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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!


Landscape Arch Trail, Arches National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 30

Landscape Arch Trail, Arches National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 30

We did it! We hit The Mighty 5 in our time in Utah! I know this isn’t an actual accomplishment but…it felt like one to me. Although it was kind of miserable, we managed to get a hike in at Arches National Park. This was Utah park #5 and my 52 Hike Challenge Hike #30 to Landscape Arch.

Landscape Arch

This arch, a natural geologic feature created mostly by various types of water erosion, is the longest arch in North America. It is also the longest span in the park. This long, very thin arch measures around 300 ft wide and is shorter only to four arches in China. Hikers used to be able to walk under Landscape Arch, but as this thin strip of rock continues to erode, slabs are falling from the span. Now hikers can only view the arch from a short distance.

The Hike

To even view at a short distance, however, you need to use your legs. The hike is about 2 miles out and back and is considered easy, but I found this hike to be a challenge. We had already been hiking in extremely hot, cloudless, August, desert weather for most of the day so I was quite fatigued (and sunburned, despite wearing sunscreen). Add to that the challenge of hiking on sand. Not only was the sand difficult to walk on, requiring more energy, it was incredibly hot. That meant I wasn’t only feeling heat from the sun above, but also feeling heat radiate UP at me from the hot sand below. Frankly, this made for a very miserable trek to the arch and back. However, as you probably guessed, it was worth it

The arch was as incredible sight. Unfortunately our pictures just didn’t turn out. The sun was at about the worst position in the sky for photographing this rock, but it was way too hot to hang around and wait for better lighting. Eric and I both thought this park would be really cool to hike at night, so maybe we’ll head back for some night time photography someday. But on this day the arch was an impressive sight that had a humbling effect.

It’s hard to comprehend the scale of time and power required to form these arches, especially one on this scale. The force required to move, fold and crack rocks in order to allow water to freeze, thaw and erode in those cracks is massive, and the process of eroding sandstone on a scale this large takes millions of years.

The Lessons

Despite my misery, I learned a lot on this hike.

  1. Hiking on sand stinks. It just does.
  2. I wore as little as publicly acceptable for this hike due to the heat. Some short spandex bike shorts and a tank top. I think this backfired on me when I was feeling the heat from above and below. In the future I think wearing a light, reflective layer would be more effective at keeping me cool.
  3. This hike nudged me to pick up an insulated Hydroflask because drinking really hot water on a really hot hike is just awful. When doing a short hike like this where I have access to cold tap water I intend to keep it cold as long as possible from now on.
  4. Hiking is convincing me more and more that challenging yourself is a worthwhile pursuit. I was proud of myself for grumpily persevering through this hike, getting a pretty cool payoff at the arch and making it back to the car in one relatively healthy piece. More than the easy, routine, uneventful outings, I reflect on this and my other challenging hikes. This seems to be a bit of a life lesson, too.

I can’t wait to get back to Arches as soon as possible, hopefully in cooler weather. It is a weird, amazing place that seems like I could explore forever and never see the same thing twice. Have you hiked at Arches National Park? Tell me about it in the comments!

Little Cottonwood & Lisa Falls Trail, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 31

Little Cottonwood & Lisa Falls Trail, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 31

For Hike 31 of my 52 Hike Challenge, Eric and I decided to hike Little Cottonwood Canyon, not far from where we were living in Salt Lake City. We decided to tackle Little Cottonwood Creek Trail. When we finished we noticed another trail to a waterfall just across the street and decided to tack that on, too!

Little Cottonwood Creek

Little Cottonwood Creek Trail is an easy hike with little elevation change, but does require hopping through some rock falls. The trail gets narrow with a sharp drop off and significant slant in a few places that may make some nervous, but we were able to navigate these no problem. However, I have no idea how the mountain bikers on this trail zoomed through those areas. Impressive and too daring for me!

