Encircled by two looming mountain ranges – the Wasatch Mountains to the east and north ranges and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west – Salt Lake City is an outdoor paradise within a state full of natural beauty! Just minutes outside of the bustling city center, you can find peace, quiet, and absolutely stunning wilderness.
In the winter, these mountains are one of the best places to go skiing and snowboarding in Utah; but in the spring, summer, and fall, they’re a hikers paradise. From gushing waterfalls, to gurgling streams, to mirrored lakes, to rock formations that resemble furniture and snacks, to sweeping views of the city, the valley, and even the Great Salt Lake itself – these 8 hikes near Salt Lake City showcase the best that SLC has to offer.
This post was created for us by Salt Lake City local Janiel from Culture Trekking. Take it away, Janiel!
Planning to explore more of Utah? Take a look at some of our other posts to help you plan your trip:
- The Perfect 10-Day Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary: Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Guide
- The 4 Best Salt Lake City Ski Resorts
- Weekend Getaway Guide to Park City, Utah
- 6 Incredible Day Hikes in Zion National Park, Utah
Tips for Salt Lake City Hiking
Utah is an outdoor playground, but it also has some perils for outdoor adventurers. Make sure you are setting realistic expectations for yourself given the starting altitude of these hikes and dry desert climate. Here are a few tips for Salt Lake City hiking:
- Bring lots of water! Higher altitude and a dry climate means you will need to drink more than you’re used to. I love this well-insulated Camelbak, and I always bring 100oz of water – just in case.
- Bring hiking poles to protect your knees and ankles, especially on steep downhills. They allow you to use the bigger muscles in your back to distribute the weight on ‘all fours’ – without bending over and giving the guys behind you a booty show. While many experienced hikers feel that hiking poles are reserved for old people or inexperienced hikers, I beg to differ. I work in an Osteoporosis clinic, and after the age of 30 you lose 1% of your bone mass every year, so if you want to take a risk on unsteady rock and snapping your ankle or spraining it and having to have the volunteer rescue workers haul your ass down the mountain – then keep hiking without them 😉
- Hiking shoes that will protect your feet! If you’re hiking on a hot day, these trail-runners have the perfect balance of breathability and terrain grip.
- Watch out for wildlife. On some of the hikes included below, you might see some elk, moose, and if you are lucky, a bear. Never startle, disturb or approach wildlife, and keep as much of a distance as possible. Don’t touch or feed wild animals, and stay at least 2 bus-lengths away from them. For more specific tips on wildlife safety, read REI’s wildlife safety guide.
- Pack out what you pack in. People leaving trash, dog poop, and other paraphernalia on trails in Utah is becoming an increasing problem to the point that they are closing entire sections of the mountain areas that people are legally allowed to hike. This problem isn’t just in the Rocky Mountains – it is throughout the whole state of Utah. Do the right thing: always practice Leave No Trace principles!
- … That includes snakes. Be aware that we are a desert and some hikes may have snakes such as garden snakes and even rattlesnakes on the trail. Oh – we also have ticks, so creating your own trail is not a good idea. There are plenty of hikes along the Wasatch front near Salt Lake City that have ready-made trails maintained by the forest service to keep both wildlife and humans safe!
- Check the weather & trail conditions before you go! Utah weather is very fickle. There is a joke here that you can have rain on one side of the street, hail on the other, and go two blocks down and you get blazing sunshine. This is why wherever you travel in Utah there is typically some kind of weather reporting – many of the nearby Salt Lake City ski resorts have weather cameras you can check as well. If the forecast says rain, stay home: intense rainstorms can blow throw a canyon with crazy speed!
When to go Hiking in Salt Lake City
Because Utah gets quite a bit of snow in the winter months from November to March, hiking here is best in spring or fall.
- In the spring, you can see roaring waterfalls and red, pink and white, purple wildflowers of all shapes and sizes.
- In the fall you will have the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges on the leaves (depending on the year, the trees, and how cold it gets in the mountains before the snow).
