Hiking 101: Beginners guide to hiking

I remember how intimidating it was when I was first getting into the outdoors. It’s so easy to feel clueless and unprepared, and to compare yourself to everyone else on the trail and feel like you don’t have the right gear or know-how.

The truth is, you don’t much (if any!) specialized gear to get started hiking. Just an excitement to get outside, a little bit of knowledge and preparation, and a willingness to dive into new experiences.

This is meant to cover all the basics that you need to know to get started hiking safely and confidently.

Where to start? How to choose your hikes.Desolation Trail in the Wasatch Mountains

One of the most daunting things when you’re just getting into hiking is knowing where to start—literally. It’s not hard to find a good place to go hiking for beginners, if you know what resources to use and where to look.

Where to look for beginner hikes

Hiking apps
One of the best resources for new and seasoned hikers alike is AllTrails. The app is a crowd-sourced compilation of tons of popular hikes, with maps, descriptions, user comments, and photos. You can filter hikes by distance, difficulty, popularity, and more, to hone in on exactly what’s in your skill and comfort level. Hiking Project is another great app, though it has less extensive trail coverage in most areas.

Guide books
No matter where you’re located, chances are there’s a guidebook that covers hiking in your vicinity. Information may not always be the most up-to-date, but guide books are a great place to find useful information about some of the popular trails near you.

Blogs are another great resource. Especially if you live in an area that’s popular for hiking, chances are there are a number of blogs that have posts about local trails, with pictures and details about the trail, parking, and other useful information.

Ask around
If you have a friend or coworker who’s outdoorsy, they’ll probably be happy to share their recommendations on where to go. Plus, they can directly answer any questions you have about the trail and local conditions.

Local gear shops
If you don’t know anyone knowledgeable about hiking in the area, stop in at some local outdoor gear shops. You’ll often find that staff there are happy to chat about their favorite trails and recommendations (as long as they’re not too busy)! Bonus: You can pick up some local trail maps and guide books while you’re there, too.

Visitors Centers
National parks, state parks, national or state forests, and established recreation areas are great places to find well-maintained hikes of all levels. Call or stop in at the visitors center—staff and rangers there can answer your questions and recommend hikes that suit your skill and experience level.

Outdoor clubs and meetups
You can also use local hiking and outdoor groups as a resource to find the best places to hike for beginners (more on that below).

What to look for in a good beginner hike

Alright, we’ve covered where to look, so let’s get into what to look for. Here are the most important things to consider to figure out how suitable a hike is for you:

Overall difficulty rating
The apps listed above, as well as most guidebooks, blogs, and some trail maps, have different rating systems to indicate difficulty. Looking for hikes marked “easy” or “beginner” is a good place to start. Make sure you also look at the hike in more detail, too, so you know it’s what you’re looking for.

If you’re already somewhat active, a hike between 1 and 3 miles is a good place to start. If you’re just starting to be more active, a 1 mile or less hike is a good start to see how you feel.

Remember that, as long as you pick an out-and-back hike (a hike that comes back on the same trail you hike in on, as opposed to a hike that makes a loop), you can turn around whenever you need to.

Elevation Gain
Elevation gain is the total, cumulative amount of uphill that you do throughout a hike. Even if the hike starts and ends at the same elevation, you could be going up and down quite a bit throughout the hike, meaning a lot of elevation gain.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how I gauge a hike’s difficulty based on elevation gain:

  • 100-300’ per mile – fairly easy, likely a gradual incline or a handful of small hills
  • 300’-500’ per mile – moderate, a slightly steeper incline and/or some larger hills
  • 500-800’ per mile – noticeably steep overall, likely with some more challenging steep sections
  • 800’ or more per mile – a very steep, strenuous hike

For example, if a hike is 1.5 miles one way (3 miles round trip) and 500 feet of elevation gain, I’d consider it an easy to moderate hike.

Depending on where you live and where you’re traveling to, the overall elevation of a hike could make a difference to. If, for example, you live at 4,000 feet above sea level, and drive to a trailhead at 8,000 feet, there’s a good chance you’ll feel the effects of elevation. You’ll have a harder time catching your breath and might even feel weak or lightheaded. Plan on hikes at higher elevations being more difficult than the equivalent hike at a low elevation.

Parking and Access
Before you head out, find out if there are any challenges getting to the trailhead, or with parking once you’re there.

