Situated just north of Echo Park on the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument, a sudden break in the cream-colored Weber sandstone produces a multi-hued swirl of color—a peculiar twisting formation where the horizontal shelves suddenly thrust upward into vertical stripes, culminating in one of the area’s weirdest—and most spectacular—geological features. This is the Mitten Park Fault, the product of dramatic faulting and uplift, and shares a name with one of the best “unofficial” hiking routes in Dinosaur National Monument. The Mitten Park Trail, a three-mile out-and-back from Echo Park Campground, is a rarely-traveled path that features spectacular views of the Green River, Steamboat Rock, and Whirlpool Canyon and offers access to a remote beach along the river’s edge, just across from the Mitten Park Fault. The hike traverses some exposed ledges and requires minor scrambling—but remains non-technical and accessible to those with a sense of adventure and thirst for solitude.
The Mitten Park Trail is a remote route accessible only by river or the 12-mile, unpaved Echo Park Road. (Note: See my previous post for a description of this drive.) The road ends at the shores of the Green River, the centerpiece of Dinosaur National Monument’s canyon country and sculptor of the dramatic gorge walls of Steamboat Rock and beyond.
To reach the trailhead, head left into the Echo Park Campground and swing around to the walk-in camping area, where there is a grassy field, several tent sites, and parking for several vehicles. The Mitten Park Trail is unmarked but evident, passing the four tent sites and continuing north, around a leafy gulch and bearing close to the towering Weber sandstone walls on the left. Follow the base of the vertical cliffs as the narrow trail passes through a clutch of tall grasses and then rises to clear an outcrop, providing the hike’s first open views to the Green River and Steamboat Rock.
Besides perhaps the world-famous Dinosaur Quarry in the Utah section of the park, the hulking mass of Steamboat Rock is likely the most iconic geological landmark in Dinosaur National Monument, notable enough that it attracted the attention of explored John Wesley Powell on his historic exploration of the Green River in 1869.
From here the trail rises in fits and starts, skirting juniper trees and following a high bench below the vertical walls but well above the river. At low water levels, the Green River below splits in two, forming a long sandy island below Steamboat Rock. As the trail progresses, hikers can see the long tail of Steamboat Rock, which drops to a lower height but extends for more than a mile, concealing a drop-off to the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers beyond.
The climb becomes considerably more difficult at around 0.35 miles, with a steep and rocky scramble in which it begins to make sense why this is noted as an “unofficial” and unmaintained route, not an official, routine hiking trail. After a brief crest, the trail drops a bit and then resumes a more gradual ascent, skirting a true slickrock ledge at around ½ mile. Although the drop is vertical, there is plenty of clearance.
From here the Mitten Park Trail rises to the base of a peach-colored wall, followed by a rocky sequence in which hikers must clear a boulder fall. Now firmly up on the slickrock, the route wraps around a left-hand bend, then climbs to a high crest at 7/10 mile, offering the first open views to the north: here hikers can see the easternmost edge of Whirlpool Canyon, with the ruddy cliffs of Wild Mountain towering above. The rock layers beyond are older and more varied in color than the Weber sandstone, exposed due to the uplift of Mitten Park Fault.
Having gained around 300 feet, the trail proceeds to shed it all, starting with a steady descent to a flat basin dotted with junipers, pinyon pines, prickly pear cactus, and lots of Mormon tea. There are a couple of sudden drops—of about 3-4 feet—that may require the use of hands to clear. By now the open meadow of Mitten Park is visible below, as is the exposed beach area beyond.
At about 1.1 miles, the incline eases, and the trail sets out across the overgrown fields of Mitten Park, where the tall and prickly grasses quickly consume the path. Route-finding is challenging here. Generally, however, follow the path that parallels the Green River while staying up on the flat basin, avoiding the temptation to edge toward the orange and purple rocks that appear on the left. More than 2,000 feet up to the west is Harpers Corner, a popular viewpoint area at the end of the Harpers Corner Road.
Just as the route seemingly disappears for good, bear right, heading down toward the river. Here the path reappears and moves up and down through a couple side drainages. At the second ravine, the trail spits out to the right and culminates at a sandbar along the Green River. Directly across the river is the Mitten Park Fault, with orange creamsicle-colored lines shooting upward in an impressive uplift. This marks the end of the Weber sandstone and start of the Morgan Formation, a Pennsylvanian period layer composed of a blend of sandstone, limestone, and shale.
It is possible from here to scramble farther north to see the point where the Green River rounds a corner and heads west into Whirlpool Canyon. But doing so requires some scrambling and bushwhacking, so most hikers will use the sandbar (possibly covered at high water levels) as the turnaround point.
The return journey of course does the elevation gain and loss in reverse, beginning with a steady ascent through the pinyon-juniper forest back to the high crest, then a rocky descent to Echo Park. All told, this moderately difficult hike takes around 2-3 hours to complete for experienced hikers. Even as Echo Park is a relatively popular destination, Mitten Park is not—offering beautiful seclusion and spectacular scenery in a beloved section of Dinosaur National Monument.
Roughly straddling the border between Utah and Colorado, Echo Park Road extends 12 miles and connects the paved Harpers Corner Road with its namesake Echo Park—a hidden flat near the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument. Here travelers will find a campground and day use area situated along a hairpin bend in the Green, revealing views of high sandstone walls and the iconic Steamboat Rock. Getting there, however, is half the fun, as the 12-mile unpaved road is slow and winding, dropping from the high bench to the inner canyons. The National Park Service recommends high clearance and all-wheel drive to complete the out-and-back, although I found when I visited in June 2022 that, if conditions are dry, the route may be doable with any standard vehicle. (Note: Check with the rangers at the Canyon Visitor Center for latest conditions.) The allure of Echo Park and extended effort required to visit makes overnighting at the Echo Park Campground an attractive option: campsites are first-come first-serve, generally not likely to fill up on weekdays but likely to do so on summer weekends.
