Horsetail Falls

Alpine / Northern Utah Valley / Dry Creek Canyon / Wasatch Mountains, Utah, USA

About Horsetail Falls


Hiking Distance: about 4.4 miles round trip with scrambling
Suggested Time: 3-4 hours

Date first visited: 2017-05-27
Date last visited: 2017-05-27

Waterfall Latitude: 40.49888
Waterfall Longitude: -111.72756

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Horsetail Falls was a sloping waterfall that might assume the shape of a horse’s tail when viewed directly and when Dry Creek was in high flow.

The flow conditions certainly met this criteria during my Memorial Day Weekend visit in 2017.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_107_05272017 - Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls

I have seen in the literature that the falls was supposedly has a cumulative height of 35ft, but I swore that it must have been much taller than that.

After all, I had to engage in a dicey scramble from its top to its base, and I was pretty sure that the descent was way higher than 35ft.

About the Horsetail Falls Adventure

Speaking of dicey scrambles, Horsetail Falls had to have been another one of the waterfalls in the Salt Lake City vicinity that I really had to earn while going on a bit of an adventure.

It involved going up a relentlessly uphill trail, which ultimately took me to its top after some not-so-obvious scrambling.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_099_05272017 - Looking down over Horsetail Falls with Alpine in the distance and some people below on the lower left giving me the idea that there must be a way down there
Looking down over Horsetail Falls with Alpine in the distance and some people below on the lower left giving me the idea that there must be a way down there

When I saw people far below where I was standing, I knew that I had to do some additional scrambling on some pretty dicey and steep game trails to improve the viewing experience.

Indeed, after having gone through so much work just to even get here, it seemed like getting that elusive satisfying experience with this waterfall required an extra bit of effort and risk.

Anyways, no matter how I looked back at this experience (from the frustrations to the thrills of having success), nothing about it was easy, and this was reflected in its difficulty score.

Nevertheless, the hike’s payoff also featured gorgeous views towards both Alpine and Utah Lake while surrounded by intriguing peaks like Box Elder Peak and Lone Peak.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_176_05272017 - Looking back towards Utah Lake and Alpine from the always ascending Horsetail Falls Trail
Looking back towards Utah Lake and Alpine from the always ascending Horsetail Falls Trail

Overall, I hiked about 4.2 miles round trip gaining nearly 1,600ft in elevation.

The entire excursion took me nearly 4 hours away from the car, but that included pursuing a false detour, the picture taking, and the much-needed rest breaks in between.

Horsetail Falls Trail Description – from the trailhead to a false trail

I started off the Horsetail Falls hike from a well-established parking lot at the end of Grove Drive (see directions below).

Although the trail signage here made no mention of the waterfall, I knew I was in the right place given how many cars were here (especially how many additional cars were parallel parked along the Grove Drive).

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_027_05272017 - Just to give you an idea of how quickly the Horsetail Falls hike climbed, here was a look back at a couple of hikers making their way back to the trailhead pretty early on in my hike
Just to give you an idea of how quickly the Horsetail Falls hike climbed, here was a look back at a couple of hikers making their way back to the trailhead pretty early on in my hike

Anyways, pretty much from the get go, the trail made its relentless climb.

Little did I realize that this climb would pretty much persist for the entire hike with some sparse breaks where the trail briefly flattened out.

The trail was pretty obvious to follow given its width, but it was full of big rocks and stones conspiring to undermine my footing.

In addition, every so often, I had to pause to let horseback riders pass through.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_042_05272017 - Continuing the uphill Horsetail Falls hike while there was an incoming train of horseback riders coming the other way
Continuing the uphill Horsetail Falls hike while there was an incoming train of horseback riders coming the other way

That kind of gives you an idea of how wide the Horsetail Falls Trail was in order to support this mode of transport.

I also had to contend with some narrower false trails that had red tape attached to some branches in the first quarter-mile or so.