- If you’re eager to get outside in the summertime, I recommend going up to the high Uintas where the elevation of the mountains will not be as hot as the city hikes – but make sure you prepare yourself for the higher elevation. Summertime hikes near Salt Lake City should be started very early in the morning, around 6-8 am at the latest. I don’t recommend hiking low elevation hikes with a lot of sun exposure in the summer – that’s a recipe for heatstroke and dehydration.
- There are a few places where you can do some snow-shoeing here in Utah in the wintertime, but it isn’t generally advisable to hike in the Wasatch-Uinta National Forest unless you have a local guide because of avalanche danger. Fun-ish fact: Alta Ski Resort actually has the most avalanches in the State of Utah, which is right up Little Cottonwood Canyon-and with a major snowstorm, often shuts down parts of the ski resort for safety reasons.
Brief History of Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City is built on the ancient banks of a massive freshwater lake (now referred to as Lake Bonneville by geologists) that used to cover much of present-day Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. The Great Salt Lake, the largest inland body of saltwater in the Western Hemisphere, is just a small remnant of this prehistoric lake and used to comprise the deepest part of the lake (around 1000 feet deep!). You can explore the ‘shoreline’ of ancient Lake Bonneville on foot on the 100-mile Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which you can access from the Natural History Museum of Utah.
When the earliest humans arrived in the area around 13,000 years ago, they thrived off the vast array of fish and animal in the area – stories of this abundance of wildlife have been passed down through the generations of Ute, Paiute, Goshute and Navajo people present today.
Many Native American tribes called the Salt Lake City region home and eight distinct Native American tribal nations call Utah home. In fact, the state of Utah gets its name from the Ute Nation, which was displaced and forced onto reservations in Utah and Colorado. One such reservation, the Uintah and Ouray reservation, is located approximately 150 miles east of Salt Lake City and is the second-largest Indian Reservation in the U.S.
Many of Utah’s Indigenous tribes gathered and hunted along the shores of nearby lakes and the surrounding mountains. They were – and still are – known as talented artists, specifically with beadwork and leatherwork (You can check out handcrafted Native American art at the annual Indian Art Market in SLC).
Their way of life was disrupted by the arrival of the Spanish, who brought disease, claimed the land as their own, captured many Native Americans to be used as slave labor.
Salt Lake City itself was founded in 1847 by just 148 Mormon settlers when the area we now think of as Utah was still part of Mexico. They were the first non-native settlers to arrive in the basin, but were quickly joined by other settlers once Mexico ceded the area to the U.S. and gold was discovered in nearby canyons.
The arrival of Mormon settlers further pushed Native American tribes off their ancestral lands and competed for their natural resources, eventually causing armed conflicts between the two groups including the bloody Mountain Meadows Massacre.
In 1865, many Native Americans were forced to move away from Salt Lake City region into the drier lands to the east, making their traditional way of life impossible. While some tribes have successfully won reparations for their land losses, many have not.
The Best Hikes near Salt Lake City
Let’s explore some of my favorite hikes near Salt Lake City that will challenge you as a moderately experienced hiker, or introduce you to enjoying hiking even if you’re just getting started. Many of these hikes offer a satisfying payoff at the end with a lake or waterfall, and are extra special to me also because of the challenge they pose for me physically!
Speaking of which: I want to make it clear that I’m not your typical avid hiker. I have a more than healthy cushion on my booty. I’m made more for snuggles than I am for speed. I have reactive asthma, and am pretty much allergic to everything outside. And since I work in healthcare with armed-forces veterans who love it when I give them attitude, I also swear like a navy sailor the whole way up!
YET, I still bust my ass to get up those easy to moderate hikes near Salt Lake City almost every weekend. There is a part of me that feels if I can prove I’m not the weak link, or that in doing this hike I can prove to myself that I have control over my own mind and thoughts, then I am a worthwhile human. I have also been recovering from Rape, and my brain has a tendency to think everything around me is a threat: going into the woods alone, on a trail alone, or pretty much anywhere alone is perceived as a natural threat.
