Donut Falls

Salt Lake City / Big Cottonwood Canyon / Wasatch Front / Cardiff Fork, Utah, USA

About Donut Falls


Hiking Distance: 3.2-3.5 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2-3 hours

Date first visited: 2017-05-26
Date last visited: 2017-05-26

Waterfall Latitude: 40.62977
Waterfall Longitude: -111.65472

Donut Falls (I’ve also seen it spelled Doughnut Falls) was so named because the Mill D South Fork Creek spilled into a pothole that someone imagined was shaped like a donut.

Beneath the donut was a natural bridge where the water continued cascading down a series of bouldery slopes to comprise the overall main drop of the waterfall.

Donut_Falls_084_05262017 - Donut Falls
Donut Falls

Mill D South Fork Creek would continue cascading some more before reaching more flatter terrain well downstream.

Some of this cascading stretch was what I had to traverse in order to get the view that you see pictured above.

As for the waterfall itself, the donut part was towards the top of the cascade, and it was quite miniscule compared to the rest of its overall drop.

Speaking of which, I’d imagine that Donut Falls probably had a cumulative height of around 100ft.

Donut Falls Trail Description – walking to the official trailhead

Donut_Falls_005_05262017 - The Cardiff Fork Road to the Mill D Parking Lot was closed so we had to walk this additional mile-long stretch to reach Donut Falls
The Cardiff Fork Road to the Mill D Parking Lot was closed so we had to walk this additional mile-long stretch to reach Donut Falls

In order to earn our visit to Donut Falls, we had to go on a hike of about 3.5 miles round trip.

Typically, the hike should only be about 1.5 miles round trip, but the gate to the closer trailhead was closed (for reasons I’ll get to shortly).

We wound up spending around 3 hours away from the car though we probably spent a good half-hour around the Donut Falls itself.

The hike began right from a paved turnoff for Cardiff Fork, which might also be referred to as the Mill D Parking Lot (see directions below).

Donut_Falls_023_05262017 - Julie and Tahia continuing to walk the Cardiff Fork Road past some private property towards the trailhead for Donut Falls
Julie and Tahia continuing to walk the Cardiff Fork Road past some private property towards the trailhead for Donut Falls

The Cardiff Fork Road that would have allowed us to drive the remaining mile or so to the official trailhead for Donut Falls could not be driven on the day of our visit in Memorial Day Weekend in 2017.

I suspected that since there was a private community beyond this gate, a compromise was struck between the landowners and the Forest Service to only allow vehicular traffic beyond the gate for residents.

So we had to walk the initial mile or so of pavement.

And despite the fact that it was on pavement, we had to take the walking a little bit slow due to the high altitude of this section of Big Cottonwood Canyon (the trailhead was at nearly 7,500ft).

Donut_Falls_031_05262017 - Julie and Tahia hiking past the official trailhead for Donut Falls just beyond the private community of Cardiff Fork
Julie and Tahia hiking past the official trailhead for Donut Falls just beyond the private community of Cardiff Fork

The road would ascend then briefly before dipping past some private homes of the Cardiff Fork community.

Then, the road made another short climb towards the designated parking area and trailhead for Donut Falls.

Donut Falls Trail Description – hiking from the trailhead to the waterfall

Beyond the trailhead, where there was a little restroom as well as some signage.

The Donut Falls Trail then resumed its ascent along a pretty wide dirt path.

Donut_Falls_039_05262017 - Julie and Tahia contending with some snow on the hike to Donut Falls
Julie and Tahia contending with some snow on the hike to Donut Falls

There was a lot of tree cover, including some groves of the cottonwood trees that probably earned Big Cottonwood Canyon its name (so the Fall Colors here must be amazing).

In addition, there was still quite a few patches of snow flanking and crossing over the trail.

However, for the most part, the hiking was pretty straightforward though the high altitude made our hearts race and our lungs burn.

At around a half-mile beyond the official trailhead (or 1.5 miles from the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road), we then crossed over a footbridge.

Donut_Falls_043_05262017 - Julie and Tahia approaching a footbridge over the Mill D South Fork Creek en route to Donut Falls
Julie and Tahia approaching a footbridge over the Mill D South Fork Creek en route to Donut Falls

The trail then promptly intersected with a wider trail that continued south along the west side of the Mill D South Fork Stream.

This intersection was noteworthy because it would be easy to miss on the return hike given how much narrower the trail to the bridge was compared to the larger trail paralleling the Mill D South Fork Stream’s west side.

For the remaining 0.3 miles or so, we kept left at the forks and eventually scrambled down a short but steep embankment leading to the Mill D South Fork.

Since we didn’t pursue hiking on the right side of the forks, we can’t say anything more about them.

