American Fork Canyon
A Utah treasure best known for its stunning fall colors and dramatic cave formations.
American Fork Canyon is made for year-round adventuring. Located in the Wasatch Mountains 30 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, the canyon is part of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and home to Timpanogos Cave National Monument and the Alpine Loop, Utah’s premier fall color byway.
From hiking and biking to rock climbing and horseback riding, American Fork Canyon offers near-endless recreation opportunities. Snowy weather doesn’t lessen its popularity; visitors simply don snowshoes or skis, or ride snowmobiles through the wintry landscape. Every spring, Tibble Fork Reservoir is stocked with 14,000 rainbow trout, and fisherman flock to catch them all. Picturesque camping spots just off the canyon road welcome tent and RV visitors.
Caves, Colors and Camping
American Fork mayor and longtime resident James H. Hadfield has been using the canyon his entire life. “I love the canyon because of the views,” he says. “I go with my wife when flowers are in bloom or in fall when the colors change; it’s an ever-changing panorama of beauty. Whether on a four-wheeler, hiking or mountain biking it offers so many opportunities.”
From Boom to Bust
Hadfield says the canyon has a colorful past and was once home to active mines with its own narrow gauge railroad. Today, abandoned mines still litter the landscape, and remnants of the 1870s silver-mining town of Forest City can be found in the Dutchman Flat area. The town once boasted a saloon, general store, hotel, schoolhouse and more than 500 residents but was deserted by 1880. All that remains are building foundations and the city cemetery.
In Mary Ellen Gulch, hikers can still see Live Yankee Mine and a cabin Hadfield calls the bunkhouse, because it’s where many miners slept and ate. Across from the cabin is an outhouse perched on a cliff with startlingly scenic toilet bowl views. “If you were to use the outhouse, it doesn’t go into a tank, it drops 150 feet off a cliff before it lands,” Hadfield says.
See the Sights — For a Price
Whether venturing to climb Mt. Timpanogos or to go kayaking, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of $6 per car or show your national parks pass. This fee goes toward protecting American Fork Canyon along with maintaining and improving visitor facilities and services. Cave visitors do not need to pay the fee since entrance is included in the guided tour fee.
Timpanogos Cave National Monument
Hansen Cave has been wowing visitors with its unusual geologic formations and colorful caverns ever since it was first discovered in 1887 by Martin Hansen while he tracked a cougar. Two other caves, Timpanogos and Middle Cave, were discovered soon after, and all three were designated a national monument in 1922 to protect the sites.
The only way to explore them today is on a guided tour that requires first hiking up a steep, 1.5-mile trail with beautiful canyon views to the entrance. (The trail is not wheelchair accessible.) Once at the mouth of the cave, venture underground for a one-hour tour offered May through October. Reservations are recommended and can be made online.
Alpine Scenic Loop Byway
Come fall, the Alpine Scenic Look Byway connecting American Fork and Provo Canyons is busy with leaf peepers snapping photos of fiery red, orange and yellow-hued trees. Though closed to automobiles because of snow, in winter cross-country skiers and snowshoers frequent the loop. And the 20-mile scenic route is beautiful in spring and summer too. Pass by aspen groves, towering peaks and Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort before ending in Provo Canyon.
While on the loop, watch for signs to Cascade Springs where you can choose from three 15-minute walking loops surrounding the fast-moving waters. Paved and wooden boardwalk trails make the area accessible to nearly everyone.
Mount Timpanogos stands at a mighty 11,749 feet, granting it the distinction of being the second tallest peak in the Wasatch Range. The 15-mile roundtrip trail is regarded as one of Utah’s most beautiful hikes and should be on your bucket list.
Begin at Timpooneke Trailhead or at Aspen Grove and hike past waterfalls, fields of wildflowers and mountain goats that call the peak home before reaching the summit shack. Enjoy unparalleled views of Salt Lake and Utah Valley before returning.
Whether you hike, take a scenic drive or simply picnic at one of the day-use sites, don’t miss the wonders American Fork Canyon has to offer.