We tried a new waterfall hike this weekend near Alpine, Utah. The very popular Horsetail Falls is a beautiful cascade that is well worth the hike, even though the length and steepness of this hike is not for everyone.
There is a small parking lot at Horsetail Falls Trailhead, but we parked well down the road on the busy day that we hiked. The trail runs 2.4 miles to the base of the falls, which makes it just under 5 miles out and back.
- Rating: moderate to difficult
- Distance: 5.0 miles RT
- Elevation Change: 1900 feet
- Dog Friendly
- Fees: None
The main thing to know about the trail is that it is consistently steep. Our 7 year-old said, “It starts out really steep. Then it levels out for about twenty yards. Then it gets steep again all the way to the end!” and that seems pretty accurate. Luckily, the trail is wide and shaded, so you can take it slowly and let people pass if you need to.
Horsetail Falls trail is also very rocky. There are many rocks in the trail, and as you get closer to the falls, the rocks get bigger. So hike with sturdy shoes. There are a few stream crossings along the trail, too. In September when we hiked the stream was small and crossings were easy. In May, it is more difficult to avoid getting shoes wet.
One other thing to note about this trail is the presence of dogs. We passed dozens of dogs, and most people didn’t seem to be cleaning up after their dogs, so watch where you step. We love all of you responsible dog owners, but we were disappointed to see little bags of tied up dog-doo hanging in the trees or on the side of the trail. Please pack out whatever you or your dog brings in. Additionally, many dogs weren’t leashed, which frightened our children more than once. And, this is true, a dog ran right between my legs as I was stopped on the trail. It wasn’t a tiny dog, either, but a Siberian husky! So it might be best if you’re prepared to be sniffed, licked, and maybe even jumped on. If your children are afraid of dogs, this is not a good trail for them. To dog owners, please know that not everyone loves your dog as much as you do.
Horsetail Falls Overlook
At exactly two miles there is a fork to the left side of the trail. This is the waterfall overlook and many people stop to see the Horsetail Falls from a distance. If you’ve seen this hike listed as 4 miles RT, then expect to go to the overlook. We continued on so that we could walk to the base of the falls.
At 2.4 miles there is a split in the trail with a wooden sign. Head left at this junction. Once you pass the sign on the left trail, look for an opening on the left side of the trail about ten meters past the sign. This side trail has a little bit of bushwhacking involved, but is very doable. There is a steep descent as you leave the main trail, but someone has placed a small rope to help hikers walk down without slipping. The trail then goes through some narrow winding paths for about 100 meters and comes out with a beautiful view of Horsetail Falls.
You can get right up close to the water and even cool off on a hot day. Be careful going down to the falls because the rocks and dirt are slippery. The view of the falls is beautiful from the end of the trail, even if you don’t walk down and touch the water. Horsetail Falls, though moderate to difficult for kids under ten years old, is worth it if you can handle the climb!
If you are looking for easier waterfall trails, check out our Easy Waterfalls in Utah post.
Horsetail Falls begins at the Dry Canyon Trailhead in Alpine. Take exit 284 for the Timpangos Highway and head east toward American Fork Canyon. Turn left on the Alpine Highway (5300 W). Follow the highway straight through the roundabout and into Alpine. Turn right onto 200 N. Then turn left onto 200 E. Follow this road and it will turn into Grove Drive. At the T intersection, head right. There is a sign for the rodeo grounds and for Horsetail Falls, head left at this sign up the hill to the trailhead. You can also use the AllTrails app for directions.
Tips for Families
- Go early in the morning. This trail is very busy, so the earlier you can get there, the closer to the parking lot you can park.
- The trail is mostly shaded, but the first 1/4 mile is not, so bring a hat or sunscreen.
- Be safe near the waterfall. Don’t climb on slippery rocks or try to scale the falls.
- Please clean up after your dogs if you bring them.
- Bring treats and snacks because your kids will need them to make this steep climb.