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Escalante Cross | Spanish Fork

(Last Updated On: May 26, 2020)

For decades I have been intrigued by the large white cross standing at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. I learned it’s history quite a while ago, and it is an important part of Utah’s past. Once we found out that we could hike to the Escalante Cross, we made a plan to visit.

The trail comes up behind the cross.

History of Escalante

The Escalante-Dominguez expedition explored this area in search of a path to California in 1776. Father Escalante wrote extensively in his journal, and while standing near this point he declared:

The valley was conducive to settlement. The temperature was comfortable day and night. There were four rivers, large meadows for farming, and sufficient fish, fowl and animals for hunting, wood for homes and fires, pasture land for horses and more. [Wikipedia: Dominguez-Escalante Expedition].

After a meeting with the “fish eating” Utes that populated the shore of Utah Lake, the Spanish explorers “forked” south and headed back to Santa Fe. That is where we get the name Spanish Fork.

Hike to Escalante Cross

There is now a trail that leads to the cross, and it is a pretty easy hike. Though steep (and windy!) in places, the hike is only a bit over 2.0 miles roundtrip.

To start the trail, drive all the way to the Spanish Oaks reservoir and into the Spanish Oaks campground. Park by the pavilion and hike uphill through the campground to the loop at the end. The trail starts off through the trees at the end of the campground loop, and there are a few signs to help. After about 50 yards, there is a trail marker that directs you to turn down the steps to the left.

The trailhead is at the far end of the camping ground.
They have trail markers at most junctions.
This one points you down and to the left.
The beginning of the hike is shady, but it doesn’t last long.

After another 50 yards, you come to a T intersection with another trail, and there is no sign. Turn right (uphill) and continue up the narrow path. This path is shady and beautiful, but also uphill. Along this segment, there are some ghost trails and other trails that cross, but stay on the main trail until you come to a bench and another sign. This sign sends you to the left. From there, the trail heads out into the open.

As you climb up the canyon through the oak trees, it’s really beautiful.
A rocking bench marks the turn back to the north.
The trail is unshaded and across the open mountainside from then on.
Escalante’s Cross as seen from the trail.

Eventually, you come out on a flat area above Escalante’s Cross. The trail goes left (west) around the hill, but it is also possible to climb over the hill. We hiked both directions, but going around the hill helps limit the ups and downs that are coming up. On the other side of the hill, it drops steeply down to the cross, which is surprisingly large.

Some folks have gone over the peak, but the trail around the mountain is easier.
We enjoyed the views of the valley below.
The reservoir and campground were spread far below us.
This steep drop has to be climbed on the way back!
The cross is large and has anchor wires. We wished for an information plaque, but there wasn’t one.

The hardest part for us was the climb back up from the cross. It’s steep and we were tired from the hike, but we made it up and then the rest of the hike is downhill and easy back to your vehicle. This hike would be hot in the summer since most of it is out in the open, so make sure to choose a cooler time such as morning to hike this trail.

This is a nice summit trip, which provides beautiful views of Utah Valley. It may look quite a bit different than when Father Escalante saw it, but we still think it is a great place to settle!

This hike is easy for most ages.

Directions

Escalante Cross hike is located at the end of the Spanish Oaks Campground near the Spanish Oaks Reservoir (2931 South Spanish Oaks Drive, Spanish Fork). We parked next to the large pavilion at the far end of the reservoir. Then walk up the paved road past the campground sites to the trailhead sign. Another great hike in the area is Dripping Rock Trail. It is flat and easy.

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