So for me, getting myself out hiking every weekend is a major mental battle (I think more than most people). When you’re able to reverse the natural tendency for the brain to try and protect you from hard things, or something that will cause pain – you train it to enjoy those things more.
All that to say: if I can do these hikes, you can too. And all that pain on the way up will pay off: It really is like a little bit of heaven to see some of the sites, clouds, hear the sparrows, see the chicory, showy milkweed, and curlycup gumweed in July, and just feel connected to Mother Earth.
There is nothing better than swearing all the way up at how hard the hike is, and how out of breath you feel because of the elevation – shocking local Utard’s, as we locals call ourselves, all the way up – to get to the top and then seeing the views. (Heads up – although it’s a self-appointed local nickname, Utard is not something out-of-towners can refer to us as without us taking offense!).
So with that in mind, let’s dive into the best hikes near Salt Lake City.
Waterfall Canyon, Ogden
- Length: 2.4 miles |Elevation Gain: 1,024 feet | Hiking Guide
The Ogden Waterfall Hike leads to one of the few waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains of Utah you can actually climb into! In the spring, the trail is crisscrossed by a burbling stream leading to a gushing waterfall; in the fall, the trees along this trail burst into vivid colors of orange, yellow, and red, making the mountains seem like they are lighting on fire.
The waterfall is tucked into a canyon in Odgen, on the northern end of the Salt Lake City Valley about a 40-minute drive from the city. If you haven’t read Lia’s Salt Lake City brewery guide which talks about how liquor and beer were outlawed here for a long time and there was a secret bar up Ogden Canyon, which is still there… you should.
The trail begins off the end of 29th Street in Ogden and crosses over into private land that the owners gratefully allow hikers to enjoy. The first part of the trail is on public lands and in full exposure to the sun with a few shady spots to stop and rest.
Once you get to the moderate-to-hard portion of the trail, which is really the halfway point, there is a moderately swift stream. The stream is wide enough you cannot jump over it, but is perfectly shaded by trees that allow for rivulets of light to shine through making it feel a bit like the setting for a children’s story. It is also a great spot for your dog to take a drink, or, if you’re brave enough, sit in it yourself and cool down for a bit.
After about 1,000 swear words (aka 25 minutes of stair climbing rocks and boulders), you do have to scramble up the last section on your hands and feet. BUTTS IN THE AIR, PEOPLE!
- Hiking Tip: I would definitely bring some hiking poles to keep your balance on this last stretch. They are also good for on the way down when your ankles are tired from the climb and can help steady you if you are on unstable rock.
Once you reach the waterfall, there are plenty of places and spaces to sit in your own little corner of awe, relishing in the fact that you actually made it. The waterfall itself is 200 feet high and gracefully bounces from rock to rock on its way down from the mountain.
No matter where you sit near the waterfall, there is a small refreshing mist that coats your skin and cools you down. If you make your way to the base of the waterfall, you can bask in its gloriously cool mountain runoff temperature.
The first time I did this hike, I was on my period and I didn’t think I could make it up the first section because I felt bloody awful (pun intended). But I went anyway, knowing that it was better to do this hike alone because I knew I would be complaining the entire way.
Alltrails says to give yourself about 2.5 hours to complete the hike, but I think I took about 3.5 hours. It was a bit of a doozy for me to be honest; it definitely is worth the effort though, I promise!
To see exactly how it went and what to expect on this hike, watch this video of me and my adorable hiking buddy, Zoey:
Tips for the Ogden Waterfall Hike
Here are a few tips for this trail before you go:
- Before you head out to hike Ogden Canyon waterfall trail, check Alltrails because trail conditions often change.
- There are bathrooms at the trailhead, but parking is limited and it is quite a popular trail, soooo I suggest going on a Sunday or Monday if you are in the area (Sunday is when many locals are in church).
- There are rattlesnakes and lizards in the area at times and locals often put up warnings and recommendations there.
- You may also see some helpful warnings if the water is too high, as there are 2-3 stream crossings.
- Be sure to bring a swimsuit and a small towel – this is one of the few waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains of Utah you can actually get into!