Horsetail Falls Trail Description – Accidental pursuit of a false trail

I fell for one of these false paths, which took me down to the banks of Dry Creek as well as some informal campsite where someone didn’t properly put out a campfire and left it smoking.

Anyhow, that false trail eventually degenerated into an overgrown scramble and it was supposedly a path direct to the base of Horsetail Falls.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_011_05272017 - I had encountered quite a few false trails with red flags on them like this, and I believe this was a photo of the one that led me on an unnecessary detour to the banks of Dry Creek and some illegal campsite
I had encountered quite a few false trails with red flags on them like this, and I believe this was a photo of the one that led me on an unnecessary detour to the banks of Dry Creek and some illegal campsite

But I wasn’t comfortable with the deteriorating trail conditions and so I backtracked to the main trail.

This detour wasted around 15 minutes more or less, but this is something to watch out for when doing this hike.

Horsetail Falls Trail Description – more climbing to the first view of the main waterfall

Continuing further up the main trail, it started to go from hot and totally exposed to the sun to being flanked by tall trees providing some partial shade.

This pretty much persisted for the next 1.5 miles or so.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_078_05272017 - One of the log-assisted stream crossings high up on the Horsetail Falls hike
One of the log-assisted stream crossings high up on the Horsetail Falls hike

There were a few minor stream crossings as well as some log-aided ones where informal bridges were set up to make the deeper crossings possible without getting wet.

There was also a little meadow-like grassy area in one of the short stretches when the trail wasn’t on its relentless climb.

Also, the tree cover was extensive enough that it was difficult to appreciate some of the towering snow-capped mountains that were peeking in and out of view.

At about 1.6 miles from the trailhead, there was an unsigned spur trail on the left that led to an exposed rock outcrop.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_068_05272017 - This was my first glimpse at Horsetail Falls from the rock outcrop view just off the main trail at around 1.6 miles from the trailhead
This was my first glimpse at Horsetail Falls from the rock outcrop view just off the main trail at around 1.6 miles from the trailhead

This outcrop provided my first glimpse of the Horsetail Falls in the distance, and this included a partial view of a lower tier.

There was still more hiking to do in order to get close to the falls, but as someone so eloquently stated, “At least there’s the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The outcrop also allowed me to look back down the canyon towards the suburb of Alpine and Utah Lake along with the V-shaped contours of the canyon that Dry Creek had carved out.

Horsetail Falls Trail Description – following the trail to the top of the falls

Continuing from the outcrop, I had a choice of continuing up a narrow informal trail or to backtrack on the main trail.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_073_05272017 - Following the narrower trail with Horsetail Falls along with Pfeifferhorn and White Baldy mountains always in view
Following the narrower trail with Horsetail Falls along with Pfeifferhorn and White Baldy mountains always in view

Both options would ultimately continue the uphill hike to get closer to Horsetail Falls.

The informal detour was probably on the order of 0.1 to 0.2 miles long.

Roughly 1.9-2 miles from the trailhead, the main trail eventually reached a junction with a signpost.

That sign stated that Deer Creek-Dry Creek Trail Number 043 and North Mountain Trail Number 042 junction were both on the right.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_087_05272017 - Sign at another trail junction where going to the left went towards Horsetail Falls while going to the right went towards Box Elder Peak, I believe
Sign at another trail junction where going to the left went towards Horsetail Falls while going to the right went towards Box Elder Peak, I believe

However, I kept left on the somewhat narrower trail.

After another 75ft or so, there was an easy-to-miss steep and badly eroded game trail on the left that deviated from the current trail.

It turned out that this eroded scramble eventually led to the base of Horsetail Falls in another 450ft of somewhat flat scrambling.

