The Great Heart Of The Wasatch Back

What stands 11,749’ high, has a heart, a saddle, an emerald, a shack, and some goats?

If you’ve been in Heber for even a short time, you’ll know the valley’s pride lies in the great mountain that sprawls to the west where the sun settles each night. Mount Timpanogos creates a portion of the eastern wall of the Wasatch Front. Often folks claim we, here in Heber, reside on the backside of the great Timpanogos. We’d like to beg their pardon. They happen to be discombobulated, not realizing that we have the front seat to Timp’s right side. Of all the peaks in the Wasatch Mountain Range, the majestic summit is second in height only to Mt. Nebo. Each breathtaking foot is covered in alpine flora, fauna, and crag, while crystal clean water from white peaks, burbles over as falls, and meanders to rivers and streams.

Through The Year

Spring is when the falls of Timp and their gushing runoff are at their prime. Mount Timpanogos Trailhead in Aspen Grove, accessed on State Route 92, is the entry point to three sets of breathtaking waterfall hikes. Timpanogos Falls is made up of an upper and lower set of falls. Visiting both is approximately a 2.5-mile round trip hike. Stewart Falls and Scout Falls are also great options for late spring hikes.

Summer is the best time to beat the heat and get to the heart of the mountain. Timpanogos Cave National Monument leads tours deep into the geologic Timpanogos Cave System. In the depths of the cavern is a large stalactite known as the “Great Heart” of Timpanogos. Legends tell of two hearts joined at death to become one that now lies deep in the mountain.

Summer is also a great time for ambitious hikers and trail runners to reach the peak. But don’t forget your jacket — even in the summer months, the windy summit stays nice and cool. The trek begins at either Aspen Grove or Timpooneke trail. It careens through Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area, where you may choose to take it slower and camp overnight, remembering there are no fires permitted. Another fun choice is to depart early and squeeze the full excursion into one day. These hikes are where you’ll discover the emerald of Timp — Emerald Lake. Just as a horse’s saddle is sweeping in shape, Mount Timp’s saddle is a sweeping field of boulders where the trail to the peak converges with the ridgeline. Keep your eyes open for the mountain goats, moose, and other wildlife among the profusion of wildflower colors. Marking the summit is an old surveyor shack.

Fall brings a chill to the air, and our trees take center stage. As the bright blooms fade, the deep hues of autumn steal the show. Be sure to take a drive. Throw in a picnic and your camera to make a day of the fully-paved, 20 mile Alpine Scenic Loop. Head out before October passes and our snow closes portions of the loop for the winter.

Winter may offer the best views of Mount Timpanogos from a distance. Adventure junkies sometimes choose to summit Timp in the winter with an ice ax and crampons. If you enjoy snowmobiling or snow biking, Wasatch State Park grooms 72 miles of trail throughout the winter months. They are also home to the 2002 Olympic Site contracted by the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. This venue allows for Nordic skiing, a tubing hill, and snowshoeing at the base of Timp. Those of you who don’t feel like competing with yetis or Sherpas may choose other ways to enjoy winters with Timpanogos. Relax while you wind leisurely around the base aboard a railcar of the Heber Valley Railroad. Are you an artist? Find a perch in town to paint to your heart’s delight. Or, simply take it easy and get cozy with a warm drink while enjoying the view from your favorite place.

Whatever the season Mount Timpanogos with its high summit, heart, saddle, emerald, shack, and goats, is definitely worth visiting — even if it’s only from your front porch as you watch the sun settle behind Timps peaks.


Timpanogos Falls
1.9 miles |  moderate  |  dogs allowed  |  kid approved

Stewart Falls
3.4 miles |  moderate  |  dogs allowed  |  kid approved

Scout Falls
4.2 miles |  moderate  |  leashed dogs allowed

Aspen Grove Timp Summit
15.7 miles  |  difficult  |  dogs and horses allowed

Timpooneke Timp Summit
12.8 miles  |  difficult  |  dogs allowed  |  $6 fee, pay at yourpassnow.com

For kids:

The Junior Ranger Program
Available at Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Kids explore
the culture and natural history. There is an event every Saturday
at 10:00 am throughout the open season, May-early September.
Go to nps.gov/tica/learn/kidsyouth for more information.

Legend Of Timpanogos:

As with any good story, there are many variations to the Legend of Timpanogos. In fact, at least 12 recorded versions exist today. The legend is centered on the outline of a woman that can be seen in the peaks of the mountain, and the large stalactite called the “Great Heart” found inside the caves.

The legend is “Romeo and Juliet”-esque, featuring the Indian warrior Red Eagle and the beautiful Indian princess Utahna. While their exact roles and circumstances vary from version to version, the story goes that Utahna was chosen as a sacrifice to the gods to end the great drought. When she was about to jump off the cliffs, Red Eagle begged her not to end her life. Thinking Red Eagle was the great God of Timpanogos, Utahna went to the caves with him, and they fell in love.