- You can bring your dog on a short leash, but make sure you bring bags to pack out their waste. This trail has closed before because hikers were leaving so much trash the owners had to hire someone at their own expense to clear up the trail. Don’t be part of the problem!
- Remember: never go off-trail, climb near the waterfall, or leave trash for the property owners to clean up.
Ensign Peak Trail
- Length: 1.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 374 feet | Hiking Guide
Located at the furthest outcropping overlooking the Salt Lake City valley at Ensign Peak in the Wasatch Mountain Range, this classic local trail is the perfect place to watch the twinkling city lights spread out across the valley at sunset. From the Ensign Peak overlook, you can see all the way across the city to the Oquirrh mountains on the other side of the Salt Lake Valley. Ensign Peak is one hike EVERYONE does; consider it a right of literal passage!
Now, I know an elevation gain of 374 feet doesn’t seem like much, but all gain happens all at once over a quarter-mile incline- so make sure to take that into account when starting this hike! This hike is steep, so if you have bad knees or a bad back, make sure to bring some hiking poles.
It’s about a mile to the overlook of the Salt Lake City Valley, which is the halfway point of the hike. And with the full hike being only 1.8 miles, you can do this at any time of day, or in conjunction with the Living Room hike (see below).
That said, the hike has full exposure to the sun, so I recommend doing this hike at sunset for the rewarding, sweeping views of the city.
If you are up to it, pack some cheese and wine and bring a date – this is the perfect hike for the outdoorsy boujie type because of the relatively short distance to the top and the sparkling lights of the city displayed before you at night.
Oh, one more thing to know before you go: Ensign Peak also has a historic significance of this hike for Utah. Its story begins as most Salt Lake City stories do, with Brigham Young – the controversial, storied leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka LDS, aka Mormon) settlers – who came to this peak only two days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley from Nauvoo, Illinois to survey the city.
While it isn’t considered the initial spot where Brigham Young famously declared “This is the Place,” Ensign Peak it is the place where they did something even more exciting: efficient city planning! Ooooh, ahhh.
From this vantage point, the Mormon leaders carefully mapped out the city in a grid-like way to be able to easily navigate and keep the community organized. Honestly, a simple city grid is just one of those things you don’t really appreciate until you’ve walked around in a city like San Francisco or New York, which is constantly bisected. with random, obnoxious diagonals and dead-ends. The Mormon’s ingenious city planning is one of the few things about the LDS Church that everyone can agree on.
- Salt Lake City Tip: If you want to visit the exact spot where Brigham Young declared Salt Lake City the promised land for religious freedom from the angry, murderous mobs and pesky Government officials and Extermination Orders that plagued the Mormons in Illinois, then you should go to This Is The Place Heritage Park. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, WOOO you are in for a treat! The history of Salt Lake City is FASCINATING, and that’s putting it mildly. If you’d like to spend a fun Friday night learning about it, we recommend this podcast series and this book.
The Living Room Hike
- Length: 2.3 miles | Elevation Gain: 980 feet | Hiking Guide
Located on the furthest outcropping of Mt Wire Peak in the Wasatch Mountain Range on, the Living Room Hike is so named because of the rocks that are in the shape of loveseats, couches and lounge chairs at the top.
While it doesn’t have my favorite waterfall or beautiful lake payoff at the end, it does give you a view comparable to what you would see when viewing Salt Lake City from an airplane or helicopter ride! I personally think this is the best place to see the entire valley, from the pointy towers of the Mormon temple to the shining dome of the capitol building, all the way out to the shimmering Great Salt Lake, the Kennecott Copper Mine, and Antelope Island off in the distance.
This is an iconic hike if you come to Salt Lake City. It is very close to the city, and frequently used for trail running and photos ops The trailhead is also right up by Red Butte Gardens, another favorite local hot spot.
It’s also the same trail used to summit Mt. Wire, a 7,146-foot mountain named for the policeman who developed the first electric red-green stoplight.
To get to the trailhead from I-15, you take the exit for 400 South and follow that all the way up to Red Butte Gardens near the University of Utah. If you are punching it into Google Maps, make sure you are going to the hiking entrance with an official-looking sign. Otherwise, you will end up adding 0.75 miles to your hike and can get lost a lot easier.
