Squaw Peak is one of my very favorite hikes—we try to do every year at least once—but I realized last weekend when I was hiking it that I’ve never written about. I think I’ve never blogged about it because it’s one of Utah County’s busiest hikes. You can find a million descriptions of how to find the trail, and where to turn, and what the elevation gain and distance are.
And if you hike it on a Saturday morning, you’ll also find a million people on the trail.
Well, not really a million, but a lot. Kendell and I try to hike on Thursdays or Sundays right now, whichever works best with our schedules, to avoid lots of people. We still saw about 10 people on the trail today, which felt like a lot, but it definitely wasn’t crowded.
It’s not a trail for the faint of heart: it is ruthlessly steep. And at the summit, there is a steep drop off, so if you’re afraid of heights, don’t get too close.
Anyway, here are 8 reasons I love the Squaw Peak Summit trail, and one that I don’t.
- Variety. This trail feels like it is made up of three separate trails. The first part is in Rock Canyon; fairly wide, mostly shady, with a pebbly hiking surface that sometimes shifts to all-out shifting trails through thick layers of slate and river rocks. The second is the first part of the Squaw Peak Trail (this is a left-hand turn that is 1.7 miles past the Rock Canyon parking lot); this part is a soft dirt trail that goes along the east side of the mountain, through forests and beautiful meadows, but always up, UP, UP. This part of the trail is fairly enclosed, because of all the trees, but there are several meadows where the trees ease up a bit. The third part is the saddle-to-summit section. The “saddle” part really starts on the east side of the mountain, before you reach the actual saddle. The trail turns south (after running north for more than a mile) and you’re hiking fairly close to the ridge, but not on the top; the vegetation totally changes to scrubbier trees and different flowers. Then you reach the actual saddle and wow—more about that in #4—it is scenic! This section is also steep, but it has several less-steep parts and open views of the mountains behind Squaw Peak. And then one last steep climb up to the summit.
Anyway, I love that the trail changes. It helps the distance feel manageable, because when you’re winded and huffing up that middle part (the steepest part), you know that a change is coming. I wouldn’t say I ever really get bored while I’m hiking but sometimes when you’re tired things can get interminable. The variety makes it so that feeling never shows up on this trail.
- Steepness. Did I already say that this is steep? YEP! OK. But it’s one of the things I love about it because it feels like you really have to work to get to that summit. It’s 2,750 of elevation gain in four miles. Mile three is 905 feet! I love a good steep trail because hiking uphill is one of my favorite things in life. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s so satisfying to me. Plus, it’s just a thing my body loves to do. (Kendell always says that if there are two trails, he knows I’ll always pick the steep one.) A steep trail makes me feel like I accomplished something difficult and I tend to carry that feeling with me for a while.
- Accessibility. By this I mean a couple of things. One, the trailhead is less than 15 minutes from my house. But more I mean that I can do this in a morning and be home by 1:00, even with spending time on the top. So that means a day with a good, steep hike and then whatever else in the afternoon and evening.
- That saddle! I will never forget the first time I hiked this trail. The view from the saddle is sort of hidden until bam, you’re right there. To the west is Utah Lake and the west mountains, plus glimpses of the valley; to the east is Cascade Mountain and Provo Peak, some of the craggy summits that form this part of the Wasatch Front. The saddle is covered with mule’s ears (I have yet to time it right to get there when they are blooming), cliffrose bushes, and a few tall pine trees; it feels more desert than alpine mountain. If I only hiked to the saddle, I could probably accept it, except...
- That summit! The cool thing about this summit is that there are a ton of big stones up there. Everyone can take a seat and eat their preferred summit treat (I always have grapes, as cold grapes on a summit are the pinnacle of deliciousness). Plus, no matter which way you turn, the view is stunning. And there’s more than one place where you can sit to dangle your feet off the edge. (No summit is complete without dangling one’s feet off the edge.) I also love it because it sneaks up on you; you don’t really know you’re there until you’re there, and then all of a sudden you can see the amazing view. In the summer there is also a flag up there (I’m not sure who takes this up and down, but in the fall it is gone.) One of the coolest things is when a storm is forming over the west mountains; you can watch it build and then start moving over the lake (which is your clue to start going back down, because that dirty part of the trail is NOT fun when it’s wet).
- Fewer crowds. I wouldn’t say this trail is never crowded, especially on a Saturday. And the Rock Canyon section is always crowded. But once you turn off, there are far fewer people trying to conquer that incline. And it’s a long-enough distance from the turn off to the summit that people get spread out along the trail. I don’t know that I’ve ever had to share the summit with another group of hikers.
- Wildlife. We almost always see something on this trail. Snakes (rattlesnakes, garden, and rubber boas), skunks, foxes, rabbits, bighorn sheep, deer, and elk. When we hiked last weekend, there was a rafter of turkeys crashing through the undergrowth just before I got to the saddle; one of the moms was leading a couple of babies across the trail (alas, I was too slow on my draw to get my phone out fast enough for a photo!). Kendell saw a skunk in one of the meadows. And, when we were coming back down, I almost stepped on a baby bird that was lying right in the middle of the trail. It had an injured wing I think. I dripped some water into its mouth and helped to scoot it off the trail (I used a stick so it didn’t smell like me if its mom came back to help it) and then I worried all the way back that I did the wrong thing. Maybe I just prolonged its misery? I don’t know. It was so cute and fluffy though—I hope it survives.
- Beauty. It doesn’t matter what season you hike it (although I don’t think I would try it in the winter): This trail is always beautiful. The bright green of new spring leaves, the flowery meadows of summer, the vibrant trees of fall. Always breathtaking. This time all of the meadows were full of orange butterflies, more butterflies than I've ever seen in my life hanging out on the wildflowers.
The only thing I don’t love about this trail:
Its name. “Squaw Peak” goes along with this really stupid “legend” that a white man made up about the mountains in this area. A sentimental bit of goop that is both overly romantic and fairly culturally insensitive, especially since a certain generation of Utah County-ites tends to try to pass it off as authentic Native American story. It’s not. It’s cultural appropriation. I’d like to know what the real native American name for the peak is, and I’d like to call it that. Or even something Utah-ish, like “Temple Peak” (since it overlooks one of the temples). Or, really, anything else other than “squaw peak.”
Have you ever hiked this trail? What do you think?