About Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls was a 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. When I saw people far below where I was getting the kind of view you see pictured at the top of this page, I knew that I had to do some additional scrambling on some pretty dicey and steep game trails just to finally have that elusive satisfying experience after having gone through so much work to get here. So I tend to associate this waterfall with that glorious feeling of finally accomplishing the end goal of seeing the falls the right way, but it way by no means an easy task, which was reflected in the difficulty score given to this falls. Although most people that I saw on this trail targeted the waterfall, the infrastructure made it seem like it was geared more towards other hiking trails and attractions, which further added to the confusion at the end.
Regarding the Horsetail Falls itself, it was a sloping falls that might assume the shape of a horse’s tail when viewed directly and when Dry Creek was in high flow (like it was when I was there on Memorial Day Weekend 2017). I have seen in the literature that the falls was supposedly on 35ft high, but I swore that it must have been taller than that, especially when viewed in context during the dicey scramble from its top to its base. It was possible to carefully scramble close to the base of the falls though I only saw one person do it while the dozens of others that made it here were merely content with the views. 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.
I started off the 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 and how many additional cars were parallel parked along the road leading up to its end. Pretty much from the get go, the trail climbed. 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 before resuming its relentless climb. The trail was pretty obvious to follow given its width, and every so often, I had to pause to let horseback riders pass through (which gives you an idea of how wide the trail was in order to support this mode of transport).
Even though the trail was pretty obvious to follow though it was full of big rocks and stones conspiring to undermine my footing, 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. One such trail 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, but I wasn’t comfortable with the deteriorating trail conditions and backtracked to the main trail. This detour wasted around 15 minutes more or less, so this is something to watch out for when doing this hike.
Continuing further up the 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. 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 as a result of the vegetation.
At about 1.6 miles from the trailhead, there was an unsigned spur trail on the left that led to an exposed rock outcrop, which provided my first glimpse of the Horsetail Falls in the distance. 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.” This outcrop not only allowed us to see Horsetail Falls from afar (including a partial view of a lower tier), it also allowed us 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.
At this point, I had a choice of continuing up a narrow informal trail, which eventually led back to the main trail, or backtrack to the main trail and continue the more obvious uphill ascent. This detour was probably on the order of 0.1 to 0.2 miles long. In another 0.1 mile (roughly 1.9-2 miles from the trailhead), the 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. However, I kept left on the somewhat narrower trail and 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 and 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 from the sign before following 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 as well as an interesting “arch” that was really a large slab of rock balancing on two other rocks with an opening in between forming that “arch”. 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. However, this was also when I saw people were further down below right in front of the Horsetail Falls, and so I followed one of the steep and slippery game trails down to where those people were at while getting decent profile views of the falls along the way.
About two hours after I had started the 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 to get here, but 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. When I finally had my fill of the falls, I then followed the flatter trail back up to the wider trail near the sign, where the final climb up was tricky given how steep and eroded the banks were. 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).
In case you’re wondering, I did scramble a little past the top of Horsetail Falls, but I only went as far as some cascades a short distance upstream from the brink of the main falls. 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. But for all intents and purposes, this was all extracurricular if experiencing Horsetail Falls was the main goal. 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). All told, I hiked about 4.2 miles round trip gaining nearly 1,600ft in elevation, and I wound up spending nearly 4 hours away from the car, but that included the false detour, the picture taking, and rest breaks.
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) before turning left onto 5300 W, which would eventually become S Main St. At about 1.2 miles after leaving Timpanogos Hwy, I stayed on S Main St by taking the second exit of the roundabout, and 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. 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 though 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.
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