I highly suggest downloading the AllTrails app for this hike because there are several popular trails that intersect this one. If you go to the correct entrance, then it is a straight shot to the top. Keep to the right the whole time, until you enter into the canyon and then take a sharp left at the tree coverage.
You will go past some bushes, and just when you think your body is going to go into full-blown cramping revolt, you’ll reach the first payoff view of the Salt Lake City Valley and see sweeping views of the city all the way to the Oquirrh mountains on the other side of the Salt Lake Valley, clear down to the point of the mountain where you enter into Utah Valley (where Provo and Orem are located).
You aren’t done yet though; you have to head to the right again, and go up another steep incline to a patch of flat rocks strewn about from falling after a mini avalanche or heavy snowfall creeping down the mountain with boulders in tow. It’s easy to see once you get past the bushes that are crowding the trail a bit.
The traditional end of the hike is marked by flat slabs of rock that are set up (in a very makeshift way) to look like couches and lounge chairs for you to enjoy the aforementioned views of the city. This ‘ending’ is the farthest point that juts out from the mountain you are hiking.
- Hiking Tip: If you want to challenge your hiking skills, there is an option to keep heading up to completely summit the mountain, but most people stop at the manmade rock living room.
Psst: I’ve created a video guide all about hiking the Living Room Trail! Take a look:
Tips for the Living Room Hike
A few things to know before you go:
- I recommend bringing hiking poles because there is quite a bit of loose rock with steep edges nearby, and I found myself unsteady on my feet a few times.
- Dogs are allowed on this trail.
- There is no water along the hike so make sure to pack it with you, for you and your pooch.
- The best time to do this hike is in early spring or fall to avoid the desert heat. In the spring you will also get purple, yellow, and tiny white daisy-like wildflowers. In the fall, the juniper trees and surrounding foliage will turn brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. You can do the hike in the summer, but heatstroke is quite common for those not used to the desert sun and dry heat; and in the winter, the hike is covered in snow – so unless you are an experienced snowshoe aficionado and don’t get scared about falling down the mountain, steer clear.
- People will often trail run this route, but there are plenty of places to let them pass and enjoy the view of their rippling pectorals as they do.
Donut Falls Trail
- Length: 3 miles |Elevation Gain: 531 ft | Hiking Guide
Another waterfall trail, yay! Hang on though – why is this hike called the Donut Falls Trail if you don’t actually get a donut at the end? It’s actually because the way the waterfall runs down the mountain has worn away a hole at the base of the waterfall, so that from a certain angle, it looks like water is exiting through a donut hole.
If you know anything about Utahns, we LOVE our unique rock formations. (Ahem: Kodachrome Basin, Goblin Valley, Mexican Hat, Moab).
I recommend doing the Donut Falls hike around mid-afternoon so that you can scramble over to the waterfall and see the donut with the light shining through it perfectly. You’ll meet many friendly locals on this popular trail, so it won’t be hard for you to ask about how to position yourself correctly to see it!
I would also bring some water shoes with good traction on them as the rocks do get slick, and to see the donut portion you have to traverse on to the slippery rocks and peer underneath the rocky overhang in order to see what the donut actually is.
Donut Falls is a very popular trail, especially for families, so be prepared to be patient when you get to the top in order to get your photos of the donut portion of this waterfall. The rocks are slippery and the water is cold, so please be careful if you are an inexperienced hiker.
A few more things to keep in mind as you hike this trail:
- Please be kind when you get to the top—don’t push. It is ok to ask if you can take a picture with just you in it.
- Do NOT go on a holiday weekend or you could be waiting for a good hour to get to the falls.
- If you go in the spring or late fall it will be beautiful with wildflowers like Indian Paintbrush, or the fiery colors of the Fall. However, this is also the time of year that the water level will be too high and dangerous for you to get to the donut portion of the waterfall!
