Slide Canyon

A hiker sits on the edge of a waterfall in Slide Canyon.

A friend and I were driving down Provo Canyon on an idle Sunday when I first spotted the entrance to Slide Canyon. We had been exploring the Alpine Loop past Sundance Ski Resort. It was my first weekend in Provo, and some reconnaissance work was in order. I was as yet unfamiliar with the Wasatch Mountains’ rich offerings. Mark swerved off the highway almost before I could process what he was doing. A small parking lot loitered on the side of the highway. It looked purposeless and abandoned. Nearby the mouth of a side canyon yawned open.

Mark’s old Chevy Tracker crawled deftly up the mountainside towards the side canyon, until thick gambel oak demanded a halt. We stepped out of the car and into a cool flow of air washing down from hidden recesses above.

The canyon was steep: a deep notch in the mountain’s hide. Its walls plunged deeply before knitting together underneath a steady trickle of water. The stream ran cold and clear. We were surrounded by water. It poured over the canyon walls, dripped from moss-covered cliffs, and welled up from springs in the ground. From what I can tell, this stream runs year-round, save for the middle of winter when it lies frozen beneath the snow.

We continued farther up the canyon, climbing over small boulders and rushing cascades, shouldering aside thick vegetation. Stretches of jagged grey rock alternated with lush greenery and wildflowers. At one point three waterfalls spilled down the canyon walls around us. At each twist in the canyon’s course I felt that cool flowing air again, drawing me onward and upward. The gold light of evening etched the far wall of Provo Canyon in sharp relief. In those distant shadows, Upper Bridal Veil Falls shimmered like a windblown strand of spider silk.

As twilight descended through the mist of yet another waterfall, we made that ever-difficult decision to turn around and head back towards the road. Before leaving, I dunked my head and shoulders under the bracingly cold downpour.

Since that first detour into Slide Canyon several years ago, I’ve revisited a few times. No two trips have been alike. Even into June, deep snow conceals the canyon floor like a vein of marrow. The snow is steep and buttery, perfect for glissading. Melt-off in July reveals new topography, often with new car-sized boulders plowed around during avalanche season. Autumn paints the canyon flaming red with the keratin of dying oak leaves. The canyon presents a different face with each visit.

Getting There

Head east on 800 North in Orem, which will eventually merge with US Highway 189. This travels up Provo Canyon. Drive past the Bridal Veil Falls scenic lookout on the south side of the road. Take the next available left (north side of the highway). This turnoff passes through a gate and into a small asphalt parking lot.

The trail starts through a sloping meadow and quickly enters the canyon. After this, there’s little in the way of a formal trail. Head through a stand of oak, or drop to the bottom of the ravine and follow the water. Either way you’ll end up in the stream bed. Follow until you reach a sheer waterfall. You can enjoy the sights here and turn around, or navigate around the fall on its east side and continue. It’s possible to continue from here all the way up to Sundance Ridge, or even the Timpanogos summit.

Please note that Slide Canyon is suited only for exploration during summer and early-fall. Conditions can be extremely dangerous at other times of the year. Deep snow often remains in the canyon until mid to late May. If you’re hiking on top of this snow, keep to the sides of the canyon. The creek melts the snow from underneath, and it may be possible to fall through. Sometimes deep holes open up in the snow, in the middle of the canyon.

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