Box Elder via Alpine (Dry Creek)

Dry Creek is a very popular trailhead in the northeast corner of Alpine. It’s one of the few trails left in Alpine that doesn’t cross private land and is assured of never being cut off by development. It’s popular with both hikers and people riding horses. Beginners might consider it steep (it isn’t), but it’s a great place to get you hiking legs. (photos)

  • History A few hundred feet after leaving the trailhead, you cross a large, mostly buried pipe. This is a penstock that fed water to a power plant that was once located just north of the trailhead parking lot. The book “Alpine Yesterdays” by Jeanie Wild says the intake for the penstock was located in a meadow on Dry Creek at the 8000ft level, which puts it right at the place where you cross the creek to go to Lake Hardy. This confuses me, because I’ve seen a pipe that looks like a penstock on the ridgeline between Dry Creek and Phelps Canyon. Either way, the penstock brought water from high down to the power plant. The power plant was completed in 1910, so it would have been 100yrs old this year.
    Here’s another historical fact concerning Box Elder. If you look at the mountain from Alpine, you can see a gully running parallel with the south ridgeline. They call this the Sleigh Runner. Pioneers would watch the snowmelt in Sleigh Runner. They said if snow was still there on the 1st of June, they would have plenty of water that year.
  • Trailhead to Horsetail Falls (photos) The first half mile is uneventful as you walk through an open maple/oak area. You enter a conifer stand (evergreen grove) at the half mile mark and the scenery suddenly changes. If you stop at the large rock that juts into the trail and turn around, you can see the Phelps Canyon trailhead taking off to the left. Continuing up the main trail, there is lots of sights and lots of sounds. Dry creek is rushing by in the canyon below you. At 1.7 miles, there is a fork in the trail. Walk up the left fork about 30ft for a great view of Horsetail Falls. At 1.9 miles, there is another fork. The trail to the left looks like an animal trail, but it actually takes you to the top of Horsetail Falls.
    –>Miles from trailhead to Horsetail Falls viewpoint:1.7mi Elevation gain:1370ft
    –>Miles from trailhead to Horsetail Falls:1.9mi Elevation gain:1600ft
  • Horsetail Falls to Box Elder junction Continue up the trail to get into Alpine scenery. A third mile after passing the Horsetail Falls junction, you will come to another junction with a sign that points to North Mountain (left) or Granite Flats (right). The North Mountain trail will take you to Lake Hardy or the first Hamongog. There’s another unmarked trail where the North Mountain trail crosses the creek that goes up into Wishbone Basin. Back at the first junction, take the right trail – Granite Flats – to continue toward Box Elder. After another .8 miles you will come to a meadow with another junction – We’ll call it Box Elder junction.
    –>Miles from Horsetail Falls to North Mountain junction:0.3mi (2.2mi) Elevation gain:250ft (1850ft)
    –>Miles from North Mountain junction to Box Elder Junction:0.9mi (3.1mi) Elevation gain:820ft (2670ft)
  • Box Elder Junction to Peak via North Saddle (photos) From the junction, continue following the trail in a north east direction. Now is probably a good time to tell you that you have an additional 1000 feet to climb by going to the peak from Alpine, rather then Granite Flats on the east side. Once you get to the summit meadow, you will be able to see down into American Fork Canyon, with Tibble Fork Reservoir below. Follow the trail to the south to get to the peak. Stay on the ridgeline as much as possible for easier hiking.
    –>Miles from Box Elder Junction to North Saddle:1.5mi (4.6mi) Elevation gain:1310ft (3980ft)
    –>Miles from North Saddle to Box Elder Peak:1.7mi (6.3mi) Elevation gain:1430ft (5410ft)
  • Box Elder Junction to Peak via South Saddle (photos) From the junction, take the right trail heading east into the Box Elder Cirque. The trail wraps around the west face of Box Elder and will meet up with the Phelps Canyon trail near the bottom of Sleigh Runner. The trail goes diagonal from there, up to the far south end of the saddle, then follow the ridgeline up to the peak. This side is quite a bit steeper than the north side, but is doable – trekking poles recommended.
    –>Miles from Box Elder Junction to South Saddle:2.7mi (5.8mi) Elevation gain:1810ft (4480ft)
    –>Miles from South Saddle to Box Elder Peak:0.5mi (6.3mi) Elevation gain:940ft (5420ft)
  • Phelps Canyon Trail (photos) This is a very scenic, but very steep trail. You go east up Phelps Canyon. When the ridgeline to your left turns and heads up the mountain, go to the ridgeline for a great view of Horsetail Falls. This is a good turning around point if you’re out for a short hike. The trail gets very steep from this point up to the ridgeline. After that, it’s not too bad.
    –>Miles from Dry Creek Junction to Upper Box Elder Junction:2.4mi (2.8mi) Elevation gain:3730ft (4130ft)

  • Box Elder Peak (photos) The views from Box Elder Peak are great. You can see Lone Peak to the northwest, the Alpine Ridge running east from the and Mount Timpanogos to the south. You might see mountain goats there. There’s a huge cirque on the north side of the mountain. The folded rocks look really cool.


