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10 Best Day Hikes in Utah: The Wasatch Range

Utah is truly a hiker’s paradise. This post lists my 10 best day hikes in Utah, specifically, the best hikes in the Wasatch mountains. I have hiked in countries all over the world, yet this incredible range is still one of my favorites.  And it’s so accessible.  These northern Utah canyons are famous for their winter ski slopes, but many people don’t appreciate the beauty of these trails in the summer.

This is a list compiled from years of living near and hiking in these mountains.  I hope you are able to use this as a starting point to get to know these amazing trails.  This list is truly just the tip of the iceberg. 

The Best Time of Year to Hike in the Wasatch Mountains

That entirely depends on how high up the canyons you will be hiking and what you want to experience.  Many of the lower-down trails, such as Grandeur Peak, Hughes Canyon, and Donut Falls, are at their wildflower prime in late May and early June.  These trails are gorgeous earlier in the year while the upper Cottonwood routes are still covered in snow. 

July is my favorite month for doing trails like Lake Mary up near the ski resorts at the top of the canyon.  And then of course early to mid-October is a great time if you want to catch the fall colors.

And finally, winter is stunning with the snow against the trees, if you don’t mind the cold. Apart from the incredible snow-covered pine trees on my favorite hikes near Spokane, Washington, Utah is my favorite winter-hiking destination.

Lake Mary: The Best Day Hike in Utah for Wildflowers

  • Distance: 2.4mi
  • Elevation gain: 807ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate

This is a very popular trail, so be prepared to encounter other hikers, especially on the weekends.  Located up at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, the wildflowers are best a little later in the year (mid-July). 

Lake Mary is located 2.3 miles in, but you can continue on to see two other smaller lakes, Lake Martha and Lake Catherine if you have the time and energy.  The stillness of the lake against the backdrop of pines and wildflowers makes this one of my favorites.

wildflowers on a hill along the Lake Mary trail, one of the best day hikes in Utah

Mount Olympus Trail

  • Length: 6.85 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4,095 ft
  • My completion time: 4hr 11min
  • Difficulty: Hard

Mount Olympus is located near Holladay, Utah, just a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City.  This steep trail offers a stunning overlook of the Salt Lake Valley below and is one of my absolute favorites.  

city view as seen from the summit of Mount Olympus

Desolation Lake (via Mill D North Fork)

  • Length: 7.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,980 ft
  • My completion time: 4hr 23min
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Mill D North Fork Trailhead is located up Big Cottonwood Canyon, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City.  I absolutely love the solitude of this beautiful lake.  This trail overlaps with parts of the Wasatch Crest mountain biking trail, so you may encounter bikers if hiking during the later summer months.  

Desolation Lake
This photo was taken on June first

Lake Blanche: One of The Best Early-Summer Day Hikes in Utah

  • Length: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,815 ft
  • My completion time: 4hr 45 min
  • Difficulty: Hard

This is another Wasatch Classic, and for good reason!  Also located up Big Cottonwood Canyon, but not quite as far up as the Mill D North Fork trailhead, the trail to this beautiful lake is snow-free much earlier than some of the higher-up hikes.  The route itself offers great views of Cottonwood Canyon almost the entire way up, and when I went in May everything was green and blooming.  

Lake Blanche, with snow-covered mountain in the background
Completion Date: May 31

Grandeur Peak Trail (West Face)

  • Length: 4.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,240 ft
  • My completion time: 3hr 10min
  • Difficulty: Hard

This is another trail that offers incredible views of the valley below and is a great one to do earlier in the year when there is still snow higher up in the canyon.  There are two route options to Grandeur Peak.  The West Face Trail is shorter (4.4 miles) but much steeper, and the East Trail is slightly longer (5.6 miles) but much less steep (only 2,352 ft).  I have done both trails and I generally prefer the East route unless completing the trail in mid-May when the west side is full of blooming yellow flowers.

yellow wildflowers, city in the background, on Grandeur Peak Trail West Face
Completion Date: May 22

Mount Aire Trail

  • Length: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1963 ft
  • My completion time: 2hr 35 min
  • Difficulty: Hard

The Mount Aire Trailhead is up Millcreek Canyon, one of my all-time favorite places to hike in the Wasatch range.  This area is less popular as it doesn’t contain the big ski resorts of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, but it has some of the best summer hiking. 

This canyon charges a $5/day entrance fee during the summer months, or they offer a $50 annual pass.  The Mount Aire Trailhead is located about ¾ up Millcreek Canyon Road. 

mountain range as seen from Mount Aire trail
Completion Date: May 15

Heughs Canyon Trail

  • Length: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1238 ft
  • My completion time: 4hr 11min (I did some extra exploring)
  • Difficulty: Hard

This is a lovely trail that winds past a stream, involves a little rock scrambling at the top, and also offers great views of the valley below.  Make sure you have a good downloaded map for this one, as up near the end the trail is not as well marked and can be difficult to follow.

bridge over a small stream on the Heugh's Canyon Trail
Completion Date: May 14

Snowshoe Donut Falls

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 291 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy

This is a great, easy hike for families during the summer or a fantastic place to explore with snowshoes during the winter. Snowshoeing is one of my favorite ways to get outdoors during the colder months of the year and one of the best things to do in our current city of Spokane Washington.

Because the route is fairly flat, there really is no avalanche danger.  The falls themselves are small but beautiful, and when we went during the winter we got to climb through an opening in the ice that had formed around the rock entrance to the falls.  

Kessler Peak: My Favorite Hard Day Hike

  • Distance: 4.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2895 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard

This hike is my favorite, and also the hardest of this list.  The trailhead begins up near Jordan Pines campground near the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, so this hike is best in late June or July after the snowpack has completely melted. 

This is a lesser-known route, and parts of the trail are less well-groomed with some loose dirt.  I was very glad to have my trekking poles, especially for the descent.  But the mountain views at the top are unbeatable. 

tree-covered trail up to Kessler peak

Great Western and Old Red Pine Loop Trail: Best for Fall Colors

  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,079 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The fall colors up Millcreek, Big Cottonwood, and Little Cottonwood are stunning in early to mid-October.  This route, located at the very top of Millcreek Canyon, was the final fall hike I did for the year and was an incredible way to end the summer hiking season.  This loop is long but with much elevation change than some of the other routes.

four siblings standing at a trailhead, fall leaves in the background
Completion Date: October 12

What to Wear for Day Hikes in Utah

This, of course, will depend on the season. For spring, summer, and fall hiking, I always wear the following:

  • Lightweight T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt
  • Quick-drying hiking shorts, leggings, or convertible hiking pants. You can get away with hiking in jeans on some of the easier hikes, but it’s better to use something moisture-wicking.
  • Hiking socks
  • Sunglasses with UV protection
  • Hiking boots or trail shoes
  • Lightweight jacket

For winter hiking, I wear the following in addition to the previous list:

  • Long leggings underneath lightweight waterproof pants
  • Fleece jacket underneath a waterproof coat
  • Gaiters
  • Snow spikes or Snowshoes
  • Gloves

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