Category: Trip Reports

Timpanogos Foothills

July 3: 7.5 miles total, 4.4 miles official trail, 1.1 miles unofficial route

The second half of Episode 6 gave us great views of Orem, Lindon, and Pleasant Grove at the base of Mt. Timpanogos. Most of this route is officially designated BST through land owned by Orem City, the Timpanogos State Wildlife Management Area, and Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest. Much of it was quite busy for the July 4th weekend, especially around Dry Canyon in Lindon.

The first section, from the Orem Firing Range trailhead to Dry Canyon, is a significant climb from the actual Bonneville shoreline (5100ft) up to almost 5700ft. Fortunately, we started early, so we had lots of shade. Much of this stretch was built by volunteers around 2000, a good example of the great work that regular people can do with enough motivation.

Many old-timers will remember when the Dry Canyon area (above Lindon) was popular for dirt bikes and ATVs, until the Forest Service banned motor vehicles around 2005 and worked to revegetate a lot of the old tracks. Since then, it has become popular with mountain bikers, who cut many new “social” (i.e., illegal) trails, often over the old ATV tracks. In 2019-2020, the Utah Valley Trails Alliance worked with the Forest Service to legalize and officially designate the best and most popular of these. Currently, we are in the finishing stages of recruiting volunteer trail adopters, such as local trail clubs and high school mountain biking teams, to help care for them long term. Thanks volunteers!

Amazingly, we were actually ahead of schedule when we got to Battle Creek, so we took a short detour up to the Battle Creek Falls. Dozens of families were joining us to cool off on this hot summer day. Stick your head in there, Spencer!

The last mile, at the base of the Pleasant Grove “G,” is typically a rather boring stretch along old roads through private property. Fortunately, we had a friend to keep us company. Todd Neumarker, a Pleasant Grove resident, avid mountain biker, and systems engineer (and one of the founders) of Trailforks, joined us to talk about how this very popular trails app got started, and how technology has impacted the outdoors for the worse (crowds) and the better (crowdfunding and volunteer organizations). We also got to geek out quite a bit about trails GIS data, which probably won’t get into the final cut of Episode 6.

Next up, in Episode 7, we are hoping to finish Utah County!

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.

Provo: Rock Canyon

May 22: 3.4 miles, 2.6 miles official BST, 0.6 miles unofficial route

Much of episode 5 is crossing very familiar territory to me. I have traversed these Provo segments of the BST many times, and on a map the segments south of the Y Trail and north of it look the same, but they couldn’t be more different. The stretch we hiked with the mayor is mostly level, with one gradual climb out of Slate Canyon. Today’s segment, on the other hand, is more of what we would expect with converted utility/firebreak roads. A straight line on the map means continually going up and down steep hills. Perhaps it’s time to think about Version 2 of this trail.

The Y Trail was just as crowded as you’d expect on a Spring Saturday. This short but steep climb is one of those dozen or so iconic Utah trails, and any self-respecting BYU fan has to climb it at least once; some people hike it every week. In 2014, BYU was able to acquire the property from the US Forest Service (yes, that did take an act of Congress). The University has put in a huge amount of effort since then to improve the area, including parking and trail improvements, permanent LED lighting of the Y for special events, erosion control, fire remediation, and even building a short new section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to bypass the busy parking lot.

To the north, the lecture of the day was on landslides. Some of the hills we went over were active landslides, evidenced by the numerous large boulders composed of the same limestone as the cliffs 2,000 feet above us. These are still technically active, and a subdivision platted here has never been built (perhaps a good cause for preserving open space?). During the very wet year of 1983, part of this rubble slid further (called the Oak Hills Slide), permanently engulfing a street and nearly destroying a home. In 2005, a 7-foot diameter rock fell 2,600ft from the high cliffs here and barely missed a nearby house, although it destroyed their guest house, and still sits in their front yard. Throughout this neighborhood, similar boulders have been incorporated into landscapes. Despite the hazards, the alternative trail route we took through this landslide and boulder field area is very pretty and much more interesting than the main trail up over the hill; if only it could be rerouted to go around the hill completely with minimal climbing, and designated as official.

There is a short section of National Forest property here, so we planned to put in a couple new signs. The first went in fine, but the second proved impossible, as the whole area was solid gravel and my 10 attempts to drive it in different locations basically destroyed the post.