Echo Park Road is a remote byway, beginning more than 25 miles up the much more popular Harpers Corner Road from Canyon Visitor Center in the town of Dinosaur, Colorado. After passing Plug Hat Butte and the Canyon Overlook, Harpers Corner Road enters Utah, bearing west and north, and comes to a high gap at around the 25-mile mark. Look here for the signed start of Echo Park Road, heading east down a dugway to the canyon country below.
The first mile of the drive is the rockiest, with tight bends punctuated by occasional ruts and protruding stones—but with careful and slow driving and dry conditions, most drivers will have little problem with this section. Here the road drops down off the Weber Sandstone bench, heading for the scrubby plateau below. Technically this section is situated outside Dinosaur National Monument, but travelers will return soon to NPS jurisdiction.
The road levels off as it passes Vivas Cake Hill on the left and follows Iron Springs Wash, an initially modest arroyo that eventually carves a deep canyon as it continues downstream. After re-entering Dinosaur, the road treads eastward across an open flat and then enters Upper Sand Canyon, featuring high walls of cream-colored Weber Sandstone, the predominant exposed layer in the area.
Upon exiting Sand Canyon, Echo Park Road reaches its eight-mile mark and splits, with the much longer Yampa Bench Road heading right. Stay left, cutting westward toward the high slopes of Harpers Corner, meeting up again with the Iron Springs Wash drainage and the spring-fed Pool Creek. The latter is a perennial stream and provided a stable water supply for the Chew family, who set up their ranch here in the early 20th century. The road passes right through the heart of Chew Ranch, set in a green valley—an oasis in the desert.
Beyond the ranch, the route follows Pool Creek downstream as it cuts an ever-deeper canyon. Look for a pull-off on the right for a short walk to a set of Fremont petroglyphs on the left. Then continue across an open field set below the high cliffs, where visitors will find Whispering Cave, a mysterious crack in the sandstone at the base of the wall.
Finally, the road reaches Echo Park, a flat basin at the confluence of Pool Creek and the mighty Green River, famously explored from end-to-end by the John Wesley Powell in the mid-19th century. Here the most striking feature is the towering Steamboat Rock, a protruding hunk of sandstone situated at a bend in the river. The best views of the rock are from the group camping area and day use area off to the right, but there are several sites in the campground with good views as well. Set up camp here for the night, go for a dip in the chilly waters, or explore one of the two unofficial hiking routes in the area: a walk to the confluence of the Yampa and Green, or the 3-mile Mitten Park Trail. This spectacular area is worth the lengthy drive to reach and a highlight of Dinosaur National Monument.
Scenic hiking trails abound in the woefully underexplored canyons of Dinosaur National Monument, but it is the famed fossil quarry that gives this Utah/Colorado park its name. Here, in 1909, paleontologist Earl Douglass began what would become one of the most famous digs in the world, uncovering a massive trove of dinosaur skeletons along a hillside in the Morrison Formation outside Vernal, Utah. The “Carnegie Quarry”—named for the funder—soon revealed an incredible bounty of bones, including near-complete remains of Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, and others.
Today, the quarry is by far the most popular destination in Dinosaur National Monument. To visit, park at the Quarry Visitor Center and take the short shuttle bus (which runs regularly) to and from the Quarry Exhibit Hall. More ambitious travelers can hike the 1.2-mile Fossil Discovery Trail, which connects the Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall by way of an arcing path that cuts through several rock layers. Highlights of the hike include views of small petroglyphs, some dinosaur bone fragments, and ancient clam beds.
The Exhibit Hall itself is a feat of engineering: a covered, multi-level space built right up against a section of the hillside where visitors can gaze on the unordered remains of several dinosaurs. Apparent bone fragments can be seen, strewed this way and that—underscoring the challenge of organizing and cataloguing skeletons after time and erosion has scattered the fossils. While many of the best skeletons have been shipped off to various museums around the country, there are several that remain here, including an awesome nearly-full skeleton of a juvenile Camarasaurus and a large Allosaurus.
It is easy to spend several hours here, gazing upon the historic fossils, watching the video in the Visitor Center, and hiking the Fossil Discovery Trail. Pair this with a nearbyhikeor two to make for a full day in the Utah portion of Dinosaur National Monument.
Like Canyonlands or Capitol Reef in southern Utah, Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado features nearly two dozen sedimentary rock layers that span the Permian through Cretaceous periods (66-300 million years ago). The view from Cub Creek Road at the trailhead for the Sound of Silence Trail offers a cross-section of nine “newer” rock layers, from the imposing Nugget Sandstone (late Triassic) to the diminutive Frontier Formation (late Cretaceous). Why not explore this area up-close? The 3.2-mile Sound of Silence Trail casts off across an open plain before snaking between prehistoric outcrops and up and down rugged ridgelines, offering a geological tour de force in the scenic lowlands below Split Mountain. With the informative trail guide ($1.00 at the Visitor Center), this is an interesting and moderately difficult hike in a scenic section of Dinosaur National Monument, worthy of 2-3 hours of exploration after a trip to the Dinosaur Quarry and nearby Box and Hog Canyons.
The peculiarly-named Sound of Silence Trail begins and ends at a modest but signed pull-off along Cub Creek Road, roughly two miles east of the entrance and Quarry Visitor Center in the Utah portion of Dinosaur National Monument. After skirting a ridge rimmed by the Morrison Formation (prime dinosaur fossil viewing), the road sets out across a flat desert plain dotted with saltbush, greasewood, and other shrubs. The hulking mass of Split Mountain—bisected by the Green River—dominates the skyline to north.
Park in the small parking area at the trailhead, check out the map and trail sign, and grab a $1.00 brochure (also available at the Visitor Center). From here the Sound of Silence Trail sets out across the shrubland, with the broad cross-section of nine rock layers visible ahead. The multi-hued landscape is the impressive product of sedimentation and uplift, with the width of each layer roughly reflecting the length of time taken to lay the bedrock.
The path begins by quickly clearing a dry wash and then cuts in a northwesterly direction across flat and sun-exposed terrain. Pass signpost #1 at roughly 0.15 miles, then drop into the usually dry arroyo known as Red Wash. This tributary of the Green River is a centerpiece of the first 1/3 of the hike.
