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SALT LAKE CITY — With school back in session and the temperatures (possibly) cooling down, many might think hiking season is over.
In Utah, however, fall is one of the best times to hit the mountain trails in pursuit of fitness, flora and fauna. Sadly, some would-be hikers avoid the sport, as many local trails are less than kid-friendly.
If you have a family with youngsters but still want to take in the mountain air, here are a few great hikes that are both aesthetic and accessible for young and old alike.
Mueller Park Trail (Bountiful)
This hike is a must for anyone wanting to experience classic Utah mountainous beauty. The first half mile or so is a little steep but the trail levels out and continues for over seven miles with gradual inclines and amazing views (the hike eventually wanders out in North Canyon).
Many hikers set off on the trail to reach "Big Rock" (aka "Elephant Rock"), a destination about 3.5 miles up from the trailhead in Mueller Park Canyon. While the rock is worth a visit, be warned; it is a little difficult to access and may be dangerous for younger hikers.
How to get there: Take 1800 South in Bountiful to the end of the road. Park before the toll booth in Mueller Park Canyon. Trailhead is to the south.
Stroller friendly: Maybe, with a rugged, well equipped set of wheels.
Age level (on foot): Three and up.
Silver Lake Trail (Brighton)
Big Cottonwood Canyon gets two nods on our list. The Silver Lake trail is an easy .75 miles round trip and the perfect trek for small kids. A boardwalk makes up half the trail, making stroller pushing a breeze.
- A light snack
- A camera
- Bright clothing for the kids (makes it easier to keep track of small wanderers)
If you're heading up in the evening, consider packing a tackle box and throwing a fishing pole in the back of your station wagon. Silver Lake is one of the top fishing spots in Utah and is served by a few docks for easy accessibility to the water. Remember to keep a watch out for wildlife. Moose and deer frequent the area and are common points of interest along the trail.
A word of warning; the Silver Lake area can be quite buggy in the evening. Consider packing a can of bug spray or citronella for your hike. If not, be prepared to serve as the main course for the local airborne residents.
How to get there: Silver Lake is at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon on the south side. Take Big Cottonwood Canyon Road (SR 190) all the way up to Brighton. Signs for the trailhead are posted near the turn off.
Stroller friendly: Yes.
Ages (on foot): Any walking child should be able to hoof it on the trail, but watch out for open water off the boardwalk.
Donut Falls (Big Cottonwood Canyon)
Donut Falls, another spectacular Big Cottonwood Canyon hike, will take you and your family to a unique point of interest. Donut Falls sit about .5 miles off the trail head and is a moderately difficult climb. Kids will love checking out the falls, which shoot out of the side of the mountain and into a hole in a rock, hence the name.
The Donut Falls hike is incredible in the late summer and early fall as the leaves start to change. Be warned that the trail is a popular one and finding parking at the base of the trail can be difficult.
How to get there: The trailhead is about nine miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon near the Mill D trailhead.
Stroller friendly: No
Ages (on foot): Four and up.
Big Springs Trail (South Fork Canyon)
The Big Springs trail is on the southwest end of the Big Springs Park parking lot in South Fork Canyon off the Provo Canyon Corridor. This hike is a must-do in the fall. The gradually inclined trail winds through trees and across alpine meadows. For the more ambitious hiking family, make Big Springs your destination (about a 1.5 miles walk up the trail).
Camping is permitted along the trail and campfire sites dot the route. Make an evening out of it, bring some wood and marshmallows, and have a family bonfire. The area is very popular and can get busy on weekends and holidays, but the trail itself can accommodate plenty of foot traffic without feeling packed or noisy.
How to get there: From Provo Canyon turn south into the Vivian Park area. The Big Springs Park is at just about the top of the canyon, a right turn off the main road about five miles up from the turn off.
Stroller friendly: With a heavy duty stroller it might work. The trail is flatter in parts but a little rocky. In the interest of full disclosure this author should mention that she tried, unsuccessfully, to push a double jogging stroller containing two very hefty children up the trail. This is not an advisable approach.
Ages: Any walking child could make it at least a half a mile or so up the trail, but there is a stream that runs alongside some of the walk, so keen eyes need to be kept on toddlers.
The Riverside Walk (Zion National Park)
The only paved trail on the list, this one is great for hikers of all ages. The trail will get you to the mouth of the world famous Zion Narrows and is mostly shaded. A slow moving, shallow river runs along one side and brilliant rock cliffs head off the other. To the top and back the trail measures two miles and is the perfect way to introduce young adventurers to the floral and fauna of one of the state most beautiful areas.
Older children will enjoy wading in the river, but be warned; the water can be quite cold. As with any popular trail in larger national parks, this walk can fill up fast with hikers during the day. A stroller will serve you well on the pavement but you may have to pull over frequently to let single walkers pass.
How to get there: The trail starts at the farthest north end of Zion Canyon.
Stroller friendly: Yes, but see above warning.
Ages (on foot): All walking aged children should be able to navigate the paved trail.