Forget almost everything you learned from ’90s girl group TLC. While warning us of the perils of busta’s and low self-esteem, they implored fans not to chase waterfalls. We beg to differ. Please DO go chasing waterfalls. Specifically ten of Utah’s beautiful falls from the mountains to the desert. We know it’s gonna be your way or nothing at all, so enjoy the refreshing spritz of water droplets and please: stay away from scrubs. Scrubs are never a good idea.
PLEASANT GROVE // 1.2 miles // EASY
The water streams down in two ribbons like a giant Fu Manchu. Most walk to the mouth and some even rappel down the chin. It’s an easy 1.2-mile out-and-back in Utah County, with the option to stretch out the hike by continuing up the canyon.
SANDY// 4 miles // EASY
East of Sandy, a 4-mile hike up Bell Canyon runs to a series of waterfalls. The first is the most impressive with the water tumbling, rather than falling, down the mountain. Lots of great views of the Salt Lake Valley along the way and this one will give you a good workout with lots of elevation gain.
ESCALANTE // 6 miles // MODERATE
Bill Clinton made Calf Creek Falls popular when he designated Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument. Walk between mineral-streaked cliffs of Navajo sandstone, passing beaver ponds and Indian rock art sites en route to the 126-ft high Lower Falls. The 6-mile round trip is an easy/moderate sandy path. The Upper Falls is at the end of a shorter, more difficult hike and it’s less crowded. Cold swimming at both.
ZION NATIONAL PARK // 3 miles to upper pools // MODERATE
Purt’near anyone can get to the lower Emerald Pools but hiking to the middle and upper pools gets increasingly difficult. Lots of shade, red rock and changing scenery; good hiking year-round but spring runoff makes for a bigger river and more dramatic falls.
ALPINE LOOP // 3.5 miles // EASY
Stewart Falls is an incredible 200-ft. tiered waterfall caressing the backside of Mt. Timpanogos. The hike, which borders Sundance Resort, is easy and kid-friendly. Fall is especially stunning and winter is a great time to pad around in snowshoes.
LAYTON // 3.8 miles // MODERATE
A very popular destination with humans as well as sasquatches, Adams Canyon Waterfall drops into a shallow pool perfect for wading into Bigfoot debates. The trail starts in the foothills of Layton and winds though pines and scrub oak, over bridges and across slippery rocks. Sturdy water-compatible hiking shoes are recommended.
MILE 23.9 ON MIRROR LAKE HIGHWAY// EASY
The Provo River originates in the high Uintas and meanders through valleys and precambrian quartzite because it’s old as dirt and does what it wants. Clear water cascades down a series of steps among Douglas Fir and Blue Spruce. The waterfalls are near the roadside and are cold as freshly melted glacier, but fun to dip a toe in.
KANARRAVILLE // 3.5 miles roundtrip // MODERATE
Water in the desert is precious and pretty, and Kanarraville Falls is no exception. Other people think so too, and they will be there with all their spawn. Be prepared for a redrock scramble up a ladder and rope to the third falls. Water compatible hiking shoes are strongly recommended. Permits are required: purchase one online or at the trailhead kiosk.
DIAMOND FORK CANYON // 4.5 miles // EASY
Double the freshness and the fun at Fifth Water Hot Springs. It really has it all: a waterfall, hot spring, naked people, fresh air and baby rattlesnakes. Aquamarine pools have been built by ancestral hippies for year-round soaking. The parking lot is quite small and the springs are very popular, so carpooling and arriving early is your best bet.
BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON // 3.5 miles // EASY
The Pillsbury Doughboy made Donut Falls popular when he designated Wasatch National Forest a national donut sanctuary. So named because water flows through a hole into a vaulted cavern and sprinkles the rocks below. The walls are glazed by a fine mist. Fritter away your time looking for bear-claw footprints along the trail.
Oh wait! We misheard the lyrics. We just realized the song says “Don’t go, Jason Waterfalls.” Don’t know who he is or why TLC was so obsessed with him, but whatever! Wow, we feel dumb. He must be a very special guy. Anyway, enjoy the hikes!
Uncle Trav’s Safety Tip: Waterfalls are beautiful, but can be dangerous
The same things that make waterfalls so beautiful make them dangerous if hikers are careless (or just caught up in the moment). Ledges plus slippery rocks can equal twisted ankles or worse. Remember, the waterfall doesn’t care what happens to you. Here are a few quick reminders:
- Stay away from the edge, dummy!
- Don’t climb on wet rocks any higher than you’re willing to fall on your head
- Stay out of swift currents
- Beware of slippery surfaces
- Let your kids do 30% of the things they want to (this is probably sound advice for more than just waterfalls…)