The state of Utah is the perfect location for long family hiking trips. In the northern part of the country you have the beautiful trails filled with tall mountains and aspen trees — think Colorado in terms of natural brilliance.
But, if you travel further south, then you will experience a dramatic shift in scenery. Gone are the snow-covered mountains, which become replaced by red rocks and deserts. In this part of the state, the landscape more closely resembles the American southwest.
As you can guess, Utah offers a lot for hiking enthusiasts — far more than you can squeeze into a small hiking trip. But how safe are the trails in Utah? If you have kids, then is it safe taking them on the hiking paths? Or will they get overwhelmed by tough terrain and weather?
While there is no shortage of advanced trails in Utah, there are also plenty of family-friendly ones you can choose from too. In this article, we provide you with some of the best hikes in Utah — ones that will appeal to the whole family and not just the hiking enthusiast. But first, let us look at how we rank the locations.
How We Choose The Hiking Locations on This List
We select the best hikes in Utah on this list by looking at trails that appeal specifically to families and children. This criterion means that the trails are not too difficult to navigate and you can enjoy them all within a day or two. When ranking the locations, we look at three distinct factors.
Specifically, we look at factors like the difficulty of the trail, activities available, and the overall beauty of the location. For each of these factors, we ask a series of questions that help us determine the strengths and weaknesses of each trail.
We then assign the location a score out of five stars, so you can have a quick reference when checking out the sites. Here are some of the questions we ask:
The difficulty of the Trail — How hard is the trail to hike? Can you complete the path within a day? Can a small child enjoy the trail? Is the trail dangerous in any way?
Activities Available — Are there any activities available besides hiking? Can you go fishing? Or are there areas to picnic, grill or eat?
Overall Beauty — How scenic is the Utah hiking trail? How does it compare to the other locations found of the list? How unique is the scenery to Utah?
The Six Best Hiking Trips in Utah for Families
Keep in mind that we believe all the locations on this list offer great hiking and views for whoever decides to explore them. However, we do think that some of the places might appeal more to families than season hikers. Still, you probably cannot go wrong choosing any locations on this list.
1) Silver Lake – American Fork Canyon
Silver Lake in American Fork Canyon lies on a well-marked trail that ranges between three and four miles. The crystal clear lake surrounds itself with breathtaking rocky mountains covered in trees, bushes, and wildflowers. The result is a location that remains almost stunningly beautiful.
The trail starts at Silver Flat Lake, where you will find a parking lot for leaving your vehicle. The first part of the path takes you through a well-marked trail that weaves between beautiful aspen trees and fresh mountain streams. In total, the trail takes about two in half hours to hike.
Once you get to the lake, you can go swimming or fishing if you possess a license for doing so. There are also camping locations located around the lake itself. Generally, we think kids will be found on the trail in terms of energy as long as they do not care incredibly heavy packs. Otherwise, they should be fine.
2) Grotto Trail – Payson Canyon Utah
Since this trail is not very long and contains little elevation, it is ideals for families of all shapes and sizes. You also get rewarded with a sight of the beautiful Grotto falls at the end of the trail. The trail follows a variety of small streams, some of which you must cross using wooden beams placed by rangers.
As we mentioned, this is a quick trial, so you should not expect to spend all day on it. The trail is roughly half a mile long and takes about forty-five minutes to get through it (not counting any time you spend enjoying the waterfall afterward).
However, if you visit during the spring make sure you are careful while you hike the trail. Sometimes running water from melting snow can flood certain parts of the path. We recommend visiting in mid-summer since the trees provide a nice bit of shade and the waterfall is crisp and refreshing.
3) Devils Kitchen Payson Canyon
If you want a great trail of some of the beautiful red rock formations found throughout Utah, then the Devils Kitchen trail in Payson Canyon is the perfect trail for you and your family. This trail is an excellent way to get in and out of the area quickly since the path is only a quarter of a mile long.
At the end of the trail, it will reward you with a mountain platform that offers a beautiful scenic view of southern Utah. You can complete the path in roughly thirty minutes. The park also provides toilets and picnic tables, which makes the area an excellent location for your family to stop and have lunch during a road trip.
However, keep in mind that the trail is aptly named. During the summer when the weather heats up, the paths can become unbearable for certain sun-sensitive individuals Since there is little natural shade from the trees we recommend that you bring a good hat and some sunscreen.