- This is a great hike to do in the summer though because the water levels are lower, and it won’t be as dangerous to traverse the slippery rocks in order to see the donut portion of the waterfall.
- There is plenty of parking at the trailhead, as well as bathrooms. There are also forest rangers that regularly patrol the parking area, so make sure you don’t park illegally, either.
- Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this trail since it is considered a watershed area, aka where people in the city get their water from. So do not try to sneak them with you, or you might get stopped by a local or a ranger and receive a massive fine.
How to get there: The Donut Falls trail is located between Kessler Peak and Reed and Benson Ridge Right off of Big Cottonwood Canyon Road on your way to Brighton Ski Resort in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. To get to the trailhead of Donut Falls, drive down a three-quarter-mile dirt road off of Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, which most low-clearance two-wheel drive vehicles can use.
Willow Lake Trail
- Length: 2.2 miles |Elevation Gain: 636 feet | Hiking Guide
Willow Lake gives the kind of National Geographic-worthy reflection in the lake that fills the soul with all sorts of warm fuzzy goodness. The Willow Lake Trail is a favorite for backpackers, as you can pack in your camping gear and camp near the lake. There are plenty of places for hammocks and tents once you get to Willow Lake where you can laze about and assign animal shapes to the clouds.
You’ll find the trailhead right across from Brighton Ski Resort up Big Cottonwood Canyon Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Just make sure as you go up the trail you stick to the left; the trail on the right gets you into some pretty steep territory that can be hard for hiking beginners!
The first half-mile of the trail is quite steep, making this a moderate trail for most hikers. But after that first half-mile, the trail levels out and you have gorgeous views of fields, birch trees, and snow-capped mountains.
- Note: you will see loads of offshoot trails, but don’t worry – they all still lead to the same place. The trail to the right is slightly shorter with no stream crossings. The trail to the left does have a few stream crossings and is a bit longer but is better suited to the moderate trail rating. So basically what I’m saying is…..choose your own adventure with this one.
Once you get to the lake, there will be some mosquitos (at least until the first frost hits in late fall), so be sure to bring some bug spray!
If you hike this trail in mid-Summer (July/early August), you will catch the wildflowers blooming like the brilliant red of the Indian Paintbrush (my favorite). In the Fall though, the brilliant yellow of the birch trees is well worth waiting to hike, but then you also are risking your hike being thwarted by snow.
There are a lot of people who use this trail so it isn’t hard to find your way to the lake. If you want to make it a truly special experience, you can backpack in with your camping gear and set up your campsite by the lake for the night.
If you don’t have time to camp overnight, I recommend bringing a hammock to string up between some trees, and a little picnic.
- Hiking Tip: This hiking trail is part of a watershed area so you cannot go swimming in the lake or bring dogs. Also, keep an eye out for elk, moose, and bears. And whatever you do, don’t head up the canyon during a rainstorm……the thunder and lightning can be extremely dangerous and blow in quickly!
Cecret Lake Trail
- Length: 1.7 mile Elevation Gain: 459 feet | Hiking Guide
Yes: the name of hike is spelled correctly! It’s pronounced. like”Secret,” but named for Cecret Lake.
Despite its name, it’s actually a highly trafficked area (which in hiking just means the trail is easy to follow), and for good reason – the payoff at the end is this gorgeous little lake tucked right up against the mountain. This area was once a glacier (many moons ago) and so has a rich soil perfect for high Uinta Mountain flowers that reach their peak season of blooming in late July to early August.
The trail is easy, up until the last third of the trail, then it gets a bit steep and rocky at the end. The trail is fairly short and it does have some great foliage cover making it a great hike for those less experienced or not wanting a major workout trying to get up the trail.
Be sure to bring a snack, a blanket, and very importantly, BUG SPRAY (or even better, bug reppellant lotion)! The mosquitos are pretty bad by the lake, but with bug spray, you can have a nice little picnic here.
- Photography Tip: Make sure to bring a wide-angle camera lens (16-24mm) with a polarizing filter so you can capture AMAZING reflections shots of the surrounding mountains in the lake.