One day, Red Eagle was injured by a wild animal — which proved he was human after all — so Utahna left to finish her sacrifice to the gods. After she jumped, Red Eagle found her and took her back to the caves, where it is believed their two hearts became one, forming the stalactite that is now called the Great Heart of Timpanogos. People say you can still see the outline of Utahna lying on top of the mountain.

(Courtesy of nationalparks.org)

For more information on Mount Timpanogos and Wasatch State Park visit https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/wasatch-mountain

The Right To Roam

Looking out across the beautiful, expansive Heber Valley, there is still a predominance of green fields and open space. Although housing growth is exploding in some areas of Wasatch County, the Wasatch Back, overall, still has much lower building density than the Wasatch Front. Open space is a widely discussed topic here. A majority of Heber Valley residents have indicated a strong desire to protect open space. It’s an important issue. However, public access to those spaces is a topic that is often overlooked.

Public access refers more to the status of a piece of land than the look of it. Sometimes called the “right to roam,” it involves the ability to wander, recreate, hike, hunt, camp, and otherwise enjoy land owned by the government or another person or entity. Aside from the discussions for open space, it is important to be equally aware of whether or not public access will be allowed on those open lands.

The Expense Of The Expanse

There are many types of public access, including entrance-fee National and State Parks, along with free public access to government-owned lands used for hunting, fishing, and other forms of recreation. Government-maintained lands come at a cost, however. Through taxes and fees, access is provided to these lands, which have been set aside for public use. It is an ongoing expense.

As recently as August 4, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act. This law will invest money into repairing federal lands’ infrastructure at a rate of $9.5 billion over the next five years; it will also fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund with an extra $900 million annually. Utah National Parks is requesting about $220 million for updates, including improving trails and other facilities. Many Federal lands throughout the country require repair and this Act will offer them money to do just that. In commemoration of the Act, August 4 has been designated “Great American Outdoors Day,” a National Park fee-free day. This will provide an extra calendar day for free public access to these preserved locations.

Lawfully Trespassing

Another type of public access includes the ability to encroach upon privately-owned lands. Each country has its own rules regarding public access to private lands. In some Nordic countries, public access is extensive, allowing hiking, camping, and boating on another person’s property. Other property owners, such as those within the United States, are granted the right to exclude others. It is an ever-evolving issue.

The Utah Stream Access Coalition is a nonprofit created to “promote and assist in all aspects of securing and maintaining public access to, and lawful use of, Utah’s public waters and streambeds.” It uses “legal, political, and negotiated means” to accomplish this. For reinforcement, it cites the Utah Constitution, the Public Trust Doctrine, and the Utah Supreme Court. It was first created in response to a bill passed by the Utah legislature, which limited public access to rivers in Utah.1

The Utah Constitution originally stated that the public has access to all navigable rivers. This does not mean that the lands along the borders of the rivers are public, but rather that one should be able to float down the river through privately owned property. In 2008, the Utah Supreme Court unanimously held that, in addition to floating downstream, the public could touch the private riverbeds if necessary for lawful, recreational use. A 2010 bill passed by the Utah Legislature, HB 141, attempted to overrule the decision. The Utah Stream Access Coalition fought against the passage of the law. A lawsuit was filed regarding access to the Upper Provo River. Finally, in 2015, after years of battling the 2010 law, the Utah Supreme Court agreed with the Access Coalition. It determined that the law was unconstitutional, stating that, “Every parcel of public land, every reach of public water is unique. . . . The Act substantially impaired the public’s interest in the lands and waters remaining.” Access to privately-owned streambeds was restored.2

Since then, this coalition has continued to fight for public access to Utah waters in Wasatch County and elsewhere.

Profiting From The People

Public access to land and water is not only beneficial to those who use it for their recreation. This access also can increase state, federal, and local revenue. According to Fox13, Utah’s national parks brought in over $1 billion to Utah’s economy in 2018 alone.3

Wasatch County also benefits from public land access. Wasatch State Park, Deer Creek State Park, Jordanelle State Park, the Provo River, and the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest bring revenue to the Heber Valley by bringing jobs and tourism dollars to hotels, restaurants, and other local companies.

As both economic and population growth continues within our community, it is essential that access to natural resources remain available to the public. In the many discussions regarding open space, public access to those spaces must not be forgotten. The land and water recreation in Wasatch County are some of its most valuable assets, contributing significantly to both lifestyle and the local economy. Public access is worth fighting for and will help maintain the amazing opportunities available here in the Heber Valley.

2 https://utahstreamaccess.org/public-waters-case/
3 https://fox13now.com/2019/05/23/national-parks-contributed-over-1-billion-to-utah-economy-in-2018