From here the trail is the wash itself, which hikers should follow up-stream, passing a junction (and start of the loop portion) at ¼ mile. Bear left, soon passing under a Fremont cottonwood tree on the left at 3/10 mile. As the route continues, it approaches two high outcrops of Nugget sandstone and then rounds a left-hand bend with a deep, eroded bank. Look for cross-bedding in the rock outcrops as the trail continues, with the high walls shielding hikers from views of the newer rock layers to the west and south. From here on, the predominant layer is Nugget sandstone, a very close cousin of the better-known Navajo sandstone.
Stay in the wash until a marker indicates the trail rising up the right bank to a shelf dominated by the greasewood, sagebrush, and small Utah junipers, skirting a denser riparian area with several cottonwood trees below. Clear a rocky gulch, then continue high above Red Wash until the trail suddenly sheds elevation and switchbacks back down to the wash bottom.
Head right, following Red Wash again as it edges northwestward. Walk through a passage between large boulders at about 1.25 miles, then turn right and leave the wash minutes later. The next section traverses the crumbly red clay and mudstones of the Moenkopi Formation, following a side drainage uphill at a modest clip.
Enjoy the views up to the Nugget sandstone and down to Red Wash as the Sound of Silence Trail emerges atop a high flat, then rises a little more to a scrubby ridgeline with panoramic views. Look ahead (east) to the slanted anticline of Split Mountain, one of the most iconic formations in Dinosaur.
Also look back northwest to observe the ruddy bend known as “The Racetrack”—formed by the Triassic period Chinle and Moenkopi Formations. Iron gives the ridges above Red Wash their yellow, orange, and greenish hues.
The Sound of Silence Trail follows this ridgetop for nearly ¾ mile, continuing to climb mildly in the direction of Split Mountain and the Yampa Plateau. Ahead is also the Green River, although it remains (for now) out of view.
After a brief period of up and down, the trail passes signpost #12 and a large juniper, a nice resting place ahead of the steep climb ahead. When ready, head up the steep but short slope, rising to a crest at 2.35 miles. From here you may be able to view the Green River in the distance to the south, with farmland beyond.
Follow the rock cairns as the trail descends staircases and slickrock on the south side of the ridge. It is a short walk to the junction with the Connector Trail, which heads left and, sure enough, connects with the Desert Voices Trail. (Note: Some will extend the loop by also adding this adjoining route, making for a 5.5-mile round-trip.)
Continuing right on the Sound of Silence Trail, hikers will descend to an open gully between parallel ridges—one composed of Nugget sandstone and the other comprising parts of the Chinle and Moenkopi. Ascend a low gap on the latter ridge, then take on a sharp descent between the ridge and a hulk of Nugget sandstone. Drop to marker #15, where hikers can partake in a short detour of climbing the slickrock slope to the right, or continue straight, rounding a sharp right-hand bend. Beyond is the most difficult part of the hike: a sharp descent through a notch that may require the use of hands.
The descent empties into a very sandy wash, which hikers follow for a brief period before climbing up and out on the left. Soon enough though, it is back into an adjoining wash, which hikers more or less follow back to the initial junction near signpost #2.
Bear left, then follow the path as it leaves Red Wash and completes the final return across the open shrublands. All told, the hike clocks in at a little under 3.2 miles, a surprisingly lengthy and fulfilling journey for a simple “nature trail” near the Visitor Center. This nice but exposed hike should be avoided in the midday sun on hot days. Combine with a visit to the Dinosaur Quarry and Box/Hog Canyons for a nice full day in the Utah section of Dinosaur National Monument.
Two short and easy hikes take off from the parking area at the end of Cub Creek Road (Josie Morris Cabin) in the Utah portion of Dinosaur National Monument. The longer—and arguably better—is the Hog Canyon Trail. But there is a shorter alternative—Box Canyon—which wanders ¼ mile up a narrow gulch that has carved high walls in Split Mountain, one of the most prominent formations in the park. The dense tree cover offers shade on a hot day, and the easy terrain makes Box Canyon an ideal option for taking small children on a short walk.
The Box Canyon Trail, like Hog Canyon, begins and ends at the parking area at the end of Cub Creek Road, a scenic drive that generally follows the Green River beyond the Quarry area. Here there is a modern restroom and an old homestead—Josie Morris’ historic cabin, where the intrepid rancher lived for 50 years. While the Hog Canyon Trail passes some of the remaining structures at Josie’s ranch to the east, the Box Canyon Trail heads north, immediately entering the box canyon, the generic name for a narrow gorge with steep walls on three sides.
The sandy trail enters the open end of the canyon, although much of the initial foray is shrouded in tree cover. Under a canopy of deciduous trees, the trail briefly splits at about 1/10 mile; both main paths soon reconnect, while a spur path also heads right to the base of a prominent wall. (Note: One might have expected petroglyphs here given the well-trodden spur path, but it does not seem this is the case.)
Steps further, hikers get their first good views of the canyon: a narrowing cut in the cream-colored Weber sandstone, the predominant sedimentary layer that makes up Split Mountain. Walk over a small footbridge, then up a sandy pitch and a brief staircase. As the tall trees recede, the views improve further, but the official trail ends before you know it—culminating at a short circle around a multi-branched juniper tree. A social trail continues farther up canyon, but it is considerably more rocky and rugged, quickly requiring the use of hands to stabilize and climb.
Those satisfied with the brief out-and-back on the official path can head back the way they came, finishing up the short hike in a scenic corner of Dinosaur National Monument. Combine this hike with Hog Canyon for a nice 1- to 2-hour outing.
One of two short and easy hikes beginning from the old Josie Morris Cabin in the Utah portion of Dinosaur National Monument, the Hog Canyon Trail parallels the sandstone pitches of Split Mountain before turning and following a narrow cut partway into the Weber sandstone mass. This brief and family-friendly hike is the better of two walks (nearby Box Canyon is considerably shorter and somewhat less dramatic) and a nice addition to a visit to the Dinosaur Quarry and a drive on scenic Cub Creek Road.