This trail must be done in the summer months due to its high elevation at 9,875 feet. The trailhead’s parking doesn’t even open until late July, when the snow finally melts. You’ll need to check the Alta Ski Area website for exact opening times. The best time to hike to Cecret Lake would be late July/early August–it’s usually packed during Pioneer Day (July 24th), which is a State holiday in Utah.
The trailhead is located in the Wasatch Mountains up Little Cottonwood Canyon right above Alta Ski Area right near Alta Ski Resort – to avoid traffic issues, I highly recommend bringing $5 cash with you and riding the resort’s shuttle bus up to the trailhead.
If shuttle buses are not running, park at Wildcat Base Area parking ($8 per car) and hike the lower Albion Basin Meadows with beautiful wildflowers up to the Cecret Lake Trailhead.
Bell’s Canyon Hike (Lower Falls)
- Length: 4.6 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,453 feet | Hiking Guide
There are a few options with the Bells Canyon Waterfall hike: you have the option of going just to the reservoir, taking the grueling 10-mile route through the Upper Bells Canyon, or hiking the moderately rated Bells Canyon Trail to Lower Falls. Even talking about all these hikes in the sequence is making me tired!
Once you get to the Bells Canyon Waterfall, you’ll be treated to a roaring waterfall around 30 feet tall coming off the mountain like nature is dumping a bucket of water on the trees below after the last football game of the season.
This hike starts out fairly easy until you get to the reservoir, and you can choose to continue up to the waterfall or not. If you choose to hike to the waterfall, you want to continue up the dirt road until you see a sign on the left of the trail for the waterfall.
The last mile of the hike is pretty steep with lots of boulders to climb over. It is a tough trail, aka exercise bootcamp type hell – but still considered moderate for Utah standards.
You do have shade most of the way up the canyon, so although this hike is low elevation, it’s a great hike for spring, summer or fall.
Give yourself about 3 hours or 4 to complete this route if you are planning on taking your time to enjoy the scenery of the Utah Rocky Mountain woods on the way up, so you can spend more time enjoying the waterfall and letting yourself be entranced by the falling waters.
Unfortunately, this trail is not dog-friendly, and you cannot swim in the waterfall. If you do either of these things, be prepared to be verbally harassed and scolded and maybe even stopped or reported to the forest service.
Why so aggressive? Well, Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon are considered watershed areas. Because Bell’s Canyon is so close to Little Cottonwood Canyon, they still consider it a watershed area as the creek leads right into a water reservoir. Meaning that you would be swimming or letting your dog mark their territory in the water that people drink in the city! We’re out in a desert, so ample resources for water here are not plentiful—if the water gets contaminated, the city has to shut down the supply which means bills go up. So don’t swim in the water or bring your dogs….sorry.
Little Cottonwood Canyon also has historical and spiritual importance as the source for the Granite that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Temple is made from. They used oxen carts to haul out 5-ton chunks of granite at a time to build this historic and pivotal landmark that is still a defining symbol for Salt Lake City today.
- How to Get There: The trail is in The Canyon immediately South of Little Cottonwood Canyon above Bell’s Reservoir, following Bell’s Canyon Creek up to the waterfall. There are two entrances to get to the Lower Bells Canyon route: one entrance is off Wasatch Blvd (a super crowded and busy street); the other is via 9800 S, which is my preference because the road you park on at 9800 S isn’t as dangerous to get out of your car to start the hike, because of traffic.
Stewart Falls Trail
- Length: 3.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 646 feet | Hiking Guide
Location: Right off of Utah State Route 92, next to Aspen Falls Camp Center, and near the Mount Timpanogos Trailhead
Steward Falls is the furthest hike on this list from Salt Lake City, Utah, but it is also my favorite hike and a real classic for Utahns. This hike is incredible to do in the fall—you are surrounded by deep green pine trees and have tunnels of birch trees that turn a brilliant yellow; they swirl around you like the forest is giving its magical blessing to you along the way.
Before I introduce you to this one, a very important safety note: please DO NOT try to climb down to the falls unless you are roped up and know how to rock climb safely. We had someone rescued this summer who had been trying to do this and it took rescuers 8 hours to get them out!