The entire length of trail we tackled (about two miles out and back) follows Little Cottonwood Creek, with a few log crossings that made for nice photo ops. There are also some ruins along the way which are always an entire surprise in the forest.

Even on a sunny August day this trail was cool due to the elevation and shaded trail. We did encounter quite a few (friendly) bikers on this narrow trail, even midday on a weekday, so be alert and aware of those around you while taking on this hiking.

Lisa Falls

I had read about Lisa Falls but hadn’t planned to hike it on this day. However the trailhead was just across the street from the Little Cottonwood Creek trailhead, and it’s a short hike to the falls, so we couldn’t pass it up.

This trail turned out to be a lot more exciting than Little Cottonwood Creek. There is certainly more elevation gain here, although still not much overall. You’re picking your way through rocks and tree roots most of the way up to the falls. I enjoy a technical hike as it gives me something to focus on and think about.

When we reached the falls, we climbed out onto some sunny boulders. This was the perfect place to warm up a little bit and have a snack. The trail continues up the falls, but we had used up our time and had to head down. While I wouldn’t revisit Little Cottonwood Creek, I would love to go back to Lisa Falls and continue this hike.

Have you hiked around Salt Lake City or traveled either of these trails? Tell me about it in the comments!


Roadside Ruin & Cave Spring Trails, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 27

Roadside Ruin & Cave Spring Trails, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 27

These Canyonlands hikes were both pretty short, so I’m combining them into Hike 26 of my 52 Hike Challenge – the halfway point!!

Roadside Ruin

We arrived in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and since the Visitor’s Center was closed and the closest town was an hour away, we hit the trails right away! First, we did the short Roadside Ruin Trail. This simple, flat path leads to an ancient granary, where grains and other foods were stored by Native Americans who lived here hundreds of years ago. This granary was built sometime in the late 1200s. Incredible that it has lasted so long for us to view and study.

This hike really hammered home that we were in the desolate Canyonlands. There is truly nothing around for miles but chaparral and an occasional lizard.

Cave Spring

Next up was the Cave Spring Trail. For such a short trail, this really has a wide variety of interesting things to offer. The first part of the loop (heading clockwise) passes by an abandoned cowboy camp. Because of the presence of year-round water (this trail’s namesake) in such a remote spot, cowboys set up camp here while tending to their grazing livestock. The abandoned camp has been preserved for passersby to get a glimpse of the hard, rugged living conditions of the late 1800s-early 1900s ranchers.

A little further along the trail you reach the spring and the location of various ancient pictographs.

After passing through the spring, it’s like you’re on a completely new trail. Two wooden ladders take you to the top of the rock formation where the trail continues via cairns. From the top of the rock formation you can see practically forever, and the late afternoon light made the mountains and desert glow beautifully. The surface of the top of the rock was full of eroded depressions that made me think of craters on the moon.

Although the super remote Needles District of Canyonlands National Park might be off the beaten path and difficult to reach, it is so, so worth it. We only spent one day here but saw so many interesting things. After our hikes in this district we headed to the Island in the Sky District for even more jaw-dropping scenery.

Lake Mary Trail, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 26

Lake Mary Trail, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 26

Oh, Lake Mary. I suppose it’s only fair that right around the halfway point of the 52 Hike Challenge (Hike 26) I get slapped with a big dose of hiking reality. Consider this my midway contemplative hike of the Adventure Series, because boy did it make me think.

So here’s the deal. I used to pick hikes that had a big pay off at the turn-around or midway. Apparently I felt the need to reward myself. This hike changed all of that.

The Trail

I was looking for something in Big Cottonwood Canyon that was short but had some elevation. Since I was going to hike alone I also wanted something fairly heavily trafficked. I settled on the Lake Mary Trail, with the expectation of spending a bit of time at the reportedly spectacular lake before returning down the mountain. Easy enough, right?

