Hiking the Second Highest Peak in the Wasatch: Mt. Timpanogos

Mount Timpanogos
Mount Timpanogos Eric Ward
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We all know about Moab, Bryce, and Zion, and there’s no doubt the Utah National Parks deserve their reputations for blowing minds, but there are lesser-known treasures to explore within a day of Salt Lake City. Hiking Mt. Timpanogos, the second highest peak in the Wasatch, at 11,749 feet, is one of them. The trailhead is only an hour-long drive from the Outdoor Retailer show, but hiking up the 4,580 feet of elevation gain to bag this summit could take up a whole day.

There are two ways to hike Timp, but Mount Timpanogos via the Timpooneke Trail is slightly easier than its counterpart—the elevation gain is more gradual. Along this route, you have the opportunity to see an alpine lake with a small glacier (hopefully the glacier is still there this year), waterfalls, alpine meadows, wildflowers, and Rocky Mountain goats.

From the Timpooneke trailhead, the hike is about 12.7 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of roughly 4,580 feet, and normally takes 4.5-5 hours to complete. If you’re not used to exertion at elevation, or you stop to rest before the final approach to the summit, it’ll take longer. The trail is well maintained and has a good mixture of varied terrain, even offering the chance to cross mellow snowfields on your way to the peak.

Make sure you pack plenty of calories and start off hydrated. This is a hike that’ll teach you why people buy hiking poles—bring ‘em if you have ‘em. Bring plenty of water and a shell too, as the weather changes fast above 11,000 feet. Dogs are allowed as long as they are on a leash.

Eric Ward

To get to the Timpooneke Trailhead from Salt Lake, type “Timpooneke Trailhead” into google maps and hit the road. Just past the Timpooneke campground, the road reaches the trailhead. It’s identified by a large paved parking lot with a vault toilet on the left side of the road. There is a $6 fee for a three-day pass for American Fork Canyon. The America the Beautiful Pass is accepted here.

The trail starts by heading into a thick forest from the Timpooneke Campground. For the first half mile, Engelmann spruce along with other evergreens shade the trail, and it climbs along a gentle grade. You’ll hike into a wide meadow on the valley floor and traverse above the west side for about 0.4 miles. Around mile one, you’ll cross the first series of small streams trickling across the trail. There’s a signed junction for Scout Falls at 1.4 miles. Take a left and walk less than 100 yards to view moss-lined falls surging over a limestone ledge. Turn right and continue onward to the summit.

At two miles, you’ll climb up the first major step in the Giant Staircase. Miles three and four cross a sweeping talus field and then head up a steady incline, weaving through stunted subalpine fir trees and Indian Paintbrush, where views of Box Elder Peak and Lone Peak begin to open up to the north.

Timpanogos Basin is at mile 4.4, and a trail leading to Emerald Lake and the Aspen Grove Trail breaks off on the left as you enter the basin. If you need to make the day shorter and don’t want to go to the summit, the Emerald Lake Trail is a good alternative. It’s a 6.5-miler with an elevation gain of 3,210 feet instead of the 4,580+ feet if you continue on the Timpooneke Trail.

Eric Ward

At 5.5 miles, the trail reaches an 11,000-foot pass with a beautiful glacial lake where you can rest. If the sun is shining high, a jump in the lake is the most refreshing thing you’ll ever do. It’s ice cold, but you’ll dry out fast.

Relax here, have a snack, and prepare yourself for the last two miles toward to the summit—it’s longer than you think from here. Once you step through the rocky gap onto the west of the ridge and continue climbing, the route traverses broken limestone slopes to the south before climbing along the ridge to the peak’s apex. Once you reach the summit, you’ll see an old metal hut with a red triangular roof, and there’s a book you can sign your name in with inspiring messages about your climb up.

Hang out here and enjoy the views of the surrounding valleys. Typically, you’ll see paragliders soaring on thermals on the Salt Lake side. They are riding some of the best thermals in the world over there. Soak in the accomplishment and head down to find some calories and a bed—you’ll need both fast.

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