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: -111.73988

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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.

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

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.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_018_05272017 - A false trail marked by red tape led me to the banks of Dry Creek and some illegal campsite. It is not necessary to do this detour in order to hike up to Horsetail Falls
A false trail marked by red tape led me to the banks of Dry Creek and some illegal campsite. It is not necessary to do this detour in order to hike up to Horsetail Falls

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.

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

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.

Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_002_05272017 - At the pretty spacious unpaved parking lot at the end of Grove Drive for the Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_004_05272017 - The start of the trail leading up to Horsetail Falls
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_011_05272017 - Something to watch out for were these seemingly false trails marked by red tape that led to the banks of Dry Creek, but was not necessary to do in order to reach Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_017_05272017 - While on the false trail, 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_016_05272017 - The banks of Dry Creek after going on the unnecessary detour thanks to the red tape
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_024_05272017 - Back on the main trail to Horsetail Falls, which continued to climb
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_027_05272017 - Looking back at a pair of hikers making the final downhill stretch back to the trailhead, which I knew was something to look forward to when it would be my turn to end the hike
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_035_05272017 - Eventually, the trail entered forested terrain, which provided some partial shade for some temporary relief from the hot sun
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_054_05272017 - Looking back at a pair of hikers traversing through a small meadow on a part of the trail where it briefly wasn't climbing much
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_064_05272017 - This was one of the creek crossings, where they put a log to help make this traverse without getting wet
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_067_05272017 - The 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
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_071_05272017 - That unsigned spur trail led to an overlook providing my first glimpse of Horsetail Falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_073_05272017 - Context of Horsetail Falls and the narrow detour trail that eventually hooked back up with the wider main trail
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_078_05272017 - Another deep creek crossing, where a pair of logs were set up as a footbridge to avoid getting wet
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_154_05272017 - Looking back at a section of the trail where there was some running water on it requiring some rock hopping to stay dry
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_087_05272017 - Not long after the detour rejoined the main trail, I encountered this sign, where I took the trail on the left instead of following the sign and going right
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_151_05272017 - This easy-to-miss game trail went down this very steep embankment before eventually reaching a frontal view of Horsetail Falls. I happened to miss this spur trail when I first got here. Note that this steep embankment was also a non-trivial climb back up once I left the base of the falls
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_089_05272017 - Beyond the game trail turnoff, the trail I was on continued to climb as it got narrower
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_095_05272017 - This was the rock 'arch' near 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_129_05272017 - Another look at the front of Horsetail Falls, where one lady on the right side of this photo managed to scramble closer
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_130_05272017 - After having my fill of Horsetail Falls, I followed these hikers out this other trail, which was how I found out about the eroded game trail that I had missed earlier
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 trail
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_176_05272017 - Looking towards Utah Lake as I was making the final descent to the trailhead
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_177_05272017 - Finally making it back to the trailhead
Horsetail_Falls_Alpine_178_05272017 - Even this late in the afternoon, there were still many cars at the trailhead parking at the end of Grove Dr


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.

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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