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Terrain Takes

Get the Outside In - Utah Terrain

Top Ten Day Hikes

Mark Pyper

Posted on December 23 2018

Top Ten Day Hikes

To state that Utah has some of the most scenic and diverse landscapes in the U.S. is to resort to a well-worn cliché. While Utah's majestic beauty may have been a well-kept secret in the first half of the 20th century, by now, Utah's reputation as both a day-hike and multi-day backpack capital is a well-established fact by outdoor enthusiasts at home and abroad.

While zipping along scenic byways will certainly expose you to the beauty of the state, getting onto a trail by foot is truly the best way to uncover the alluring and captivating scenery of Utah. It is with this idea in mind that we curated a list of top ten day hikes. Certainly, any list so small will be far from comprehensive, but we tried to strike a balance between culling our favorite hikes from Northern and Southern Utah. So, whether you prefer peering out over alpine lakes from 12,000 foot vistas or favor the surreal panoramas of red rock country, we think you'll find a hike you'll enjoy from our short list of Utah day hikes.

One word of warning: Some of these day hikes are neither for the faint of heart nor for the novice hiker. A few hikes from the list below have steep elevation gains, are long (and stretch the tourist's idea of a pleasant stroll in the afternoon), or have treacherous obstacles to traverse. So, when you return with aching feet and a bruise or two, don't say that we didn't warn you! Without further ado, here are our favorite day hikes in Utah, presented in no particular order.

Angels Landing (Zion NP)

When talking day hikes in Utah, any short list will have to include a hike or two within Zion National Park. We have to admit that this hike was a bit of a toss-up with the also incredible Inspiration Trail in Zion (which may afford the best view of the entire Zion valley), but this trail won out because not only are the views spectacular, but the last ½ mile of the trail demand one to battle back any fear of heights one may have to complete the trail. The last section of the hike not only features a gain of 500 feet in elevation but steep drops offs on either side of you. So scary are the drop-offs that if you are of the opinion that national park trails cater only to inexperienced hikers, you'll "drop" that opinion – trust us. The trail ends in a rim that affords 360-degree views of all of Zion. Truly breathtaking and a bucket list hike for anyone serious about the outdoors.

Elevation gain: 1,500 ft
Length: 5 miles round trip
Trail notes: Not for those with fear of heights

The Narrows (Zion NP)

Certainly, any hike within Zion National Park is going to be filled with natural beauty, but this hike was selected because it is singularly unique, as a good portion of the trail involves hiking through the Virgin River which runs through Zion Canyon. Because this is a literal river walk, you'll be ankle deep in pristine water for the majority of the hike, and some stretches have you waist-deep – so extreme preparation and gear will be needed! The 1,000 foot canyon walls provide shade throughout the summer months, so the shade, water, and views make this the coolest hike on our list.

Elevation gain: none
Length: Variable – many routes
Trail Notes: Always check for rain and flood warnings

Fairyland Loop (Bryce NP)

This half-day loop trail in Bryce National Park puts you up and close to the eccentric hoodoos of the Bryce amphitheater and allows you to get away from the more crowded sections of the park. While Bryce may not be able to compete with the jaw-dropping views and grandeur of Zion, it is certainly one of the most strikingly distinctive landscapes in the United States. Insiders who know the trail suggest taking the loop counterclockwise and is best in September or October after the summer heat (and crowds).

Elevation gain: 900 ft
Length: 7.75 mile loop trail
Notes: Very little shade – bring more water than you might think!

Delicate Arch Trail (Arches NP)

While this trail won't win the award for solitude – it's crowded – it will end at Utah's most famous arch and it's most iconic landmark, the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Heck, with the payoff being on Utah's license plate, we had to include this on our list of top 10 day hikes. However, this roughly 3 mile hike isn't just about what awaits you at the end. Hikers take note of the wildflowers, petroglyphs, and an abandoned ranch as just some of the sights you'll hit along the way. It's not uncommon for tourists who visit Arches National Park to do this hike twice in one visit – the Delicate Arch will not disappoint!