However, I managed to miss that spur trail and wound up continuing further uphill for another 375ft or so.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_095_05272017 - Near the top of Horsetail Falls, I noticed this little stack of rocks forming an 'arch', which was one of the more notable landmarks in an area that was otherwise full of chaotic jumbles of boulders and brush
Near the top of Horsetail Falls, I noticed this little stack of rocks forming an ‘arch’, which was one of the more notable landmarks in an area that was otherwise full of chaotic jumbles of boulders and brush

Then, I followed another easy-to-miss spur trail on the left (there was a pile of rocks that may or may not be there to act as a trail marker), which eventually led to the top of Horsetail Falls.

In following this “trail” to the top of the falls, I also noticed an interesting “arch” that was really a large slab of rock balancing on two other rocks with an opening in between.

From up here, I was able to get a pretty clean look back towards Utah Lake and Alpine as well as some mountain peaks to the left like Box Elder Peak.

Horsetail Falls Trail Description – scrambling to a frontal view of the falls

However, this was also when I saw people were further down below right in front of the Horsetail Falls.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_129_05272017 - Context of someone scrambling around Horsetail Falls after I had finally made my steep descent to earn this view
Context of someone scrambling around Horsetail Falls after I had finally made my steep descent to earn this view

So after searching for a sensible way to join those people below, I followed one of the steep and slippery game trails.

It ultimately got me down to where those people were at, and in the mean time, I managed to get decent profile views of the Horsetail Falls along the way.

Finally, after about two hours since I had started this hike, I finally made it to the front of Horsetail Falls.

It seemed like locals in the know knew about the easier way to reach this spot from the flatter scramble that I had missed earlier to get here.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_130_05272017 - Some people who took a less steep approach managed to scramble their way up to the front of Horsetail Falls. Their path was what I was going to take on the way out
Some people who took a less steep approach managed to scramble their way up to the front of Horsetail Falls. Their path was what I was going to take on the way out

That said, I’d imagine that the way I did it was probably more common as the other trail was real easy to miss.

Nonetheless, I had to have shared this falls with at least a dozen or so people despite how difficult it was to get here.

Some of these people managed to carefully scramble close to the bottom of the main drop of Horsetail Falls, but I wasn’t up for incurring more risk to an already risky hike just to even get here.

When I finally had my fill of the Horsetail Falls, I then followed the flatter trail back up to the wider trail near the sign.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_151_05272017 - A couple making a real steep and slippery scramble down the eroded embankment that I had just ascended after I had left Horsetail Falls
A couple making a real steep and slippery scramble down the eroded embankment that I had just ascended after I had left Horsetail Falls

Indeed, the final climb up the eroded embankment was tricky given its steepness and presence of loose dirt.

I have to believe that over time, this embankment will continue to be eroded to the point that the ascent or descent would become quite dangerous (if it wasn’t already).

Horsetail Falls Trail Description – Accidental scramble beyond the waterfall

In case you’re wondering, I did scramble a little past the top of Horsetail Falls prior to figuring out a way to its bottom.

However, I only went as far as some cascades a short distance upstream from the brink of the main falls.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_094_05272017 - Looking down the canyon from above the top of Horsetail Falls towards Utah Lake and Alpine
Looking down the canyon from above the top of Horsetail Falls towards Utah Lake and Alpine

There was a trail that continued to climb very steeply, but I didn’t know where it was going so I couldn’t comment more on it.

Thus, for all intents and purposes, this adventure further upstream of the top of the Horsetail Falls was all extracurricular as far as the waterfall experience was concerned.

As for the return hike, it was pretty much all downhill, and it only took me an hour with some trail running sprinkled in (to make use of my downward momentum).