4) Silver Lake – Big Cottonwood Canyon
The beautiful Silver Lake offers a lot for family hikers: lakeside trails, picnic areas, and some dock fishing locations. With any luck, you will see a moose near the trail since the city is an excellent breeding ground for the animal. We recommend visiting anytime during the Spring, Summer or Fall.
The boardwalk hike itself is less than a mile long, so no one should get too tired during the trip. In terms of fish, Silver Lake offers mainly trout populations. Just make sure you have a fishing license before you bring along your rod and tackle box!
One cool thing about the location is that it included boardwalks for reaching the lake area. As such, it is ideal for families that want to bring along an elderly or disabled family member since the lake is handicap accessible.
5) Lower Bells Reservoir – Little Cottonwood Canyon
Like many of the trails on this list, Lower Bells Reservoir found in Little Cottonwood Canyon offers a quick hike with a reward scenic payoff. The path itself is less than a quarter mile long, and you can navigate in around twenty minutes. The trail takes you up a small ridge, and then circles you around the reservoir.
Generally, many people consider this trail as secure which makes it ideal for children and elderly hikers. If you are a fan of bright green mountainsides and plenty of blossoming wildflowers, then we recommend you visit the trail in spring or early summer.
You can get parking at the trailhead found at the 9800 South intersections. You will also find bathrooms and picnic table at the park head.
6) Red Reef Trail – Red Cliffs Recreation Area
At six miles long, the Red Reef Trail, found in the Red Cliffs recreation area, is one of the long hikes on this list. However, the beautiful canyons, gorges and water crevices will be sure to entertain your family during the long trek. If you do not want to hike the entire trail, then alternatively you can take a quick half mile loop that offers a lot of the same views.
Along the trail, you find many memorable sights — from the thick elephant trunk tree to the pools of water you can swim in along the path. While the scenic views and geographical formations offered on the trail is undeniably beautiful, we do provide a word of caution if you want to hike the trail with your family.
During the summer the heat can become unbearable for children or the elderly. Also, during the spring flash flooding can occur in the valleys at the drop of a hat, which makes certain sections of the trail potentially dangerous. As such, we recommend it for families with older children or more experienced hikers.
Hiker’s Guide for Navigating Utah Trails
If you never hiked a trail before, then there are some essential things you should know before bringing your family to one of Utah’s many national parks. Luckily we included some important take waypoint in this hiker’s guide section. Here are some vital tips you should keep in mind before hiking.
Pack and Dress Accordingly
Without the proper trail gear, an otherwise fun hiking experience can turn uncomfortable at best and downright dangerous at best. As such, it is vital that you bring such essential equipment. First and foremost you should bring water, at least two quarts per person and a comfortable pair of shoes.
Similarly, so areas of Utah experience random or erratic rainfall. As such, some ziplocked plastic bag can help keep your phone and wallet dry in case of an emergency. Similarly, so areas can experience sweltering heat in the summer, so bring sunscreen, even if you find you do not usually need it.
Do Not Overestimate Yourself
If you are a beginner or hiking with family and friends, then do not plan too ambitious of a hiking trip. A lot of the harder trails in Utah offer little shade from the sun and steep mountainous climbs. Discuss how long you would like to hike with your family, then pick a path that corresponds roughly in difficulties.
There are also plenty of trails that offer easy-to-reach, family friendly views. So visit the park center when you reach a national park and ask the staff which paths they recommend. Do not be nervous; it is their job to help you navigate the park.
Be Aware that There Might Be Crowds
Hiking is becoming a much more popular activity, and as a result, there might be more crowds on the trails then you are used to dealing with while hiking. If you do not mind sharing then the path, then this issue is not a big deal. But if you want to avoid some crowds, then there are some tips you can follow that will help you.
First, try and come during non-peak hours when the parks just open. Noon is usually the most popular time for people to visit. So, try coming either early in the morning or after two PM. If you want to catch a sunrise or a sunset on the trail, then you can probably expect some company too.
We hope this guide helped you find some of the best hikes in Utah for your family. Whether you camp or walk the trail for the day, make sure you leave the environment the same as when you found it. Set a good example for your family and others and pick up your trash and belongs. Have fun on the trail!