For example, popular trailheads fill up early; hikes that start in or near a residential area may have restrictions on street parking near the trailhead; some trailheads may only be accessible with 4WD and high clearance, or the roads to them may have seasonal closures.

You can usually find that information covered in blog posts, guide books, and AllTrails comments on the trail.

Type of terrain
Some beginner-friendly hikes are mostly on paved trails, which can be a good place to start if you’re not sure of your abilities. Others may follow 4WD roads and tracks, or natural surfaces which can range from a well-packed smooth dirt path to uneven and rocky, forested or exposed. You can look at Google Earth or Google Maps or pictures on blogs and hiking apps to get an idea of what the trail is like.

This is seasonal, too. Trails in spring tend to be muddy because of snow melt, and might still have slick patches of snow on them. Also consider if the terrain is wooded and shaded (great for hot sunny days), or totally exposed to the sun (better for cool, overcast days).

Look for a trail that’s moderately traveled, or try to hit a popular trail at off-peak times.

For your first hikes, avoid trails that are only lightly trafficked. Not only are you unlikely to have anyone around to help out if anything goes wrong, but less-popular trails also tend to be less well-maintained and marked. If a trail only has one comment in the last 3 years on All Trails—or doesn’t appear there at all—it’s probably not the best beginner hiking trial.

On the flip side, avoid hitting a super popular trail at a peak time (generally, most trails hit their peak on holiday weekends, most weekend afternoons, or if they’re close to where people work, on weekday evenings). You could end up spending your hike fighting for trail space with bikers, runners, pets—and you want your first hikes to be a better experience than that!

A few more things to think about when you’re picking a beginner-friendly hike:

  • Pushing yourself to the end of a hike can be hard work, and it’s nice to have a great view or interesting landmark to enjoy as a reward.
  • Read user comments on whatever app you’re using, or cross-reference hikes you find on the app with blog posts to make sure you’ve got all the details.
  • Avoid hikes that go downhill first and then require you to come back uphill. Inexperienced hikers get into trouble all the time because they don’t realize how hard it will be to climb back up what they just descended.
  • If you’re doing a loop, stick to a short, easy one—or pick out and back trails that allow you to turn around any time you need. Committing to a large loop trail can easily wear you out and get you in over your head.

Don’t go it alone! How to find people to hike with

Whether you’re jumping into hiking on your own or have a friend or partner to go with, it’s still a good idea to find a network of friends and groups to hike with.

While hiking by yourself is an option, it’s best to get familiar with the basics of gear, navigation, and hiking safety before you set out on your own.

Here are some of the best places to look to find people to hike with:

Local meetups
Organized meetup groups can be a great way to meet new people and discover some great trails. Whether it’s through meetup.com or facebook groups, I recommend beginner hikers check out groups in their area.

As with any informal, social-media-organized group, be mindful of your safety first and foremost—I’ll usually only join hikes with well-established groups that have at least 6 or 7 other people signed up.

Another caveat: these aren’t guided hikes. Anyone can create a meetup group and post hikes, and what one organizer considers easy might not be right for you. Contact the organizer if you’re in doubt and remember that ultimately, no one in these meetup groups is in any way responsible for your safety except you.

As long as you exercise a little caution and judgment, these groups are a great place to start. I’ve met many wonderful people through online hiking meetups.

Hiking and outdoor clubs
Look for established outdoor clubs and organizations in your area. For a nominal membership fee, you can access a range of organized hikes, as well as workshops to develop various skills and knowledge. Joining these clubs is a fantastic way to get out, meet people, and learn from highly experienced club members.

You’ll have an established organizer for hikes and events—they’re still not an official guide, but clubs generally take more responsibility to keep their members safe and accounted for on hikes than meetup groups do.

Guided trips
Joining a guided trip certainly isn’t necessary to get started, but it can be a great experience.

As long as you do a little vetting on the guide service you’re going through, guided trips can be a fantastic experience. The company will organize everything, may even provide some essential gear, and likely even arrange transportation to the trailhead.

They’ll also be fully committed to your safety and ensuring that you enjoy the trip. Joining a guided trip is a great way to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, too, as guides can help you explore new areas that you might not feel safe visiting without a professional to show the way.

What to bring on a hike?

For short dayhikes, any backpack you have lying around will do. Just make sure it’s comfortable to wear and big enough to fit everything you need.

Bring more than you think you need, especially on hot days. 1 liter for every 2 hours is a good benchmark..