Elevation gain: 600 ft
Length: 2.9 miles out and back
Trail Notes: Partially paved, some steep parts towards the end

Lake Blanche Trail (Twin Peaks Wilderness)

Word of warning: This trail is hard. With almost 3,000 feet elevation gain in about 3 miles, you'll be huffing and puffing, but the endorphin rush will only enhance the spectacular views as you gaze down into Big Cottonwood Canyon. As you reach the end of the hike, you'll see Sundial Peak rise dramatically against Lake Blanche with a large portion of the Wasatch range as your backdrop – outstanding. Along the way, you'll see waterfalls, lakes, maybe a little wildlife, and fantastic views.

Elevation gain: 2,726 ft
Length: 6.7 miles out and back
Trail Notes: Not a beginner trail, particularly if not acclimatized to the high altitude

Timpooneke Trail, Mount Timpanogos (Wasatch Range, Utah Valley)

At 14.3 miles this would stretch even the most seasoned hiker's definition of what constitutes a day hike, but with an early start and the proper motivation, this hike can be bagged before sundown. Don't let the relatively easy first 6 miles fool you; the last mile is a steep grade and will test your endurance as you approach the summit of Mount Timpanogos. At the end of the hike, you'll swear you'll be able to take in a view of all of Utah! Mountain Goats and even Moose are spotted with some frequency on this trail.

Elevation gain: 4,566 ft
Length: 14.3 miles out and back
Trail Notes: Start out early, you don't want to be stuck in the dark on the descent

Dead Horse Rim Loop Trail (Dead Horse SP)

This trail may be the winner for best views outside of a Utah National Park as it is a bit of a curiosity how Dead Horse State Park hasn't been annexed by nearby Canyonlands National Park or been designated as a National Monument in its own right. Truly, the views on this particularly serpentine section of the Colorado River are as picturesque as any vista in a Utah National Park. As an added bonus, this easy 5 mile loop isn't as heavily trafficked as other trails in the Moab area. The trail, by and large, follows the carved and sculpted canyons, pinnacles, and buttes (or is it mesas?) along the Colorado River. The lack of major elevation gains makes this an easy morning or afternoon jaunt!

Elevation gain: 900 ft
Length: 5.0 mile loop
Trail notes: Tack on extra time to learn about the history of the area

Little Wild Horse Bell Canyon Loop Trail (near Goblin SP)

Although moderately trafficked, this is a bit of a sleeper pick because it lies outside of both the Utah Valley/Wasatch range and the "Mighty Five" area. This canyon trail, just west of Goblin State Park, offers a variety of terrain, from sweeping vistas to slot canyons so narrow you need to turn sideways just to navigate through them – not for the claustrophobic! This just might be the best slot canyon hike in Utah, arguably rivaling the more popular Antelope Canyon in Arizona.

Elevation gain: 790 ft
Length: 8.0 mile loop
Trail notes: Avoid cheeseburgers and pizza the night before to fit through narrow slot canyons!

Lofty Lakes Loop (East of Park City)

This trail is aptly named, as the trail sits above 10,000 feet in elevation. This trail is situated in the center of the Uinta Mountains and is a favorite hike in the area. The loop trail takes you by flower-filled meadows and four gorgeous mountain lakes. The trail culminates with panoramic views near Lofty Lake. For those so inclined, two mountains near Lofty Lake can be summitted for even more sweeping views.

Elevation gain: 900 ft
Length: 4 miles
Trail notes: Bring fishing gear if that's your game

Mount Olympus Trail (near Salt Lake City)

Although this is close to Salt Lake City, you’ll quickly feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere when you start your ascent on this hike. Not unlike the Timpooneke Trail, you’ll swear you can take in views of most of Utah as you get close to the top of Mount Olympus. Hardcore trekkers will take this on during all seasons of the year, but most hikers will tackle this trail in the summer and early fall. Although the trail is steep throughout, the last section of the trail involves some scrambling and will definitely slow your roll (but it forces you to take in the views!).

Elevation gain:4,100 ft
Length: 7.3 miles out and back
Trail notes: Be prepared for snow pack during a good chunk of the year.

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