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How I ended up on the Stewart Falls Trail in Utah Valley
“How is this even possible?” It’s a question I seem to ask myself more and more as I travel. That’s the thing about going places. You cross one destination off of your bucket list and, in the process, reveal a newer, longer list. It’s how we ended up staying in Bruges, Belgium last year during a trip to Amsterdam to see the tulips. I hadn’t given much thought to traveling Belgium prior to that trip, yet Bruges remains one of my most memorable travel experiences. Anyway, long story short, my interest in Utah is not exactly how I ended up on a breathtaking hike along the Stewart Falls Trail leading to one of the many stunning waterfalls in Utah Valley. It was an email that I nearly deleted while cleaning out my inbox.
Utah has been on my bucket list for a LONG time. My facebook feed is bombarded on the daily with captivating images from the Mighty 5 that make me want to pack my bags immediately. Earlier this year, I intended on planning a road trip with my two girls to explore the Southwest. That is until I realized we would need to travel in August.
I can’t say for sure because I haven’t done it, but southern Utah in August just seems like a bad plan. That got nixed in lieu of a trip this winter to the German Christmas markets. However, after replying to an email that I figured was spam, I found myself flying solo to northern Utah mid-July. I joined 4 other writers in the travel industry and spent the next four days in the Utah Valley. A corner of the world that, frankly, I had previously not given a thought.
Thank you to Explore Utah Valley for making this article possible by planning and hosting an epic introduction to Northern Utah. All thoughts and opinions expressed are 100% my own.
Beginning the day at Sundance Mountain Resort
On this particular day, we made our way from the hotel in Lehi to Sundance Mountain Resort. Before heading up the mountain for our hike, we began with breakfast at The Foundry Grill. Matching its woodsy outdoor setting, the dining room is rustic and charming with a soothing ambiance. Honestly, the peacefulness of the resort as a whole kind of stole my heart that weekend. Gentle streams that cool the air in the day and the intimate firepits providing warmth after sunset are true luxuries. At Sundance, these luxuries are prominent and provide the setting for The Foundry Grill. In a way, even the dining experience begins outdoors.
On a typical day, The Foundry Grill offers a relatively small yet broadly appealing morning menu. With options like Chilaquiles, Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict and perhaps the most beautiful Avocado Toast I’ve ever seen, I almost felt guilty for selecting the seemingly basic Foundry House Breakfast – a plate consisting of the usual eggs and bacon with pancakes. Maybe it’s my Oklahoma country roots and fond memories of Mamaw (my grandmother) on Saturday mornings, but it’s a morning meal from which I rarely deviate. Unless, of course, you offer me French Toast instead of pancakes! That’s my favorite. I was overly excited to find it there the next day at their famous Sunday Brunch, a meal I 100% underestimated.
Waterfalls of Nostalgia. In Utah?
Yesterday’s hike to Timpanogos Cave was, well, we’ll say it was underestimated. Paved or not, an elevated vertical hike in the afternoon summer sun in Utah when you’re accustomed to the sweeping plains of Oklahoma is not super easy. It is especially not easy when you have been slacking on your evening runs. I was a little unsure what to expect for the day as far as hiking difficulty, but the scenery in the Utah Valley is breathtaking and I was looking forward to more views from the mountainside. The anticipation of hiking to a waterfall filled me with a bit of nostalgia from my first international trip. It’s hard to believe that more than two decades have passed since I boarded a plane for the first time. It was with my church youth group and we traveled to help locals through volunteer work in Costa Rica.
During that trip, we had the opportunity to do a few exciting things. Of those things, one was hiking through the rainforest to a tall waterfall. It was an impressive experience even for a difficult to impress 14 year old. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name of the park or the waterfall. Looking back, I wish I had kept a journal of my travel experiences – an activity I now try to be better about. Something about the day felt a bit like coming full circle. Traveling to Costa Rica sparked my passion for travel, travel created a passion to pursue this blog, and this blog is what brought me here to hike one of the many beautiful waterfalls in Utah. Difficult or not, the day would be memorable. It’s always interesting to me how experiences connect themselves throughout life.
How to Reach the Stewart Falls Trail
The Stewart Falls Trail traverses the eastern side of Mt. Timpanogos. The most popular route to Stewart Falls or, Cascades, begins at the Aspen Grove trailhead located off of Alpine Loop. Alternatively, guests of Sundance Resort have the option to take the lift up to Rays Summit. From there, the trail begins just to the right, adjacent from the lift exit. Since our group was staying at Sundance, we began our hike with a chair lift ascent.
The lift provides an opportunity to soak in a bird’s-eye view of the expansive scenery before hopping onto the trail for a more up close and personal experience of a beautifully preserved wild. My new friends and I share a similar adoration for the American Rockies; we all either live or travel among these peaks as often as possible. It’s no surprise that our conversation throughout our brief 10 to 15 minute ride revolved mostly around how the mountains never ever disappoint.
