Recently featured in the National Geographic book, "Last Unspoiled Place" by Michael S. Sweeney, Logan Canyon Scenic Byway in northern Utah remains today much as it did hundreds of years ago when the Shoshone Indians roamed the area. Meandering through the alpine wilderness of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Logan Canyon offers many moderate day hikes for nature-lovers looking for a brief escape from everyday life.
Fill up your water bottle and pack a lunch in the city of Logan on the byway's western end. For a classic Logan Canyon hike, head six miles east along the byway to reach the Wind Caves Trail at mile marker 379. Read the interpretive signs at the clearly marked trailhead, then hike 1.3 miles up steep switchbacks to see what the signs describe -- remarkable wind-sculpted caves 980 feet above the canyon floor. The best time to see these unique triple-arch and cave formations is early in the morning in the spring or fall, when the first part of the hike is shaded and the morning suns first rays slowly illuminate the byways narrow ribbon of road from east to west.
For breathtaking views from the south side of the canyon, hike the Crimson Trail, which takes you right along the top edge of the prominent limestone cliff locally known as China Wall. Start at Spring Hollow Campground (mile marker 378) and follow the 4.3-mile loop trail up some steep switchbacks. Hike 1.5 miles along the edge of the cliff, 1,000 feet above the canyon floor, and descend another set of switchbacks to Guinavah-Malibu Campground. You can walk back to Spring Hollow along part of the Riverside Nature Trail, a leisurely walking and biking path along the Logan River.
You can hike the Crimson Trail anytime after the snow melts and before winter sets in, but the best time is when the maples and mountain mahogany of the canyon are alight with the fiery reds and brilliant golds of fall.
One of the most impressive sights along the byway is actually a gnarled old tree-- 1,500 years old, in fact. Once thought to be over 3,000 years old, the inspiring Jardine Juniper grows straight out of a rock on the canyon's rim and still clings to life with a few healthy tufts of green springing out from its uppermost branches. To reach the ancient tree, pull off at Wood Camp Campground (mile marker 384) and hike five miles through sunny fields and shady forests, across rocky streams, and up steep switchbacks to see its proud but twisted branches standing out in stark contrast against a sweeping panorama of the canyon below.
To see the clear, cold water of Tony Grove Lake calmly reflecting the dark green conifers and striking gray cliffs which surround it, pull off at milepost 394 and drive seven miles up a paved winding road. Stroll 0.8 miles around the lake on the wide gravel trail and you might see a canoeist, angler, or moose enjoying the crystal-clear glacier water and surrounding willows.
Two of the most beautiful day hikes on the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway start at Tony Grove. You'll need to pay a small fee to park at the lake, but there are pit toilets at the trailhead, and potable water at the campgrounds south of the lake. Hike 3.8 miles along a mostly flat trail from Tony Grove Lake to White Pine Lake, a tiny glacial gem nestled between Mount Gog and Mount Magog in the pristine Mount Naomi Wilderness. Or climb 1,940 feet over 3.2 miles to reach the summit of Mount Naomi, the highest peak in Utahs Cache County at 9,979 feet above sea level. Both hikes offer an outstanding array of wildflower blooms all summer long, but if you come as soon as the trails open in early May or June, youll see fragile shooting stars and glacier lilies pushing their way through the bright green ground cover of early spring amid lingering patches of snow. Come in late September or early October and wind your way through golden aspen forests shimmering against a backdrop of glacial karst-- limestone terrain dotted with sinks, ravines and underground streams.
Near the summit of Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, at mile marker 405, pull over for a short, informative hike that the whole family can enjoy. The Limber Pine Trail is an easy 1.5-mile loop through the cool shade and soft light of dense fir and aspen forests, with interpretive signing about forest flora and fauna every few yards along the way. Discover interesting natural anomalies such as a tree bent into a right angle by winter snows, and the trail's namesake -- a majestic limber pine tree -- the result of several limber pine trees grown together. Rest on the benches here and bring out the lunch you packed in Logan. On the way back to your car, you can glimpse the bright blue waters of Bear Lake through the trees.
You dont have to drive far from civilization or hike far into the wilderness to experience the quiet wonder and peaceful solitude of northern Utahs high-altitude meadows and forests. Get out of the car and stretch your legs along the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway to breathe the fresh mountain air and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit, as well as add to your photo collection.