Episode 5: Provo

Well, it took us a little longer to complete this time (yes, your donations would help Spencer devote more time to production), but we are excited to release our latest episode, in which we hiked through Provo from Slate Canyon to Provo Canyon. Highlights include

  • A great conversation with Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and Councilman George Handley about how and why cities support trails like the BST, and their plans for future development of the trail and associated trailheads.
  • A great drone shot of the Y trail.
  • A few more signs provided by our donors (including a dud).
  • Some of my favorite hidden gems in Provo Canyon.


North Provo Canyon

June 12, 6 miles, 3.2 miles official BST, 2.3 miles unofficial route

It looks like I neglected to post this report when we did this hike, but better late than never. Episode 6 started with our exit from the north side of Provo Canyon. In many places, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail has to turn into a canyon to cross it without having to climb down to its mouth and back up the other side, but this is by far the largest detour, adding about 10 miles to a direct route across the canyon route. I’m not complaining though, because this is one of the prettiest sections of the BST where it gets away from the city a bit.

One of the reasons for this is that the only easy crossing of Highway 189 is near Bridal Veil Falls. Furthermore, to avoid private property and cliffs at the mouth of the canyon, the trail is upwards of 300-400 feet above the shoreline of Lake Bonneville. So our first task was to climb from Nunn’s Park (named after Lucien Nunn, who built one of the first hydroelectric power plants in the world here in the 1890s–the largest in the United States for many years) up 400ft to the Alta Ditch, a pipeline that provides culinary water to Orem from springs at the base of Mt. Timpanogos. There are three alternative routes that could become the BST:

  1. The eastern end of the Alta Ditch Road. We hiked this route today; it was a very steep doubletrack climb, not a great trail. It’s advantage is that it is there and public. It also has a nice historic site halfway up, a stone redoubt built in 1857 during the “Utah War,” for the pioneer militia to watch in case the U.S. Army came down Provo Canyon.
  2. The Dragon’s Back, a rocky ridge line. For the past 20+ years, this has been designated as the official route of both the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and the Great Western Trail (GWT). However, we recently found out that it was done without the permission of one of the land owners, who is asking that it not be officially promoted for the time being. That said, access is not actively restricted, and it is still heavily used.
  3. Johnson’s Hole. This is my personal favorite. It goes through a hidden valley, first through a meadow, then climbs in a shady grove of oaks. Well, it did before the 2020 Range Fire destroyed most (but not all) of the oak. Unfortunately, it has the same private property issues as Dragon’s Back.

West of the junction where these three routes come together, the trail is official through the Timpanogos State Wildlife Management Area. This was a great place to find out more about this type of land, through which we have passed a few times already on this journey. So, we met with Mark Farmer of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who is responsible for managing the WMAs in this region. We had a great chat, discussing the wildlife conservation mandate set forth for this land, and the opportunities and challenges of trying to balance this with the many recreation trails here, including the BST and GWT. Other than the BST, almost 50 miles of illegal “social” trails have been created over the past decades. In 2019, after 3 years of working with the community through the Utah Valley Trails Alliance, a trails master plan was released for the Timpanogos WMA that designated half of the trails as official, while eliminating others that were deemed to be redundant or detrimental to the wildlife. The 2020 Range Fire stalled the implementation, but thanks to the very hard work by a team of enthusiastic volunteers, progress is made towards reopening the trails, with signage and other improvements. Thanks Mark, for helping us understand this area!

South Provo Canyon

May 29: 10 miles, 5.2 miles official BST, 0.7 miles unofficial route

We finished episode 5 with a rather long hike into Provo Canyon. Typically, I can do 25 minute miles hiking in most terrain, but things really slow down when we’re filming. We’ve learned to plan on about 1 mile per hour, and about 15-20% more distance with retakes and work projects. So 6 miles of trail is an all-day ordeal. That said, this is a beautiful stretch, possibly the most remote section of the BST in terms of being out of view of the city (which we rarely saw). Almost all of this section is within Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, except for short stretches at the two ends and in the middle. Almost all of it was built (or at least designated) in 2001, and was an early success story of working with various land owners. Currently, the Forest Service, Provo City, the Utah Valley Trails Alliance, and local citizens are working on a trails master plan in this area, which will result in several trails branching off of the BST for all types of users, as well as connecting the gap to Rock Canyon.

Due to the significant gap in North Provo, we started at East Lawn Memorial Hills cemetery, who has not only allowed for the trail to cross an undeveloped part of the property, but has built a small trailhead area. Thank you! The first part is a significant climb to get above other private property; at the high point of this trail, we were at about 5,700 feet, one of the highest current points on the BST, about 600 feet above the actual shoreline (which isn’t really visible here anyway due to the subsequent channeling of the Provo River).

After this climb, there is a confusing junction where there are several old ATV and mountain biking trails (which are not officially designated–yet). Signs have been put up here before, but were broken or faded or incorrectly placed, so we added new stickers to a couple and put in a couple more new signs. Thanks donors! We tried a new idea for filming it, you’ll have to wait to see…

From this junction, we explored a social trail someone has to the south that could become part of the connecting trail to fill the gap between here and Rock Canyon. Much of it was a very nice trail, through a nice shady woodland, but like a lot of social trails, it was not well designed with many unsustainably steep sections, and it climbs about 100-200ft higher than it really needs to. It fades out at the end where it hits a very steep hill (still in forest service property), where we are planning to build the connecting trail, but it will be a construction challenge. If you try it out, watch for the giant treehouse!

Back on the main trail, we crossed over a ridge into Provo Canyon, where the trail follows the Smith Ditch for several miles, an irrigation ditch (now piped) first built in the late 1800s. This means it is generally well-maintained and very level. Where the ditch/trail crosses Squaw Peak Road (we just crossed into land owned by Provo City), there is a very rough trailhead that usually has more cars than it can safely hold. Our master plan includes building a good trailhead here, which the City supports, but it will be expensive, like anything else.

From the road, the ditch-trail passes through a pretty woodland, about as far from civilization as you can get on the BST. One confusing turn meant one more sign; I am really sick of carrying my post driver around! After a few miles, the trail drops off the Smith Ditch to reach the Provo River Parkway. Even though we were tired, we took a short (but very steep!) detour up to a beautiful 50ft waterfall, which is the source of the water in the ditch we were following. Remarkably it does not have an official name: I have heard it called Smith Falls, Springdell Falls, and Lollipop Falls. A couple years ago, I started calling it the Bridesmaids (because it is one of a three waterfalls to the side of Bridal Veil, although the others are well hidden), and since I created the pages in Alltrails and Trailforks, it seems to be catching on.

Bridal Veil Falls, Utah’s most famous waterfall, was an apt place to finish Episode 4, even though it is not actually on the BST. Many of us remember the “world’s steepest tram” that used to be here, with the clifftop lodge, until it was destroyed by an avalanche in the 1990s. After the owner couldn’t sell it for many years, it was acquired by Utah County, who has subsequently done a great job improving the area as a public park. Recently, a developer wanted to purchase it and rebuild the tram and lodge, but citizens led by Conserve Utah Valley motivated the county to say no. In fact, the 2021 state legislature approved designating the falls as one of Utah’s first “State Monuments,” although they are still trying to figure out what this new kind of designation means for practical management.