Timpanogos Cave National Monument in Utah was designed in 1922 and initially run by the U.S. Forest Service until the National Park Service took over in 1933. The monument is located in American Fork Canyon, and is a relatively small park occupying only 250 acres. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in interest and beauty, with a wonderful cave system that is known for its colorful and unique geological formations.
Three limestone caves are available to visit on guided tours. Visitors should be aware there is a 1.5 mile hike, with an elevation gain of over 1000 feet from the visitor center to the caves which has significantly steep sections that are moderately strenuous. The caves are only accessible on guided tours, followed by the return hike. These guided tours are available from mid May to mid October annually. Tours have a maximum of 20 people and advanced reservations for tours can be made, drop ins are accommodated if room is available. On weekdays, last minute visitors can often be accommodated, but on holidays and weekends, reservations are recommended to avoid a long wait. Mount Timpanogos has an elevation of 11,750 feet and overlooks the Utah Valley.
There is a visitor center right next to the trailhead which takes you up to the cave where visitors begin, and information on the local wildlife, hiking trails, geological formations, and ancient peoples of the area are available.
Timpanogos Cave Monument is located about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah. It can be accessed from Interstate 15 by taking the Alpine-Highland exit 284 to Highway 92, and proceeding ten miles east to the visitor center. The trailhead to the caves is next to the visitor center, which is on the right as you drive up American Fork Canyon.
From Heber City or Provo Canyon you can approach from the east on U.S. 40 or U.S. 189 and take Highway 92 past the Sundance Resort, on a mountainous, scenic route, known as the Alpine Scenic Loop. This is a narrow, winding road and is not accessible for vehicles over 30 feet in length. Please note that this route is closed during the winter months. The Alpine Scenic Loop is a longer route so may not be appropriate for travelers trying to make good time.
During the wintertime, or if you have a longer vehicle, take U.S. 189 through Provo Canon and turn west on Orem 800 North/UT 52, proceed 2.4 miles and turn right onto State Street/Highway 89. Travel 3.8 miles and turn onto Pleasant Grove 100 East/UT 146. This route turns into Canyon Road and takes you to the entrance to American Fork Canyon. At the “T” intersection turn right onto Highway 92 to reach the visitor center.
Use caution when relying on GPS which may route you along the scenic loop, a longer route that is not appropriate for large RVs.
There is no camping at Timpanogos Cave National Monument, however, camping for RVs is available just 1.5 miles down Highway 92 at Little Mill Campground. The campground should be approached from the west for travelers with larger RVs as the Alpine Scenic Loop Route is inaccessible to vehicles that are over 30 feet in length.
The campground is situated next to the American Fork River. Campsites are unserviced and there are no water or electric hookups at the campground. Campsites have picnic tables and grills, and firewood is available. There are vault toilets onsite.
Sites for both tents and RVs are available. There are several single family sites and 1 large group camping site as well. The length of vehicle the sites accommodate varies, with smaller sites being more common, but there are sites that accommodate larger RVs up to 55 feet in length.
Hiking and fishing are popular activities at this campground and the creek is stocked with rainbow trout. Little Mill Campground is surrounded by aspen, oak, and maple trees which provide cool shade in summer, brilliant colors in the autumn, and boasts numerous wildflowers in the spring and summer, adding to the natural beauty of the area. A campground host is available on site to assist you.
The limestone caves of the Timpanogos Cave National Monument can be accessed on guided tours. There are three caves available to access: Hansen Cave, Middle Cave, and Timpanagos Cave. The caves are connected by man made tunnels. A hike up a 1.5 mile steep trail is required to reach the cave system.
Visitors should bring adequate footwear and water especially during mid summer when temperatures hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are dim lights in the cave to guide your way. The trail through the cave is smooth rock which can have wet spots so use caution. There are also some boardwalks and steps.
The air inside the cave is cool and damp, so a jacket or sweater is recommended, as well as closed toe shoes. Strollers and wheeled vehicles are not permitted on the trails. Young children and babies can come for the tour, but will need to be carried and pets are not allowed.
