There is a way to legally get high in Utah. Yes, we’re serious. Just hike to the top of one of its highest peaks. The oxygen deprivation might even make you feel funny. With 80 mountain ranges across the state, Utah has high points from the deserts of Moab to the alpine mountains of the Wasatch Front. We chose some of the highest peaks in Utah that also happen to be great hikes.
A quick note: There is a difference between elevation height and prominence. Elevation is measured starting at sea level, and prominence is how tall a peak is when compared with its surroundings. We have a few from each category in our list.
Safety first: When ascending peaks it’s important to prepare for the altitude, especially if you are coming from a low elevation place like Florida. Altitude sickness occurs when your body has trouble adjusting to lower oxygen pressure. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and shortness of breath. You can avoid getting sick by taking it nice and easy. Plan a few days of altitude acclimation into your trip to let your body adjust before heading to the trailhead.
If this all sounds intimidating, a guide service can help you navigate not only the trail, but the altitude as well. Stay safe you responsible recreators!
If you want to get high and stay high, the High Uinta Wilderness is the place for you. Every peak in Utah over 13,000 feet is in the Central Uinta Range with Kings Peak wearing the crown. Most people do this 25-mile hike over a few days, camping at one of the lakes in Henry’s Fork basin along the way. And of course you can earn another crown and hike 13,512-foot South Kings Peak nearby, or any of the other thirteeners in the area, although trail quality varies considerably.
Ever wonder about that peak in the distance behind Delicate Arch? It’s Mount Peale. Often snow-covered even in summer, Mount Peale is the highest peak in Utah outside of the Uinta Mountains. It has the honor of being the second most prominent peak in Utah, meaning it sticks out like a Winnebago on a salt flat. It rises 8,721 feet above nearby Moab. A cool getaway from the desert heat, hike the challenging 4.8-mile trail or go onto summit 12,482 Mount Tukuhnikivatz as well.
You might be thinking that the third highest mountain range in Utah has got to be the famous Wasatch Mountains, right? Nope! Head further south to Beaver, Utah, to the Tushar Range. Situated in between the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau, the Tushars are geologically unique with geothermal activity and a volcanic history. You’re going to have to hike Delano Peak to really understand what's going on down there. The trail is a moderate 3-mile trek to the top, although it is not well marked so you may want your GPS.
Now for something completely different. Ibapah Peak is what you might call “in the middle of nowhere.” In the west desert near the Utah-Nevada border, Ibapah is isolated and unvisited. But don’t let that deter you. The Deep Creek Range is an oasis of aspen and pine trees with views at the top of the stark beauty of the Great Basin. Some people complete the challenging 14.4 mile hike in a day, but with the drive out there, it’s wise to make it an overnight trip. Highly recommended for experienced adventurers who can use GPS.
Here’s a peak in the Uintas that you can hike in a day. The good news is that Hayden Peak trail is only 3.6 miles, but the bad news (for non-trail runners) is that it’s steep, with 2,103 feet of elevation gain. If you get winded, just ask the resident mountain goats for advice. Hayden Peak is recommended if you don't have time for a multiday backpacking trip deeper into the Uintas, but you really need a hit of wildflowers and low oxygen. The trailhead is easily accessed from the Highline Trail parking area along Mirror Lake Highway.
If you are a beginner peak-bagger, look no further than Bald Mountain. This hike is short, sweet and fun for the whole fam damily. It’s quite popular so don't expect solitude, but do expect excellent views of Mirror Lake and the western Uinta Range, plus possible sightings of mountain goats, pika and wildflowers. The trail is well maintained and well marked, with some rocky sections that look like a wonky set of stairs. Just down the road from Hayden Peak, Bald Mountain is also accessed from Mirror Lake Highway.
Just to be clear: We’re talking about Mount Nebo in Utah on the southern end of the Wasatch Front, not Mount Nebo where Moses died. Anyway, Mount Nebo is the highest peak in the Wasatch Mountains. The trail is noted for being easy in the beginning, then ending with a brutal trudge along a rocky ridge to the summit. But it’s all worth it. Lush aspen and pine forest eventually gives way to rock scree above the tree line so you can see Utah Lake and the Wasatch back for miles and miles.
Beloved by locals, hiking ‘Timp' is an annual tradition for many Utahns. It’s pretty hard to miss, as the prominent peak juts 7,000 feet above the city of Provo. It’s one of Utah’s most popular hikes for a good reason. It has waterfalls, wildflowers, mountain goats (you can never have enough of those) and a feeling of being in Switzerland. The Timpooneke Trail winds 14.3 miles around the back of Timp. The trail is very popular so don't expect peace and quiet, but do expect spectacular views and maybe a touch of wind at the top, wink wink.
Another prominent beauty in southern Utah, Mount Ellen rises from the red rock canyons of Capitol Reef National Park to the east and Canyonlands to the west. On a clear day, you can actually see our other prominent peak, Mount Peale, from the top. Instead of mountain goats, a herd of American bison roam the hills. The moderate 5.6-mile trail starts at Bull Creek pass and winds over the ridge. And the views? It's like a Maynard Dixon painting in every direction, with the clouds and the redrock and views of Boulder Mountain. Stunning.