Have a mix of salty and sweet snacks. Sweeter snacks are good for a quick boost of energy, while salty snacks help replace electrolytes and salt that you lose through sweat. On hot days, or more strenuous hikes, an electrolyte drink is a good idea. As with water, bring more snacks than you think you need.

Even on hot summer days, you can find yourself in a shaded creekside area that’s chilly, or on a windy hilltop. Bring at least one long-sleeve layer. In colder weather, you’ll want multiple layers, including gloves and a warm hat.

Sun protection
Bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. I’ll usually put on sunscreen before I start hiking, and bring a small bottle in my pack to reapply if I’ll be out more than a couple hours. You can still get sunburned on a cloudy day, so make sun protection a habit any time you go out.

Rain protection
Even if rain isn’t in the forecast, it’s a good idea to throw a lightweight rain jacket (or even a cheap plastic poncho) into your pack. Most of the time you won’t need it, but that one time that you do, it could save you from a lot of discomfort or even hypothermia.

Always research the trail, know where you’re going, and have a map with you. Hiking and navigation apps on your phone are a great tool to have, but don’t rely entirely on technology. You should always have a paper map with you, too (AllTrails lets you print pdf trail maps), and pay attention to trail markers, signs, and landmarks as you go.

Hiking poles
These are optional, so don’t feel like you need to go invest in good hiking poles right away. They can help you keep your balance on uneven terrain, and ease the stress on your knees of going downhill for long stretches.

First aid
Pack a small first aid kit, with some bandages, blister pads, ibuprofen, tweezers, antiseptic wipes, and any prescription medications that you might need.

Throw a small headlamp or flashlight in your pack, even if you’re starting out your hike early. Not only will it be crucial if you do get stuck out longer than expected, you can also use it to signal if needed. Don’t rely on your phone’s flashlight.

Emergency gear
It’s a good idea to include some additional gear, such as a knife, fire starter, and an emergency blanket. A survival knife is overkill unless you have the skills and knowledge to use it, so grab a small pocket knife.

Prioritize good judgment and basic hiking safety first, and before you venture off well-traveled trails, make sure you know some basic skills to use this emergency gear.

What to wear hiking?

The right clothes can make or break your hike. In general, you want clothes that are lightweight, breathable, quick-drying, and comfortable. Your clothes should also keep you protected from the elements.

That means avoid cotton fabrics, jeans, heavy cargo pants and the like, and dress in versatile layers that let you adjust as you warm up or cool off.

Hiking shirt
Any non-cotton athletic shirt works fine. If you have a favorite polyester running shirt or nylon/spandex blend gym shirt, it’ll do just fine on the trail, too. Make sure your shirt protects you well from the sun (short sleeves are much better than a tank top).

Hiking pants
As with your hiking shirt, avoid cotton. Quick drying, lightweight and breathable, durable enough, comfortable and loose fitting. Shorts are fine for some summer hikes, but watch out for sunburn on your legs, scratches from encroaching branches or insects (like ticks!).

Sun protection
You can get sunburned even on cloudy days, so think about sun protection every time you go out. In addition to sunscreen, consider a hat or long-sleeve shirt with UV protection.

What sort of shoes do you need for hiking?

Good footwear is crucial to a safe and successful hike. If you’re just getting started, you don’t need to invest in expensive hiking boots. Just make sure you have footwear that ticks a few boxes before you hit the trail.

The tread pattern and material on your shoes is the biggest factor in keeping you from slipping on the trail. Shoes designed for road running, or casual tennis shoes like Converse, just don’t have a deep enough tread pattern or a grippy enough material to keep you sure-footed on rough trails. As soon as you encounter any mud, loose dirt or gravel, or wet rocks, you’re a lot more likely to lose your footing. Look for shoes designed to be worn on trails, with a deep tread pattern.

Weather suitability
Plan your footwear for the weather and trail conditions you’ll most likely encounter. For a dry summer hike, breathable tennis shoes with good tread are likely fine.  Waterproof boots may be nice if you’re hiking in rainy conditions, and necessary if there’s any snow.

How much support your shoes need is really a matter of personal preference. Go with what feels best for you. I personally prefer hiking in trail running shoes, or low-top hiking boots. If you’re not used to walking on uneven terrain, it’s a good idea to at least get boots with some ankle support.

How to stay safe while hiking?Trailhead sign with arrow

As long as you know and follow a few best practices, use your judgment, and take responsibility for your safety on the trail, hiking is extremely safe.

