Mike McKnight, professional Ultra Runner and coach, lowcarb-runner.com
When I was a student at Utah State University, I once hiked the Wind Caves trail three times in one day, once by myself, once for a date, and once with my roommates. I only knew of six trails at the time: Wind Caves, Crimson Trail, Green Canyon, Providence, Bonneville Shoreline, and the River Trail. I hiked the Wind Caves the most, and easily hit that trail a couple times a month. “It’s the best trail in Cache Valley!”
Fortunately, I learned about and developed a passion for trail running, and through that process I learned that there are so many other amazing trails in the valley. I’ll even use some boldness and say that we have the best trail access in Utah, even better than many areas in Colorado.
In 2019, my family and I moved to Denver, Colorado for work. We only lived there for two months before we realized how much we missed Cache Valley’s mountain access. So, I quit my job and we moved right back. Throughout my nine years of trail running in Cache Valley, I’ve explored hundreds of trail miles in our mountains. Below are six of my favorites, which I encourage you to explore this summer! I also encourage you to download the All Trails app, and even consider paying for the premium account. The descriptions I provide below are very generic and may be confusing for those who aren’t familiar with the area. With the All Trails app, you’re able to download hiking routes to use as a guide straight from your phone. Please do your research on any trails you hike and make sure you pack plenty of food and water.
Lower Smithfield Canyon: This trail starts out easy, but becomes more difficult a couple of miles in. However, the lower section is beautiful and worth checking out if you haven’t. It follows alongside the Smithfield Canyon River and crosses it multiple times. Don’t worry, every crossing now has a way to get across without getting your feet wet.
Directions: From Mack Park in Smithfield, head east on Canyon Road for 4.3 miles until you reach the Smithfield Canyon parking area. From there, the road turns to dirt and quickly crosses a bridge over the river. Continue on the dirt road for just over 2 miles until the dirt road ends at the trailhead. Sawmill: This is my favorite trail in the Temple Fork area. The entire trail follows a small creek, and typically has multiple Beaver Dams that hikers can observe. The trail is an out-and-back and is a total of 5.3 miles. Directions: From First Dam, head east through Logan Canyon on US 89 for just under 15 miles until you reach Temple Fork. Turn right and head up the road for approximately 1 mile until you reach the trailhead.
Sawmill: This is my favorite trail in the Temple Fork area. The entire trail follows a small creek, and typically has multiple Beaver Dams that hikers can observe. The trail is an out-and-back and is a total of 5.3 miles.
Directions: From First Dam, head east through Logan Canyon on US-89 for just under 15 miles until you reach Temple Fork. Turn right and head up the road for approximately 1 mile until you reach the trailhead.
Spring Hollow: In terms of scenery and terrain, this trail is very diverse. It starts steep and rocky, and quickly leads to a section of trail that goes through a field of shale. It continues through thick trees, another shale field, and more thick trees. The end of the trail connects to an ATV road which either leads to Logan Peak (left) or Inspiration Point (right). At this junction, it’s only two miles down the road until you hit Inspiration Point, which is one of my favorite spots in the valley. This trail is an out-and-back and is approximately 12 miles.
Directions: From Third Dam, walk up the paved road around .25 miles until the road ends at a bridge. Cross the bridge and continue on the single-track trail until you reach a junction for the Crimson Trail. Head straight past the junction.
Cottonwood/Jardine Juniper Loop: Another trail that has gained popularity in Cache Valley is the Jardine Juniper trail. This trail leads to Cache Valley’s oldest living tree. What many people don’t know is that there is an alternative route, which starts in Cottonwood Canyon. The trail begins somewhat easy and has many river crossings. Some have bridges, and some don’t. The trail eventually gets steeper and wraps around the backside of Jardine Juniper, and connects with the main trail just before the sitting bench which overlooks the meadow. You’ll continue to the tree, then drop down below it on a steep rocky trail which eventually connects back to the Cottonwood Canyon Trail. The two connect fairly close to the parking area of Cottonwood.
Directions: From First Dam, head east through Logan Canyon on US-89 for just over 12 miles. Parking area will be on the left side of the road, just before a large curve in the road.
Mount Elmer: This trail starts out easy, as it begins in Green Canyon. Once you venture into the Naomi Wilderness boundary, the canyon narrows, and the trail gets steeper. You’ll eventually reach a junction where you can head north to Elmer, or south to Beirdneau. Head north and you’ll reach the saddle west of Mount Elmer and will have a short journey until you hit the base of Elmer. The trail is an out-and-back and is around 11 miles total.
Directions: In Logan, drive east on 1900 North and continue following the road as it enters Green Canyon. The Green Canyon Trailhead is located 4 miles up Green Canyon at a parking area near the end of the road.
Flat Top: This is my favorite peak in the valley. From the top, you can see many of the major peaks in the Bear River Range. This trail is steep and often overgrown. But it is well worth it. Following the trail is very straightforward until you reach the saddle at 8,900 feet. You can head north to the summit of Flat Top, forward to head down Birch Canyon, or southeast to Jardine. The trail is an out and-back and is around 11.5 miles total. You do have the option to make it a longer journey (approximately 17 miles) by heading down Birch Canyon and reconnecting at the mouth of Dry.
Directions: In Smithfield, drive East on 300 south. The road will eventually turn to dirt, which you can continue driving on for another mile until you reach a parking area for the trailhead.
photo credit: Mike McKnight
A view of the valley from Baby Baldy in Providence.