she doesn’t like, but that’s a natural consequence I suppose.

She’s hiked herself to waterfalls, overlooks, and lakes in her jellies and dresses. And that’s what we’re working toward anyway, to have her strong and happy enough to hike herself and not go uppies. To spend time together in the wild.

All this to say, it’s okay to choose your battles when hiking too. For many reasons we don’t do intricate or technical hikes, and this allows a lot more freedom in choice for each of us. They’re learning to love the outdoors and the mountains together, and that is my ultimate goal.

First Aid

As I’ve mentioned, I’m still a new hiker. I started just a few years ago with no childhood experience and am learning a lot every time. Sometimes it’s simple like “bring more snacks!” and sometimes it’s bigger.

Last week we went to Horseshoe Bend. It wasn’t geat for my anxiety-no rails and sheer cliffs with massive drops down to the river freak me out. My husband is a good sport and helped the kids experience the views while I focused on breathing. The “what ifs” flood my brain in situations like that.

A couple weeks ago, I was the only adult at our neighborhood park when a kindergartner fell off his scooter and sliced a big chunk off his chin. Blood was everywhere, he was panicking, and the other kids were in shock at the sight. Thankfully after some pediatric plastic surgery, he was fine, but I’ve been thinking about that since. What if a similar accident happened while the kids and I were hiking? We could trip over rocks or felled trees so easily. I don’t habitually hike with any first aid kid, though we have two in our car, and my first aid training is super out of date.

The anxious part of my brain tries to convince me that staying inside, avoiding adventures and risk, will keep us all safe. Logically, I know that’s not entirely true and that if I listened to my anxiety, it would be at a big risk to the rest of our brains.

That said, I’m more determined to keep my first aid kit on me while we are hiking, and to take a refresher first aid class and/or get a wilderness specific first aid book. Hopefully with some planning, we avoid anything catastrophic. If you have any course recommendations, let me know. REI offers some (pricey) classes sponsored by NOLS, the Red Cross also has some, as does Wilderness Medicine of Utah,and I’ve seen some books that may be interesting. If I find more info, I’ll update this post.

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!

Arches National Park-Day Trip

It’s halfway through April and we woke up to three inches of snow. This past winter has been all over the place, and while I’m trying to embrace what is, I just can’t wait for warmer weather. Two years ago this month we took a quick day trip to Arches National Park. At the time we had a four and one year old, a somewhat unreliable car, and didn’t want to mess with bedtime out of our home. Day trip it was!

We scoured some pages on nps.gov and maps to see what we could fit in with just a few hours in the park. Our oldest had a limit of 2-3 miles at the time, but we wanted the 7 total hours in the car to be worth it. We left early in the morning with lunch and snacks packed, lots of water, and sunscreen.

Our first stop once we were in the park was Double Arch and The Windows Section. The total was around a mile and a half round trip to two beautiful, tall arches that touch on one end, and then up close to a couple window-like arches. It took us an hour or so, including hiking and gazing in awe.

Next we had lunch and then drove through the park while the 4 year old rested. The baby fell asleep, so we parked at the trailhead for the Sand Dune Arch. She and I waited in the car while my husband and oldest did this 20 minute, third of a mile hike together.

Our last stop was our biggest, an hour long hike to Landscape Arch. This was the toughest as my oldest had already hiked a couple miles and was hot and tired. We went slowly, letting him play in the soft sand and pause in the rare shade. This hike is around 1.5 miles round trip and we drank plenty of water during this one.

After our last hike, we hit up a Mexican restaurant in Moab and headed home. It was a lot of driving, but a great trip for our family at the time. Two years later my son still remembers the arches and wants to go back. Hopefully we can revisit this year and explore even more.

Gear

Bring water! We have a few hydration backpacks (Camelbak, Osprey) and water bottles (love my Hydroflask for hiking). Snacks and lunch, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses are pretty necessary in the desert. Good shoes too, as hiking in sand can be more demanding than harder surfaces. At the time my one year old was in an Ergo Ventus which worked great for her size.

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

Footwear for the Family

As mentioned in my About Me, I didn’t own snowboots for the first 4-5 years I lived in Utah. I lived in denial and rainboots, and was always too cold. The right footwear can be a deciding factor for enjoying hiking.

My first pair of snowboots were from WalMart. While I avoid that store, the boots worked very well for years. Costco (again!) had affordable Khombu snowboots a couple of years ago that I invested in. They’re comfortable and flexible and good for day-to-day wear, hiking, and snowshoeing. In the summer, I feel like there are many more options. I’ve hiked in old tennis shoes which work just fine on 3-4 mile hikes. Our go tos in the warm months are our Keens. I like being able to get our feet wet and know they’ll dry shortly. I’ve found some secondhand, and been lucky to get hand me downs from friends as well. My oldest has even hiked in flip flops with the back strap, but that’s not for me! I talk about the kids’ snowboots in the Kids’ Winter Gear post. Basically, I’ve been lucky in finding good options at Kid to Kid, and Zula and Northside are the brands they have now. We also have a Columbia outlet near us that has consistent amazing deals. A month or two ago we found waterproof tennis shoes for the kids for around $15 each. They’re slip ons which is a plus (less work for me!), and they seem to be quite comfortable. 

Another great option, especially with more demanding hikes, is dedicated hiking boots. I have fairly weak ankles that roll often, so mid height boots have helped a lot. My feet are also really big. If yours are too, don’t be afraid to try out men’s boots. My hiking boots are men’s and they’re great. My husband wears regular tennis shoes for hiking. 

When you’re looking for hiking specific shoes, you’ll want to size up at least a half size to a full size. This is because going downhill causes your toes to slide forward, and if you don’t have enough room you’ll end up with sore and potentially bleeding toes. I sized up one full size (pushing me into men’s) and even still my toes graze the front of my boots while going downhill.

One thing I haven’t quite figured out is which shoes will keep my feet comfortable for longer hikes. Generally, by mile 4 or 5, my feet are hurting.  I’m not sure if that’s because I’m carrying an extra 35+ lb on my back, or if my shoes are not good quality, or if it’s due to lack of conditioning. It doesn’t stop me but is definitely an inconvenience.

What are your favorite hiking shoes? Any tips for hurting feet?