Timponogos Summit Shelter27 July 2013

A small lake with a rich blue hue – a summit with unparalleled views of the Utah Lake, Provo, and the Wasatch Front – incredible and diverse wildflower displays – large wildlife including deer, moose, and mountain goats. Timpanogos has all this to offer and more.

A quick 14 mile open loop overnighter of Mt Timpanogos allows for an escape into the wild without taking up the whole weekend. Take your time and start in the afternoon, spend the night closer to the summit, and you’ll be back in the parking lot the following day by lunch.

There are two main trails for Mt Timpanogos – the Timpooneke Trail and the Mt Timpanogos (often called Aspen Grove) trail. The Timpooneke Trail is about 7 miles (one way – 4389 ft elevation) and ascends the Giants Staircase – a series of dramatic basins leading up to the shear 1600 ft north face of Mt Timpanogos. The Mt Timpanogos trail is about 6.8 miles (one way – 4900 ft  elevation) and is much steeper than the Timpooneke Trail, switch backing quickly up the Primrose Cirque.

If you have two vehicles you can park one at each trailhead and hike an open loop. Start hiking at the Mt Timpanogos trailhead and get ready for the burn. Up up up, climbing over each successive cirque ridge and past cascading waterfalls. There is plenty of water available in this area so you don’t really need to carry much on your person. The elevation gain is high but the trail is well maintained. Eventually, you top out into meadows and approach Emerald Lake.

While strolling through these meadows enjoying the flatter terrain and the numerous wildflowers I came upon a tribe of about 15 mountain goats browsing around the trail. They didn’t seem very alarmed at my presence.

Emerald lake is a small, funny shaped lake that drains down into Primrose Cirque to create all of those wonderful cascades you just passed. The lake is a deep blue color and sits at the bottom of a snowfield and adjacent to a shelter hut.  According to various sources and personal observation I do not believe the lake has any fish. If you find a report of a fish stocking of Emerald Lake, check the county to make sure it’s the same one.

Emerald Lake Shelter

I spent the night in the shelter, which to my delight had a wonderful chimney and fireplace. I foraged for wood in the trees at the edge of the basin and was able to scrounge up enough wood to fuel a healthy fire until bedtime. I really enjoyed having the warm, cozy shelter especially when a bit of a drizzle started up outside.

Timponogos Mountain View

4:45 AM and it’s time to wake up. By 5:05 AM I was on the trail and summit-bound. Illuminated in the moonlight I found my way across the large, steep, and rather precarious scree field up to the saddle. From there it is like climbing a stairway into the sky with dramatic views of the sunrise over the mountains to the east and the still dark and sleeping city of Provo to the west. The summit is marked by a shelter that I would describe as a clown-house perched precariously on a knife edge ridge with 1000 ft drops on either side. This is actually an old triangulation station used long ago for geological surveying. Regardless of its use, I think it makes a nice point of interest and perhaps would be a possible sleeping spot on a warm night with clear skies.

I made it to the summit in about 1 hour from Emerald Lake – just in time to watch the sun crest the horizon. The sunrise from Mt Timpanogos is an incredible sight with the duality of wilderness on one side of the ridge, covered in sunbeams and the light filters through the clouds, and the largely populated Provo on the other side, still in the shadow of the mountain. I drank in the sights for the next hour or two before beginning my descent to the Timpooneke Trail.

The Timponogos Basin, at the end of the Timpooneke Trail and right before the summit trail, is a wildflower haven. The fields of indian paintbrush, lupine, mountain bluebell, mountain sunflowers, and columbines are truly breathtaking and rival other displays across the Rockies. This basin was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Mountain Bluebells

Indian Paintbrush

The Timpooneke trail zigs and zags its ways down the Giant’s Staircase of cirques and basins. Along the way I came upon a moose at a distance of only 15 yards. This is the first moose I’ve ever seen and I was really impressed with the size of this creature and its ability to quickly disappear back into the foliage. The moose is about the size of a horse, but seems more gangly and walks awkwardly, almost as if it’s legs were too long for its body.


As the trail drops down further it enters the wooded valley and suddenly pops out at the Timpooneke Trailhead parking area. Please note, the Timpooneke Trail is significantly drier than the Mt Timponogos Trail and if you intend to summit Timponogos using only the Timpooneke Trail, you will be packing most of your water for the day on your back.

I enjoyed this short trip thoroughly. The trails and summit of Mt Timpanogos provide incredible sights at a bargain distance only minutes from the Salt Lake Valley. I urge you to get out there and hit the trail – you will not be disappointed.

Timponogos from Nico DeBarmore on Vimeo.