Plan ahead and be prepared

The most important things you can do to stay safe happen before you even get to the trailhead. Choose a trail that’s within your abilities, hike with a buddy (or 3 or 4), wear the right clothes and shoes for weather and trail conditions, bring enough water and food, and know where you’re going.

Always make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to be back. It’s also a good idea to leave a note on your dashboard with the trail you’re hiking and when you’ll return.

Beyond those basics, here are a few other things to consider when it comes to safety on the trail.

Encountering animals while hiking

Wildlife shouldn’t scare you off from hiking. By far the most likely animal you’ll be dealing with is other hikers’ dogs.

In most areas, you’ll probably also see birds, rabbits, squirrels and other small animals. Deer are common, too. If you’re near lakes and water, you might see moose.

Encounters with large predators are much less common, especially if you’re hiking with a group or on a popular trail. They prefer to avoid humans.

The best rule to follow when it comes to wildlife is: just leave them alone!! Don’t get too close, don’t try to feed them, and only take pictures from a safe distance (that selfie with a moose isn’t worth being trampled).

I also recommend knowing what large animals are common in your area and reading a bit about what to do on the off chance you do encounter one.

Plan for the weather

Always check the weather forecast before you go out. Remember that weather can get much colder as you gain elevation, and mountain weather can be fickle and unpredictable. Think about recent weather your area has gotten too. Recent rain or snowfall can drastically alter a trail’s conditions.

Regardless of the forecast, be prepared for rain and a temperature drop, even if you start out on a hot, sunny day. If the forecast doesn’t look good, you might need to adjust your plans to choose a shorter hike, or one that you can easily cut short to quickly get back to the car if the weather gets drastically worse.

Be aware of the terrain when you’re hiking

The terrain a trail goes through can be anything from a well-maintained boardwalk to a rocky and loose trail near cliffs and steep rock fields. While you can do some research beforehand to find out what the terrain is like, you often won’t really know until you’re actually on the trail.

Most easy, beginner-friendly hikes you’re choosing should pass through mild terrain, but not always. Stay safe by using your judgment and knowing your limits. If something on a trail looks sketchy—a steep snowfield that you have to cross, a scramble over large, loose boulders, or a place where the trail passes near steep drop-offs—be honest with yourself. If you don’t think your footwear or physical abilities are up to it, it’s better to turn around and come back another day when you’re better prepared.

Don’t get lost!

You should always bring multiple forms of navigation (at least a phone app and a paper map). But that’s just the first step in making sure you stay on the right track. You can still accidentally wander down a spur trail that goes nowhere, or take a wrong turn at a fork in the trail.

Check in with your map, surroundings, and GPS regularly. If something doesn’t seem right—maybe the trail suddenly seems harder or steeper than you expected, or abruptly narrows and gets overgrown—it’s a good sign you’re off track. Pay close attention to trail markers, too. When you come to a fork in the trail, always stop to double check your direction.

One trick to avoid getting lost: every 10 min or so, glance behind you and find a notable feature. Maybe it’s an oddly-shaped tree, or a distinctive rock formation next to the trail, or a mossy log. If you have to backtrack, knowing what the trail looks like from the other direction and creating landmarks for yourself along the way can literally be a lifesaver.

Take care of yourself

Make sure that you and everyone in your group are comfortable, having a good time, and taking care of your basic needs.

Hydrate, eat lots of snacks, take rests, and check in with yourself and the group regularly on how everyone is feeling. It’s not just key to having an enjoyable hike. It’s also the first line of defense against major issues like dehydration, heat exhaustion, or hypothermia. Injuries are also more likely to happen when someone is already tired, cold, or pushing themselves too hard to keep up.

Hiking rules and etiquette

You might be going to wild places to escape all of the rules and restrictions of daily life. But there are rules, best practices, and basic hiking etiquette that helps us all share the trail and keep the great outdoors a place that we can all enjoy.

Leave no Trace

No matter where you’re going, you should know Leave No Trace principles and follow them from the instant you step off of the pavement. You can learn more at the Leave No Trace website.

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel (and camp) on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of others

Local rules and regulations

Wherever you’re hiking, chances are there are some local rules put in place. These could include whether dogs are allowed, and whether they need to be on a leash; limits on group size; trail closures; and restrictions on travel off of established trails.

Rules will often be posted on a sign at the trailhead, or are readily available online for a given area. Pay attention to them, and follow them—they’re there to protect you, others, and the environment.