Tip: If you hike from Aspen Grove, parking will cost $6. From Sundance, you will need a lift ticket which will cost $11. Take advantage of trailhead facilities located at both Aspen Grove and Ray’s Summit. There are no other restrooms throughout the (approx.) 3.5 mile round trip hike to Stewart Falls.
How Difficult is Hiking to Stewart Falls
Stewart Falls is tucked into the ridges of Mount Timpanogos and, unlike yesterday’s paved hike to the cave, the path is forest terrain. There is some debate on whether the trail is rated at an easy or moderate difficulty. In my own humble opinion, I think the difficulty of a trail can vary greatly from one person to the next depending on a number of factors.
For example, a reasonably fit person with acclimation to a mountainous region or somewhat experienced in hiking may consider a trail easy. On the other hand, even a reasonably fit person unaccustomed to elevation may have a more moderate experience. Likewise, an unfit person unaccustomed to elevation and possessing novice hiking skills may find themselves in a pickle by launching off on a hike they are not actually physically prepared to handle. Always do your research.
I fall into the reasonably fit, but unaccustomed to elevation hiker category. From that viewpoint and due to the length (3.5 – 4 miles depending on your start point), I would tell others to expect a moderate hiking experience. In other words, it’s an excellent hike for all skills levels but will present small challenges. That being said, hiking is always more enjoyable when your body is prepared for the trail. Even low impact activities can help with getting in shape for hiking.
While the trail can be a bit challenging, especially as you begin approaching the waterfall, I also think it’s a great hike for families. Again, the difficulty is something individual families will need to consider. Older children should do just fine. Younger children may need assistance depending on their endurance and the types of activity they are used to doing. I hiked alongside a family of four and, for both safety reasons and tired legs, the youngest child needed to be carried through many parts of the hike. Needless to say, mom and dad were exhausted.
What to Expect Along the Trail
From Ray’s Summit, the path to the falls is not too steep and mostly covered with shade. Since the trail to the waterfall runs along the ridge line, you’ll have the mountainside to your left and a steep drop to your right throughout most of the journey. The path is narrow, rugged and uneven in many areas both to the falls and back.
As you begin your way to the base of the waterfall, you will pass over flowing water. Be sure to wear waterproof boots! I’m told that the water levels are not normally that high, but this year it is because of the heavy snowfall during the previous winter season. Yes, even in hot July, snow is still melting. Regardless, I found myself crossing the largest stream barefoot to avoid soggy shoes for the next 2 miles. The water is ICE cold! Once you arrive at the waterfall, you will need to cross there as well. Here, I managed to cross by balancing on a log that stretched most of the way across.
Once across the waterfall, the trail continues and you will make your way back to Sundance. As you hike, there will be a sign to guide you the correct way down the path. Again, you will be accompanied by canyons and streams to your right for a majority of the way.
A Little Work and A Lot of Reward
Hiking the Stewart Falls Trail definitely burns a few calories but reaching one of the most stunning waterfalls in Utah makes it totally worth the effort. To feel the cool mist on your face after hiking the mountain in the July sun is truly gratifying. When you are feeling a little hot or tired, stopping for views along the ridge is a great way to take a break and savor the experience. I did not take my DSLR on this hike but, thankfully my iPhone X does a pretty job taking photos.
Preparing for Your Hike to Stewart Falls in Utah
- Take Plenty of Water – In and back out of Stewart Falls is a moderate 3.5 to 4 mile hike. I recommend taking at least 2 bottles of water. Collapsible water bottles are excellent for traveling and a great way to reduce single use plastic. You can pack an extra water bottle and throw it in your backpack or fill it back up with spring water near the waterfall. If you are concerned about contamination, you can use a LifeStraw water bottle.
- Dress Appropriately – If you are hiking in the summer, Utah is hot and you will definitely want to wear lightweight clothing. I chose to wear my favorite Eddie Bauer leggings. I love these because they are super comfy and have zip pockets providing easy access to items like my phone. You can definitely wear shorts, but your legs might get a little beat up from passing through the heavy vegetation over very narrow paths.
- Wear Proper Hiking Boots – The Stewart Falls trail may not be too steep but it is very rugged with lots of root and rocks. It’s a good idea, as always when hiking, to support your ankles. Because there are areas where you will need to cross over flowing water, I would recommend waterproof boots and moisture wicking socks. If you struggle with weak knees, you may want to consider adding knee support to your packing list.
- Apply Sunscreen – Many areas of the trail are shaded but there are plenty of areas that are in direct sunlight. The hike may take you up to 3 hours to complete depending on your pace and fitness level and sunshine in the mountains can be brutal. It is always wise to apply sunscreen.