The Hog Canyon Trail begins from the parking area at the end of Cub Creek Road, which runs for ten miles beyond the Quarry Visitor Center in the Utah section of Dinosaur National Monument. There is a restroom at the end of the dirt (but improved) track, as well as the historic homestead of Josie Bassett Morris, a notably progressive and hearty resident who lived in the cabin she built here in the Cub Creek valley for 50 years. The cabin, as well as a few other small structures, are still present here.
The Hog Canyon Trail cuts through Josie Morris’ old front yard, immediately passing a small but reliable spring (don’t drink!), followed quickly by the site of Josie’s old chicken coop on the left. Traversing riparian woodlands, the onward path passes a mucky retention pond on the right, with a secondary trail entering from the right. After passing through a gate/cattle guard, the trail emerges out into the open for the first time, revealing a look south across wispy grasslands toward Cub Creek and Daniels Canyon. The crumbly reddish ridge across the valley is composed of the familiar Moenkopi Formation, a Triassic period layer of sandstone.
Horsetail, a bamboo look-a-like, is in abundance here as the trail skirts the field and crosses a sandy drainage, with views of the imposing slopes of Split Mountain off to the left. Here the Weber sandstone (a close cousin of the better-known Navajo sandstone) forms a hulking mass, uplifted along with the Rocky Mountains and then eroded by wind, water, and ice. There are dozens of side canyons that cut partway into the 1,500-foot-high mountain, with Hog and Box Canyons being merely two.
After heading up and down a set of two humps, the trail continues through forest again, passing through another wooden cattle guard. From here the path finally cuts northward and enters Hog Canyon, fronted by a beautiful meadow with sporadic tree cover and, in spring, blooming lilies. Ahead, the Weber sandstone thrusts upward at a twisted angle, and the canyon walls notably narrow. Passing what appears like a narrow entryway, look for tafoni—speckled honeycomb weathering—in the walls on the right and left.
The riparian environment continues as the trail crosses a bridge over a minor tributary, then a second wooden span, this time over the main drainage in Hog Canyon. Cross back to the east side on a third bridge, then traverse another minor, brush-choked capillary. Just when hikers get the impression that they could continue on for miles like this, the route abruptly ends at a shady pouroff—it is possible to continue onward, although scrambling and eventually some sketchy climbing are required.
Most will want to turn around here, returning the way they came, back to Josie Morris’ Cabin. All told, this nice and easy hike is family-friendly and a pleasant jaunt with a decent amount of shade and interesting sandstone features.
Although most famous for its prehistoric fossils, Dinosaur National Monument in northeast Utah and northwest Colorado covers more than 200,000 acres of canyon country that rivals the “Mighty Five” nationalparksfarther south. Here the Green and Yampa Rivers—and their various tributaries—have carved a labyrinth of snaking gorges, narrow slots, and towering cliffs, including many of the same rock sandstone layers found in southern Utah. Entering this network of canyons from the north is the dramatic defile of Jones Hole, which features of one of the best day hikes in the park. From the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery in the north, the 3.5- to 4-mile trail heads down-stream, following the perennial Jones Hole Creek past hidden petroglyphs and minor waterfalls to its confluence with the mighty Green River. It is also worth the short detour around the half-way point to see the modest but pretty Ely Creek Falls.
Perhaps the greatest deterrent to hiking Jones Hole is the lengthy drive to the trailhead. The drainage is located on the Utah side of the park but remains about an hour from Vernal (the nearest town) and the Quarry Visitor Center. The drive is pleasant enough, however, beginning by climbing to a high plateau called Diamond Mountain before descending sharply into Diamond Gulch, which is ringed with high sandstone cliffs.
Follow the signs for the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery as the winding road drops to a basin at the foot of the Weber Sandstone, a Pennsylvania-age sedimentary layer. Fed by Jones Hole Springs, the area is surprisingly lush and riparian—a contrast with many of the nearby dry beds.
Park in the small parking lot adjacent to the fish hatchery, the latter of which covers much of the flat floodplain in this part of the canyon. Visitors by this point have not yet entered Dinosaur National Monument. The hike begins by crossing Jones Hole Road, then treads southward, passing several informational kiosks and the main hatchery on the right, where hikers can see hundreds of fish. The wide track parallels the facility on the left before leaving it behind at around .15 miles, where there is another information board.
Continue straight as the trail lunges into the woods, passing a picnic table and the first views of Jones Hole Creek on the right. After running under a protruding outcrop, the Jones Hole Trail parallels the stream for a short distance, then briefly moves away again as it finally enters Dinosaur National Monument, marked by yet another large map/sign, this one directly about the trail.
The lovely stream is nice, but it is the dramatic, multi-hued cliffs that make this hike spectacular, so it is welcome around ½ mile when the vegetation recedes for a brief period, revealing views down to a canyon bend. Here the red- and cream-colored Weber Sandstone still predominates, although this will later change to Round Valley Limestone and Doughnut Shale (part of the Lodore Formation) as the canyon cuts deeper.
After returning to the woods—populated by birch, Douglas firs, and other tree varieties—the route descends a set of steps, followed soon by an uphill staircase. Notice the impressive cryptobiotic soil, a living soil crust comprising cyanobacteria that help to stabilize the ground cover. Again with open vistas down-canyon, the Jones Hole Trail settles into a steady descent through a grove of gnarly juniper trees, interspersed with lovely specimens of claret cup cactus (blooming in late spring).
By the one-mile mark, the trail is rounding a left-hand bend, edging through the narrowest part of the canyon. Look back west for a look at the gorge’s most impressive wall, rising hundreds of feet to a sandstone knob high above Jones Hole.
Here the trail comes streamside again, passing a protruding jut on the opposite bank before the canyon widens again. Continue in and out of the shade as the Jones Hole Trail follows the creek and eventually crosses it at a scenic bridge about 1.4 miles from the start.