Trail etiquette

If you have a dog, follow the local leash laws. You might think your dog is fine off leash, but other hikers will likely disagree. Plus, a dog running around off-trail can cause massive damage to the plant life. They can also cause unnecessary stress to wildlife and even get into dangerous confrontations with larger animals like moose or bears.

Even if your dog is friendly, you never know when another hiker might have an allergy or fear of dogs, so keep your dog controlled and away from other hikers unless they ask to pet it.

Always pick up after your dog, and NEVER leave your poop bags sitting on the side of the trail. Even if you intend to pick them up later, it’s easy to forget, and to anyone passing by after you it just looks like litter.

People come to the outdoors for all sorts of reasons, but one of the biggest is to escape the constant sounds of civilization. So be respectful, and help keep trails a place to escape and enjoy the sounds of nature. Keep conversations to a reasonable level, and please, please, leave the speakers at home. If you must listen to music or a podcast, there are plenty of comfortable headphones that you can wear while hiking.

You’ll be sharing the trail with others, and that could include hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and horses. Especially when trails are crowded, knowing who has the right-of-way helps keep everyone hiking happily.

  • Uphill hikers have the right of way. if you’re hiking downhill, step to the side to let uphill traffic pass.
  • If you’re hiking in a group, the best practice is to always hike single file. You may end up hiking side-by-side for stretches where the trail isn’t busy. Just be aware of other hikers, especially hikers behind you who may want to pass, and be ready to move to single file to give them room.
  • Mountain bikers should yield to hikers. In theory, hikers always have the right of way over mountain bikers. In practice, it is much more difficult for mountain bikers to stop, especially if they’re going uphill, so it’s courteous to give bikers space to pass without stopping where you can.
  • Horses always have the right of way. Step to the side, and make sure you give the horse plenty of distance if you’re behind it or in its blind spots.


If you’re just getting into hiking, I hope this guide helps you know where to start hiking safely and responsibly. Once you get started and get comfortable with your abilities on the trail, there’s a world of incredible places you can explore. Remember, the most important things are to stay safe, stay within your limits, and just have fun!

Hiking Turtle Hill

It’s great to have a little local hill for when you need to get out for a bit but are short on time. Out in Eagle Mountain, we have easy access to a lot of rolling foothills in the Lake Mountains—Turtle Hill, so named in honor of a local’s pet turtle, is one of the most easily accessible spots for a quick summit, and a good jumping off point to explore other areas of the foothills.

I make a loop up the hill pretty regularly—at least once a week—so I figured I’d add a quick write-up about it.

The Lake Mountains are a mixed use area, without any specifically designated hiking trails. That means pretty much all hiking back here is along rough roads shared with ATVs and the occasional jacked up truck or jeep. There’s a great network of mountain bike trails back here, too, that Dan and I have been starting to explore.

Hiking Turtle Hill

Turtle Hill is easily recognizable from the Pony Express Highway, with the distinctive zig-zag road that goes to its top. There are two easily-accessible places (that I know of) to park for the hike to the top. Off of North Lake Mountain road, just past where it turns to dirt and right at the base of the zig-zag trail is a dirt pull-out. Maybe a hundred feet farther down there’s another parking spot with some parking barricades behind it.

Turtle Hill parking spot

Parking area at the start of the road up the west side of Turtle Hill

I usually part in this second spot. From here, a rough dirt road winds back into the foothills. The road eventually branches off and heads up the back (east) side of Turtle Hill.

Road into Lakeview Mountains

Following the road back into the hills.

The road “Y”s and cuts across a deep wash that’s been carved into the soft sandy ground. I keep left to go up Turtle Hill, but there’s plenty of exploring off of all the other roads back here, too.

I’m always amazed at how scenic it can be out in the foothills, and at how remote it can feel. The rolling hills hide any signs of civilization (except for the massive powerlines), and cell phone service drops out in much of the area.

The road curves back to the west, and stays fairly mellow as it switchbacks up the back of the hill. The final bit up to the top is brutally steep, but thankfully short.

Views of the Oquirrh Mountains from the back of Turtle Hill.

Views of the Oquirrh Mountains from the back of Turtle Hill, and the one steep section of the loop.

The steep stretch goes quick—just enough to get your heart pounding. Then, you’re up on the wide, rocky top of the hill with panoramic views.