Authorities

Horsetail Falls resides in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest near Alpine in Utah 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.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_004_05272017 - The start of the trail leading up to Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_006_05272017 - Closeup at one of the many wildflowers that I saw during my hike up to the Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_007_05272017 - Initially on the Horsetail Falls hike, I started to notice some trails with red tape on some neighboring branches, and I wasn't sure what they were for
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_009_05272017 - Most of the main trail to Horsetail Falls was along this wide dirt and semi-rocky path that could also accommodate stock
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_010_05272017 - Lots of purple wildflowers in bloom when I did the Horsetail Falls hike on Memorial Day Weekend in 2017
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_013_05272017 - In one brief slip-up, I pursued one of the red-taped false trails and I found myself following this particular trail that descended towards Dry Creek
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_014_05272017 - Looking down at a very ornate butterfly while following one of the false paths to Dry Creek thinking I was on my way to Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_016_05272017 - The banks of Dry Creek after going on the unnecessary detour thanks to the red tape. Unfortunately, this spot was nowhere near the Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_017_05272017 - While on the false trail to Horsetail Falls, I passed by this illegal campsite where someone left a campfire smoldering and unattended as it pretty much polluted the air here
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_018_05272017 - Looking further upstream along Dry Creek before I realized that I was probably going the wrong way to Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_020_05272017 - Looking back at Utah Lake in the distance as I was trying to regain the main trail to Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_024_05272017 - Back on the main trail to Horsetail Falls, which continued to climb with some peaks in the background
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_029_05272017 - Still continuing the long and semi-rocky climb along the Horsetail Falls Trail
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_032_05272017 - A large part of the Horsetail Falls Trail contained lots of rocks, which could result in a twisted ankle if not careful
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_034_05272017 - Looking back at a group of hikers making their way back down from their Horsetail Falls hike while I was just getting started
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_035_05272017 - Eventually, the Horsetail Falls Trail entered forested terrain, which provided some partial shade for some temporary relief from the hot sun
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_038_05272017 - Continuing the ascent along the Horsetail Falls Trail, where I was encountering quite a few hikers going in the opposite direction (down) than me
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_045_05272017 - Even though there were more trees around me in this climbing stretch of the Horsetail Falls hike, the high positioning of the sun meant that I didn't get a whole lot of relief
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_051_05272017 - Passing through a grassy meadow along the Horsetail Falls Trail
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_054_05272017 - Looking back at a pair of hikers traversing through a small meadow on a part of the Horsetail Falls Trail where it briefly wasn't climbing much
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_058_05272017 - Negotiating more small boulders along the ascending trail to the Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_064_05272017 - This was one of the creek crossings of the Horsetail Falls Trail, where they put a log to help make this traverse without getting wet
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_067_05272017 - The Horsetail Falls Trail continued climbing as I was passed by one guy with two trekking poles and another guy trail running
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_161_05272017 - Shortly after being passed, they took this unsigned detour to the left, which left the main trail to Horsetail Falls. I wound up checking out where this trail went
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_070_05272017 - I ultimately ended up at this outcrop or lookout point where I got my first glimpse of Horsetail Falls as well as more distant views towards Alpine in the other direction
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_071_05272017 - This was the view of Horsetail Falls and I think Pfeifferhorn at the end of the unsigned spur trail that went to this outcrop of lookout
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_157_05272017 - Where the detour rejoined the main trail, I managed to get another distant look at Horsetail Falls with some people down below for a sense of scale. Based on this photo, I don't think the falls is only 35ft tall
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_154_05272017 - Looking back at a section of the Horsetail Falls Trail where there was some running water on it requiring some rock hopping to stay dry
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_080_05272017 - Noticing another butterfly on a tree while hiking towards Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_081_05272017 - Looking towards a side cascade through a lot of overgrowth causing some creek crossings or flooding on the trail to Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_082_05272017 - Traversing some bouldery sections of the Horsetail Falls Trail as it was starting to become less defined
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_084_05272017 - Looking down towards the mouth of the canyon from high up the Horsetail Falls Trail
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_089_05272017 - Beyond the eroded bank trail turnoff, the trail I was on continued to climb as it got narrower. By this time, I was starting to wonder which trail I was supposed to take to reach the Horsetail Falls properly
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_135_05272017 - This was where I followed the faint trail that cut across to the top of Horsetail Falls. Note the pile of rocks on the center right of this photo
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_091_05272017 - Looking back at the Dry Creek Mountain Trail as I was cutting across to the top of Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_140_05272017 - In case you're curious, this was one of the cascades just upstream from Horsetail Falls though I didn't see a point to venture any further
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_096_05272017 - Profile view looking across Horsetail Falls as I was trying to figure out a way to get down to its base
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_099_05272017 - Just to give you a sense of the steepness of the terrain and the overall size of the Horsetail Falls, the little people you see on the lower left of this photo were at the best viewing spot
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_111_05272017 - Finally making it to the base of Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_131_05272017 - Looking down towards the mouth of the canyon from my viewing spot for Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_132_05272017 - Pursuing this faint trail as I was making my way back towards the main Horsetail Falls Trail
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_152_05272017 - Taking advantage of this arrangement of logs to traverse this creek on the way back from Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_159_05272017 - Looking back at the context of Horsetail Falls and backing peaks while other hikers were still on their way uphill
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_164_05272017 - Even though it was getting late in the afternoon, there were still large numbers of hikers heading up towards Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_168_05272017 - Looking back at some horseback riders on the Horsetail Falls Trail
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_174_05272017 - Finally starting to see the mouth of the canyon on the return hike from Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_176_05272017 - Looking towards Utah Lake as I was making the final descent to the Horsetail Falls Trailhead
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_177_05272017 - Finally making it back to the Horsetail Falls Trailhead
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_178_05272017 - Even this late in the afternoon, there were still many cars at the Horsetail Falls Trailhead parking at the end of Grove Dr

