One day while using Google Maps for something else, I happened to spot a marking for “Spanish Fork Peak.” It caught my attention, I looked into it, and Dan and I decided to hike it this last week. Coming across it on the map turned out to be sweet serendipity, as the summit trail has definitely risen on my list of favorites. The hike is rather difficult, and isn’t terribly popular, but the trailhead is easy to access, the views are fantastic, and it’s overall a very rewarding hike. The information about the trail is fairly limited on the net, so hopefully I can fill in gaps for those interested.
The trailhead is just a couple miles up the canyon from Mapleton, UT. Head east on 400 N, into the canyon, until you reach Whitings Campground. The trailhead is at the end of the campground, with free parking and a bathroom for hikers. We started the trail at 7:30AM to some great weather.
The trail starts very wide and gravelly, possibly a service road, and only about 1/3 of a mile in you need to turn right off this road to continue towards the summit(I don’t know where the service road continues to). This isn’t obvious, to the point where I considered us somewhat lucky that we didn’t miss it. As long as you keep an eye out, you should spot it: there’s a log bridge over a stream and a sign indicating the trail is 5 miles from that point.
From here you might just start to get discouraged. After a fairly flat beginning, the trail starts to go up, in a big way. Dan and I are both very active hikers, and this first uphill left us pretty strained. Don’t give up, though; this is probably the most challenging part. There are other plenty steep stretches, but none as long.
As you make it past the first struggle, you’ll end up in some fairly thick vegetation. Online sources had me convinced the entire trail was about the same steepness(which made that first bit even harder to get through), but you’ll see that isn’t entirely true. The middle section actually has some up and down, though mostly up. You’ll see a poor campsite or two, some places where animals have clearly been resting, some heavily wooded areas.
On that note, you would not be amiss bringing a machete on this hike…we wish we had. There are a few portions where the branches or weeds surrounding the trail were very thick and obtrusive. The trail doesn’t ever really disappear, but there are a couple times where you’ll start to question it with how thick the vegetation is. This is not a popular hike. We saw more signs of wildlife than human life, which, unless you count a couple fire pits, included an older woman and her dog near the trailhead(who I highly doubt summited) and a couple tents a bit off the trail.
Eventually you’ll come to a valley with a small pond. I suppose this could disappear at some points in the season, depending on how dry the year is, but you’ll likely still see some signs of a small body of water as you come downhill for a short portion. Then you’ll head back up into a massive field of yellow flowers(assuming you go around this time of year), then into a huge canyon bowl. We started to wonder where the heck the trail went off to at this point…it looked like there was nowhere to go but up! But sure enough, the trail sneaks onto a gravelly set of steep switchbacks, which is probably the second most difficult portion of the hike.
As you finish off the switchbacks you’ll be greeted with a great view of Utah Valley from the saddle. At this point you can go right(north) on a trail, but it only leads to a lower peak. We choose try it out anyway for some reason, deciding we were “hipster hikers.” It was a short trail and we got a small taste of the glory to come. However, you’ll probably just want to start left(south) right away to achieve the summit. Word of caution at this point!!
Choose the right! We continued our hipster trend and decided to try out both paths here…I drew the short stick. I think the trail on the left that I took is used by mountain goats more often than people, based on how stupidly steep it is. It was a bit faster than the trail that Dan took(it travels directly over a smaller hill between you and the summit, rather than around it, like the trail on the right), but I’d submit overall not worth it.
Once you get to where the two trails meet up at a trail marker, you’ve got a short steep run to the top, where a huge cairn and A-frame type structure await you. For the record, there is a register, but there weren’t any pens/pencils in it…make due preparations! Otherwise enjoy the summit. You can see Timp to the north, Nebo to the south, much of Utah Valley to the west, and loads of mountains to the east.
We decided to trail run our way down. Both Dan and I are also regular runners, and it was a lot of fun. If you choose the same method, just make sure to pay lots of attention to your footwork. Lots of side-steps during steeper portions, and careful steps with rocks around. Your knees will likely start to feel some wear and tear, and your ankles are at risk of some serious injury. Taking the right precautions, you can enjoy some sweet parkour-like action and some good cardio.
Spanish Fork Peak trail is, we decided, definitely “not yo mamma’s hike.” Ascending about 4,600ft over 5.5 miles gives an average 16% grade, making this a fairly tough combination of length and steepness. We were at the trailhead by 7:30AM and were driving away by 1:45PM, for a total of 6 hours. Now, this is sort of a skewed time…we took the trail very quickly, and ran the entire way down(3 hours up, 1.5 down). However, we also decided to hit the side peak, and may or may not have taken a 1.5 hour siesta at the summit. So, balancing things out, I’d guess 6-7 hours is about how long you should expect this fantastic summit hike to take you.