Oquirrh Mountains from Turtle Hill

View west, to the Oquirrh Mountains, from Turtle Hill

Wasatch Mountains from Turtle Hill

View east, to the Wasatch Mountains, from Turtle Hill

It’s rare to get through a whole hike out here without hearing ATVs roaring around, or the distant thud of gunshots echoing across the valley. Still, there are moments of stillness and quiet that make it hard to believe that you’re technically within the city limits of a population center of over 40,000 people.

The loop is about 2.4 miles, and only about 420′ elevation gain. Not a destination hike by any means, but for someone in the area it’s a quick and surprisingly scenic way to spend some time outside.

Hiking Black Crook Peak

At 9,274’, Black Crook Peak is the highpoint of the Sheeprock Mountains, a range in Utah’s West Desert. We’d made a failed attempt at hiking Black Crook Peak back in the Spring, and since then I’ve been itching to get back out there.

Our first attempt at hiking Black Crook Peak in the spring

Our first attempt was a prime example of how not to route find. I’d read that the south ridge of Black Crook Peak tends to melt out pretty quickly, and thought it would be a good spring summit hike. Most peaks at this elevation were snowy enough to require snowshoes, which we just didn’t feel like dealing with.

We headed out with little beta and a perhaps slightly inflated view of my new Subaru’s capabilities as an off-road vehicle. After rolling through the small town of Vernon, we found the turnoff onto Benmore road, and then took a right to follow the road up into the mountains. The road got rough enough to make me nervous, but we made it almost to the top. A large, steep patch of snow over the road shut us down, and we backed down until we found a spot to park on the side of the road.

We walked back up the few remaining switchbacks to where the road ended. We could see a ridge high above us that was dry, but the slopes leading up to it were snowy and scrubby, with no visible trails. We slid our way a couple hundred feet up toward the ridge before giving up. We either didn’t know where we were going or the route wasn’t quite as melted out as I’d read.

Second (successful!) summit attempt

When I saw that the Wasatch Mountain Club had a climb of Black Crook Peak scheduled for Nov 13, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to get back there. I signed up, and Dan let me drag him along on another I dragged Dan along on another “hare-brained adventure,” as he described it.

After almost two years of isolating because of the pandemic, and only hiking with each other or a handful of close friends, Dan and I were both a little nervous about meeting up with a group. But we were relieved that it was a small group of 6, including us, and that they were all vaccinated. We met the group in Vernon, and followed them out to the end of Benmore road, where we left my car at a large dirt turn-out and piled into the truck with the rest of the hikers.

We parked the truck just near where Dan and I had seen the first snow patch and backed down the road on our first attempt. Here, there was a faint trail winding up a short distance through the scrub oak, and then opening up on the way up to the ridge. A much, much easier path up to the ridge than the one we’d attempted a few months ago, and completely free of snow.

From there, we followed the ridge, which turned out to be a much more interesting and fun scramble than I’d expected. We generally stayed as high as we could on the ridge, which led to some interesting moves and a touch of exposure that bordered on Class IV in a few places.

Climbing up some fun scrambles along the ridgeline. (Thanks to Akiko and Cigi on the hike for taking so many great photos, including this one!)

Making our way along the ridge to the summit, staying high on the rocks. (Thanks to Akiko and Cigi on the hike for taking so many great photos, including this one!)

Finally at the summit!

Benchmark at the Black Crook Peak summit. (Thanks to Akiko and Cigi on the hike for taking so many great photos, including this one!)

Selfie of Dan and I at the summit of Black Crook Peak

Dan and I at the summit.

View from the summit of Black Crook Peak

View from the summit. The mountain range in the distance on the right, just above the rocks, is the Desert Mountains.

The way back down felt longer, as we reversed all of the scrambles we’d done on the way up, but it was still fairly quick back to the truck. All-in-all, hiking Black Crook Peak made for a beautiful and challenging day, with a fantastic group and great weather.

Desert Mountain Summit

It was only about two weeks after Dan and I got engaged at the top of Black Crook Peak that we made it out to the Desert Mountains. From that summit we’d looked out across the endless nothing and saw those craggy ridges, like mountain islands rising out of a sea of sand and shadscale, and something about the aptly named Desert Mountains caught both of our imaginations.

Topping out at 6480’, they’re not particularly noteworthy. But it was the isolation, their dramatic rocky appearance, and the promise of solitude that drew us to make a trip out there.