Pay attention as the trail continues south from the bridge, as there are a series of spur trails that lead to centuries-old petroglyphs and pictographs off to the right. The first is denoted by a small white marker and leads to a slab with some relatively faded etchings scrawled by indigenous peoples known by archaeologists as the “Fremont culture.” Relatively little is known about these native hunter-gatherers, but they have left markings and symbols throughout parts of present-day Utah (see also Capitol Reef NP).
The spur trail continues for 1/10 mile or so and eventually connects back with the main trail. But soon after this initial foray, a second spur heads right again – this one leading to the much more impressive Deluge Shelter Pictographs. Unlike petroglyphs, which are carved into the rock, petroglyphs use pigments to “paint” the surface, producing more dramatic illustrations.
The Deluge Shelter is one of the best examples of pictographs in Dinosaur, with a representation of bighorn sheep (often found in the canyon today), an anthropoid figure, and what appears to be a large net or bed of straw. Farther down the trail, there is another depiction of what looks like three anthropoid figures.
This second spur trail also loops back to the main trail, where the southward route continues between the riparian area on the left and the scrubby hillside below the towering walls on the right. It is a short walk from here to the only trail junction on the hike: here the Island Park Trail heads west toward Ely Creek Falls and beyond. (Note: The distances, however, are erratic: While the 1.8 miles to the Green River is more or less correct, the other two distances—2.2 miles to the fish hatchery and 0.5 miles to Ely Creek Falls—are gross exaggerations. I tracked 1.75 miles from the fish hatchery to this point and a mere .15 miles or so to the falls.)
For those seeking to cool off in the shade by the falls, head right at the junction and follow the narrower path up the Ely Creek drainage. This tributary is brief and has its source on Diamond Mountain just a couple miles upstream. After a mere 250-300 yards, the trail approaches Ely Creek Falls on the right. The tumble is relatively modest, but pleasantly situated in a scenic gulch in the heart of canyon country.
The Island Park Trail continues on from here (by clambering up to a rock bench above the falls), but there is more of Jones Hole to see, so backtrack the way you came, returning to the junction. By now your journey to the Green River is a little more than halfway complete.
After turning right at the junction, cross a short footbridge over Ely Creek, then pass a large camp site (with a bear locker) on the right. Much of the rest of the trail is in the riparian area along Jones Hole Creek, which comes back into clear view within about ¼ mile. Hugging the right bank of the creek, look for trout and other fish life in the waters.
At around 2.5 miles, the trail traverses an open grassy area, covers a sudden but short up and down, and skirts a rumbling, three-foot cascade on the left. Notice, as one traverses another open and scenic plain, that the canyon walls are no longer Weber Sandstone but have shifted to a multihued limestone, an older rock layer that continues down to the Green. Looking back up-canyon, the Weber layer is no longer visible, hidden behind a hillslope.
The Jones Hole Trail comes streamside again at about 3.3 miles, roughly following the creek for the next half mile. At around 3.8 miles, pass a sign for the “day use area” right – but skip this relatively uninspiring detour in favor of the left-hand trail. As the mouth of the canyon opens up and the high walls recede, Jones Hole Creek runs through a sandy alluvial delta—surprisingly calm at its culmination because it is dammed (naturally?) just near its terminus.
Follow one of the many sandy paths down to the Green River. This mighty tributary runs 730 miles from southwest Wyoming to its confluence with the Colorado River in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. The river was famously explored and surveyed during the John Wesley Powell Expedition in 1869 and crossed by many travelers heading westward on the California, Oregon, and Mormon Pioneer Trails. Today it is dammed in several areas but preserved nearly in its natural state through Dinosaur National Monument.
There are at least three easily accessible put-ins at Jones Hole, and hikers are likely to encounter river parties running the challenging rapids of the Green. All the beaches are sun-exposed, but there is ample shade farther back.
From the shore, one can see upstream (left) through Whirlpool Canyon to the Colorado state line and beyond. Tucked around the corner, out of view, is the famous Steamboat Rock and Echo Park area. Downstream (right), the fast-flowing river heads toward Island Park and the main Quarry area of the National Monument, although again onward views are thwarted by the high cliffs.
Enjoy a rest at the banks of the Green River, then return the way you came, heading up the mild incline for 3.7 miles to return to the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery and trailhead. Stop back at the waterfall or petroglyphs if you’d like, or simply enjoy the terrific views of this hideaway canyon.
All told, the Jones Hole Trail is best considered to be a most-of-the-day hike, with travelers typically taking around 5-7 hours to complete the round-trip.
Below the imposing massif of Mount Timpanogos (11,749’)—the second-highest peak in northern Utah’s Wasatch Range—lies a wonderland of aspen groves, cascading streams, and verdant meadows, many of which are a stone’s throw from the popular, 20-mile Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. Ambitious day hikers can set out to tackle Mount Timpanogos (or “Timp” as it is lovingly known) on a strenuous out-and-back hike, while others are likely to be satisfied with a more modest walk amid the impressive scenery in the shadow of the mountain. One such shorter hike is the 2.4-mile out-and-back to Timpanogos Falls, a set of tumbling waterfalls situated near the base of Primrose Cirque, a glacier-carved valley on the east flank of Timp. A moderately difficult ascent leads to a pair of reachable waterfalls, with pleasant views back east toward the North Fork of Provo River and the Sundance area.
The out-and-back hike follows a portion of the Mount Timpanogos Trail, one of two primary access routes to the summit of the high peak, and begins at the Mount Timpanogos Trailhead (a.k.a. Aspen Grove Trailhead)—a large parking lot situated just inside the eastern entrance station for the Alpine Loop ($6 daily; NPS annual passes accepted). (Note: There are in fact two trails that begin here, including a slightly longer jaunt to nearby Stewart Cascade.)
Hikers will find the Mount Timpanogos Trail back near the entry to the parking area: the well-trodden path heads west toward the imposing eastern face of Mount Timpanogos, climbing up a set of steps then traversing a level meadow with open views. Return to the shade as the trail passes a trail map, sign, and TERT station on the right. (Note: TERT stands for Timpanogos Emergency Response Team.)
