High Altitude Hiking
9/6/2011 | Sheryl McGlochlin

Article image: High Altitude Hiking

We spend 3 months EVERY summer hiking in high altitudes between 9,000 - 12,000 feet.  Learn why it's so fantastic in this article and video!




Sheryl's Top Three High Altitude Hikes:


Bald Mountain, Uintas -  90-minute drive east of Salt Lake City in the Uinta Mountain Range.  Enjoy a three mile round trip hike with 1179 ft. elevation gain. Watch for wildflowers, high-alpine vegetation, and exceptional views in all directions of the Uintas from the summit. Trailhead starts at 10,764 ft. and climbs to nearly 12,000 ft. above sea level!  Total hiking time up and back down is about 1.5 – 3 hours.  This is one of the easiest but rugged, family-friendly, super-high altitude hikes in Utah!  To enjoy this trail you must love walking on and looking at ROCKS!  Plan on LOTS of them!  There's not much foliage at this altitude! NOTE: Always check weather conditions before hiking – especially this hike and any high altitude hike.


Cecret Lake, Little Cottonwood Canyon - (yes, "Cecret" is spelled with a "C") This is one of the most scenic, family-friendly, high altitude hikes you'll find in the Wasatch Mountain Range.  The trailhead is located at Alta Ski Resort , near the Albion Basin Campground,  top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Expect a 1.6 mile round trip hike with 458 ft. elevation gain.  Elevation at the trailhead is 9875 ft. above sea level and tops out at over 10,000 ft.  Enjoy plenty of beautiful, green, lush foliage with hundreds of wildflowers nearly all the way to the lake, depending on the time of year.  Keep your eyes open for moose, deer and other small critters that live in this high terrain.


Mt. Timpanogos - American Fork Canyon – If hiking the Alps in Switzerland is not possible this summer, do the next best thing – take a short drive into American Fork Canyon and hike Mt. Timpanogos via the Timpooneke Trail.  You don't have to hike the whole 14.8 miles (round trip) to appreciate this exceptional mountain!  It's the MOST popular high-altitude, hiking destination in all of Utah!   Families of all ages can enjoy this mountain.  Hike for a few minutes or all day long, if you like.  If you hike to the summit, you'll gain nearly 4400 ft elevation gain in about 7.5 miles each way.  Bring plenty of water and stop often to take photos all along the way!   If you are able to hike this mountain during the week, you'll find more peace and quiet all along the way, without lots of hikers.




Why High Altitude hiking is SO great:

  • See for yourself what a blanket of incredibly, beautiful, vibrant, wild flowers of all colors looks like that is only seen at high altitudes above 9000 feet.
  • You snooze, you loose.  This is a very rare, short season of hiking on high altitude trails - since you have to wait until the bulk of the snow has melted to get on the trails AND you have to act fast before the weather turns cold in the fall.
  • Discover what high altitude LOOKS like.  Experience a birds-eye view.  You have a rare privilege of FEELING like a bird high up in the sky! You see things ONLY a bird gets to see i.e. hundreds of miles of mountains, peaks, gorges, lakes, streams, strange rock formations, left over avalanche shoots, incredible views of valleys below, peaks up close and personal, rare wildlife sightings i.e. moose, mountain goats, deer, elk, smaller critters, etc.
  • Discover what high altitude FEELS like.  Notice how the air is much thinner and how you need to walk slower or stop more often, catch your breath and take in the beauty.
  • Find out what high altitude SMELLS like.  A few words I use to describe it would be FRESH, COOL, CLEAN mountain air!
  • Notice how much bluer the sky is compared with the color of the sky in the valley.
  • Once you try high altitude hiking, you'll be hooked!  It's very addicting!
  • Learn how happy you feel once you've been in the high terrains. I always feel SO happy when I come home from a high altitude hike.  So many times I have left on the hike in the morning feeling rushed, guilty for leaving all my work behind, stressed and anxious about all that needs to be done, etc.   Then, a few hours later, I come home feeling so incredibly happy and full of enthusiasm for life.  My problems all seem a lot more manageable when you feel so happy!
  • For just a few hours you get to see the BIG picture in life.  You have an opportunity to get some new insight and perspective on how small and puny you and your problems really are compared to this vast, awe-inspiring world!
  • And last but not least, high altitude hiking does NOT have to be hard.  It can be very easy and extremely safe for all members of the family to enjoy!



How high is "High Altitude Hiking"?  In Utah, Kings Peak is the highest peak (around 13,000 ft. above sea level), but our most common "high altitude hikes" along the Wasatch Mountains are approx 9,000 - 12,000 ft. above sea level.


Where to find a LOT of super easy, family-friendly, high altitude hikes in Utah:  We are very blessed to have so many canyons available to us in many parts of Utah.  Drive as far as you can up any scenic canyon and you'll most likely find nearby trails to explore. From Cedar City all the way to Bear Lake, there are many canyons to drive to and explore.  Ogden Canyon, Weber Canyon, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Millcreek Canyon, American Fork Canyon, Provo Canyon, Logan Canyon, and the list is long!   


High Altitude Hiking at any World-Class Ski Resort in Utah - Deer Valley, Canyons, Park City, Snow Basin, Brian Head, Snowbird, Brighton, Alta, Solitude, etc. ALL have summer hiking trails. 


High Altitude Hiking in Mountain Communities – Go to a Visitor Center in Alta, Park City, Eden, Garden City, Morgan, Heber, Kamas, etc. and ask about their local hiking trails.  


How do I prepare for a high altitude hike?  Bring plenty of water (1 - 2 liters/person depending on length of hike).  Drink often since water gives you energy and will help eliminate altitude sickness.  Always bring extra clothing since it is much cooler than lower valleys.  Bring an extra snack and/or extra water for AFTER the hike, on the ride down the mountain, since this will help relieve the pressure on your ears. 


The downside of high altitude hiking: There is less oxygen at higher elevations and some people adjust easier to this than others.  Some need a little more time to adjust.  The most common problem is "High Altitude sickness".   If you start to experience nausea, light headedness, shortness of breath, headache, etc., stop hiking and rest.  Drink water. Don't push yourself. Turn around and head back down, if necessary.


High Altitude Hiking can be deceiving:  Some hikers who feel they are in great shape may not understand why they are breathing so hard and need to stop and rest. Whether you are in excellent physical shape or not, you are not getting as much oxygen as you might at lower altitudes.  Plan ahead of time to stop and rest more often than you normally would.


Who can enjoy this?  All ages and all abilities can enjoy some degree of high altitude walking or hiking


When can I enjoy this?  It all depends on weather and snow conditions.  Generally July through September is peak season.


Potential dangers:  Don't walk on snowfields that you may discover along the way.  These are generally dangerous to walk on and may be very hollow or icy.  Take photos but stay off of them.  Stay away from the edge of cliffs, etc.