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Cecret Lake & Sugarloaf Peak, Alta, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 32

Cecret Lake & Sugarloaf Peak, Alta, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 32

The last hike of my time in Utah! 52 Hike Challenge Hike #32 was a big one – hiking in Alta first to Cecret Lake, then up towards Sugarloaf Peak. The most challenging of my entire year-long challenge and wish I could do it again!

Cecret Lake

Pronounced like “secret.” It’s not much of one. I had heard that this place was popular and even on a weekday this place was hoppin’. I still like my nature time quiet and with as few people as possible, but it is cool to see other people out enjoying the outdoors. The water looks inviting, but since it’s used for Salt Lake City drinking water supplied by snow melt, there is no swimming allowed. Bummer.

 

Sugarloaf Peak

Sugarloaf Mountain, in the Wasatch Range, tops out just over 11,000 feet and is the easiest way to bag a Utah 11’er. From Cecret Lake there are two trails up to this summit, a foot path and a service road. This mountain is the site of the Snowbird and Alta ski resorts in the winter.

 

The Cecret Lake Trail

Just getting to the trail head can be an adventure, as it requires traveling up a steep, unpaved road (that is doable in any regular vehicle). However, the trail head isn’t difficult to find. The well-marked road will lead you to a parking area for the Albion Basin campground. You pick up the Cecret Lake trail just next to this camping area.

The hike to Cecret Lake is considered easy, but steadily heading up. Flora and Fauna are everywhere along this hike. Along this section of trail I saw a few wildflowers, signs of moose (scat!) and a hoary marmot sunbathing on a giant rock. Tall, stately conifers surround the area and far off peaks provide even more scenery.

Even though I hit the trail early there were already quite a few folks at the popular lake. I found a rock to call my own and hung out for a bit, enjoying the nice weather and having a snack. After watching some salamanders swim for a bit I decided to head up toward the summit.

 

The Sugarloaf Peak Trail

While not considered especially difficult, Sugarloaf Peak did challenge me in one way. My lungs. At this point along the trail I’m huffing and puffing at around 10,000 feet and my lungs are burning. The trail becomes much steeper beyond Cecret Lake and the incline plus thinner air did a doozy on my respiratory system. However, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of a lung-burning climb and enjoyed this one immensely.

I chose to hike up the service road since I was alone and it seemed less likely I’d get lost this way. Some sections of the gravel road were quite steep, creating a footing challenge on the sliding rock. I forgot hiking poles that day. Lesson learned.

Much of this hike travels under ski lifts. I find it oddly satisfying to walk up a mountain that many use a machine to climb. On this day, one of the lifts was running, perhaps for maintenance, and it was actually quite creepy. An empty lift with no operator in sight, varying speed out in the wilderness. It was like a lift for lazy ghosts.

I didn’t see many animals along this section of trail except a surprise encounter with another marmot and a few birds. As the trail steadily gained elevation, I could really only travel a couple dozen steps before having to take a rest. I didn’t see another hiker, just a noisy construction crew on the way up.

I reached the ski lift and took a selfie break. Unfortunately this also became my turn around point, as I realized my cell phone was rapidly losing power. Since I hadn’t seen any other hikers I didn’t want to scramble rocks at 11,000 feet with no way to call for help. So, sadly, I headed back down. Safety first, especially when hiking solo.

 

The Return

The return hike was uneventful, except for passing one other solo hiker heading up. He had the brains to bring poles and I was very jealous of his ability to keep his balance on shifting rock. I also felt better about my struggle up the peak, watching him stop about as often as I had. My phone died entirely about 5 minutes before reaching my car in the parking lot.

I would absolutely hike this trail again, hopefully hitting the summit with a fully charged phone and hiking buddy! Have you ever hiked this trail or another huge peak in Utah? Tell me about your favorite ‘high’ hike in the comments!

 

City Creek Park, Salt Lake City, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 21

City Creek Park, Salt Lake City, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 21

I made it to Hike 21 of my 52 Hike Challenge! For this hike I headed to City Creek Park. This trail is smack in the middle of Salt Lake City. I love how accessible the outdoors is in Salt Lake City. Even though it’s in an urban area, City Creek Park feels like you’re much more isolated.

The trail does start in an urban, residential area, but as you move along it becomes progressively more secluded.

I loved the little critter footprints on the footpath along City Creek. As you leave the city sidewalks behind, you enter beautiful Memory Grove Park, which was full of historical markers and memorials. I tried to balance wanting to look at all of the monuments with moving forward, but would love to dedicate more time to exploring this park someday.

As the trail leaves the park, you are finally on a more traditional dirt path trail. Leashes aren’t required in this section and on the hot afternoon I hiked there were a ton of dogs going hog wild in the cool waters of City Creek. It was fun to watch and distracted me from the triple digit heat a bit!