Continuing through the woods on a wide, graveled trail, hikers will pass under a canopy of maples, Douglas firs, aspens, and others, with the low hum of passing cars gradually becoming more muted off to the right. At 2/10 mile, the route bears right at a trail sign; the trail clearly used to push left, but no longer. Minutes later, hikers will pass a short bridge over a seasonal stream, then push on to a set of two switchbacks, the first notable ascent of the hike.
At 0.35 miles, the Mount Timpanogos Trail diverges from the Lame Horse Trail, and visitors should bear left at the junction, quickly entering Mount Timpanogos Wilderness for the first time. Ahead, as the heavy woods recede into thick but petite brush, one can see a series of cliff faces and, at least in spring and early summer, two waterfalls: a tall drop and a shorter, closer tumble downstream. Only the latter of the two, however, is easily accessible from the trail, and the main attraction—what is loosely known as Upper Timpanogos Falls—remains out of sight, tucked behind a bluff, for now. (Note: The Mount Timpanogos Trail continues up above the higher, distant falls, but reaching it would require a significant detour through brush with no discernable trail.)
Curiously, as the trail steadily climbs in the direction of the falls, the dirt path is intermittently replaced with faded asphalt, a reminder of a time when local residents, starting in 1912, completed the annual “Timp Hike”: a summitting tradition that lasted six decades until being discontinued due to trail over-use.
Looking back down Primrose Cirque, hikers can see as far as the North Fork Provo River drainage and North Fork Ridge, with more lowland hills beyond. Just out of view, behind Elk Point to the right, lies the Sundance area—of skiing and film festival lore.
After gaining nearly 600 feet in what feels like a steady but manageable climb, the Mount Timpanogos Trail approaches the lower portion of Timpanogos Falls (sometimes called First Falls) off to the left. By waterfall standards, this is perhaps a mere cascade, but the twisting flow is pleasant enough to warrant a short but steep side trip down to its base.
Many hikers turn around here, but it is well worth continuing the extra ¼ mile to the much more impressive upper falls. From the lower falls, the onward trail cuts back northeast, beginning a steady climb that treads away from the creek. But soon enough, after rounding a switchback, the path cuts back west, and Upper Timpanogos Falls comes into view—this higher spray tumbles straight off a cliff and empties into a pool surrounded by steep sides.
After first spotting the falls, it is about 1/10 mile to the base, where hikers can get rather close to the waterfall. The falls are quite impressive, one of the best in northern Utah, and well worth the moderately challenging climb. Once ready, return the way you came—or, if continuing on to Mount Timpanogos, bear right and continue switchbacking up Primrose Cirque to Emerald Lake and the summit.
The 2.4-mile out-and-back to Upper Timpanogos Falls should take most hikers about 1-2 hours and can be combined with some of the area’s other day hikes (such as the trek to Timpanogos Cave) for a nice outing in the Wasatch Range.
Nestled high above American Fork Canyon in northern Utah’s Wasatch Range, three limestone caves—connected today by man-made tunnels—are the prime attractions of Timpanogos Cave National Monument, a popular park in the Salt Lake City/Provo area. Discovered around the turn of the 20th century, the three caves were placed under federal protection in 1922 and can now be explored as part of an hour-long guided cave tour. But there is a hitch: not only are reservations often required to secure your spot on the tour, but reaching the cave system requires a 1.4-mile one-way hike, gaining nearly 1,100 feet in elevation. At the end of the trail, hikers are greeted by a park ranger, who regulates timed entry to the three caves.
While the hot daytime temperatures and relentless ascent leave many visitors sweating and out of breath, entry to the marvelous caves gives hikers new life: inside is a cool (average 45 degrees) and wet wonderland of colorful stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, cave popcorn, and many other common features of a limestone cavern environment. The ranger-guided tours are informative and well worth the price of admission ($12), and the out-and-back trail includes outstanding views down American Fork Canyon to Utah Valley. Budget at least 3-3.5 hours for the round-trip journey, including the cave tour.
Timpanogos Cave National Monument is a short drive from the major metropolis of Salt Lake City and nearby Provo and located about two miles up the popular drive known as the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. Entering from the west, visitors heading only to the cave can bypass the entrance station at the mouth of American Fork Canyon. (Note: However, visitors who seek to recreate elsewhere along the 20-mile drive should pay the $6 entrance fee—or present an America the Beautiful national park pass.) Parking at the monument can be tight, but the steady flow of visitors in and out of the area generally yields availability most of the day.
Visitors without a cave tour reservation can try to acquire one at the Visitor Center, while all others can present their online tickets via smartphone at the base of the Timpanogos Cave Trail. Hikers have 1 ½ hours to complete the 1.4-mile trail to the cave entrance (the start time on your ticket denotes when one should begin hiking), which should be plenty of time for most visitors. Being a very popular trail for visitors of all ages, there are several benches and “fitness checkpoints” along the way to assist with the challenging climb. The path is also paved and without steps the entire way—but the significant incline prevents the Timpanogos Cave Trail from being wheelchair-accessible.
Before departing, check in with the ranger outside for a security briefing, in which visitors are encouraged to bring plenty of water and to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and rockfalls. The latter are a common occurrence along the route: look for yellow and red lines lining the middle of the trail, marking sections where you should not stop and congregate due to heightened rockfall risk.
The frequent crowds—including both cave tourists and locals who use the hike as a regular fitness challenge—make the Timpanogos Cave Trail far from a solitary experience. But the nature around you is splendid: the hike ascends through more than a half-dozen rock layers, and the ubiquitous flora—including Douglas fir, Boxelder maple, Rocky Mountain juniper, and Gambel oak—provide some decent shade even on a hot day. The views down into American Fork Canyon and Utah Valley improve as you climb, with several nice overlooks along the way.
Timpanogos Cave Trail (1.4 mi. to cave entrance)
The trail to the caves begins past the hike information sign, ringing the parking lot for a short while before cutting back left and rising through a dense thicket of firs. After a second switchback, the route settles into its westerly tread and rises alongside the first of several rockfalls—don’t stop during the sections marked by red and yellow lines, painted onto the asphalted trail. The beginnings of the hike lie in the multihued rock layer known as the Mutual Formation, an amalgam of sandstones, shales, and quartzite deposited some 600 million years ago. Just past the first apparent rock slide (hemmed in by a retaining wall), hikers pass under a black and orange cliff that is characteristic of this layer.
