Snowshoe up, sled down Dry Creek Canyon

February 19, 2010 12:15 am  •  Deanna Devey -

As a mountain biking enthusiast, one of my favorite parts about the sport is the fact that for every grueling climb, there is a fast, thrilling descent. I've often wished after reaching the summit of a long hike that I could similarly speed down the trail.

During a recent snowshoeing trip to Dry Creek Canyon, I was able to combine my love of hiking with my love of speed. After a 1,900-foot climb in my snowshoes, I grabbed my sled and headed skeleton-style down the mountain.

The trail, which is located in the wilderness area just outside Alpine, provides the perfect incline and terrain for challenging hiking and fast sledding. In fact, when conditions are just right, the sledding is almost nonstop for about a mile and a half with speeds reaching around 12 miles per hour.

The base of the trail begins at about 5,600 feet and almost immediately starts a steep climb through Dry Creek Canyon. During the winter, the destination is popular with snowshoers, joggers and cross country skiers, so the bottom of the trail is usually clearly marked and well-packed.

At the 1.2-mile mark, snow enthusiasts reach a meadow called Shingle Mill Flat. From here, the trail gets steeper and is less traveled. There are several stream crossings that are somewhat challenging in snowshoes, but they add variety and interest to the trail.

After Shingle Mill Flat, hikers also experience some of the best views on the trail, including glimpses of Utah Valley and Horsetail Falls, an aptly named waterfall on the north side of the canyon. Hikers who turn left at about the 1.5-mile mark will reach a viewpoint of the waterfall. Snowshoers should be warned, however, that the falls can be tricky to spot in the winter.

After heading back on the main trail, hikers can continue up the mountain to Horsetail Falls. To get there, a left turn is required at about the 1.8-mile mark, otherwise it is easy to miss the falls altogether.

During the winter, this section of the trail is rarely used, so snowshoers will have to carefully make their way along the side of the ridge if they want an up-close view of the falls. In total, the distance from the bottom of the trail to the falls is 1.9 miles.

Hikers can also opt to bypass the falls, eventually reaching a place called The Divide where they will be able to see Tibble Fork Reservoir in American Fork Canyon.

Originally built as a road to accommodate a diversion dam located halfway up the canyon, the trail's low-starting elevation keeps the area's snowshoeing season relatively short. The best snowshoeing opportunities are from December through February, and hikers should plan to spend three to four hours if they want to reach the falls.

It took me a little less than three hours to reach the top of the falls from the bottom of the canyon, but I found walking through the snow to be a refreshing change of pace from my usual winter activities.

It required slightly more effort to drag a plastic sled behind me as I made the climb, but overall it was barely noticeable on the way up -- and well-worth it for the ride down.

The sledding is more challenging than just easily sliding down one of the many popular sledding hills in the area because the snow isn't as packed and you have to consciously keep yourself heading in the right direction.

But the experience of rocketing down the trail with my face only inches above the snow was incredibly exhilarating, and I found myself laughing and screaming almost the entire way. This is an adventure I would certainly recommend for anyone looking for an exceptional and inexpensive winter experience.

If you go

To get to the Dry Creek Canyon Trailhead from Interstate 15, take the Highland/Alpine exit and head east on State Road 92 toward Alpine. At the 5300 West intersection, turn north. At the roundabout, stay on Main Street until 200 North. At the 200 North stop sign, turn right and head to 200 East. At 200 East, turn left and follow the road, which turns into Grove Drive. Continue on Grove Drive until reaching the trailhead.