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10 short, scenic Utah hiking trails

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 4:55 p.m. MDT

The Nature Park sign at the start of the Ensign Peak trail. (Lynn Arave, Deseret News archives) The Nature Park sign at the start of the Ensign Peak trail. (Lynn Arave, Deseret News archives)

Fall is a great time to get to know some of Utah's many great hiking trails. It is arguably the best time of year for hiking because temperatures are cooler and the change of seasons rewards those who venture into nature with an abundance of color. Southern Utah's mild temperatures give hikers reason to explore until late in the season.

You don't need to be in top physical condition or wait until children are older to enjoy hiking. All of the hikes listed here are one mile long or less, and some are on flat terrain. All offer something worthwhile for hikers of any age or physical ability. Most of these hikes are located near Utah's Wasatch Front or in Utah's national parks, which are only a few hours drive from most parts of the state and well worth a weekend visit.

1. Limber Pine Nature Trail, Logan Canyon

The Cache Hikers association recommends this as one of the best short trails in Northern Utah. This loop trail is named for a 560-year-old limber pine tree that stretches 25 feet in diameter. This trail is especially well-suited for young families because of its easy terrain and family oriented education stations along the way. Snow falls earlier here than in many places in the state, so visit this trail early in the fall season.

Length: 1 mile

How to find it: The trailhead is located on Highway 89, in Logan Canyon, about 30 miles from Logan and seven miles from Bear Lake. Find it near the Sunrise Campground.

2. Buffalo Point, Antelope Island State Park

This hike leads to the top of Buffalo Point on Antelope Island. Once there, you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of Antelope Island, the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains. The sunsets here are gorgeous. Optional boulder hopping on large rocks strewn across the point makes this trip even more fun.

Length: 0.6 miles

How to find it: Buffalo Point is near the visitors center and the Bridger Bay Campground. Follow signs once inside Antelope Island State Park. There is a $9-per-car entrance fee. The park closes at 7 p.m. beginning Oct. 2, and 5:30 p.m. beginning in mid-November.

3. Ensign Peak, Salt Lake City

Brigham Young climbed this peak soon after his arrival in the Salt Lake Valley to survey the area and plan the city that would be built. An American flag was planted on Ensign Peak soon afterward. Today, you'll find a monument that dates back to 1934 and panoramic views of downtown Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Valley. This hike is one of the steepest on this list, with a 400-foot gain in elevation.

Length: about 1 mile

How to find it: This well-marked trail begins behind an LDS church building in the neighborhood above the State Capitol Building. You can see the knobby peak and its monument from a distance.

4. Temple Quarry Trail, Little Cottonwood Canyon

This nearly flat, wheelchair and stroller-friendly nature trail accesses the area where granite was once quarried for the Salt Lake Temple. Signs posted along the trail describe natural and historic features along the way. Some granite boulders on the trail still show the grooves from being split more than 100 years ago.

Length: 0.3 miles

How to find it: Look for the sign near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, east of Salt Lake City. After turning right from the canyon road, take an immediate left to reach the parking lot for this trail.

5. Provo River Parkway, Provo Canyon

The Provo River Parkway is a good example of urban trail systems that have been developed throughout the state of Utah. The entire paved trail is about 15 miles long, from Utah Lake to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, but there are many entry points. Cyclists, runners and equestrians also use this trail — so be alert and considerate. Charlene Christensen, Director of Services at the Utah County Convention and Visitors Bureau, recommends the section near Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon. There is another short trail in that area that allows hikers to get a closer look at the falls.

Length: Any. Hikers can see as much or as little of the trail as they would like.

How to find it: There are many entry points to this trail. To reach the Bridal Veil Falls section, take University Avenue into Provo Canyon. Bridal Veil falls is located about two miles into the canyon.

6. The Grotto, Payson Canyon

The payoff for this trail is a small waterfall flowing into a pool at the end. The refreshing water at the end of this trail makes it a great one for summer, but it is also an excellent fall trail because of the colorful autumn foliage that can be found throughout the canyon. This trail is wide and well maintained, and the elevation gain is small.

Length: 0.6 miles

How to find it: About seven miles up Payson Canyon on the Mount Nebo Scenic Loop road. Look for signs and a small parking area across from the trailhead.

7. Sand Arch, Arches National Park

Arches National Park enjoys abundant sunshine year round and temperatures may remain warm well into the fall. Sand Arch is one of the best family hikes in the park because it’s short, flat and shady. If you're visiting with children, bring a picnic, camp chairs and sand toys and schedule extra playtime on this fun trail.

Length: 0.5 miles

How to find it: Look for signs along the main road of Arches National Park, about 16 miles from the park entrance. Arches has a $10-per-car fee, which is good for seven days.

8. Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

This hilly, loop hike leads to a wide arch that frames endless canyons behind it. There are unfenced cliffs near the arch, but there is also plenty of space to enjoy the view without going near the drop-off. This is perhaps the best hike for young families in Canyonlands National Park.

Length: 0.5 miles

How to find it: Along the main road of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. Look for signs about six miles past the visitors center. Canyonlands has a $10-per-car fee, which is good for seven days.

9. Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

The half-mile between Sunrise and Sunset Points is flat and paved and offers some of the best scenery and photo ops in Bryce Canyon National Park. The entire Rim Trail is about 5.5 miles one-way, but it has several entry and exit points, so it's easy for families to customize their experience.

Length: 1 mile

How to find it: Along the main road in Bryce Canyon National Park, use the parking areas for either Sunrise or Sunset Point. Bryce Canyon has a $25-per-car fee, which is good for seven days.

10. Weeping Rock, Zion National Park

This short, paved trail leads visitors to an alcove in the canyon wall where water drips continuously through the sandstone in front, creating a hanging garden in the desert. The alcove provides a spectacular view of Zion Canyon. Weeping Rock is one of the most popular trails in the park.

Length: 0.5 miles

How to find it: Along the main road in the popular Zion Canyon section of Zion National Park. A mandatory shuttle services this section of the park from April through October each year. Zion National Park has a $25-per-car fee, which is good for seven days.

It's always a good idea to carry drinking water, wear sunscreen and shoes with good support and traction, regardless of how short the trail. Utah's fall foliage is especially beautiful this year, but it won't last long. Get out and enjoy it on one of Utah's many great hiking trails.

Allison Laypath is an expert on family travel and author of the family travel blog tipsforfamilytrips.com. With her family, Allison especially enjoys road trips, national parks and local field trips. Email Allison at allison@tipsforfamilytrips.com.

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