Aerial Photo


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8 Responses to “Box Elder via Alpine (Dry Creek)”

  1. Jon says:

    This was my first summit hike for the year 2011. I went in mid July with one other friend. I’d been hiking in Dry Creek Canyon for fifteen years but never climbed further than Wishbone Basin so i decided it was finally time to get to the top. We set out at six that morning while still dark. The sun just started to come out right when we reached the lookout towards Horsetail Falls. From there it was a hot hike all the way up to the Dry Creek/Deer Creek Jct. We decided on the North Saddle for our ascent which is the left fork (the right fork is the south saddle). Not long after the junction we reached the divide between Dry Creek and Deer Creek. I thought we would end up at Community Flats but must have meandered somewhat and ended up just south of it. From here you can see Tibble Fork, Silver Lake Flats Reservoir, and Wide Hollow on the east side. We then headed south up the ridge following someones footprints as the trail seemed to be nonexistent. I assume as long as you’re headed up here you are going in the right direction. This part was steep but isn’t every last leg of any good hike? Soon we came out of the trees to our right (west) was now terrific views of Box Elder Cirque. It’s a wonderful bowl of rock and snow with great views of Utah Valley on the other side. Across the cirque we saw two mountain goats nonchalantly walking through the snow and rock. From here it was a very quick walk with about thirty seconds of scramble to the summit. The summit is marked with a three foot high stack of rocks. It’s obvious. From here you can see great views of Lone Peak, Bighorn, Chipman, Pfeifferhorn, White Baldy, Red Baldy, Mt. Timponogas, and everything down to Mt Nebo. We decided on the South Saddle for our descent which takes you down the south slope of the peak. The first few hundred feet was loose rock so be cautious. Soon we ran right into the Sleigh Runner, that very tall and prominent run of snow that comes down the south side of Box Elder every summer as the last remnant of winter. We decided to go that way for fun. We crossed to the west side of it being careful not to slip and slide to potentially our deaths. After a few cool pictures of the Sleigh Runner from top, middle, and bottom, the trail soon meets up with the top of Phelps Canyon. You can get down either this way to the left fork or take the south saddle on the right fork. We took the right fork. This descent has great views all the way down to the junction where the two saddle trails originated. From here it’s just following the exact way you came up. Great hike and i would say even for someone who isn’t in the best shape of their lives this is a very attainable, beautiful, and worthwhile hike.

  2. Ryan says:

    Do you know if you are allowed to set up a tent (no fire) and sleep up in one of the meadows on the stretch between Horsetail Falls and the Granite Flats junction?

  3. Eric says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Yes, you are allowed to set up a tent anywhere in the National Forest, unless it is posted otherwise. Wilderness areas have more restrictions, such as group size. I recommend following “Leave no trace” principles ( when camping in the cbackcountry.

  4. James says:

    Just a note to those considering hiking this. I hiked it and missed the falls by 15 minutes or so and had to hike back down a ridge to the falls. The short trail from the main trail to the falls is easily missed. About 50-75 yards past this sign you have to leave the trail and parallel the mountain to the falls.
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  5. James says:

    The picture didn’t come through in my post. It is the sign that says deer creek-dry creek tr no 043.

  6. Mark Smith says:

    Just a note as to your confusion about the water pipeline for the early 20th century power plant. About fifty yards upstream from where the log bridge, which one crosses to get to the north mtn trail, above horsetail falls you can still see the remains of a diversion dam. From there a pipe or ditch hugged the south side of the canyon and took the water behind the prominent granite knob which one can see right above, SE of horsetail falls, to what local people still call the intake. From there it followed a large wooden pipeline, (i would guess 3 to 5 ft diameter) which snaked along the south side of Dry creek Canyon, with a tunnel and a tressel along the way, until it reached the ridge which seperates Dry Creek and Phelps Canyon. Here the wooden pipe ended and the water began a very steep descent through the metal pipe straight down to the power plant which was located behind the cedar trees at the current trailhead.

  7. Eric says:

    Mark, thanks for the information! I wrote that entry several years ago. I have since hiked most of the route the pipe took from the diversion dam, along the pipeline trail and down Phelps Canyon. I don’t know if you have been there since the flooding (9/2013), but the pipe near the trailhead has been exposed in several places.

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