Getting to the Desert Mountains

We decided to do just a one night trip, more of a scouting trip, and left the Friday after Thanksgiving. The drive took us past Little Sahara Recreation area, along Weis Highway/Jericho-Callao Road. The road’s only paved up to slightly past the turn to Little Saraha, and then quickly turns to well-maintained dirt for the remaining 20 or so miles.

The Desert Mountain range is split pretty distinctly into two sections, separated by a well-maintained road through a low pass. We veered off of Jericho-Callao Road to go up through the pass, and about half a mile along the road found a dirt track heading off to the right.

Maybe half a mile in, we found an impacted site with a fire pit and a level spot to park the car. After setting up camp, we decided to use the last few hours of daylight to explore. Dan had seen a low point on the ridge that he wanted to try to get to, so we set off around 3pm with some small daypacks.

Hiking to Desert Mountain Summit

We followed the dirt track through the campsite until it faded into the low scrub, then started to work our way up a to a low point on the ridge.

We kept making our way cross-country from the end of the dirt track, aiming for the big dip, just at the edge of the shadows.

Starting the hike to Desert Mountain Summit

Getting closer to the ridge! The terrain was steeper and rougher than it looked from the bottom, so it was slow going—definitely need to be on the lookout for loose rocks and rattlesnakes.

Finally made it to the ridge, and spent a minute enjoying the views and considered what to do next. We’d planned on hiking to the summit of Desert Mountain the next morning, but after a quick look at the map, we realized that we were actually most of the way there, with just a short stretch of not-too-sketchy-looking ridge to cross to reach the summit. We had just enough daylight if we pushed it, so we decided to go for it.

Looking back at where we started up the ridge toward the summit.

Looking up the ridge toward the summit

Looking up the ridge toward Desert Mountain Summit. The high point in the distance, where the rock changes to a lighter color, is the summit.

The ridgeline was rocky, but nothing too technical. We easily picked a Class II route along it, skirting around the rock outcroppings, and found ourselves at the summit right around 4pm.

I’m not sure I could image a place more fitting of the name Desert Mountain, with it’s rough and barren terrain surrounded by expansive views of the basin and range, uninterrupted by any signs of civilization except a few dirt roads (and the damn power plant, but we don’t need to go into that here). There are few places I’ve felt more solitude, more out there, more like I was on another planet. It’s not an impressive summit by the numbers, but it’s one of my favorites regardless.

Structure at the summit of Desert Mountain

Wood structure near the summit of Desert Mountain. Turns out the summit benchmark is hiding in the shadows just at the base of this structure (I think).

We thought we found the summit benchmark up there. After reading a bit about these benchmarks on Summit Post, I realized that the mark we saw wasn’t the actual benchmark—it’s a reference point directing to it. I think the actual benchmark is hiding in the photo of the wood structure, just at the base of it, but I guess we’ll have to make another trip up here to confirm.

Reference marker near the summit. We missed the actual benchmark.

After a few minutes of enjoying the views and taking photos and the summit, we both felt a stark chill blowing up from the shaded north side of the summit. We were about to run out of warmth and daylight, so it was time to hoof it down.

The descent was quick, and we had just enough daylight left to take a detour to check out an interesting rock formation just below where we were camped. I was falling utterly in love with this place, with the perfect sunset light, the beautiful rocks, the open endlessness of the desert in front of us and a summit behind us, and silence, the pure and untouched silence.

Cool rock formation in the Desert MountainsBack at camp, we got a small fire going and reheated some Thanksgiving leftovers. We were treated to a crystal clear night with stars that rivaled what I’ve seen in any designated dark-sky area, crisp and twinkling, with the blush of the milky way clearly visible. But the cold drove us into our sleeping bags pretty early for the night.

Exploring rock climbing in the Desert Mountains

The next morning, we set off in search of some of the climbing areas, driving back out the pass and following Jericho-Callao road around the north side of the range. Here, beautiful granite formations tower over you, and there’s seemingly endless potential to explore.

We followed a dirt track back a little ways until we found a spot called Practice Wall with some easy routes that we could set up top ropes on. Not exactly a towering, epic cliff, I know, but it was a perfect spot for two people who have been out of the climbing game for over a year to give the gear a good shake-out.

Setting a top rope at Practice WallWe both got a couple of routes in, then continued our circumnavigation of the range, stopping to check out a few other promising looking crags in the process, and then it was time to head home.

