Beaver, Utah. Home of herds of beaves and curds of cheese. Land of fresh dairy air and cheap jokes from cheap travelers passing cheaply through. A town with institutions like the Delano Motel, with original ’60s furniture so well taken care of that it looks freshly curated by some expensive interior designer going for a quirky retro feel.
Inter/nationals visiting Utah tend to stay toward the edges of the state, but the heart of Utah, for locals at least, is in the heart of Utah. The Tushar Mountains east of Beaver are the third-highest range in Utah after the Uintas and the La Sals — taller than anything in the Wasatch — but there’s a decent chance you’ve never even heard of them. Which is great, because now that you have, you only have to share them with the handful of people smart enough to spend time in Fishlake National Forest.
People like Jesse and Tracy McMullin, who moved to Beaver from SLC in 2010 after a transcendent trip to the Tushars. Jesse’s a trail crew leader for the Forest Service now, hiking and fishing professionally 10 months a year. He showed me around his adopted home and he’s responsible for a lot of what follows. (The helpful parts, anyway.) If you’re not lucky enough to have Jesse be your personal guide, make sure you have and can read a topo map. This isn’t boardwalk hiking and there’s a good chance there won’t be anyone else on the trail to help you. But that’s kinda the point.
To summit Mount Baldy, the first thing you’re going to want to do is show up at Jesse’s house in the foothills northeast of Beaver around 7:00 a.m. He’ll be up and he’s usually pretty easy to talk into a little walk in the woods. You don’t really need to bring anything because he’ll lend you his spare gaiters, poles, boots and whatever else you need. Hop on his four-wheeler and head up Cork Ridge on Forest Road 991 a few miles until it ends. (Or maybe you know what you’re doing and take care of all this on your own.)
Pack your layers, your three quarts of water and your calories of choice into a backpack and then take a few deep breaths of that 8,600-foot air. It’s the thickest you’re going to get over the next 10 hours. Follow Bosman Trail (058) for about two miles before Jesse decides it’s time to leave the trail and head straight up the moun-tain. When you get to the ridge you’ll see Mount Baldy a couple of hours in the distance. Scramble over logs, up rock scree, past coy-ote-chewed elk heads and along the icy spine of the mountain. Just go east-northeast until everything is downhill. The pitch and the altitude will make the last half-mile feel like three, but the frequent stops you’ll need to catch your breath will let you enjoy the view.
From the summit you can see all the way to Nevada, Bryce Canyon and your new future as a mountaineer.
Skyline National Recreation Trail is like a Mormon wedding line: It ’s 12 miles long and you’re probably going to want a backpack and some granola bars, but if you have the stamina to make the whole trek you’ll get introduced to all the important members of the Tushar Mountain family. Going south to north (most people’s preferred direction), you’ll start at Big Flat, pass between City Creek Peak and Puffer Lake on the backside of Eagle Point Resort, split Lake Peak and Mt. Holly, ending in Big Johns Flat surrounded by Delano Peak, Shelly Baldy Peak and Mt. Baldy.
Being a big long trail in the middle of everything, Skyline intersects a number of other trails and can be cut up into smaller pieces for reasonable day hikes. The Lake Stream trailhead is halfway between Big Flat and Big Johns Flat trailheads and all three are pretty easy to access via UT-153 and Forest Road 123. The hike is pretty flat in general but there are a few tough ups and downs throughout. The whole affair takes place between 10,000 feet and 11,000 feet so the climbs will feel steeper than they are if you’re not used to the altitude. Keep your head on a swivel and you might spot deer, elk, marmots, eagles, wildflowers, mushrooms or wild raspberries in August.
If you’re reading this, it means you both know how to work a magazine and have made it 700 words into a single article, which means you’re probably kind of old. Being old is both a plus and a minus when you’re hiking to the Pocket. Old people have to work harder to stay fit, and the easiest route to the Pocket is six miles with lots of climbs and descents, all above 10,000 feet. But old people are also less dumb than young people. Old people can navigate without a cell signal. They understand that life is supposed to be difficult sometimes, and that there is no greater privilege than seeing a mountain goat in the wild. And old people usually have more money, so there’s a better chance they can buy an OHV you need to access the Bullion Pasture trailhead.
The Pocket is a U-shaped valley a mile north of Delano Peak with a crystal clear stream flowing from underneath the glacial moraine (old people love glacial moraines …). You can go in and out in a full day — from Beaver to the Pocket is about two hours of driving and two hours of hiking each way — or you can bring a pack and spend some time exploring the connecting trails. You’re not going to see anyone else out there, so it’s probably best to go with a buddy. Someone strong enough to drag you out if you turn an ankle or just love it so much you want to stay. Decide ahead of time that you’ll definitely go home. Your grandkids would miss you.
The snowmelt from the north face of Mount Delano runs into Pine Creek, which falls 60 graceful feet over a quartzite cliff at Bullion Falls. You get the sense it knows exactly what it’s doing, like the semi-pro figure skater quietly nailing double axels in the corner of the public skating rink. (We see you, Bullion Falls. We see you.)
This one’s on the east side of the Tushars, accessed from Marysvale. Just follow Bullion Ave. west through town, turn left on Bullion Canyon Road and drive another 5.6 miles until you smell mist.
The hike is a steady uphill but it’s fairly short so most people without major mobility issues can make it. It’s only half a mile to the falls from the trailhead but you can start hoofing it from back where you first turn off Bullion Canyon Rd to burn a few extra calories. The trail (#074) keeps going past the falls all the way to Big Johns Flat Rd (Forest Road 123). Then, if you’re like Jesse, you may choose to carry on, summit Mt. Belknap and ultimately relocate to Beaver.
After the hike, stop for a picnic at Miners Park just across Pine Creek from the trailhead. Spend a few minutes wandering the impressively preserved cabin and mining equipment from a time when hiking was just called walking.