Summit Scrambles


4 Utah Peaks to Bag this Fall

I was fresh out of grad school and newly transplanted to Utah when a friend invited me on a rim-to-rim dayhike through the Grand Canyon. With a couple of days’ notice and no prep, I did what any sensible, long-haired, red-eyed recent grad would do. I hemmed and hawed for an excuse, found none worthy, and accepted.

What does the Grand Canyon have to do with Utah peak hiking? The hikes in this article are the opposite of canyons after all, each leading to a summit, not a river. But walking through the Grand Canyon on a rainy autumn day nearly eight years ago changed me. I had always loved fall. That hike made it holy.

Hiking in the fall is sublime. The bugs are mostly gone, temps are cool, crowds are thin, and say nothing about the splendor of changing leaves in all the colors of Bob Ross’ palette.

In the spirit of self-discovery, the peaks I’ve chosen are lesser known. You’ll find no Mount Olympus, Grandeur, or Timpanogos here. You’ll also find fewer people to fill you in on trail beta. But it’s good to leave a little to chance.

These peaks each have their own unsung virtues, and no two are much alike. So before the snow flies, grab some long pants, a jacket, and a beanie. If you hurry, you just might find your reason for loving fall.

Ben Lomond

North Ogden, Davis County
Distance (round trip): 16.4 miles
Summit Elevation: 9,712 ft.
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,600 ft.

Named after a mountain in the Scottish highlands, Ben Lomond dominates the skyline above North Ogden. Appropriately, the most common route to the summit of Ben Lomond is nicknamed the Skyline Trail. Beginning at the North Ogden Divide, the trail trends several miles northeast up the mountainside on long, forested switchbacks. After a few miles, the trees open up to a gorgeous view of the Nordic Valley and the town of Eden. The trail then veers back west and follows the long “skyline” above Ogden before finally climbing to the summit.

The trail from North Ogden Divide should be passable without winter gear through most of November. If time gets away from you and the snows begin to set in, try again in late spring, when a steady snowpack makes for a fun climb and an even better descent.

Admittedly, Ben Lomond is the only peak listed here that I have not climbed in fall. I include it because the forested trail and wide view expanse are ideal for autumn hiking.

Fun fact: Ben Lomond is reportedly the mountain featured on the Paramount Pictures logo.

Deseret Peak

Tooele, Tooele County
Distance (round trip): 8.4 miles
Summit Elevation: 11,053 ft.
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,600 ft.

As the highest point in the Stansbury Range and the crown jewel of its namesake wilderness area, Deseret Peak is an almost daily sight from my home in Tooele. My first trip up the peak was a late spring, post-holing solo slog in snow up to my hips. Since then I’ve hiked it mostly during fall, when the aspen and maple forests are aflame with color.

The trail to the summit of Deseret Peak is straightforward. Beginning at the Loop Campground, the path winds gradually upward through mixed forest to a stream crossing. Across the streambed, the trail diverges. Left to the peak, right to South Willow Lake. The peak trail steepens as it approaches a series of switchbacks up a headwall guarding the ridge separating Tooele and Skull Valleys. From the ridge, it’s a steep half-mile (~1,000-ft. gain) to the summit. Once there, you can go back the way you came or head north off the peak and drop down Pockets Fork, picking up the lake trail back to the stream crossing.

Fun Fact: Deseret Peak is the highest point in Tooele County.

Photo of Notch Peak

Notch Peak

Notch Peak

Delta, Juab County
Distance (round trip): 8.4 miles
Summit Elevation: 9,654 ft.
Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,800 ft.

Picture a high desert mountain with almost 4,500 feet of vertical prominence. Now imagine a gigantic ice cream scoop descending from space and carving a valley in one side of the mountain, slicing the peak in half and leaving a stunning limestone amphitheater ringed by jagged cliffs dropping thousands of feet straight to the desert floor below. Welcome to Notch Peak. You think I’m kidding, don’t you?

Photo of climbers on Notch Peak

Climbing Notch Peak

Think again. After Yosemite’s El Capitan, Notch Peak, located in the House Range, southwest of Delta, Utah, has the second highest cliff face in the United States. Like the giant redwoods, El Cap, or the Grand Canyon, Notch Peak must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
The trail up Notch Peak is one of the most unpredictable and fun day hikes I’ve experienced. For the most part, it’s easy to follow until about the last mile, where it becomes intermittent. Cairns eventually lead to a saddle. Until you get there—I mean right there—it looks like the trail just goes on into the high desert. Don’t blink. At the saddle you’ll be standing on top of a cliff, Notch Peak on your left and the Tule Valley below, flat as a pancake.

Fun fact: From the saddle, you can head to the right around a small knoll to a bristlecone pine forest where some of the trees are up to 4,000 years old.

Photo of the Pfeifferhorn peak


The Pfeifferhorn

Draper, Salt Lake County
Distance (round trip): 10 miles
Summit Elevation: 11,326 ft.
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,700 ft.

You’ve seen the Pfeifferhorn from the Salt Lake Valley, though you might not have realized it. Counting east from Lone Peak, it’s the pyramid sitting somewhat anonymously amongst its peers. As the highest peak featured here, the Pfeifferhorn is also the one with the shortest fall hiking window. Snow flurries can quickly turn the Pfeifferhorn from a hike/scramble to a technical mountaineering adventure.

The trail starts at the White Pine Trailhead and diverts toward Red Pine Lake after about a mile. This trail is popular and easy to follow until you reach Red Pine Lake, where the crowds stop and cairns will guide you to the ridge above the lake. Enjoy 360-degree vistas encompassing lakes, valleys, mountaintops, and endless white granite on your way to an exciting ridge-top scramble and the final climb up a steep, shallow gulley to the summit.

Fun fact: The Pfeifferhorn is the fifth highest peak in the Wasatch. Lone Peak is only 73 feet lower in elevation.

Not sure how to find the starting point for these peaks? Detailed directions are available at

Gear Pick

ECCO Mens Ulterra Mid GTX

Photo of ECCO Mens Ulterra Mid GTX

For my hike up the Pfeifferhorn I tested ECCO’s Ulterra hiking boot—a break in my normal routine. I haven’t worn a high-top boot in over 15 years, preferring to hike—and even backpack—in trail runners. But like other ECCO shoes I’ve worn, the Ulterra exceeded expectations. My feet felt great throughout the hike, and the boots provided exceptional traction on the steep slopes going up to and down the ridgelines. The Ulterra gripped surprisingly well while climbing over and around VW Beetle-sized boulders on the ridge scramble, giving me complete confidence in my feet. On the downside, the Gore-Tex liners made my feet sweat a little as temperatures warmed, and I developed a couple of hot spots—but no blisters—during the steep descents. I don’t think that could have been prevented, though, even if I had been wearing lace-up tubs of petroleum jelly. Overall, I’m very pleased with the Ulterra. Like other ECCO shoes, break-in time is non-existent. They’re comfy right out of the box! Also available for women. $210


About Author

Aaron Lovell lives in Tooele, Utah, and studied journalism at the University of Oklahoma. He hates fishing, loves ballet, and spends his free time helping his wife coax their four children along on hikes they're not old enough for. Twitter: @aarontlovell