Rather than head back the way we came, we decided to chance it on exploring a different route home. From the summit, we’d seen a road stretching almost due north from the Desert Mountains, and figured it must cut through the mountains and meet up with the Pony Express Route on the other side (a guess that we confirmed with maps and GPS before driving too far along it). The road was in good condition, and eventually took us through Erikson Pass, on the flanks of the Sheeprock range and in the shadow of Black Crook Peak, before meeting up with the familiar terrain of the Pony Express Route. It wasn’t any faster than the main access, and likely impassible in bad weather, but it was a fun and scenic detour in good weather.

There’s so much more to explore here, and with it being such a short drive I’m sure it won’t be too long before we make the trip back.

Hiking Maple Peak – West Tintic Mountains Highpoint

Ever since our hike up Black Crook Peak, Dan and I have been embracing the desert hiking. We’ve established a (very) loosely defined goal of summiting as many Great Basin range high points as we can. With that in mind, we headed out to Maple Peak, the highpoint of the West Tintic Mountains.

Panorama from the Maple Peak summit

Panorama from the Maple Peak summit

Getting out to the West Tintic Range

We wanted something relatively easy and close to home this weekend—mainly because we’d slept in too much Saturday morning and didn’t have time to drive somewhere far and still summit. We eventually decided on hiking Maple Peak, the high point of the West Tintic Range.

I’ve written a bit about the Tintic mining district, but this would be my first time exploring the mountains around it.

Cherry Creek Road seems to be the main access to the West Tintics, and it’s a very well-maintained dirt road that rises and falls and winds its way through the range. I love how every mountain range out here seems to have its own unique character. The West Tintics are much mellower than other ranges we’ve explored, full of wide valleys and rolling hills. We also passed numerous campsites, which were remarkably deserted for a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.

We more-or-less followed the directions on SummitPost to find the start of the hike (though we missed it once and had to backtrack).

We came south through Vernon on UT-36. Just before 36 meets up with Highway 6, we made a right onto Cherry Creek Road (unmarked).

The road wound through a construction area, crossed a set of train tracks, and then turned to dirt and headed out into the rolling hills of the West Tintics.

From the turn off of 36, it was 11.2 miles to where we parked, at the start of the jeep road mentioned on SummitPost. There’s a large clearing on the left, just before the road crosses a cattle guard. The jeep road starts at the back of this clearing.

Parked in the large clearing just off of Cherry Creek Road.

Large clearing just off Cherry Creek Road where we started hiking.

Stupidly, I started up the Jeep road in my Subaru, but quickly realized that I like my car too much to risk it. It might have been possible to get a half mile or so up the road if I really didn’t care about my paint job, but just wasn’t worth it.

Hiking Maple Peak, Utah

The weather was perfect for an early December hike. The mellow terrain, low elevation, easy route-finding, and good access make Maple Peak a great winter peak. As with most desert hikes, there’s no shade or shelter, so it would be pretty scorching to do in summertime.

The 4×4 road made for easy hiking, and we followed it up to the ridge.

The start of the rough Jeep road that goes almost to the summit.

The start of the rough Jeep road that goes almost to the summit.

The road eventually passes through a cattle gate, and then gets much rougher and steeper. It meanders alongside the ridge, until disappearing a little below the first rock outcrop near the summit.

From the end of the road, it was fairly easy, fun cross-country route finding. We picked our way through the rocks, past some interesting formations, and enjoyed amazingly open 360 views from the summit. This might be one of the best views for the least amount of effort that I’ve found.

Dan checking out some rocks near the summit.

Dan checking out some rocks near the summit.

View from Summit of Maple Peak.

View from the Summit of Maple Peak.

Selfie of Dan and I at the summit of Maple Peak.

Obligatory summit selfie.

We retraced our route back down and reached the car just as the sun was setting, which put us at just about 2 hours car to car. We decided to take advantage of the last bit of light to go check out Cherry Creek Reservoir—we’d been able to see it from the summit, and Dan is always looking for new potential fishing holes. It ended up being just about 2 miles further down the road from where we’d parked. Pretty, especially with the sunset, but not a super promising fishing location.

Sunset on mountains behind Cherry Creek Reservoir.

Catching the last of the sunset at Cherry Creek Reservoir.

Below the reservoir, this pipe was spewing water out quite dramatically. Not sure what happened or why, but the sprays of water made for an interesting photo in the sunset.

All in all, a great quick afternoon hike out in the desert, and another Great Basin highpoint that we can check off of the list.