To prevent the spread of disease no shoes, clothing, or gear that have been in other caves are allowed. Large packs are not permitted in the caves, small packs that meet the size restrictions can be brought on the tour. To join a tour, purchase a ticket at the visitor center. You have an hour and a half to get to the cave entrance and join the tour which usually lasts just under 1 hour.
Ranger programs available at the monument are excellent for young people wanting to engage in exploration of the Timpanogos Cave system. Rangers are available to answer questions and share stories. Several ranger programs are available during the summer months.
There are also seasonal programs offered on Friday and Saturday evenings that are free to the public. Additional programs include deck talks, grotto talks, and guided hikes. Contact the visitor center for detailed information on upcoming programs in addition to cave tours that are available at the monument.
The Timpanogos Cave National Monument region was inhabited by Paleo-Inidan people dating back as far as 12,000 B.C. Excavations in the American Fork Canyon have shown evidence of hunters using the caves for base camps. Later human activity in the region by the Freemont People involved small villages and limited agriculture.
Archaeological discoveries in the area have revealed ceramics, cordage, ground stone, and corn kernels that were used in the Fremont Peoples day to day lives. If you are hiking in the area during the off season, and you spot any evidence of early people groups, do not touch or remove items. Instead take pictures and notes on the location, and report your findings to a park ranger. Rangers often share unique stories of the ancient peoples and indigenous cultures that lived in the area on cave tours and during special programming.
During the off season when fewer tourists are around, you are more likely to see some of the local wildlife on the trail to the caves, or on hiking trails in the area. While hiking in the region keep an eye out for the wide variety of wildlife in this small park.
The environment created by the steep-walled American Fork Canyon, and the river near the monument, harbors many animal species. Common sights are ringtail cats, long tailed weasels, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, pack rats, and bats.
Although not as common, you may spot larger mammals such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, moose, mule deer, or black bear in the region. Watch out for reptiles like the great basin rattlesnake on local trails. Other reptiles in the area include gopher snakes, rubber boas, and sagebrush lizards.
Birdwatchers may see American dippers, broad-tailed hummingbirds, canyon wren, orange-crowned warblers, western tanagers, violet-green swallows, and Steller's jays which are common to the canyon. Eagles, wild turkeys, hawks, and falcons are also occasional visitors to the park.
The canyon walls and caves are a veritable treasure trove of interesting geological formations. The limestone cave formations, and surrounding geological makeup of the region are a real treat for geology buffs. The caves have speleothems, which are colorful cave features.
The Chimes Chamber features hundreds of six to ten inch long helictites, which are hollowed twisted spiraling stairs of calcite or aragonite formed when water travels through the tubes and evaporates leaving trace mineral deposits. Other speleothems include cave bacon, cave columns, flowstone, cave popcorn, cave drapery, stalactites, and stalagmites.
Cave passages follow fault trends which are where water once flowed and evidence of these faults can be seen in the caves. Along the trail up to the cave system you will observe different types of rock that were deposited when a shallow sea occupied the region 600 to 340 million years ago.
Fossil hunters should keep their eyes peeled for the fossil record that can be discovered at Timpanogos Cave National Park. The shallow sea that covered the region 340 million years ago harbored small marine animals whose skeletons were preserved in the sediments of limestone rock in the region. Many of these fossils can be seen in and at the entrance to Hansen Cave. Common fossils viewed as white deposits in the rock in and around the cave include rugose coral, tabulate coral, crinoids and brachiopods. Do not touch or remove any fossils. Ask your guide to point out these fascinating fossils on cave tours.
Backcountry Skiing on Mount Timpanogos is not for the faint of heart. Expert skiers will get a one of a kind experience on the challenging ski trails on the mountain. Be prepared and adjust to conditions in the area which can be unpredictable.
There is a shelter on the shore of Emerald Lake at 10,000 feet. You can hike up to the shelter, spend the night, and ski down the next day. The Aspen Grove trailhead is the best trailhead for skiers, and takes four to six hours to hike up. If you plan on using the shelter be prepared as you may need to do some digging to get inside.
This backcountry skiing experience requires expert knowledge and superior winter gear, but the pristine, rarely skied trails are breathtaking for the truly adventurous.