Backpacking in Utah: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Utah: A man in a river, walking with a backpack

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Utah has awesome hiking trails and is home to five national parks. There are thousands of miles of fantastic trails all over Utah.

You can find everything from arches and waterfalls to ancient forests and narrow canyons, along with majestic overlooks. The trails vary from easy walks to more challenging overnight adventures.

In this post, we will delve into the world of ultralight backpacking in Utah, offering essential information for your upcoming adventure.

Additionally, we will highlight the TOP 5 trails in two categories: day hikes, which cover less than 30 miles, and multi-day trips with opportunities to replenish water every two days.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Utah

  • What to expect: In southern Utah, you’ll find red rock canyons, alpine lakes, and mountain peaks in the Uintas. The weather can be extremely hot or cold, so be ready for that. There’s a lot of sun, not much shade or trees, and limited water, so plan accordingly. The sandy trails may tire you out, and in summer, there’s a risk of flash floods. On the bright side, you’ll enjoy beautiful views, solitude, starry nights, and the opportunity to explore slot canyons and natural arches by walking.
  • Essential gear: Get ready for scorching desert heat and chilly nights. Pack essentials like a backpacking stove, fuel canisters, a pot, spork, and a water filtration system. Don’t forget a well-stocked first aid kit, maps, and either a compass or GPS device. Given the dry climate, bring extra water and electrolyte tablets to stay hydrated.
  • Wildlife: Black bears are usually harmless, but mothers with cubs can be aggressive. Learn how to deal with bears in this post. Carry a knife for potential threats from mountain lions and coyotes. Stay alert around skunks, rattlesnakes, and aggressive deer/elk. Surprisingly, geese, bees, wasps, and mosquitoes also pose risks.
  • Wild camping: You can camp outside of designated campgrounds in most public lands in Utah, like Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, as long as you pick your spots responsibly. Just make sure to look out for closure signs. In certain places, you might need special permits for overnight camping, even if it doesn’t cost anything.
  • Best times to go: The ideal time for backpacking in Utah is generally from late spring to early fall, spanning May to September. The summer months of June to August are particularly popular due to mild weather and optimal trail conditions, allowing for exploration of the state’s diverse landscapes. Fall, from September to October, offers pleasant temperatures and the added beauty of changing foliage, making it another favorable period for backpacking adventures.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 30 Miles)

Discover these amazing day hikes to enhance your adventures using ultralight gear:

  1. Devil’s Garden Trail (7.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Fairyland Loop Trail (7.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Red Pine Lake and Gloria Falls (7.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Zion Narrows Bottom Up to Big Springs (8.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Mount Timpanogos via Timpooneke Trail (14.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Utah’s finest multi-day trails that offer water resupply points at least every two days:

  1. West Rim Trail to Lava Point (30.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Highline Trail (101.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. White House Trail to Lees Ferry (37.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Zion Traverse: Lee Pass to East Rim Trailhead (49.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Death Hollow and Escalante River (34.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

In Utah, you should be prepared for rapidly shifting mountain weather:

  • Spring (March-May): Mild temps of 50-70°F, wildflowers at lower elevations. High snowmelt swelling rivers, some mountain trails still inaccessible.
  • Summer (June-August): Hot, dry temps from 90-100°F in the deserts, cooler 70-80°F in the mountains. Afternoon thunderstorms frequent.
  • Fall (September-November): Pleasant temps of 60-80°F. Cooler in higher terrain. Less rainfall and fewer bugs.
  • Winter (December-February): Frigid highs of 30-50°F and lows below freezing. Deep snow in mountains necessitates technical gear.

Prior to choosing your gear, review the weather data for Utah (Cedar City):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F414554617182878577655141
Low °F192340475667737162503728
Rainy days455432454434
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Utah?

When backpacking in Utah, campfires are usually restricted or prohibited to prevent wildfires in the dry climate. Public lands like national parks, monuments, forests, and recreation areas often ban campfires outside designated areas. In backcountry camping areas, you may need a portable stove for cooking, and gathering wood might be prohibited.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Utah?

Prepare for risks when hiking and camping in Utah’s rugged backcountry. Bring plenty of water and electrolytes to combat dehydration in the arid climate. Be cautious in narrow canyons during summer to avoid flash floods. Guard against heat exhaustion and sunburn in extreme temperatures. Always have maps, a compass or GPS, and share your itinerary with someone. Wear sturdy boots and use trekking poles for stability. Watch out for poison ivy, snakes, and spiders. Learn basic wilderness first aid and carry a well-stocked kit.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Utah?

Be cautious of potentially dangerous animals like bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and spiders in Utah’s wilderness. Make noise while hiking to avoid surprising them, and give them plenty of space without approaching or interacting. If you encounter a mountain lion, stand still and make yourself appear large. In rare bear encounters, speak calmly, back away slowly, and be prepared with bear spray. Watch where you place hands and feet to avoid snakes near logs or rocks, shake out shoes before wearing, and carry snake bite kits and know first aid. Never feed or approach wildlife, regardless of how harmless they may seem.

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