Around a bend we entered the magnificent Rock Canyon, another very popular trailhead, overflowing with cars on a sunny Saturday. Besides the BST, this canyon is popular with rock climbers, and people climbing 2,000 vertical feet to the top of Squaw Peak. In case you are wondering, negotiations have been ongoing for years to rename this mountain to something less offensive to the native Ute nation, and apparently an agreement is coming soon. Provo City and the Forest Service have recently worked out a plan to greatly improve this trailhead park, with expanded parking, nature trails, and a project to use excess creek runoff to recharge the aquifer under Provo.

North of Rock Canyon, the official trail ends at the edge of Provo City property, but the mile of utility road beyond, through private property is still very heavily used by a variety of trail users. It is likely eligible to be dedicated by force under Utah state law (§72-5-104), because it has been open for more than 10 years, although it is unincorporated, so the city does not have the jurisdiction to make any demands. Personally, I would rather designate it in cooperation with the land owners, which would hopefully enable building and or designating a better route. Beyond that, there is still a mile gap through property that is clearly fenced and posted. Provo City has made closing the overall 3.5 mile gap in official BST here a top priority, but there are a number of obstacles in the way, so it may be a while.

Provo: Thanks Mayor!

May 5, 1.6 miles official trail

We may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit; yesterday evening we hiked and filmed the first part of Episode 5, even though we barely finished filming Episode 4, which won’t be done for at least a week. However, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to walk with Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, and Councilman George Handley, who have both been champions of outdoor recreation and open space conservation in the city. We all had a great talk about how trails and open space are economic assets for our communities, about Provo’s track record in preserving these resources (such as the mouth of Rock Canyon and Slate Canyon), about the challenges that cities have to balance the community good with private property rights, and about their future plans to improve the city’s foothills for a variety of users.

Our hike, between Slate Canyon and the Y Trailhead, is one of the oldest segments of the BST, having been designated about 2000, and is still in very good shape. It is a testament to how this process should work, since the trail passes through city, state, federal, and private property, but is working well. There are a couple spots that could use a sign, I suppose…

Springville in the Spring

May 3, 8.5 miles (6 miles official BST, 1 mile unofficial BST route)*

At long last, we finally reached our first stretch of official, maintained, signed Bonneville Shoreline Trail! We traveled from Spring Canyon in eastern Springville, past the length of that city, to Slate Canyon in southern Provo.

The trail itself is a mix of singletrack and the firebreak/utility access road that is common for the BST. Since this slope at the base of Mt. Buckley is more southern-facing, there was almost no shade for most of the trail. Most of the trail is well-maintained and a sustainable design, except for one very steep hill just west of Spring Canyon where it climbs around some houses perched on the rather narrow Bonneville-level bench.

Here, and at other places along this stretch, the trail officially passes through private property. To talk about how this worked, we visited with Laurie Weisler, one of the landowners who have given up most rights to part of their backyard for the public good. The community is grateful for their sacrifice.

Because this segment is officially designated, we were finally able to start using our generous donations to improve the trail. Provo City have put up several trail markers through here, but there are a couple of confusing turns that were unsigned, so this was a good place to test our new sign design, with permission from Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. These all steel signs aren’t as pretty as wood posts, but I think they are nicer than the fiberglass markers, easier to install, more durable, and significantly cheaper (about $12-15 each). We’ll be putting up a few more in National Forest lands. We were also going to put new stickers on some of the older markers, but it appears that some kind soul has already done that recently.

Putting in these new signs was fun, except for having to carry the 20 pound post driver and the steel plates for 9 miles. At least we were smart and cached the posts at trailheads along the way. Speaking of which, I sure hope Springville is able to finish their trailheads at some point; the road going up to the one north of town is in very bad shape.

Another highlight of this segment was a view of Provo’s industrial history, including the site of the Columbia Steel mill (now home to a brand new car factory), ruins and tailings from limekilns, and an old gravel pit where we hope an official section of BST will be designated soon.

All in all, a great hike on a beautiful day!

*Note: if you’re wondering why the total length of our hikes always seems to be a lot longer than the amount of trail we cover, it’s because we do a fair number of short detours and a lot of back and forth on the trail as part of the filming process.

Hobble Creek: our first rainy day

April 26, 3.5 miles (0 miles official, 2.5 miles unofficial route)

We started Episode 4 on a misty morning at the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon. We had originally planned to do the entire 8+ miles of this episode in one shot, but we had to cut it short, and I’m glad we did because it would have been miserable in this weather.

The segment we did travel today, east of Spring Canyon, is heavily used, and I’ll bet 90% of the users you ask think it’s official, but it’s not. The first segment is part of the state-owned Hobble Creek Wildlife Management Area, and local residents are working to get the BST completed here. We explored it today with Chris Morrill, a Springville resident who is the driving force behind this effort. He is working with the Division of Wildlife Resources, Hobble Creek Bicycle Association, and Springville City on a grand vision of trails in and around the canyon. Part of the plan is to reroute this trail to a higher route that avoids the houses in the area, although it still has to cross private property. We climbed up to the bench where Chris wants to put the trail, which looked very promising, but it will be a lot of work. I have no doubt he will get it done.

