As spring approaches, I begin to look to the high peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, making my plans for summer hiking, specifically, which peaks, canyons, rivers and lakes I will hike to that season.
The Wasatch is a young, high and abrupt mountain range that is covered with deep snow above 8,000 feet until late April most years. Higher up, the snow can linger well into the hottest months of summer, or even year-round in some places, feeding ice cold mountain streams that tumble over granite and down through the pines.
The first significant peak that can be climbed without technical gear each year is 8,299 foot-high Grandeur Peak, which rises like a great pyramid above the community of East Millcreek and towers over the mouth of Parley’s Canyon.
There is an excellent trail to the summit of this peak, which is three miles long and gains roughly 3,000 feet in elevation over that distance. The trail begins a few miles up Millcreek Canyon at the “Church Fork” Picnic Area. This is a beautiful place located in shady, dense Douglas fir and white fir forest.
When the temperatures are broiling in the valley, it is always nice and cool under the evergreens along the creek at Church Fork. There are picnic tables, a perennial stream with small waterfalls, a good trailhead, BBQ grills and vault toilets. Parking is limited so if you hike this popular trail, you will need to get an early start by 9 a.m. to find decent parking.
To get to the trailhead, follow Interstate 80 through Salt Lake City and at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon take the “Belt Route” I-215 south to the 3300 south exit. Take the 3300 south exit, turn left across the overpass and then turn right at the first light which is Wasatch Boulevard. Head south on Wasatch and then turn left and east onto 3800 south, which is Millcreek Canyon Road. After a mile or so you will pass a fee station that requires $3 on the way out of the canyon — but don’t be alarmed because the money is well spent.
A few miles beyond the fee station you will see a sign on your right pointing to Church Fork Picnic area across the road to the north. Park along the road somewhere in this area and then follow the paved road up through the picnic area on foot.
After about one-eighth of a mile, you will come to the trailhead where your hike begins. Along this paved stretch you will pass a curious 10-foot waterfall along the side of the road that flows over a strange yellowish colored rock formation that is picturesque due to bright green moss. One of the great things about this trail, depending on how you look at it, is your four legged friend – a dog – can accompany you on this hike, which is a rare thing in the Wasatch, especially along a fine creek.
At the trailhead you have a few options.
If you want a mellow hike through the birch, fir and aspen, you can head left or right along what is known as the “Pipeline Trail.” This is a popular trail for runners and bikers as it follows a mellow old road grade through some pretty terrain. For Grandeur Peak, keep straight at the trail junction and you will arrive at a large signboard with a great area map on it. Take a moment here and orient yourself to the terrain and area.
Just beyond the signboard a primitive foot bridge crosses the creek above another small waterfall, and then the trail begins to climb up Church Fork Drainage in a long, steep pitch through dense fir forest along the stream.
You will hike past several small streams and seeps in the shady forest and then the trail will make an abrupt turn left and will begin a series of long switchbacks up the mountain bowl. As you gain elevation, your views south into the Mount Olympus Wilderness Area are stunning with their jagged peaks rising out of a thick blanket of evergreen forest.
At about the 2.75 mile mark, you will arrive at the crest of the ridge and have a fine view of the Salt Lake City downtown area in the distance, and the shining Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island beyond that.
Take a moment to catch your breath and enjoy the view, but don’t stop here, because you are almost at the summit. The trail heads up west from the overlook, around the arm of a sub peak and then climbs the last several hundred feet to the summit. Once on top, you have incredible views of Salt Lake Valley, which is filled rim to rim with civilization. To the south are the high peaks of Mount Olympus, Broads Fork Twin Peaks and Lone Peak Wilderness Areas.
I climbed this peak with my wife on March 14 of this year and it had just snowed a few inches. Even though it was a bright sunny day, down in the forest near the trail head, it was a winter wonderland with fresh snow on every blade of grass, log, branch and rock along the creek. It was cold down there too, but we kept to our plan and soon we were high up in the Church Fork bowl in the bright sunshine with views of snow pines to the south below the peaks. It is just something you have to see for yourself to truly appreciate.
Once we reached the Salt Lake Overlook there was deep old consolidated snow the rest of the way to the summit. At this point during early season hikes, you will need crampons or snow shoes that have some good teeth and possibly an ice ax to safely reach the summit. Keep it simple and wait a few weeks and the snow will be gone and you can easilya and safely follow the trail to the summit. Best times to hike Grandeur most years are mid-April/early May through November, depending on snow levels. This is a beautiful hike with a good, easy to follow trail. It is long and steep enough to provide a good workout, but still easy enough for children to accomplish. It is a great, easy-to-access day hike from Salt Lake City and not too far from Tooele.
For more information, contact the public lands information center at 801-466-6411.