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To drive to Horsetail Falls from downtown Salt Lake City, I drove south on the I-15 for about 24 miles before leaving the interstate to go east onto Hwy 92 (Timpanogos Hwy).

Then, I drove about another 5.5 miles along Hwy 92 (taking advantage of the commuter lanes so I didn’t have to stop for several of the traffic lights along the way).

Afterwards, I turned left onto 5300 W, which would eventually become S Main St.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_002_05272017 - The Horsetail Falls and Dry Creek Trailhead parking lot at the end of Grove Drive
The Horsetail Falls and Dry Creek Trailhead parking lot at the end of Grove Drive

At about 1.2 miles after leaving Timpanogos Hwy, I stayed on S Main St by taking the second exit of the roundabout.

Then, after another half-mile or so, I then turned right (east) onto 200 N.

After going east for another quarter-mile, I then turned left onto Grove Dr.

I remained on Grove Dr for the remaining 2.5 miles to its dead-end, where there was a pretty spacious unpaved parking lot right at the trailhead for Horsetail Falls.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_179_05272017 - Looking towards one side of the Horsetail Falls Trailhead parking where it was backed by some mountains
Looking towards one side of the Horsetail Falls Trailhead parking where it was backed by some mountains

If this lot would be full, I saw many other cars parallel park along Grove Dr though the owners of the Rodeo nearby had posted signage not to park near the private property.

Overall, this drive took me around 45 minutes or so, but I did face a few minutes of delay from a traffic jam caused by a motorcycle accident.

To give you some geographical 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.

180 degree sweep starting off with a distant view of Horsetail Falls before panning over to the downslope view in the direction of Alpine and Utah Lake


360 degree sweep followed up by a brief 180 degree sweep showing a profile view of Horsetail Falls before panning over to the Utah Lake panorama then over to tall mountains before ending off with a closeup panning of the Horsetail Falls trajectory


360 degree sweep from right in front of the main tier of Horsetail Falls revealing its entire main drop before panning over to a partial panorama of Utah Lake and neighboring suburbs, then briefly panning over to the impressive mountains backing the scene

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Tagged with: alpine, dry creek canyon, dry creek, utah valley, wasatch, utah, waterfall, uphill, utah lake, timpanogos



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