The trail to Stewart Falls is wide enough that groups can pass each other without giving the awkward body odor whiff at every passing. Dogs are also allowed on this trail, but must be leashed at all times.
Along the Stewart Falls Trail watch out for big tree limbs along the ground; there are also a lot of big steps (short person problems—I’m 5’4″). There are some areas that are steep, but also areas where it levels out and you can easily enjoy your time without feeling like you’re about to die of a heart attack. I only swore about 10 times right before getting to the actual waterfall, which tells you how enjoyable this trail is!
But the payoff is a gorgeous 200-foot waterfall seen from above, with a perfectly positioned rock to take photos. Do not be surprised either if you see some ‘extra’ brides up there taking photos on that rock. It is truly. a perfect photo op.
I have done this hike about 3 times now, and if you want to do something really exciting, try hiking this route in the dark. Just bring a headlamp and make sure your shoelaces are tied so you don’t trip over yourself (not that I would know what that would feel like *ahem*).
- Hiking Tip: Make sure you bring cash to pay the toll to the forest trolls. No really, bring $6 cash (no change provided, so be exact) per car to put in the envelope at the sign near the trailhead and the tag on your dashboard. It’s based on an honor system, but the rangers routinely give tickets up here. Also, don’t be a d*ck.
Map of the Best Hikes Near Salt Lake City, Utah
We’ve created a map of all the hikes mentioned in this post! Bookmark this post or save the map to your phone to come back to it later.
Where to Stay in Salt Lake City, Utah
Out-of-towners Lia & Jeremy here: we’ve visited Salt Lake City several times, and our favorite place to stay is downtown. It can be mildly jarring to travel from sunny 50-degree spring weather into blizzarding mountains every day, but we love the ability to enjoy the big city and all of its perks – and restaurants, and fancy coffee, etc – while spending our days exploring the mountains.
We have other posts that give you loads of advice on where to stay depending on your post/pre hike preferences.
- The Ultimate Salt Lake City Brewery Guide: 25 Best Salt Lake City Breweries & Brewpubs
- The Best Salt Lake City Ski Resorts: a Complete Guide to Skiing in Salt Lake City
Note: If you stay downtown you’ll need a car to get around and reach the hikes. Downtown itself is spread out but some areas are quite walkable! Reserve a car in advance using rentalcars.com or Kayak and pick it up at the Salt Lake City Airport.
Contributor Bio: Janiel Green is a Physician Assistant, writer, photographer, videographer, dog lover, and scuba diver. She started Culture Trekking as a way to share sustainable adventures from around the globe, and highlight the beauty in all the small moments of life that are often overlooked. Head over to CultureTrekking.com for more in-depth local tips and Utah’s best hidden gems (like Fishlake National Forest, and Bear Lake). And check out the Culture Trekking YouTube channel where you can see these hikes and more Utah coverage!
Are you ready to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails? Which of the best hikes in Salt Lake City are you most excited to tackle? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Looking for more things to do near Salt Lake City? Take a look at some of our other posts:
- The Ultimate Salt Lake City Brewery Guide
- The 4 Best Salt Lake City Ski Resorts
- Weekend Getaway Guide to Park City, Utah
- The Perfect 10-Day Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary: Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip Guide
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Kari Hunter says
Just FYI, your article insinuates that the Mountain Meadows Massacre was between the Mormon settlers and native Americans. The massacre was actually started by the settlers AND some local native Americans against a wagon train passing through their area on the way to California. Still an awful part of Utah history, but tensions with the native Americans and the early settlers were not as extreme as you have written in your article.
Lia Garcia says
Thanks for the correction! We appreciate it!
So many interesting hikes! I would love to try the Cecret Lake and the Donut Falls trails!
Looking into these n they all seem so beautiful! Thanks for sharing
I’ve only been to Southern Utah, but I totally need to get back and do the Salt Lake area. I heard Park City is pretty cool. Also, all of these hikes look so gorgeous and I’m definitely keeping this place in mind for the future. 🙂