At about 2/10 mile, hikers reach the first of several “fitness checkpoints,” spots to stop for a drink of water or perhaps rest on a trailside bench. From here the path immediately courses around a left-hand bend. A minute later, the route cuts left again at a hairpin turn, and an information wayside discusses the local geology, outlining the nine rock layers that compose this section of the broader Mount Timpanogos (11,752’), a behemoth that is the ninth-highest peak in Utah and second-highest in the Wasatch Range.
From here the trail proceeds up a right-hand switchback, then edges along rock faces to the first of two tunnels, at about 4/10 mile. A few steps beyond, there is a bench and a nice overlook with views down American Fork Canyon toward Utah Valley and Provo. Hikers are now about one-quarter of the way to the cave entrance.
Soon the Timpanogos Cave Trail leaves the Mutual Formation behind and rises into the Tintic Quartzite, a largely chalky-colored layer composed of sand deposited along a shallow sea around 540 million years ago.
Pass through a second tunnel at around ½ mile, then take in the view at the overlook with two waysides—one on past mining and another on the slanted quartzite cliffs. One can see the remains of old mining roads and structures along the opposite wall of the canyon. Many of the early European settlers of the area sought to tap the various ores of the Wasatch Range, although the difficulty of transport stunted the emergence of large mining operations.
The views improve as the trail rises further, weaving in and out of steep drainages and approaching the second “fitness checkpoint” at 6/10 mile. From here the trail enters the Ophir Formation, a grayish layer of siltstone and shale. After passing under a high rock wall of Ophir, the bedrock changes again, this time to Maxfield Limestone. But this does not last long as the rocks change yet again, settling on the slightly thicker Fitchville Formation. Here there lies an “unconformity”—a break in the geological record where some known layers are conspicuously missing.
It is another 1/10 mile to the next layer—the Gardison Limestone—as well as an abrupt left-hand bend, a bench, and the final “fitness checkpoint.” Hikers are over halfway to the cave entrance by this point.
Thereafter, the Timpanogos Cave Trail ascends five sunny switchbacks and passes the one-mile mark. After a partly exposed section with hand railings (not necessary but available), the trail passes another bench and two additional waysides, including one on local tree varieties. It is a short walk from here to the trail junction at 1.3 miles, where the route from the cave exit comes in from the left. Bear right, continuing up toward the cavern entrance.
Rising ever higher, the onward path rounds two more switchbacks and passes a pit toilet on the left. At some point the trail passes into the Deseret Limestone layer (where the cave is located) and edges upward to a tunnel and finally the covered waiting platform for cave tours. Just beyond is the cave entrance—with a locked door opened only by the rangers—and an area called “The Grotto,” a partly covered area where there is bench seating and a detailed map of the cave system.
Cave Tour (0.3 miles)
Here one waits for the start of the Cave Tour: early arrivers may be able to jump on an earlier tour if available, but the ranger-guided walks are limited to 16 people each. The modern cave entrance is a modest passage, with two steel doors, situated just under the oblong-shaped natural entrance above. The first small room, where attendees are given a short security briefing again (the upshot: don’t touch anything in the caves!), is the most likely spot to view Townsend’s Big Eared Bats, the local variety of Chiroptera (but don’t count it – sightings are relatively rare).
After shutting a second door behind you, the tour makes a brief foray through Hansen Cave, which was the first of the three caves discovered. Mormon pioneer and local logger Martin Hansen discovered the cave while following mountain lions tracks in October 1887; he went on to explore the length of the cave and offered tours of the site for a handful of years before they were no longer profitable.
The cave runs west from here for about a football field’s length, but the standard tour covers only a portion of it. The entry chamber, known as the Organ Pipe Room, features a relatively high ceiling and nice examples of flowstone—a calcite-studded terrace formed from water running through the cavern’s mineral deposits.
Time in Hansen Cave is very brief, with visitors quickly ushered through a set of doors marking the transition into the next cave. Given the close proximity of Hansen, Middle, and Timpanogos Caves (and awkward natural entrances of the three caverns), the National Park Service found it easier to connect them via man-made tunnels.
The tunnel eventually gives way to a long but narrow passage that is entirely natural, the result of a fault line running through Middle Cave, the second cavern on the hike. Duck your head as the protruding cave walls ebb and flow, and then pass over a shallow pool known as Middle Cave Lake.
Several smaller examples of stalactites, stalagmites, and columns can be found in Middle Cave, but the headliner is the aptly-named Big Room, where the tour stops for a decent while. Here the calcite walls erupt in an elaborate display of flowstone.
Adjacent to the Big Room is another area called Coral Gardens, which features impressive stalactites and extensive cave popcorn. The smooth surface of the floor is evidence of a recently-dried pool.
After Coral Gardens, the tour proceeds downhill through two doors and the Timpanogos Tunnel, another man-made passage connecting Middle Cave with the largest and most impressive Timpanogos Cave. This final cave was first discovered in 1913—but quickly lost again, only to be “rediscovered” again in 1921. The discovery helped advance efforts at preservation, leading to the designation of Timpanogos Cave National Monument in 1922.
After exiting the tunnel and entering Timpanogos Cave, hikers are greeted by many stalactites, including one likened to a chipped tooth, where the base has clearly broken off. After traversing another pool (called Hidden Lake), the route climbs an initial set of stairs and passes perhaps the most famous attraction in the caves: a multi-ton stalactite—largest in the monument—known as the Great Heart of Timpanogos.
Just beyond, the trail splits, with tours taking a brief detour left before returning to the junction and proceeding up the staircase ahead. The diversion culminates at the Chimes Chamber, a diverse room featuring many different cave formations, including draperies (a.k.a. “cave bacon,” stalactites, stalagmites, cave popcorn, and wily, delicate features known as helictites.
