Fall is upon us and a favorite place to see the leaves in all their splendor is the Alpine Loop. It is a scenic drive that includes Provo Canyon and American Fork Canyon. There are so many wonderful hikes and places to stop and further appreciate the beauty.
The Provo side has consistent cell service through Aspen Grove Trailhead, but the American Fork side has very little service, unless you have AT&T as your service provider. You will probably want to download maps in advance for that side, although it’s a good idea to do it on all unfamiliar trails. I will describe the Alpine Loop twice. The first time explains the scenic drive and the second all the hikes you can do along the way.
You can go either direction through the loop, but I will describe it starting in Provo Canyon and coming out American Fork Canyon.
Alpine Loop Scenic Drive
(Google Driving Directions Link)
The Alpine Loop Scenic Drive is one of the best places to see fall colors and mountain views in all of Utah. It gets very popular on weekends during peak season, so keep that in mind, going mid-week or early weekend morning. If you need to go on the weekend, bring snacks and mentally prepare for extra time and traffic. Also keep your eye out for animals. I have seen many animals cross the road, including deer, moose, wild turkey and big horn sheep. All of these photos were taken from inside my car along the Alpine Loop.
Some of these photos were taken going the opposite way through the canyon, but the scenic views are breathtaking either direction.
Provo Canyon section (7 miles)
The road up Provo Canyon is a major highway, US-189, so you go quickly up the canyon.
Near the entrance of the canyon to your right is the turn off to Kyhv Peak along the Squaw Peak Road. Just after on the left is Canyon Glen Park.
Nunn’s Park is the starting point of many waterfall hikes. Bridal Veil Falls is an enormous waterfall that will be on your right, immediately after the exit to Nunn’s Park. There will be a few other smaller waterfalls you can also see from the road before and after.
As you get a little higher you can more clearly see the Provo River on your right.
There is a tunnel to pass through. That second photo is the opposite direction, heading down the canyon.
Provo Canyon to Sundance (5 miles)
If you continued up the Provo Canyon Highway, you would arrive at Deer Creek Reservoir. For the Alpine Loop you will want to turn earlier, at UT-92 towards Sundance Ski Resort and the Aspen Grove Trailhead. Here are photos of that section. These first photos are looking back towards Provo Canyon.
Soon you will see majestic Mount Timpanogos rising up.
Right after you will get to Sundance Ski Resort and then the Toll Booth. If you have a National Parks Pass ($80/year for most) or have paid ahead for the day, you can go ahead. For the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest (American Fork Canyon and Mirror Lake Highway) it is $6 for a 3-day pass, $12 for a 7-day pass, $45 for a year pass.
Alpine Loop Aspen Grove to Cascade Scenic Drive (5 miles)
After the toll booth is the Aspen Grove Trailhead. Continue up the highway.
Possible Detour Along Cascade Scenic Drive (7 miles each way)
I highly recommend this little detour to see the Deer Creek Overlook and Cascade Springs area. If there isn’t too much traffic and you don’t intend to stop long, this will only take about 30 minutes. If you are going on a weekend in October, plan for at least double. (If you don’t have time, just skip it and continue straight along the road.)
To take the detour turn right onto Cascade Scenic Drive towards Midway, Utah.
This area has spectacular colors!
The Deer Creek Overlook is a little parking area with a gorgeous viewpoint! If you look off in the distance, you can see part of Deer Creek Reservoir.
Here are a few zoomed in shots of those gorgeous trees!
Two minutes beyond the Deer Creek Overlook is Cascade Springs, which is a nice mostly wheelchair-accessible hike through the trees.
Return again to the main Alpine Loop heading back along Cascade Scenic Drive towards UT-92.
Cascade Springs Scenic Drive Junction to Timpooneke Junction (6 miles)
Soon after you rejoin UT-92 you will see the Summit Trailhead that is at the highest point of the road. After it you will be heading downhill again. The mountain on your left as you head down from Summit and then straight ahead as you tun the corner is breathtaking!
When you get to the junction turn right to head down the canyon. If you were to go straight, you would arrive at the Timpooneke Trailhead just around the corner.
Timpooneke Junction to American Fork Canyon Entrance
You can just take this road all the way down the canyon, unless you want to detour to Tibble Fork Reservoir.
I suggest pulling over into the Pine Hollow Trailhead. The views there are incredible!
When you get near the base of the canyon, there are few colors and a lot more green.
Hiking in the Alpine Loop
Now I’m going to describe the Alpine Loop again, this time mentioning all the trails along the way with pictures and links.
Head up US-189 through Provo Canyon. Almost immediately on your right is the turn off to Squaw Peak Road. That will lead you to the newly renamed Kyhv Peak Overlook (formerly Squaw Peak Overlook) (o miles), Upper Quito Trail, and Buffalo Peak Trail (0.9 miles, easy).