Donut_Falls_047_05262017 - A fork in the trail where we kept left to go to the bottom of Donut Falls, but we didn't pursue the other path
A fork in the trail where we kept left to go to the bottom of Donut Falls, but we didn’t pursue the other path

However, I do suspect that it would have led us up closer to the brink of Donut Falls (i.e. closer to the donut hole).

If we’re fortunate enough to come back here, I might pursue that to complete the experience.

Nevertheless, we then followed the Mill D South Fork until the trail abruptly ended where any further progress involved crossing the very cold and fast-running Mill D South Fork.

In addition to signage proclaiming that swimming and wading was prohibited, this obstacle was pretty much the end-of-the-hike for most visitors unwilling to get wet to continue.

Donut_Falls_053_05262017 - Tahia and Julie negotiating a little bit of a sit and scoot scramble in order to access the Mill D South Fork Creek towards Donut Falls
Tahia and Julie negotiating a little bit of a sit and scoot scramble in order to access the Mill D South Fork Creek towards Donut Falls

While the view from here left a lot to be desired given the presence of obstructing trees and how distant the falls was, it was still possible to get decent photos as well as a glimpse of the donut that earned this falls its name.

Donut Falls Trail Description – getting closer to the donut

Since I came prepared with Keens, I did manage to scramble across the Mill D South Fork.

The water was painfully frigid on the day of our visit in late May 2017.

At the time, the depth of the water was about as high as ankle deep (depending on how the route to cross was chosen).

Donut_Falls_123_05262017 - Looking back at someone wading back across the Mill D South Fork Creek after having had their fill of their closeup of Donut Falls
Looking back at someone wading back across the Mill D South Fork Creek after having had their fill of their closeup of Donut Falls

There was a large flat boulder in the creek where I managed to get a decent direct look at the Donut Falls.

Continuing further to the other side (and letting my feet get some feeling back after the exposure to the ice cold water), I then managed to get my best views of the waterfall.

In fact, the photo at the top of this page was taken from this spot.

It was also possible to scramble up higher to get a slightly closer but more angled look at the Donut Falls, but I opted not to venture any closer to the waterfall from here.

Donut_Falls_115_05262017 - Looking right up at the donut in Donut Falls where the creek disappears before re-emerging beneath a natural bridge
Looking right up at the donut in Donut Falls where the creek disappears before re-emerging beneath a natural bridge

I wasn’t too comfortable with the exposure to dropoffs and the slippery terrain (not to mention the presence of snow around the falls).

After having my fill of experiencing Donut Falls from this spot, I then crossed back over to the side of the official trail, changed shoes, and went back the way we came.

