Loafer Mountain might just as well be called Lonely Mountain or Forgotten Mountain. This peak is in the shadow, literally and symbolically, of taller and more popular mountains such as Timpanogos to the north (at 11,750 feet) and Nebo to the south (11,928 feet); Loafer measures only 10,687 feet.
On a weekend when hundreds or even thousands of people will crowd the trails of Timpanogos, this route will be almost empty. However, Loafer, and its companion Santaquin Peak, are beloved by those who live near them at the southern end of Utah Valley, and are very enjoyable and comparatively easy peaks to summit. They provide wonderful views of Utah Valley and the southern Wasatch mountains.
In the autumn, when Payson Canyon and the Mt. Nebo Wilderness are aflame with color, it’s a particularly beautiful hike. You may catch a glimpse of deer and mountain goats along the way.
The standard Loafer/Santaquin route described here is rated by hikers as a "Class 1" trail – a relatively easy climb on a well-established path with gradual ascent, and no "exposure" (areas where there is a chance of falling and being injured). It begins at an elevation of 7,500 feet, so you have a little over 3,000 feet to reach the summit in a distance of about 5.7 miles one-way. But don't be deceived -- this is still a demanding hike requiring some level of conditioning and preparation.
The trail begins high up Payson Canyon on the "Nebo Scenic Byway," at a marked trailhead just below the Payson Lakes. The initial segments are level and pleasant, passing through maples and aspens. After about a mile, watch for a junction near an old corral and turn left to stay on the Loafer Mountain Trail (#98). Then shortly, at the next junction, turn right. You'll begin a steady climb up the ridge toward the peaks. You pass through a drainage known as Mud Hollow (if you come in the spring during snowmelt, you'll know why!). There are some steeper sections along this ridge. As you continue, you traverse along the top of steep-sided ridges with much of the upper trail unprotected from sun and wind.
As you reach the upper elevations, you begin to see the two options ahead of you as you approach them -- Santaquin Peak to the left and Mount Loafer to the right (see the online photo gallery). Loafer is barely higher by a scant 2 feet, but Santaquin is much more frequently climbed because it's a nicer summit (rocky and pointed), versus the flat and less interesting plateau top of Loafer (loaf-shaped?). Santaquin also extends out in front of Loafer overlooking the valley, and so has much better views. The two peaks are about 0.7 miles apart, with a notch between them that is about 880 feet below the summits.
The trail through the final basin contours along the northwest side of Loafer, well below the summit, toward that saddle between the two mountains. There isn't a clear trail from the saddle turning right to Loafer, but finding a route up the ridge isn't difficult. To reach the more enjoyable Santaquin summit, turn left, follow the trail that skirts mostly below the ridge, passing beneath a smaller "false summit" before approaching the final Santaquin peak.
You can return the way you came, or for the more adventurous, take a route that continues on down the ridge of Santaquin peak and loops back to connect with the original trail (see map and photos in the online version of this article at UtahAdventurer.com).
IF YOU GO
LOAFER MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Details: About 3,100-foot elevation gain in 5.7 miles one way – at least a mile longer if you try to do both peaks on one trip. The roundtrip hike will take hikers anywhere from 6-9 hours depending on pace.
Difficulty: Moderate. A "Class 1" trail with occasional steeper sections, but good portions exposed to sun and wind.
When to hike: The trail gets a lot of snow in the winter, which usually lasts well into June. The hike can certainly be done in the winter for those prepared with snowshoes and spikes. But most hikers will enjoy waiting until the snow has cleared. The summer heat can be blistering -- remember to use protection from the sun and carry PLENTY of water (there is none available anywhere along the trail). The views of Payson Canyon are spectacular in the fall -- one of the best times to hike.
How to get there: From I-15, take Payson/Salem exit 250 (the north end of town), and turn south towards town. Continue to the stoplight at 100 North (Utah Rte 198) and turn left. After about half a mile, at the top of the hill, turn right on 600 East (just after the Peteetneet Academy). Stay on this road into Payson Canyon. About 12 miles after you got on the road near Peteetneet, and just before the Payson Lakes, look for a small parking lot on the left side of the road and a sign for the Loafer Mountain Trail.