About Adams Falls
Adams Falls (also known as Adams Canyon Falls) was definitely one of the more adventurous waterfalls that I pursued while waterfalling the Salt Lake City area during our Memorial Day Weekend 2017 Trip. The waterfall was named after Elias Adams who was an early settler of East Layton. In a year where the Wasatch Range received heavy snowfall throughout the Winter and Spring months, that also created conditions that were ripe for a bit more scrambling and stream walking than what was typical according to the locals I’ve met. Indeed, the difficulty score reflected that increased degree of difficulty as a result of the high water conditions. That said, as you can see from the photo above, the attractive 40ft rectangular waterfall was a worthy reward for all the trouble. The underlying red cliffs also added more color to the overall scene, and its spray was refreshing after all the pretty hard hiking it took to get up here. Indeed, this excursion had it all – the attractive waterfall, the adventurous trail, and the views towards the Great Salt Lake to boot. I could totally understand why this was seemingly Layton’s most popular hike.
The hike began from a pretty spacious unpaved lot though there was also parallel parking available on Eastside Road (see directions below). The trail initially followed some fencing preventing the public from accessing some kind of rectangular pond before ascending a series of switchbacks with high wooden fences to prevent people from taking shortcuts. There were several of these switchbacks (maybe a dozen or so wasn’t an exaggeration), where the trail gained some 500ft over a sandy surface, which can sap a bit more energy than a normal packed dirt trail. Eventually, after a half-mile from the trailhead, the path joined up with the Adams Canyon Trail, where I kept right to approach the scenic Adams Canyon while also being able to look back at the views towards Layton and the Great Salt Lake. Apparently, prior to joining up with the Adams Canyon Trail, there was an additional spur trail to the right near some rest benches, and that trail was said to lead to the Lower Adams Canyon Falls. However, since I didn’t do that trail, I can’t say more about it.
As the trail entered Adams Canyon, there was a bit more tree cover as the path narrowed, which provided some welcome relief from the sun. After about another quarter-mile from the junction, I reached a fork where the Bonneville Shoreline Trail descended towards a footbridge over North Holmes Creek on the right. The left fork continued on the Adams Canyon Trail, which now pretty much followed along the North Holmes Creek for the remainder of the hike. During this stretch, the path continued climbing while passing by some small intermediate cascades. Parts of the trail appeared to have eroded quite a bit though I wasn’t sure if this was from years of wear and tear from the popularity of the trail or if a large chunk of earth got swept away from the higher water levels of Holmes Creek. Whatever the case, there were moments where I had to quickly walk along sloped embankments with dropoffs as well as figure out how to walk on the sides of Holmes Creek itself without getting wet in the spots where there was no trail between the embankments and the creek.
At about 0.8 miles from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail junction, the trail crossed North Holmes Creek over a slanted wooden footbridge. Just beyond this bridge, the trail became increasingly more rugged and steep as I often had to scramble hand over feet in the steepest sections. There were also more attractive cascades that the trail meandered alongside, including one small waterfall where a large boulder formed a kind of “cave” or alcove with water running through it. Further upstream from this spot, the trail then went around a bend in the creek where I opted to hike into the creek itself on its far right side to avoid doing a pretty daring steep scramble further up the embankment (to avoid getting wet).
At about 0.2 miles from the footbridge over North Holmes Creek, I had to traverse a narrow rocky ledge before winding up in front of the most impressive intermediate cascade seen so far. Aside from its photogenic quality as a legitimate standalone waterfall, I had to scramble on the trail alongside the cascade’s right side, which eventually brought me to the top of the falls and beyond. Beyond this waterfall, the trail continued to get rougher as it hugged the right side of North Holmes Creek while involving some more steep climbs. Eventually at about 2 miles from the trailhead, the trail then reached an unbridged crossing of North Holmes Creek. This was pretty much before the Adams Falls, but it could not be seen without getting into the creek.
During the time that I did this hike, the creek was running pretty high so inevitably, I had to get my feet wet as the water was easily ankle- to shin-deep. I’ve also seen trip reports where at lower water levels, it was possible to easily cross North Holmes Creek without getting water inside Gore-tex hiking boots or even day hiking low-top boots. Nevertheless, once I made it to the other side of North Holmes Creek, that was when I could finally see Adams Falls in all its glory (just like in the photo at the top of this page).
When I showed up at about 9:30am, there was still enough of a morning shadow to take decent photos. That said, this was a west-facing waterfall so afternoon provided the best lighting. Of course, waiting until the afternoon to do this hike would mean the initial sandy switchbacked climb from the trailhead to the Adams Canyon Trail junction would be a brutally hot stretch. And if you’re not acclimated to the altitude, it could make an already tough hike even tougher right off the bat. And despite the tree cover for most of the remainder of the Adams Falls Trail once it entered Adams Canyon, it was still mostly uphill, further adding to the difficulty of the hike.
Overall, it took me just under 2 hours to get all the way up to the falls, but it took me around 90 minutes or less to return to the trailhead. According to my GPS logs, I had hiked about 4 miles round trip. And even though it was indeed quite an adventurous hike, there were still many people that I encountered throughout the excursion (especially on the return hike), which attested to this place’s popularity.
From downtown Salt Lake City, I drove north on the I-15 for about 16 miles before leaving the interstate to go onto Hwy 89. Then, I drove about another 6 miles along Hwy 89 before turning right onto a short access road leading to Eastside Drive (there were stop signs on this road though Hwy 89 kept moving at high speed as it didn’t have one here). This was the first right turn after the traffic light at the intersection of Hwy 89 and Oak Hills Drive (there was also a water tank on the northwest corner of this intersection, which could be another telltale landmark when looking for the Adams Canyon Falls Trailhead).
Once I made another right onto Eastside Drive, I then drove the remaining 0.4 miles to the Adams Falls Trailhead on the left. While the unpaved parking lot was fairly spacious, when I showed up at 7:45am, there were already dozens of cars here. When I returned to the trailhead shortly after 11pm on a Saturday, Eastside Drive was full of cars parallel parking both north and south of the formal trailhead parking. This attested to how popular this hike was. In any case, this drive from downtown Salt Lake City took me about 30 minutes.
To give you some overall context, Salt Lake City was about 302 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of St George, 234 miles (over 3.5 hours drive) northwest of Moab, 215 miles (3 hours drive) south of Idaho Falls, Idaho, 421 miles (over 5.5 hours drive) north of Las Vegas, Nevada, and 688 miles (over 9.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles, California.
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