Authorities

Donut Falls resides in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest near Salt Lake City in Summit County, Utah. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Donut_Falls_011_05262017 - Looking ahead at the inclining Cardiff Fork Road that we had to walk to get to the actual trailhead for Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_013_05262017 - Julie and Tahia walking along the Cardiff Fork Road en route to the Donut Falls Trailhead
Donut_Falls_016_05262017 - Julie and Tahia continuing straight for the Donut Falls Trailhead at this junction with the Jordan Pines Campground
Donut_Falls_019_05262017 - Julie and Tahia continuing along the Cardiff Fork Road en route to the Donut Falls Trailhead while Tahia was starting to feel a little cold
Donut_Falls_021_05262017 - Julie and Tahia about to pass through some private lands along the Cardiff Fork Road en route to the Donut Falls Trailhead
Donut_Falls_024_05262017 - Tahia and Julie passing through a four-way intersection as they were getting closer to the Donut Falls Trailhead
Donut_Falls_028_05262017 - Looking back at one of the private homes in Cardiff Fork, which was well situated amongst cottonwood trees
Donut_Falls_029_05262017 - Following other hikers towards the official trailhead for Donut Falls just beyond the Cardiff Fork community
Donut_Falls_033_05262017 - Beyond the official trailhead for Donut Falls, the trail was now dirt and more rockier as it continued its ascent
Donut_Falls_034_05262017 - We spotted lots of earthworms on the Donut Falls Trail suggesting that there was a bit of moisture on the trail prior to us showing up
Donut_Falls_037_05262017 - Julie and Tahia trying to go around some of the snow patches on the trail to Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_039_05262017 - Julie and Tahia getting around and over some residual snow patches along the Donut Falls Trail
Donut_Falls_045_05262017 - Julie and Tahia hiking alongside the other side of the Mill D South Fork Creek after having crossed a footbridge en route to Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_050_05262017 - The Donut Falls Trail returned to the tree cover as the trail was converging onto the Mill D South Fork Creek
Donut_Falls_055_05262017 - The final stretch of the Donut Falls Trail meandered alongside the Mill D South Fork Creek
Donut_Falls_062_05262017 - This was the official end of the trail. Further progress required crossing the frigidly cold Mill D South Fork. So Tahia and Julie stopped here
Donut_Falls_060_05262017 - This was the view of Donut Falls from the official end of the trail
Donut_Falls_059_05262017 - Zoomed in look at the part of Donut Falls that fell into the namesake 'donut'
Donut_Falls_063_05262017 - More contextual look at the Mill D South Fork crossing to improve the views of Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_068_05262017 - Full look at the context of the view of Donut Falls before crossing the Mill D South Fork Creek
Donut_Falls_066_05262017 - Another contextual look towards the Donut Falls while attempting to cross the Mill D South Fork Creek
Donut_Falls_077_05262017 - Looking back across the cascade that I had to traverse in order to get to the side with the better view of Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_070_05262017 - This was a closer look at the Donut Falls spilling right into the 'donut'
Donut_Falls_078_05262017 - This snow bank was one of the obstacles that made me not want to go too close to the donut hole in Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_079_05262017 - Looking back at Julie and Tahia was downstream on the Mill D South Fork Creek as seen from the snow bank near the base of Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_082_05262017 - Contextual view up at the Donut Falls from the other side of the Mill D South Fork Creek
Donut_Falls_100_05262017 - Another look at the front of Donut Falls and succeeding cascades before heading back across the creek to rejoin Julie and Tahia
Donut_Falls_106_05262017 - This was probably my closest view of the Donut Falls without as much obstructions in front of the main part of its drop on the left side
Donut_Falls_109_05262017 - This was as close to a look at the donut in the Donut Falls as I was able to get
Donut_Falls_121_05262017 - Last zoomed in look at the donut hole of Donut Falls before heading back
Donut_Falls_135_05262017 - Following some people back across the Mill D South Fork Creek to rejoin the official Donut Falls Trail
Donut_Falls_137_05262017 - Following Tahia as we had our fill of Donut Falls and were about to head back to the trailhead
Donut_Falls_138_05262017 - Tahia and Julie climbing back up the embankment on the return hike from Donut Falls
Donut_Falls_139_05262017 - Julie and Tahia back on the easier part of the Donut Falls Trail
Donut_Falls_154_05262017 - Tahia and Julie heading back towards the official trailhead for Dunot Falls with the Wasatch Mountains in the background
Donut_Falls_159_05262017 - Julie and Tahia back at the official Donut Falls Trailhead
Donut_Falls_165_05262017 - Julie and Tahia heading back across the Cardiff Fork private residences en route to the Mill D Parking Lot
Donut_Falls_176_05262017 - Finally heading back to the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road where there were even more cars than when we had gotten started
Donut_Falls_183_05262017 - We noticed some beautiful mats of wildflowers during our return hike from Donut Falls towards the Mill D Parking Lot

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We reached Donut Falls from downtown Salt Lake City by driving west towards one of the on-ramps for the I-15 heading south.

We then drove on the I-15 South for roughly 3 miles before taking the I-80 East.

Donut_Falls_004_05262017 - Looking across the wide Mill D Parking Lot as we approached the turnoff from the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road for Cardiff Fork Road
Looking across the wide Mill D Parking Lot as we approached the turnoff from the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road for Cardiff Fork Road

We then continued east on the I-80 for roughly 5 miles before keeping right to go south on the I-215 South.

After roughly another 5.5 miles or so on the I-215 South (Belt Route), we then took exit 6 for 6200 South then kept left to continue east on UT190.

Then, after roughly 1.7 miles on the UT190, we turned left onto Big Cottonwood Canyon Road.

From there, we took the winding road up roughly 9 miles to a large turnoff turned parking area before the gate for Cardiff Fork on the right.

Donut_Falls_003_05262017 - Looking towards the Cardiff Fork Road and where we parked to get started on our hike to Donut Falls
Looking towards the Cardiff Fork Road and where we parked to get started on our hike to Donut Falls

This area might also be known as the Mill D Parking Area.

In any case, this was where we stopped the car and began our hike.

There was parking on the other side of the UT190 though there was a trail for a different hike that started on that side.

Overall, this drive took us around 35 minutes including all the traffic lights.

Donut_Falls_010_05262017 - Looking back across the wide Mill D Parking Area flanking the turnoff for the Cardiff Fork Road along the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road
Looking back across the wide Mill D Parking Area flanking the turnoff for the Cardiff Fork Road along the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road

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.

360 degree sweep from the official end of the trail


Left to right sweep of Donut Falls zooming in on the donut itself before zooming out and sweeping along the flow of the creek then watching some people brave the cold water before panning back to the falls


Long video starting off from the closest spot I could get to Donut Falls before scrambling down to a more sane spot and doing another sweep from left to right of the falls and creek

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Tagged with: salt lake city, wasatch front, big cottonwood canyon, cardiff fork, natural bridge, utah, waterfall, park city, summit county



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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