Wellsville Mountains: Hiking the Steepest Peaks in the Rockies

A cairn marks the intersection of Stewart Pass from the ridge leading to the Wellsville Cone and Box Elder Peak, Wellsville Mountain Wilderness, Utah
A cairn marks the intersection of Stewart Pass from the ridge leading to the Wellsville Cone and Box Elder Peak, Wellsville Mountain Wilderness, Utah Louis Arevalo
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Would you like to hike the steepest mountain range in the world? The Wellsville Mountains, east of Brigham City and west of Logan City have been called just that. Only 14 miles long and five miles wide and lacking any substantial foothills, the range is definitely considered one of the steepest in the Rocky Mountains. But don’t let that deter you. The beauty and solitude found in these mountains is waiting.

What Makes it Great

The Wellsville Range is a perfect example of how the Wilderness Act of 1964 works. By the 1940s overgrazing and fires had left these mountains nearly void of vegetation. Luckily a handful of concerned citizens were able to raise money, purchase land, and then hand it over to the forest service. In 1984 the United States Congress created the Wellsville Mountains Wilderness Area that included over 20,000 acres of preserved land. Today the range has rebounded and provides a home to deer, moose, and mountain lions within its lush and healthy habitat.

This preserved wilderness is also home to 17 miles of trails that lead you to the vistas of the range’s highest points. The Wellsville Cone (9,356’) and Box Elder Peak (9,372’) are the most common destinations.

The ridge line of the Wellsville Mountains, Utah
The ridge line of the Wellsville Mountains, Utah Louis Arevalo

The Deep Canyon to Coldwater Canyon Loop is an awesome hike that will get you to the range’s continuous ridgeline with the option to tag several peaks along the way. You will need to arrange a car shuttle to pick you up at the Coldwater Canyon Trailhead. From the Deep Canyon Trailhead it’s a steady climb three miles to the Wellsville ridge. From the saddle you can travel north a short distance to Hawk Watch Peak (8,585’), where birds of prey are known to ride the thermals during their fall migration during September and October. From the saddle heading south it’s two miles of easy ridge/trail walking to Stewart Pass, marked by a large cairn. You can easily tag the summits of Mendon and Scout Peaks along the way. If you choose to add more to your hike you should consider continuing south along the ridge from Stewart Pass to the Wellsville Cone and Box Elder Peak. It’s 2.5 miles farther. From there you can turn around and go back to Stewart Pass and head east down into Coldwater Canyon.

What You’ll Remember

The hike begins beneath a canopy of maple trees that soon changes to aspens. As you climb higher and out from beneath the trees the hillside fills with wild roses, firecracker penstemons, and paintbrush flowers. At the ridgeline you will be rewarded with the dueling views of Cache Valley to the east and Salt Lake Valley to the west. Included in this overlook are the oxbow bends of the Bear River. As you travel south you will see that the sparse landscape is home to some of most beautiful and healthy limber pines in Utah.

The oxbow bends of the Bear River near Honeyville, Utah seen from the Wellsville Mountains
The oxbow bends of the Bear River near Honeyville, Utah seen from the Wellsville Mountains Louis Arevalo

Who’s Going to Love It

Avid hikers, peak baggers, and birders will enjoy hiking in the Wellsville Mountains. While the routes are steep in sections they are in good condition and not really any steeper than any other summit trail.

GPS Coordinates, Parking, and Regulations

GPS Coordinates: 41.713569, -112.016755

To reach the Deep Canyon Trailhead coming from either Logan or Brigham City on Highway 89 take State Route 23 heading north through Wellsville and into the town of Mendon. Turn left on 300 North and drive two miles west to the end of the road and the trailhead.

To reach the Coldwater Trailhead from Deep Canyon return to State Road 23 and head south to Mendon turning right onto Main Street where the two intersect. Turn west on 1800 south. Staying right follow this unmaintained dirt road for about 3.5 miles to the trailhead. High clearance is recommended.

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