The Hike

Pretty straightforward. Follow the trail. It goes up. Despite having spent a couple weeks in Utah I still wasn’t acclimated to hiking at this kind of elevation so I did need a couple breaks just to keep my lungs from exploding. A little scrambly at the end, otherwise this really was a very nicely maintained trail and easy to follow. I lugged my poor little lungs up the side of this mountain, telling myself all the way that I had to keep going in order to see the magnificent Lake Mary, despite the feeling that I might actually be dying.

The “Lake”

So here’s where things get interesting. There is no lake. I didn’t know until I arrived back at our Airbnb and could do some investigation that THE LAKE HAD BEEN DRAINED. This lake that I had read so much about and had pushed myself through a kind of miserable hike to reach was simply not there. Ok, there was a puddle and some rocks, but certainly NOT what I had been promised. So, like, now what?

The A-Ha Moment

I was frustrated and wheezy and sweaty, making my glasses fall off of my face and my temperament generally homicidal. For a minute I let my brain rage about what a colossal waste of time and effort this was. Luckily for me and my brain, something else took over, and I started to question why I was so angry. Why was I out here, anyway? Only to see the payoff at the top? Why wasn’t the hike itself enough of a reward? Why wasn’t the ability to get outside and use my own two feet to propel me up into the sky via a massive rock not enough?

Calming My Brain and My Attitude

As I hiked down (quickly, as I saw the extremely fresh scat of what appeared to be the world’s largest moose on the edge of the trail), I realized that being on the trail really is enough. I had sort of missed the point of hiking in that it’s nothing more than a way to connect with nature, quiet, yourself, friends and possibly a killer moose. All you have to do is go outside and put one foot in front of the other. If a massive payoff is necessary, you’re going to grow tired of hiking pretty quickly.

The Takeaway

This hike totally transformed how I think about and plan my hiking adventures now. Sure, I want to see cool stuff when I hit the trail, but that’s not the singular focus anymore. Nature is unpredictable and part of the fun of going outside is learning the flexibility and adaptability required to spend time in nature. So, I challenge you on your next hike to forget about the big payoff or destination and try and enjoy the little things on the trail along the way. If you have a cool experience doing this, let me know.

Happy Trails!

Sulphur Creek, Capitol Reef National Park

Sulphur Creek, Capitol Reef National Park

Hike 25 of my 52 Hike Challenge was a day full of firsts. This experience was unlike anything I had ever done before, and I can’t wait to revisit Capitol Reef National Park.

About the Park

Capitol Reef was, admittedly, just somewhere I wanted to go to check off all of Utah’s “Mighty 5” National Parks. In the end, it turned out to be my favorite of the five! Although I expect someday Zion will eclipse Capitol Reef, for now CRNP is king. The park’s main attraction is the waterpocket fold, a “wrinkle” in the earth over a fault line. The park’s name is a combination of Capitol for the white, dome-shaped rocks that mimic capitol domes and Reef for the barriers to travel like a coral reef. Some cliffs even look just like underwater reefs, but in the high desert!

About the Hike

I knew we would have limited time at the park (half day), so I had done a ton of research into finding just the right scenic drives and the perfect hike. I turned to one of my favorite National Parks hiking resources, Dirt in my Shoes. She had written a piece about a “secret” hike, which really just means the hike is technically in the backcountry (but you don’t need a permit). In reality this trail is well-known and the Rangers at the Visitor’s Center have lots of info to share. The trail is what basically amounts to Sulphur Creek. The full point to point hike is about 6 miles long and hops down three waterfalls, but for a shorter version you can hike in reverse up to the first fall and back. With limited time we opted for the shorter, reverse option.


I gotta say, even though there wasn’t rain forecast for our time in the park, stories of flash floods in this area had scared the pants off of me and I was hyper aware of any clouds over head. This part of the park can sustain very dangerous flash floods as you can see here. Luckily we didn’t get a drop of rain and my concerns shifted to heat rather than rain as we trudged around in this crazy environment (always, always, always carry plenty of water – check park resources for guidelines, suggestions and water sources).