This was a super quick out and back for me, but this is actually quite a long trail that you could hike all day. Do you have any favorite urban hiking locations? Tell me about them in the comments!

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 17 – Route 66: A Geographic Journey, Towanda, Illinois

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 17 – Route 66: A Geographic Journey, Towanda, Illinois

When I was in high school, I had a very influential teacher. He continues to be an important mentor to this day. But back in the “olden days”, he inspired me to become involved in a new project of his: transforming a section of Historic Route 66 from barricaded pavement to an educational linear park. It was a big task, but if you’ve ever met Mr. Walk you know not to underestimate him. The man gets things done.

My first hands on exposure to the project was pulling weeds after school one day. I know that doesn’t sound captivating, but it was. I was immediately hooked on the history and romance of traveling this historic road. Thinking about it now, it was probably the earliest seed of adult wanderlust in my brain. I spent many hours over the next few years working on creating informational markers, staining benches (so much staining!), planting beautiful gardens and broadening my knowledge of the Mother Road.

When I was a senior in high school we embarked on one of our biggest projects: designing, painting and installing eight 4 ft x 8 ft murals, one representing each state Route 66 passes through. Great care was taken to make sure these murals would weather as slowly as possible. Roofed shelters and UV-blocking plexiglass were installed with each mural, and it’s great to see each piece hold up pretty well over the last fifteen years.

For Hike 17 of my 52 Hike Challenge I revisited my beloved park, and took some photos so I could share the experience! I know some of you reading were involved in the early stages of this project. I hope you enjoy seeing your work still shining in Towanda, Illinois!

The trail starts with a trio of flagpoles flying the US, Illinois and Route 66 flags. There is also a welcome sign, informational pamphlets in several languages and a guest book that has been signed by people from all over the world. I’m not the only one captivated by the Mother Road.

As you travel along the path, you’ll see large gardens with labels on many of the plants, trees planted on the roadside (many with memorial markers), Burma Shave signs, informational placards, birdhouses, benches to rest on and the murals.

The murals are placed in the order in which you would travel the states if you were starting the Route 66 drive in Chicago and finishing in L.A.

I’m so grateful to have had teachers who valued service learning, and I’m especially grateful I was able to work on a project that is still thriving. It’s great to be able to visit, but it’s also great to know there are many other people learning about and enjoying the project as well.

Have you ever traveled Route 66 or participated in a historical/travel/outdoor service project in your community? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 16 – Starved Rock State Park

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 16 – Starved Rock State Park

For Hike 16 of my 52 Hike Challenge, I headed to a state park close to home, yet one I’ve sadly neglected: Starved Rock State Park. The park borders the Illinois River and contains 18 canyons formed by glacial melt. Legend says the park’s name comes from members of the Illinois tribe who starved to death while hiding from members of the Ottawa tribe.

My friend and I hiked two of these trails: the Starved Rock Trail that overlooks the Illinois River and French Canyon so we could see some of the park’s famous waterfalls. Both hikes were easy, but there were quite a few stairs involved.

We hiked the Starved Rock Trail first, which opened up to a great overlook. This trail is right next to the Lodge and food, which makes it a great end point to your day – get in some views, then sit back with a snack and relax. However, we had a jam-packed day and couldn’t stay to eat at the park, so we hiked it first. We couldn’t go to Starved Rock and not hike the namesake trail!

Next, we hiked French Canyon. Turns out we went a little too far and wound up in Wildcat Canyon, but doing a little extra walking never hurt. This trail was through some pretty heavy canopy which meant it was shady, but extremely humid and buggy. Definitely need bug spray in the canyons!

Both trails were absolutely packed. It’s great to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, but there were definitely some trail etiquette issues. It was a beautiful Memorial Day weekend and I suspect that brought out a lot of novice/casual hikers. However, I think this park is always popular. A few weeks after our hike the park had to close temporarily because there was no parking. All this to say, hiking short, popular trails here probably isn’t for you if you like a more secluded/solitary experience.

Overall we had a great time, and it was nice to be able to quickly knock out a couple different trails. I would love to return in winter when the falls (and crowds) are frozen.

Have you been to Starved Rock or another favorite state park? Tell me about it in the comments!

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 15 – Constitution Trail, Normal, Illinois

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 15 – Constitution Trail, Normal, Illinois

Hike 15 of my 52 Hike Challenge was more of an urban hike, on the Constitution Trail in Normal, Illinois. This trail is a huge asset to the community, connecting many parts of the city over 24 miles. While it serves some practical purpose (I used to ride my bike to work on it), it also gives members of the community a place to “get away”, with its tree-lined and sometimes canopied route. I needed to run an errand in Uptown Normal and it was a beautiful spring day, so I threw on some gym clothes, had my mom drop me off and walked home via The Trail. It is a short mile and a half, but there’s so much to see and enjoy along the way.