Continuing up Provo Canyon you will pass Canyon Glen Park with Canyon Glen Loop (2.8 miles, moderate), Bridal Veil Falls (0-1.4 miles, easy) that is visible from the road. At the same turn off you can access Lost Creek Falls (2.8 miles, difficult), Springdell Cascade (also called Bridesmaid Falls) (2.4 miles, moderate), and Upper Falls (0.6-1.0 miles, moderate).
At Vivian Park you can detour to South Fork Park, Big Springs Hollow Loop (3.9 moderate miles), Big Springs to First Meadow (1.1 easy miles), or to float the Provo River. If it’s winter you can see the frozen bubbles.
A little higher is the turn off to the left UT-92 towards Sundance. The views from the road are lovely!
Just before the Aspen Grove Trailhead is where the toll booth is to pay $6 for a three-day pass to the National Forest. You can also use a National Parks Pass or pay ahead online ($6 for a 3-day pass).
Sundance Ski Resort
Next you will pass Sundance Ski Resort which is popular year round for skiing and summer hiking, including the Aspen Grove Trailhead.
Aspen Grove Trailhead
The two trails from the Aspen Grove Trailhead are both extremely beautiful. The first is Stewart Falls (3.4 miles, moderate) and the second is Timpanogos Falls (2.4 miles, moderate). If you keep going beyond the second waterfall of Timpanogos Falls, the trail gets steeper and continues all the way up Timpanogos, passing many other beautiful waterfalls. The trail up to Mount Timpanogos from Aspen Grove is 15.7 miles and difficult. If you only go up 10.3 miles round trip you will still pass all the waterfalls and will stop at Emerald Lake.
In the winter the the road that goes beyond the Aspen Grove Trailhead is closed. It is open from about Memorial Day through mid-late October. It it is a somewhat narrow road, but big enough to have two directions. Please be cautious and courteous. As you get higher there are more and more aspen trees. There are some pullouts to stop and get out.
Deer Creek Overlook and Cascade Springs
Next there is an opportunity for a detour. If you keep going straight you will continue you the loop, but if you head right on FR-114 you will soon come to the Deer Creek Overlook (0 miles) which is a breathtaking viewpoint. A few minutes after is the Cascade Springs Trail (0.8 miles, easy).
Returning back to US-92, you will pass the Summit Trailhead. Again, right in the parking lot there are beautiful views! Some of the hikes from this trail are the Ridge Trail 157 (up to 15 miles, moderate) and Primrose Overlook (3.1 or 4.5 miles, moderate).
The pullouts after the Summit Trailhead are also beautiful!
There is another opportunity for a very brief detour. The way back down the canyon is to head right at the junction to continue UT-92. If you go straight about a minute instead then you come to the Timpooneke Trailhead. This is the other main starting point to hike Mount Timpanogos. Other great trails that begin here are Scout Falls Viewpoint (3.0 miles, easy), Scout Falls (3.0 miles, moderate), Julie Andrew’s Meadow (3.5 miles, moderate), and Island Meadow (2.0-2.6, moderate).
Returning back to US-92 you continue down the canyon. It is worth it to pull into the Pine Hollow Trailhead even if you don’t plan to do one of the hikes.
Pine Hollow Loop (4.5 miles, moderate) is an amazing trail! When the gate is closed you can also hike the Alpine Road in Winter (0-16 miles, moderate).
Tibble Fork and Silver Lake Flat
The next junction you come to allows you to turn left to head down American Fork Canyon or straight to head up towards Tibble Fork. If you head straight you will see Tibble Fork Reservoir. In the fall the levels are often low, but it’s still beautiful.
Here are some more photos of Tibble Fork in other seasons and for night photos.
Near the reservoir are the trailheads for Tibble Fork Trail/Tibble Fork Loop (3.5 or 4.6 miles, moderate) and Silver Flat Lake Trail (2.5 or 3.6 miles, moderate).
If you continue up towards Granite Flat Campground there are some beautiful fall colors.
Beyond this the road isn’t paved and is a bit rough. I have done it in our minivan, but had to take the three miles very slowly. It’s much easier in our Subaru. By fall Silver Flat Lake is very low, but in June it’s the prettiest lake around. Up there is the trailhead to Silver Lake (4.7 miles, moderate).
Continuing back to US-92 and down the canyon you pass by Timpanogos Cave Trail, which is 3.1 mile steep, paved trail. Timpanogos Cave is amazing and worth getting a tour!
Across the street from the Timpanogos Cave parking lot is the Canyon Nature Trail (0.6 paved easy).
The American Fork River that created American Fork Canyon is beautiful! Here are a few long exposures of the twists, turns and little waterfalls along it.
The Alpine Loop is extremely popular on weekends during the fall so plan accordingly.
Stats: Distance – 24 mile loop
Approximate driving time – 1.5-3 hours (longer if including hikes)
Permits needed – $6 three-day pass per vehicle or National Parks Pass
Pets allowed – Yes
Provo Canyon Entrance
American Fork Canyon Entrance
Other Scenic Drives are Big Cottonwood Canyon, the Nebo Loop and Mirror Lake Scenic Byway.