Timpanogos a classic Utah attraction for nearly 100 yearsAug 29, 2019 09:00AM ● By Josh Wood
Hikers take in the view from the trail to Timpanogos Cave. (Joshua Wood/City Journals)
By Joshua Wood | [email protected]
Utah is renowned for its national parks and monuments, but one of the state’s treasures tends to get overlooked despite its proximity to the Wasatch Front. Timpanogos Cave National Monument is an indoor-outdoor adventure closer to home for Salt Lake County residents than the national parks.
Timpanogos Cave, or caves as tour guides will point out, is administered by the National Park Service. Martin Hansen discovered what is now known as Hansen Cave in 1887. Timpanogos Cave was discovered in 1913. However, knowledge of its location was lost until it was rediscovered in 1921. A third cave, which became known as Middle Cave, was also discovered in 1921.
The area was designated a national monument on October 14, 1922, but not before significant damage was done to the caves, particularly to Hansen Cave. “The cave was even leased out for mining before it was protected,” said volunteer tour guide Ruth Morrey.
While not as many people visit Timpanogos National Monument as the state’s national parks and other monuments, it still receives a lot of well-deserved attention. “Over 45,000 people visited Timpanogos National Cave in 2018,” said BJ Cluff of the National Park Service. “That’s just how many people visited the cave. If you include the surrounding area, the number is double that.”
To visit the caves, tickets must be purchased for guided tours that are capped at 16 people per tour. The visit includes a strenuous hike from the visitor center to the caves. The hike involves an elevation gain of 1,092 feet over a mile and a half of paved trail. Due to the strenuous nature of the hike, the Park Service advises visitors to be in good physical condition. They also advise bringing along plenty of water and sunscreen, especially on hot days. The paved trail provides sure footing, but it also precludes bringing any wheeled transport like strollers.
One unexpected thing to bring for a visit to the caves is a warm jacket. Though it might be sweltering outside during a summer visit, the caves remain cool at an average of 45 degrees. One thing not to bring is any clothing that has ever been in another cave. A disease called White Nose Syndrome kills millions of bats in the US. Though bats only use Timpanogos “as a hotel before moving on,” as Morrey said, the Park Service adheres to this standard to protect any bats that do visit.
Tours of the caves, which are linked by manmade tunnels, are filled with natural wonder. “Do you remember a time when you stepped into the unknown?” Morrey asked as she led a guided tour. She then showed her group of visitors something unknown to many people. She turned off the lights inside Hansen Cave and revealed total darkness. No light enters, so there is literally zero visibility inside the caves.
A tour of Timpanogos Cave National Monument is a treat that Utah residents and visitors alike should enjoy if their health permits it. A tour includes a wealth of earth science and geology lessons. The human history surrounding the cave is also fascinating.
The highlight of a visit to Timpanogos is the beauty of this natural wonder. The formations inside the caves look otherworldly. It is a landscape that astonishes the first-time visitor. Meanwhile, the area housing the caves is also worth the visit, as nearly 100,000 people per year can attest. The trail up to the caves is filled with rugged rocky landscape and forest. Views from the upper reaches of the trail can temporarily take the visitor’s mind off the steep climb.
More information on visiting can be found on the National Park Service website for Timpanogos National Monument (www.nps.gov/tica). The season for visiting typically runs from late spring to early fall, depending on the year and the availability of funding.