Donut Falls Hike – Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

We finally might get to break out our snowshoes this weekend here in Utah. There is actually snowfall in the mountains and we want to take advantage of it! Where is your favorite place to snowshoe?

If you are looking for something laid back and family-friendly, Donut Falls is the place to go!

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Donut Falls in the summer

How to do it like we did:

We have been up to Donut Falls a few times. It’s our favorite place to take visitors because it caters to all skill levels. It is beautiful, full of wildlife, and has a singular natural feature at the end.

And, no, there are no donuts at the end of the trail but if you want to celebrate afterwards, Banbury Cross near Trolley Square in Salt Lake City has the best donuts money can buy. Try the cinnamon – yum!!

Back to the hike! This is a 1.5 mile out and back trail with only 265 feet of elevation gain. Part of Big Cottonwood Canyon, the trailhead is located at the Jordan Pines Picnic Area. In the summer, turn right at Jordan Pines Picnic Area and follow Forest Road 19 for about a mile to another public parking area. There is a pit toilet and a trail sign to help you know where to go. There are two obvious trails from this parking lot. Take the one that goes straight past the sign and the pit toilet.

In the winter, the gate to Forest Road 19 is closed. Park at Jordan Pines Picnic Area and walk the road to get to the trailhead. This makes your total hike about 4 miles out and back and just over 600 feet in elevation gain.

If you are parking at the gate, the road is usually snow covered but you do not really need your snowshoes for this part. The snow is packed down and easy to walk on. Some of the parts get slick but the road is wide open and you can get around the slick spots pretty easily.

About a quarter of a mile up the road is a really neat sledding area. It is on the east side of the road. You will be able to identify it because the snow is really packed down and it is almost always already in use by enthusiastic sledders. It is not a very tall hill but it can get pretty gnarly with all of the jumps and ditches that end up getting built or just worn into the hill from use. You can choose to keep the sledding very mellow or totally turn it up!

When you get to the main trailhead, continue straight pass the trail sign. There is another trail that goes to the right but this one will not take you to Donut Falls. There will also be snowshoe trails shooting off in different directions but the main trail is well-worn and obvious.

The trail winds through forest and over a bridge. Keep on the lookout for moose and other wildlife – this trail is abundant! When the trail opens out into the sunlight again you know you are almost there.

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After a little under three-quarters of a mile hiking you will come to a cliff that is about five feet high. The trail goes down this cliff and then quickly opens out to a view of the falls. We have found that the best way to go down the cliff is to go down backwards, like a ladder. The side closest to the main rock face breaks down into a makeshift staircase but they are VERY slippery. We end up making a chain of people helping each other down.

After another minute or so of hiking, you can see the falls! You have two options at this point. Stay at the bottom and marvel at their beauty. Or, you can climb up the side of them into the main cavern. The “donut” part of the falls requires you to climb but it is so worth it. The trail follows alongside the falls as they come down the mountain. Yes, it looks dangerous, and without proper precaution it is. Bring your YakTrax and use care and you will stay safe.

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Climbing to the Falls in the summer (view: bottom up)
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Climbing to the falls in the winter (view: top down)

That’s it! Spend as much time as you can at the falls then head back the way you came.

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You’re reward for climbing up the waterway – the namesake of Donut Falls

We have done this hike with multiple groups, ranging in age from 10 months to 55 years. It really is a hike for everybody.

Tips:

1. If you are doing this hike in the winter, bring some YakTrax or other microspikes. To get down, and then back up, the little cliff requires some extra traction. Then if you want to hike up to see the actual falls you will be much safer with some spikes on.

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Another top down view of what the climb looks like in the winter

2. Another tip for the winter: As you are approaching the falls, there is a river under all the snow. Stick to the main trail to avoid stepping somewhere dangerous.

3. If you are doing this in the summer or the winter: plan for proper footwear. It is a bit of a climb to get up to the main part of the falls. I have seen people wearing the wildest shoes – flip flops, dress flats, Ugg boots, slip-on tennis shoes. Plan appropriately to keep your adventure safe and comfortable. I wear my hiking shoes with a Volcrom sole every time I go.

Biggest Take-A-Way:

I love to push myself in the outdoors. I like to try the things that not everyone can do. Every once in awhile, though, it feels so good to come back to something familiar. This is our favorite go-to when we have visitors come stay with us from other states. Especially when the group has a variety of ability levels. The views are breathtaking from every point and turn. It is short and sweet but all the nature, and the falls themselves, fill up hikers with awe. This hike is everything good about wilderness recreation.

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