Hike of the week: Ensign Peak hike is short and sweet

Published: Thursday, June 9 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ensign Peak is a very short but steep and historic hike that many families can do together.

It can be a rather hot trek to make this time of year, but this is when it is most timely — during the summer when the first pioneers in the valley hiked it.

In fact, this was the first mountain the pioneers climbed in the Salt Lake Valley.

The peak is considered Utah's own Mount Sinai and is probably the state's most sacred mountain. That's because members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that Brigham Young had a vision of Ensign Peak in the Nauvoo Temple, prior to leaving Illinois.

Most hiking books ignore this trail because it is so short. However, few paths have the pioneer significance this one does.

Distance: Just under a half mile one way to the summit.

Elevation gain: 398 feet.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate.

Time required: Less than 10 minutes to the top for fast hikers and less than an hour round-trip for most families.

Directions to the trailhead: Go to the Utah State Capitol Building and head east around it on East Capitol Boulevard. Continue uphill east, and either Edgecombe Drive or Ensign Vista Drive will take you to the trailhead on Churchhill Drive, as part of the Ensign Peak Nature Park. (This park was dedicated by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in July 1996.)

Trail description: Avoid the summer heat and do this hike in the early morning or late in the evening. The trail is well maintained and is paved in the early going. It travels through oakbrush and grass before becoming more rocky as it loops to the summit from the backside.

A walking stick may help some senior hikers make the steep climb. If some find the hike too challenging, there is the "Vista Mound," located only a hundred feet up the mountain.

There is a stone marker on top of the peak, plus some benches.

Hikers should avoid taking any old trails to the peak. For example, a frontal assault trail from the south side has caused erosion problems. (Before 1996, there wasn't an official trail to the peak.)

Tidbits: Two days after entering the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young and a group of men including Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards and Wilford Woodruff climbed the peak.

"Here is a proper place to raise an ensign to the nations," Brigham Young said atop Ensign Peak.

The men unfurled an "ensign of liberty to the world" on the summit. Hence the peak's name, from the "ensign" reference in several LDS scriptures.

The pioneers also used the peak, or at least its base, for temple work until the Endowment House was completed in the valley.

Highlights: The panoramic view of downtown Salt Lake City on a clear day from the 5,414-foot summit, about 1,100 feet above Temple Square is worth the hike. Once you've hiked Ensign, you will have little trouble singling out this mound-shaped peak from downtown Salt Lake City below.

Also, reading all the plaques en route provides a history lesson about the significance of the mound-shaped peak.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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