We resumed the traditional route along a double track road, then subdivision streets, then another dirt road. This last stretch is on private property, with locked gates, but they have built “pass-through” gaps next to them that are just wide enough to walk through (sorry bikers), so I’m wondering if the land owners are officially allowing public non-motorized access.

Next up: our first steps on officially designated Bonneville Shoreline Trail!

Mapleton North: An Unfortunate Mess

April 17, 3 mile hike: 0 miles official trail, 1.5 miles unofficial BST route

Today we were fortunate to come to Maple Canyon on the first day the canyon (along with the trailhead at its mouth) was open for the season. It saved us some road walking. First was a short exploration of the old (and future) trail west of the trailhead that will eventually connect to the trail to the south where we were the other day, through the Clegg Canyon Subdivision that is just beginning construction below us. Then we headed east long the existing Maple Canyon Trail to where a trail heads onto the bench to the north.

This trail, known as the “Broken BST” in Trailforks, this stretch of unofficial trail on Forest Service property has always been a bit rough, especially a steep initial climb onto the bench, and a couple steep ravine crossings. Then in September 2020, the Ether Fire (one of several Utah County fires that were started last year by shooting), burned Ether Peak above us. The trail corridor was apparently the most convenient location for the firebreak, so the entire length of it was cleared. Then after the fire, to discourage motorized travel, the Forest Service plowed up the path into hummocks. Unfortunately, nothing was left of the trail. Since then, hikers, bikers, and horses have somewhat reestablished a path, but today, a few days after a major rainstorm, the whole thing was a muddy mess, especially in the north-facing slopes of the ravine crossings.

The trail ends at a fence, where the landowner does not intend to allow public trail access any time soon. Circumventing this ranch would require a climb of several hundred feet over a ridge, so the current BST plan of Mapleton City is to not use this segment at all, but rather to descend from the Maple Canyon trailhead down to follow paved paths along current and future city streets, connecting to the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon in Springville. I suppose that is the most practical solution for the near future, but it would be nice to use the bench some time in the future.

Mapleton: Perfect, but…

APRIL 12: 6 MILES (0 miles official BST, 4.2 miles unofficial open route)

Today’s trek was across the face of Spanish Fork Peak above Mapleton. This is an unbroken stretch of over 4 miles, most of which could be made official tomorrow, but for one minor problem: access.

We started at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. The Mapleton trail master plan has the BST climbing from a highway underpass 250 feet up a reasonable slope. Unfortunately, this hill is behind a 10ft fence until this property is developed; a huge planned development here called Harmony Ridge has been on the table for 15 years, but has changed owners a couple times since the recession. In the meantime, we had to find an alternative route, which climbed very steep power line access tracks up to the shoreline level. This route could be made reasonable with a lot of work, but there is no highway crossing here, so it is probably just better to wait.

Once at the shoreline, almost the entire route is a relatively level doubletrack or road, much of which serves multiple roles as firebreak, power line access, and the Mapleton water mains coming down from their main tank buried just above the trail. Other than the initial climb, and one other hill, this was definitely the easiest walk we’ve had yet.

The southern portion follows a large area of Bonneville-level (5,100ft) bench almost as large as the one across the canyon in Spanish Fork. To understand these benches better, we had our first virtual guest, Dr. Charles “Jack” Oviatt, a retired geologist from Kansas State University who knows more about Lake Bonneville than anyone else (like any good 21st century expert, he wrote the Wikipedia page on it). Jack now lives in New Mexico, and while we hope that at some point along our journey he can join us to do some “field research,” today it had to be over the Internet.

We had a great conversation about the Lake, how it formed and how it rose to its highest level about 18,000 years ago during the height of the last ice age before catastrophically flooding into the Snake River in Idaho. We also discussed how the rivers that flow out of these canyons into the lake, such as the Spanish Fork, formed these massive shoreline deltas as the lake rose or stood still, then eroded into them as the lake fell, producing the multiple benches and valleys on which so many of us live along the Wasatch Front.

Mapleton is in a unique circumstance with regards to the BST. Almost the entire trail on which we hiked today is public land, mostly owned by the city, thanks to their Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, one of the first such programs in Utah when enacted in 1998, and almost certainly the most successful at acquiring large areas of critical environmental land in public hands. A TDR works by allowing private land owners to trade away development rights in designated preservation areas in exchange for higher allowed densities in developable areas. Mapleton has had almost 400 of these transactions.

