The mountain that shares the name of Provo is not one of the prominent ones that directly borders the city on the eastern foothills. It’s tucked away behind, a few ranges to the east. But it’s the highest one on the eastern skyline (reaching 11,068 feet). When you’re away from the foothills, from many areas in the city and the surrounding area, the sharp summit of Provo Peak can be viewed jutting up above the other mountains.
There are two reasons that few hikers climb this interesting mountain: the trailhead is hard to get to (requiring a long drive and a high-clearance vehicle), and the hike is short but very steep. You climb over 2,700 feet in about a mile and a half -- a very aggressive rate of ascent for most casual hikers!
But as usual, the reward of the summit is a thrilling view. In particular, Provo Peak is the center mountain of the “seven peaks of the southern Wasatch Front” and you can clearly see the other six from its summit -- three to the north (Lone Peak, Timpanogos and Cascade) and three to the south (Spanish Fork, Santaquin/Loafer and Nebo).
The trailhead is located far up the Squaw Peak Road accessed from Provo Canyon. The last part of the drive is generally NOT passable by passenger cars, so plan to have a vehicle with high clearance. Though it’s only about 13.5 miles to the trailhead after the turnoff in Provo Canyon, this will take at least 45 minutes to drive. See directions in the sidebar to help find the parking area.
Note that this trailhead can also be accessed on foot directly from Provo by taking the “Y” trail and continuing past the block letter to the south through Slide Canyon and then over Lion’s Head to the Squaw Peak Road. This makes the hike much longer, but is a good challenge for strong hikers.
The trail to the peak starts directly across the main road (east) from the parking area. Looking upward, you’ll see the western ridge of Provo Peak challenging you to come up. What looks like a 4-wheel-drive dirt road soon narrows and gains in steepness; but don’t worry -- this is just a small taste of things to come! Watch closely after about half a mile for a narrow trail that cuts off to the right, heading into the trees. The junction is often marked by a cairn (rock pile) or branches placed by hikers; but many people miss the turnoff. If you start seeing the man-made terraces on the hillside above you, you’ve gone too far. (See photos in the online version of this article.)
After leaving the ATV road, the trail winds upward through lush undergrowth, filled with wildflowers in the spring and early summer, and among aspens and pines. Gradually the vegetation thins and the terrain becomes more and more rocky. In spite of many short switchbacks, this trail is still very steep. You’ll also discover that you are being repeatedly deceived by false summits. You think the point you see above you must be the top of the mountain, but as you arrive there, you’ll discover yet another steep slope ahead of you!
You’ll know you are approaching the REAL summit when you see a small flag-like object on the mountain above. As you reach the top, you’ll find a very unusual windvane that spins in the breeze, with mirrors attached to the “paddle” of the vane. Be sure to look for the trail register in a plastic jar among the pile of rocks at the base.
The views are fascinating from the summit. To the east, you can see the Strawberry ridge and even the peaks of the High Uintas (northeast) on clear days. North and south, the Wasatch range stretches to the horizon. To the west, you get glimpses of Utah Valley as you look between the summits of the Buckley Mountain, Maple Mountain, Y Mountain and Squaw Peak. Utah Lake and Lake Mountain are almost fully visible.
It’s also instructive to note the mountains that are part of the ridgeline shared by Provo Peak. Directly to the east, connected by a steep saddle, is East Provo Peak -- only slightly lower than its neighbor at 11,044 feet. For those “collecting” the Wasatch Eleveners (climbing all the peaks that exceed 11,000 feet), this traverse is the best way to reach the second peaks. But use caution; the slopes are very steep and covered with loose shale and gravel. Further along this ridge are Freedom Peak (10,801 feet) and Single Mill (10,690 feet).
Returning to the trailhead, be careful to keep your footing on the steep descent. Trekking poles are perhaps more helpful going down than going up. The trail is generally pretty easy to follow, but you will be able to see the “loop” of the parking area most of the way -- just make sure you are heading toward that and you’ll do fine.
See many more photos of this hike and maps to help in the online version of the article at UtahAdventurer.com
IF YOU GO:
Provo Peak Trail
Details: About 3 miles round trip, with about 2,700 foot elevation gain. The trail is very steep but not hard to follow if you understand where you are going. Very fit hikers can reach the summit in less than an hour and a half; more casual hikers will take 3-4 hours. Plan on 3-7 hours, depending on the speed of your group.
Difficulty: Steep and challenging, but no real exposure.
When to hike: Since the route is exposed, the snow melts relatively early at the end of the winter. The trail is very hot and dry on summer afternoons and open to the sun, so hike early or be prepared for heat. There is no water available along this route. The peak can be climbed in the winter by those who have equipment and experience, and the ability to get to the trailhead via snowmobile.
How to get there: The Squaw Peak Road turns off to the south from the main Provo Canyon road less than 2 miles from the mouth of the canyon. After about 4 miles of winding switchbacks, you come to a “T” in the road -- to the right is the Squaw Peak Overlook, but turn left towards the campgrounds. It’s about 4.5 miles on a fairly smooth but dusty gravel road to the Rock Canyon Campground. At that point, the road becomes rough, rocky and unpredictable, and NOT recommended for passenger vehicles. After an additional 4 miles, you see a loop on the right side of the main road; pull off and park there (but don’t park on the loop itself, which is used by ATV riders).