Hiking Sulphur Creek (In Reverse)

The hike starts just behind the Visitor’s Center by walking down a short path into Sulphur Creek. We were in the desert, in the sun, in August. It was dang hot, but the water was the perfect temperature to cool us down right away. By the way, if you plan to hike this trail, prepare to get wet. We wore water shoes and swimsuits and SUNSCREEN.

The hike is as simple as following the creek until you reach the first fall. It was slow going since we weren’t used to walking in (or sometimes sinking in) this type of “muck”. I took a hiking pole that ended up being helpful to pull myself out of the mud a few times, and to pick my way across the rocky bottom of the creek that is impossible to see with so much sediment in the water. It was also slow going simply because the scenery on this hike is almost unbelievable. I had to make a lot of photo stops, or sometimes I just ended up standing and staring up the canyon walls.

I love to look for wildlife when I hike, and unfortunately in the desert you don’t see too much. That afternoon the best I did was find half of a pelvis and some deer tracks. Better than nothing I guess.

Reaching our Destination (And Turnaround Point)

When you reach the first fall, you’ll know it. The creek opens up into a big pool that was about shoulder deep on Eric. The mucky water didn’t look too inviting, so I stayed on the bank while Eric took a little dip. When he was finished, we started to retrace our steps. Since it was such slow going in the water, we decided to look for a shortcut. Turns out this was pretty easy, but it required climbing out of the creek bed and into scorching hot desert terrain. We decided we’d take the tradeoff of heat for time and scurried back to our starting point.


We returned to our car exhausted from the heat and exhilarated from the adventure. This mini-hike (about 3 miles round trip) was a great taste of the full version and I hope to get back and hike the whole 6 mile route someday. I loved hiking through the desert and in the creek bed. It created a new challenge and provided an opportunity to learn some new skills.

Have you hiked in or visited Capitol Reef National Park? Did you love it as much as I did? Tell me about it in the comments!

Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

Hike 24 of my 52 Hike Challenge was one of the highlights of the trip so far, and is widely known as the “World’s Best 3-Mile Hike”. Welcome to the Queens-Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park.

This hike begins at Sunrise Point (or you can start at Sunset Point and follow the Rim Trail to do a complete loop). From Sunrise Point the trail descends quickly into the canyon, offering incredible views.

This section of the loop was like being in a geology museum. We had an up close look at the hoodoos, windows, fins and other rock formations created by weather, erosion and frost wedging (the breaking of rock when water in creacks and joints expands as it freezes).

The canyon floor was surprisingly green after traveling through barren rock on the way down. I suspect this is because water flows down to this valleyed area to nourish the plants. We especially loved these twisted tree trunks that looked cool and provided a nice bench on which to take a shady break.

We were lucky to have a bright, sunny day with no threat of rain, even though we visited during monsoon season. The canyon can be an extremely dangerous flash flood zone when it rains. We got used to carefully scanning the weather before hiking in Utah due to this very dangerous occurrence.

We chose to return to the Rim via Wall Street on the Navajo Loop Trail. Wall Street is a famous slot canyon featuring a set of switchbacks winding through narrow rock fins.

Hiking up Wall Street was such an experience for me. I couldn’t help but think about how much things can change in just a few short years. Five years prior to this hike I was living and working on Wall Street in NYC. Fast forward to this hike and I was in a completely different Wall Street with much different goals and experiences behind me. Hiking is known as a great way to meditate and contemplate and the symbolism of this place’s name made it even more impactful.

As we emerged from the canyon and back onto the Rim we were treated to a nice view of the trail and Thor’s Hammer, one of the most famous hoodoos in the park.

Make sure to carry enough water when hiking this trails, especially on a hot day, as there is no water source available on this trail. And have a little rest and relaxation when you’re finished!

Post hike nap at the Visitor's Center :)
Post hike nap at the Visitor’s Center 🙂

Have you hiked in Bryce Canyon? Tell me about it in the comments!

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