The primary challenge with this program of working with developers is that the city has to wait for them to develop close enough to the Bonneville bench to build access trails to its BST. Currently, this is a 4 mile official city trail with no official access. According to the city and our exploration, one or two routes in the middle of the trail appear likely to be usable in the near future.

The most obvious access, from the Forest Service trailhead at the mouth of Maple Canyon which is already at the shoreline level, was used for decades but has been closed for 20 years during the heated (bordering on legendary) dispute between the city, landowner Wendell Gibby (who wants to build a subdivision on the wide segment of bench that he owns), and several local citizens who want to prevent it. After multiple offers and counteroffers, court cases, referenda, compromises that have fallen through, and even a 2008 state law that has tied the hands of cities all along the BST (by eliminating the ability to use eminent domain for trails), it appears an agreement is finally in place for Maple Bench Estates [sorry, the linked plat is not the most recent version]. If this compromise holds, the BST will descend off the Bonneville Bench, partially along neighborhood streets, but at least it will be connected. It will have to wait until a couple phases are built, so we had to find another way down, where a narrow corridor of city property connects to 1600 South.

Spanish Fork: Coming Home

April 10: 6 miles total hike, 2 miles unofficial BST route

I’m sure many of you have your own “personal trail,” a path close to home that is your go-to when you only have a free hour or two, and which you spend time here and there to help maintain it just because you want it to be nice. This section is mine. In fact, we are building a house next door to one of the trailheads. It’s another section of unofficial trail, but generally open to the public.

We started atop Red Knoll, which is a hundred feet or so above the actual shoreline, because the Spanish Fork Gun Club occupies the entire bench. Maybe the trail could go along the back of the parking lot, but it isn’t likely. West of here, the trail could be extended a couple miles. There is a half-mile gap that would require construction through dense oak brush along a sometimes steep slope, but at least it is on public (city & state) property. Beyond that is a mile or more of good-quality trail on mostly public property that has been built by adjacent property owners, but is inaccessible to the public. Maybe my personal cause in 2022?

Spanish Fork has a significant block of property in these wooded foothills, which they have turned into a massive outdoor recreation area. In addition to the gun club, there is the Spanish Oaks Reservoir where we get our pressurized irrigation water, with its sandy beach and good fishing; a popular campground; a network of hiking/biking trails, and two brand new downhill mountain biking luge runs that had a lot of riders this Spring Saturday. These were built using funds from the Utah Recreation, Arts, and Parks (RAP) sales tax surcharge, which other cities have used to improve the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. We weaved our way through the maze of nice trails, which are all official, but not yet designated as BST; no reason to do that just yet until a longer stretch can be established.

Crossing Snell Canyon, we entered an oddly isolated parcel owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation (BLM). Here an old 4WD road follows a wide bench, which is one of the largest Bonneville-level benches that has not yet been developed. It very well could be, mostly being private property (Strawberry Canal Company), but it is basically impossible to get utilities and roads up here; maybe we can convince them to set it aside as public open space. It has a rather unique geologic feature, a large (10 acres?) 30-foot deep depression at the base of the mountains, which appears to have been a lagoon in the corner of the Spanish Fork River delta at the highest level of Lake Bonneville, 18,000 years ago.

This bench has unique close-up views of the massive wind turbines below, and looks up at the 1981 cross that commemorates the 1776 Dominguez & Escalante expedition searching for a route between New Mexico and California. How did they get clear up here; were they lost? Well, mainly it was because they were avoiding the legendary cliffs and canyons of the Colorado Plateau, and because one of their guides was originally from here and said they had to see the lake and valley, which the fathers called Our Lady of Mercy of the Timpanogotzis. The river they called the Aguas Calientes (due to the several hot springs in the canyon) was eventually renamed the Spanish Fork in their honor.

The trail currently ends where the bench disappears at the mouth of the canyon, with a great view of this “working-class” canyon. I think it is beautiful, but not as spectacular as some of the alpine canyons we’ll see further north. It sure gets a workout though: the Strawberry irrigation pipeline, a busy railroad, the main highway to Moab and Denver, and several powerlines. Crossing this busy corridor with BST is going to be a real nightmare. At some point, probably at least 10 years from now, the Utah Department of Transportation plans to widen the highway to 4 lanes, which will probably be as expensive as the similar project in Provo Canyon was, but will be a good opportunity to build in a trail crossing, likely connecting to a paved trail extending Spanish Fork’s river trail up the canyon.

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