Maple Canyon: What to know before hiking the Loop Trail
By Lynn Zaritsky
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a periodic series called “Adventure close to home,” describing outdoor recreation opportunities in or close to Sanpete County.
There are several things you’ll need to know before you attempt to hike the three mile loop trail at Maple Canyon.
First, Dehydration is not a joke, and this is a trail that, yes, makes you sweat. The total rise in altitude is an amazing, thirst-provoking 1,300 feet. There is no water at all at the campground and none on the trail, either.
Second, this is a world class destination for people who love rock climbing; so if you want to find a parking place even vaguely close to the Middle Fork trailhead, get there early, preferably on a week day. There is a $5 day-use parking fee.
Finally, study the map at the base of that trail to understand where you will be going, and look for signs along the way. One of our more experienced hikers went ahead of the rest of us, missed seeing a sign and went up an odd, but erroneous trail. He didn’t mind as he was practicing speed-hiking for a one-day descent/ascent at the Grand Canyon and welcomed the extra steps on his Fitbit. But had it happened to me, I would not have been happy.
This is a gorgeous hike. There are high cobblestoned cliff walls, with a few climbers roped onto them here and there, scaling up and down those walls, their conversations echoing throughout the canyons. There are green deciduous and evergreen forests, colorful wildflowers and a few scrub jays and ravens yelling at you as you pass by. The view from the top is broad, with Wales’ turkey farms and Moroni below, and Mount Pleasant and Spring City in the distance. And while I won’t divulge a spoiler, let’s just agree that shortly after you begin your descent, there is a magical surprise not commonly found on mountain hikes.
The loop hike itself begins innocently enough. Starting up the Middle Fork trail, it’s a nice up-and-down ascent for quite awhile, not counting the various moments you might accidentally leave the trail and end up instead at a dead-end rock climbing venue—no worries, just backtrack onto the trail and move on upwards.
When our group went, there was ample scratchy overgrowth spilling onto the trail, so we would advise wearing long pants and long sleeves. Apparently this is also a good year from a thirsty tick’s point of view, so be advised. The trees towards the bottom of the trail provide shade, but as you ascend and the trees thin, the sun does beat down much more sternly until you descend again on the other side of the loop.
There is an arch and a cave not too far up the trail from the campground. They are worth the (signed) detour, only about 100 feet up and off the main trail.
Things begin to get serious (which is short for “strenuous,” even if some trail guides say this is a “moderate” hike) after about 1.3 miles on the Middle Fork Trail. There, the sign directs you to the View Point, .5 miles away, and the adjoining Right Fork Trail. Now is the moment to keep drinking that water you brought.
As you progress, you might begin to wonder if ever there was a longer half mile on this amazing Earth as this one. Even if you are in great shape, you too will breathe a bit heavily as you approach the trail summit. If you are not in great shape, or, quite honestly, if you are in the negative in terms of physical fitness, know that if you take your time, resting even every few steps, you can probably still make it to that elusive summit.
Our group consisted of 60- and 70-year-old folks, so if we did it, so, probably, can you. As an encouragement, I’ll tell you that when you see the actual grove of aspen (not just a few here and there) you are very close to that lovely level moment where you mostly traverse a flat section connecting the Middle Fork Trail with the Right Fork Trail. (Okay, with a few hilly reminders that you are still in the mountains, I know, I know. Please don’t curse at me.)
Enjoy the bench at the View Point, drink some more water, and have a snack. Find the trail that is in the same straight line you came in on (it heads north) and begin your descent. While the trail seemingly starts going west, you must turn back east again at the sign (yes, another sign!) directing you to the Maple Canyon campground.
Do not go uphill on that odd trail that branches left off the main trail, taking you absolutely west. You will regret that choice because it’s a wrong one, as I discovered.
The descent is shady, magical and lovely. Take care not to skid on the loose rocks on the trail. Admire the fact that your wondrous descending muscles differ from your wondrous ascending muscles.
When you reach the campground, drink more water and walk down the road to your car, or send your least tired hiker down to drive back up for the rest of you. You’ve made it! Well done.