I started off by having lunch at nearby Medici. Gotta stay fueled for the “hike” home!

The restaurant is only about two blocks from The Trail, but along the way is the historic Normal Theater. After passing by the theater you enter The Trail near Uptown Station.

Once I was on The Trail I was surrounded by the wonderfully dense, green plants along my route home.

I was able to take The Trail within just a few blocks of home, cutting through the playground area of my elementary school to finish my trek. The gardens around the school were blooming and these bold iris were my favorite.

Iris at Colene Hoose Elementary School
Iris at my elementary school

Although I’ve spent countless hours on the Constitution Trail and consider it my entry point to hiking, I never ever get tired of it. I was very grateful to have this perfect spring day to enjoy it and other treasures in my hometown! Do you have a favorite hometown hike?

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 14 – Cahokia Mounds

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 14 – Cahokia Mounds

Hike 14 of my 52 Hike Challenge was a Native American historical extravaganza. I love learning about Native cultures and the ancient city of Cahokia is a fascinating piece of history that has been studied and preserved in Southern Illinois. I had planned to visit the museum (free, $7 donation suggested for adult visitors) and then hike a bit and climb Monk’s Mound. Luckily I arrived just before the only tour of the day, an hour-long walking history lesson through an important area of the city.

The tour was excellent and our guide was very knowledgable about the site. We learned about the three types of mounds built in the city (platform mounds used to elevate elite/ceremonial buildings, conical burial mounds and ridge-top mounds that are a bit of a mystery but probably used to measure direction and distance as they are placed at regular and intersecting intervals). We also learned about different areas of the site like the palisade wall and the common area called the Grand Plaza, artifacts found in the largest active archeological site on the continent, clues about the residents’ extensive trading practices and possible theories about the quick and mysterious abandonment of the city (which was bigger than London in AD1250 with approximately 20,000 – 40,000 residents).

I cannot stress enough how much I recommend a stop at this UNESCO World Heritage Site if you are visiting Southern Illinois or the St. Louis area. Cahokia Mounds was only a 15 minute drive from downtown St. Louis – it’s a must do.

After the hiking tour, I continued my hike on my own by climbing the 154 steps to the top of the 100′ tall Monk’s Mound, the largest of the 120 mounds on the 2,200 acre State Historic Site and the largest man-made earthen structure in North America. The views from the top were gorgeous, especially in the spring when everything was lush and green.

Again, I think this is a can’t-miss hike if you’re in the area, and is worth the effort for a day trip. Beautiful midwestern scenery, many trails to choose from, interesting features to hike and rich history make Cahokia Mounds so much more than a regular hike! I hope to visit again and try out some other trails.

Have you ever visited Cahokia Mounds or a similar Native American site?

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 13 – Greene Valley Forest Preserve

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 13 – Greene Valley Forest Preserve

Hike 13 of my 52 hikes was another DuPage County Forest Preserve, this time at Greene Valley Oak Spur trail (1.7 miles out and back). It was especially important for me to get out for this hike on Saturday, May 14th because it was Hike Like a Girl weekend!

Unfortunately the weather for this hike was a mess. It was overcast, very windy and the wind chill was 31! I had packed for 70 degree weather (I was just visiting the area), so I put on a bunch of layers, made a makeshift hat and hiked at a brisk pace. I didn’t see much wildlife on this hike, I think due to the weather, although I did see quite a few birds. I was once again surprised by the very rich variety of birds in this park.

This trail is extremely close to roads, so there is a ton of traffic noise. This was pretty disappointing and it never got much quieter throughout the hike. I like quiet/nature noise when I hike, but the close proximity to roads/homes on this trail may be comforting to new hikers or those who worry about getting lost in the woods. However, the trail is very clearly marked with yellow blazes, and is a wide gravel covered path that’s hard to miss. The path weaves through open spaces and woods and is very pretty this time of year with wildflowers and flowering bushes full of blooms, and trees very lush and spring green.

After my hike I drove to the Scenic Overlook, a point on top of a retired landfill at an elevation of 880′. From this Overlook Point you can see DuPage County and the Chicago skyline far in the distance. I learned that methane given off by the landfill is used to power homes around the landfill. Cool!

Frankly, after a cold flat hike in gross weather I was happy to head home (with my favorite Chicagoland food – Portillo’s), but I was happy I got out and got moving, especially for Hike Like a Girl Weekend! Greene Valley has many more trails that I would love to try out, so I suspect this will be a repeat for me when I’m back in the area.

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