Utah’s Alpine Loop Scenic Byway may be one of Utah’s best kept secrets. You often hear about Utah’s southern National Parks: Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, and more. While there are no national parks along the Alpine Loop, there are many reasons this scenic drive ranks above the rest. The 20-mile drive includes Bridal Veil Falls, Mt Timpanogas and the Timpanogas Cave National Monument, Stewart Falls, the Provo River and Canyon, Sundance Resort, Aspen Grove, the American Fork River and Canyon, and several campgrounds and parks. A short detour takes you to Cascade Springs. Let me show you why you’ll probably want to make this drive!
When should you go?
The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway is open approximately late May through late October. (Road closures are determined by snow.) The byway offers incredible views whenever it is open, but my favorite times of the year are spring and fall. Spring is wonderful as you get to see the greatest volume of water in the rivers and waterfalls. Fall is also amazing with its colorful foliage.
Is there any cost?
It is possible to make this scenic drive without spending any money at all. However, if you wish to use any of the facilities along the way (hiking, fishing, parks, parking lots, campgrounds, etc.) you will need to purchase a recreation pass. A pass for 3 days is only $6. Purchase a $12 pass, and it covers one week. An annual pass is only $45 and a great bargain if you live in the area and will return often. This pass covers all of the Alpine Loop as well as the Mirror Lake Highway.
Purchase your pass at the American Fork Canyon entrance kiosk or at this website. For your information, fees are waived at this site on the following days:
- September 25th 2021: National Public Lands Day
- November 11th 2021: Veterans Day
- January 17th 2022: Martin Luther King, Jr Day
- February 21st 2022: President’s Day
- June 11th 2022: National Get Outdoors Day
Where does the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway begin?
My husband and I began our drive at the Provo Canyon entrance, primarily because it was closer to Sundance Resort. But you can also enter at American Fork Canyon. Provo Canyon (Highway 189) has two lanes in each direction, but once you turn onto a much narrower Utah State Route 92, there is only one lane in each direction and many hairpin turns. You won’t want to drive this portion with a vehicle over 30 feet long.
At times, you may feel like you are the only one on the byway and that you “own” the road. Do not be deceived as it is likely you will meet someone driving the loop in the opposite direction. Be sure to stay in your own lane!
Provo Canyon sights
Even as you enter Provo Canyon, the terrain changes quickly from foothills to towering crags that almost look like giant castle walls.
Highway 189 parallels Provo River, and you’ll spot bridges and parks that allow you to explore along the way. You may also see fishermen in the river. This is a very popular place for fly fishing!
Along the south side of the canyon are several waterfalls: The Bridesmaids Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Upper Falls. Look carefully and you’ll see them from your vehicle. At Bridal Veil Falls, there is a good-sized parking lot and a short paved trail to the base of the falls if you want a closer look.
Vivian Park, near the turn off for State Route Highway 92, is the end of the line for the Heber Creeper train ride and has a stocked fish pond for kids 12 and under. They do not need a fishing license to fish here.
To continue the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, you will need to turn off Highway 189 onto State Route Highway 92. This will take you to Sundance Resort and beyond, eventually through American Fork Canyon. But don’t pass up the opportunity to explore Sundance Resort, as it is very beautiful during the off-ski season! Here you will find an assortment of dining options, a general store, an art gallery, and spa treatments. It is a resort, after all. There’s even an outdoor amphitheatre for summer productions.
Sundance is also an adventurer’s paradise. You can zipline, take a scenic chairlift ride, hike, go mountain biking or horseback riding, or join a fly fishing tour.
We personally loved the scenic chairlift ride that takes you up Ray’s and Red’s lifts to the Bearclaw Cabin — a snack bar/lodge with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The entire round trip takes about an hour and a half and costs only $22 per adult before 3:00 pm, and $17 per adult after 3:00 pm, when Red’s lift is no longer running.
Aspen Grove and Stewart Falls
Aspen Grove is a family camp and conference center, owned and operated by Brigham Young University. You will pass under its prominent pedestrian bridge as you drive along the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. It is also near the trailhead for the popular Stewart Falls out and back hike. All along this 3.4-mile trail you will see beautiful views. The falls will be more impressive in the spring but are still pretty in the fall. Stewart Falls were named after the Stewart family that came from Scotland and first settled this area.
Side Trip to Cascade Springs?
About four miles beyond Aspen Grove, there will be a sign and a turn-off indicating a 7-mile distance to Cascade Springs. If you decide to add this side trip to your Alpine Loop, you will find luscious springs with waterfalls and ponds with paved and wooden paths to wander. There are three 15-minute hiking loops, so allow about 45 minutes to see everything. You can even see trout in the clear ponds.
Back on the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
You should know that as you travel on the byway, there are 15 turnouts you can use for parking when you see an area you’d like to explore further. And there’s so much to see. In this area, there are beautiful groves of aspen trees that turn yellow in the fall.
You will probably see a deer or two if you keep your eyes open. We actually saw several!
And of course, in the fall, you will see stunning patches of red and yellow and gold foliage. Feel free to hike down any trails you see to get a better view. See if you can spot where we parked our car to see this gorgeous stretch of color…
American Fork Canyon
As you continue along the scenic byway, you’ll come to a peak and eventually find yourself heading downhill again. You are now in the American Fork Canyon, and you’ll have views like this:
Along this portion of Utah State Route 92, there are several campgrounds: Altamount, Timpooneke, Mutual Dell and Little Mill Campgrounds. Plus many wonderful picnic sites. You could easily turn this scenic drive into an overnight or two if you wanted to explore more thoroughly.
Mt. Timpanogas Cave
Soon you’ll come to the Mt. Timpanogas Cave National Monument. If you have the time (about 3 hours total), this is a magnificent tour. The steep trail up to the caves affords many wonderful views of the canyon below. Many people come just to hike these trails without entering the caves, but I’d say you have to see the caves at least once. The limestone deposits are so unique.
Tickets are sold at the Visitor Center or online and must be purchased before you reach the entrance of the cave. (12 and older $12.00, 2-11 yrs $7.00, infant or 1 yr $2.00) Be sure to wear appropriate clothing for both warm temperatures (while hiking on the trail) and cool temperatures (in the cave).
Note: If you enter the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway from the American Fork Canyon entrance and only go as far as the Mt. Timpanogas Cave National Monument, there is no requirement to pay for the recreation pass.
Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
This is just a fun and easy hiking trail (or place to enjoy a picnic) in a park that still has beautiful views of the American Fork River, close to the mouth of the American Fork Canyon. If you’re traveling with children, and they’ve grown restless with the drive, this is how to end on a good note! One end of the trail begins at the Mt. Timpanogas Cave Visitor Center parking lot.
Plan another trip on the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
It would be a shame to only travel this gorgeous route once. I’ve never tired of the views and opportunities to explore. I’m sure you’ll feel the same. And going at different times of the year provides different views, too. Don’t keep the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway a secret — it should be shared and experienced by many!