Horsetail Falls is one of the hidden gems of northern Utah Valley. It's a 2-mile hike with about 1,500 foot elevation gain climbs up a wooded canyon to a spectacular cascade above the city of Alpine, with great views down into the valley.
Horsetail Falls is not as high or well-known as some of the other waterfalls accessible to Utah Valley, including Bridal Veil Falls, Stewart Falls or even Battle Creek Falls; but the beauty of this cascade is unique and actually preferred by many who visit it.
While “Horsetail Falls” is the proper name of this waterfall, people who study and classify waterfalls actually have a category or type of waterfall called a horsetail fall, described as one in which descending water maintains some contact with bedrock, often starting from a small chute and spreading out horizontally as it descends.
The hike is a bit steep for small children, but older kids will enjoy the challenge and the beauty of the setting. Getting close to the falls requires a little bushwhacking, but the trip is well worth the effort.
The trailhead is found at the end of Grove Drive (200 East) in Alpine. The small parking lot has been recently enlarged, but often fills up on Saturday mornings.
Access to the trail at the mouth of Dry Creek canyon was blocked in July 2013 by mudslides; but the path has been rerouted and cleared.
From the parking lot, follow the trail that heads initially to the north, passing a Forest Service notice board, but then immediately turns northeast toward a canyon.
Early on, you have views far above you of Lone Peak to the left and Pfeifferhorn (“The Little Matterhorn”) straight ahead. The trail bypasses the washed-out area and then proceeds up the canyon, on the right side (east) of the streambed. The trail is wide and exposed for the first portion, then narrows as it enters pine and aspen forests.
As the trail climbs upward, it crosses several streams that flow down from the ridge on your right. In the summer, the streams will normally be small or dried up. But in the spring and after storms, they can have stronger flows. Most now have narrow log bridges to help cross.
After a little over a mile, you reach an open grassy area called Shingle Mill Flat. This is a popular camping area on Friday evenings. Deer and moose have been seen along the trail in these areas in recent weeks. After the flat, there are a number of splits in the trail but they merge back together after a few hundred yards, so take your pick, as long as you are continuing to head the same general direction up the canyon. Staying to the left on your way up often provides better views of the canyon ahead.
After about 1.7 miles, you come to a rocky ledge on the trail with a spectacular view of the falls and the mountains above and beyond. Stop here for a rest and some photos, but be careful with children and the cliff to your left. Not far above this point there is a fork in the trail with a sign, where the Deer Creek/Dry Creek trail heads off to the east; stay left.
If you want to go near the falls and experience its thundering power up close (recommended!), you have two options. About 30 or 40 yards after the trail fork, look for a dirt embankment and scramble down the hillside. You’ll follow some game trails through a swampy area and some brush, but it soon opens up and you’ll be able to find your way near to the falls. Be cautious about the cliffs near the water.
A second option is to stay on the main trail for a few hundred yards and watch for a smaller trail that cuts sharply off to the left and up a ridge. That trail will take you to the top of the cascade, where you’ll have some spectacular views of the stream approaching the dropoff. Experienced hikers can carefully make their way down from this area to the base of the falls and then follow the previous route in reverse to loop back to the main trail. On your way down, enjoy the beautiful vista of Utah Valley spread out before you.
Be sure to check out the maps and photos in the online version of this article!