From Chimes Chamber, tour participants will retrace their steps and return to the junction, then bear left and climb a staircase until reaching the Camel Room, named for an outcrop that looks a bit like the animal. There are also some nice stalactites and columns in the chamber.
From here the route rises again and then drops down a staircase with tight passages, skirting two flowstone features known as the Cascade of Energy and Caramel Falls, the latter appearing to ooze with a brownish sludge.
Thereafter the remaining portions of the cave are relatively narrow tunnels (with several limestone protrusions seemingly perfectly placed to bang you in the head). Just before exiting the cave, hikers can look right to see the natural entrance to Timpanogos Cave. Upon exiting a final door, visitors are greeted again by the warm sun, although tempered slightly by a shaded pavilion.
Timpanogos Cave Trail (1.5 mi. to Visitor Center)
Now back out in the light, hikers pick up the paved Timpanogos Cave Trail again, this time snaking along ledges and below rock faces until an open area with a few switchbacks and fine views down American Fork Canyon. Enjoy the various overlooks, then proceed back down to the one and only trail junction; here the path merges with the trail up to the cave entrance, and the rest of the hike involves retracing steps from the ascent. This time, however, the going is much easier, with much of the time spent cheering on the much slower uphill hikers.
All told, the stem-and-loop—including the full Timpanogos Cave Trail and the cave tour—clocks in at around 3.2 miles total. The park suggests budgeting at least 3-3.5 hours for the round-trip, although speedy hikers are likely able to complete the entire journey in less time.
Even as the northern half of the 53-mile Lost Coast Trail has become one of the hottest destinations for Californiabackpacking, the stunning southern half—in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park—is much less visited. This is in part due to the difficulty of access and rough condition of the trail through the state park. But hearty visitors are rewarded with stunning beaches, ample wildlife viewing, and terrific redwood groves.
In a previous post, I covered some logistics of covering this section and described the 7.6-mile section connecting Needle Rock Visitor Center with Wheeler Camp. In this post, I cover the next 3.6-mile stretch between the black sand beach at Wheeler and the next camp at Little Jackass Creek, another challenging section that can be covered as an out-and-back day hike from Wheeler or part of a broader through-hike from Needle Rock (or farther north at Mattole or Shelter Cove) to Usal Beach. Little Jackass boasts a beach that is arguably even more spectacular than Wheeler—and is a frequent landing pad for a variety of seabirds, sea lions, and harbor seals.
Sinkyone Wilderness State Park’s Wheeler Camp—a 7.6-mile hike in itself from the Needle Rock Visitor Center—boasts access to a serene and lonely blank sand beach set in a scenic gulch below Jackass Ridge. Campsites are spread out over a 2/3-mile stretch, from the beach to the edge of the School Marm Grove of giant redwoods, with few bad sites in the bunch. The most popular option—if one can brave the frequent wind—is to camp just off the beach itself, where Jackass Creek slithers around the sand and empties into the ocean.
This description of Wheeler to Little Jackass thus starts from the beach, where hikers should look for a thin trail heading south along a berm perched several feet above the tidal flat. The path quickly gains height, coming precariously close to a 15-foot drop on the right, before rising to an open gulch with a few stone and concrete remnants of the logging community that once dominated this drainage until its closure in the mid-20th century. Views from here to the beach and mouth of Jackass Creek are terrific and get even better as the Lost Coast Trail winds southward.
The onward route passes through dense thicket, some of the worst on this heavily overgrown trail, starting in thistle and other coastal scrub before rising to a layer of ferns and Douglas firs. After skirting an initial ravine, the steep trail switchbacks up a verdant hillside, with another terrific view back to Wheeler at around 0.45 miles. The subsequent climb feels like something straight out of Jurassic Park: a thick jungle of head-high undergrowth, with lush fern-studded slopes beyond.
The relentless climb, one of several on the route, eases a around the one-mile mark, where hikers can take a spur trail heading right, out to a ridgetop above Anderson Cliff, an imposing, near-vertical bluff that drops nearly 700 feet to the Pacific Ocean. The northward vistas to Wheeler Beach—with the Bear Harbor, Shelter Cove, and King Range in the distance—are simply jaw-dropping, some of the best along the entire Lost Coast. Be extremely careful though—as there is no barrier between you and a death-inducing drop to the rocks and coast below.
After returning to the main trail, bear right and drop down through a Douglas fir forest, followed around 1.4 miles by the first of a couple meadows of coastal scrub with some limited views of the ocean. All throughout, the thicket is dense—although the treefall obstacles are not nearly as frequent as the Needle Rock to Wheeler section. After rising to a low notch, the trail drops again through another meadow—follow the trail hugging the edge of the woods.
From here the Lost Coast Trail begins a sharp and brutal ascent, skirting around a woody drainage and switchbacking up to a point more than 1,000 feet above sea level. The summit crest, at about 2.5 miles, leads into an equally steep descent, dropping out to a woody finger of Jackass Ridge, then sharply cutting left and resuming the downhill into the deep-cut Little Jackass Creek drainage.
Once out of fir layer and down into the coastal scrub, the thistle returns, but hikers are rewarded with their first unobstructed view down to the beach at Jackass Creek. Thinner than Wheeler, the beach here is nonetheless similar, with a stream feeding into the ocean cove with high waves.
Finally, the trail descends away from the ocean and passes an outhouse on the right. Take a hard right here, passing the pit toilet, to continue toward the beach, about 2/10 mile from the Lost Coast Trail. Like at Wheeler, there are multiple campsites here, with the best situated just off the tidal flat. The beach at Little Jackass is notable for being a sanctuary for sea lions and harbor seals, as well as a multitude of seabirds, such as pelicans, ospreys, and sandpipers. Lucky visitors may spot migrating whales out to sea.
Even though the distance is relatively short (3.6 miles), many hikers may seek to camp at Little Jackass because the onward route is even more challenging. Others may push to the next camp at Anderson Gulch and Usal Beach. Day hikers must return the way they came, back up 1,000 feet and down again to Wheeler, finishing a challenging 7.2-mile out-and-back.