How Tall Is Mount Timpanogos?
Sculpted for ages by ancient plate tectonics, snowmelt, and glacial movement, Mount Timpanogos is one of Utah’s true natural wonders. Its gorgeous snow-capped peak and steep drops are visible for many miles, inspiring thousands each year to visit and ascend its rugged trails. But just how tall is Mount Timpanogos, anyway, and what kinds of risks must hikers contend with when scaling the terrain?
In this article, we’ll talk about where Mount Timpanogos sits geographically, how and when it formed, and how its highest elevation compares to other well-known peaks in the state. We’ll also talk about some of the mountain’s dangers, highlight some of the diverse plants and wildlife that inhabit the mountain, and the best times to visit.
Where Is Mount Timpanogos on a Map?
Mount Timpanogos, also known as “Timp”, rests between two of Utah’s major cities, Salt Lake City and Provo, and is visible above its surroundings from just about anywhere in Utah County. Other nearby towns include Sundance, Pleasant Grove, Wildwood, and Orem.
There are two major trailheads that give visitors access to the mountain. One, the Timpooneke Trailhead, begins at the Timpooneke Campground, just north of the mountain along Highway 92. It is less steep than the Aspen Grove trailhead and is regarded by many as an easier and more scenic hike.
The second trailhead sits just to the west of Aspen Grove, Utah. The town of Aspen Grove is named for a massive quaking aspen colony that has lived in the area for millennia. The 80,000-year-old forest spans more than 100 acres and consists entirely of a single organism — the clonal offspring of a single, ancient root system known as Pando. Visitors to the mountain should not pass up the opportunity to explore this uniquely enthralling forest on their way to visit Mount Timpanogos.
Both trailheads are easily accessible via Interstate 15 and Highways 189 and 92, depending on the direction of travel. To get to either trailhead from Salt Lake City takes roughly an hour, depending on traffic conditions. From Provo, plan to drive about a half hour to reach the Aspen Grove Trailhead and about 45 minutes to reach the Timpooneke Trailhead.
How Does Mount Timpanogos Measure Up?
Rising an impressive 11,752 feet above sea level, Mount Timpanogos is the second-highest peak in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range. The only higher summit is Mount Nebo, which stands 11,928 feet above sea level at the range’s southern extent. Mount Timpanogos is a stunning sight, standing more than 5,000 feet above the surrounding topography, and is visible from most locations near Provo in Utah County.
While Mount Timpanogos and other members of its range are quite impressive, there are several taller mountains in the state of Utah. Several of these mountains, like Ibapah Peak, Delano Peak, and Mount Peal rise more than 12,000 feet above sea level. The tallest mountain in the state, however, rises much higher. Kings Peak, part of the Uinta Mountain Range, dwarfs Mount Timpanogos by nearly 2,000 feet! Its summit stands an incredible 13,534 feet above sea level.
Even though it isn’t the highest peak in Utah, Mount Timpanogos certainly isn’t the lowest. Out of the 50 highest mountain peaks in the state, Timp comes in ninth place. Other mountains in its range top out quite a bit lower in elevation, from Provo Peak at 11,072 feet to 9,710 feet at Thurston Peak.
How Did It Form?
The Wasatch Range and Mount Timpanogos formed long ago, beginning sometime around 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period. Over millions of years, glacial movement, volcanic activity, and snowmelt carved away the range, giving rise to the incredible and rugged alpine and subalpine geography we see today. The faults that run through the region are still active, slowly shaping the future of the Wasatch Range even now. Some of the changes to the mountain range are very visible in the Timpanogos Glacier, which still holds large amounts of ancient ice within its talus. The glacier’s permanent surface ice melted away only recently, during the Dust Bowl drought in the 1930s.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Mount Timpanogos?
Mount Timpanogos is one of Utah’s most popular outdoor destinations, visited year-round by hikers, climbers, and wildlife enthusiasts alike. Its unique glacial topography offers stunning views of the range’s lakes, valleys, and waterfalls as well as engaging climbs to its peak. Each season offers a different experience at Mount Timpanogos and people visit it year-round from across the world.
In the summer, from July to August, Timp’s hillsides come alive with spectacular waves of colorful wildflower blooms. From the blue lupines and penstemons of the open meadows to the parasitic yellow, purple, and crimson Castilleja paintbrushes of the alpine slopes and forest openings, the summer bloom truly shows off the diversity of the area’s plant life. The wilderness area offers many miles of trails that take visitors past scenic vistas and through beautiful alpine and subalpine forests, and the summer is a great time to take it all in.
Later in the year, after wildflower season has tapered down, the trails through the Timpanogos Wilderness offer breathtaking views of fall color. Fiery oranges, yellows, and reds fill the landscape, juxtaposed with the deep green of the range’s conifers. With good timing, visitors can witness the gorgeous foliage alongside the roaring Timpanogos Falls while it is at its peak flow in late summer. As the seasons change in earnest, the deciduous leaves finally fade away beneath the fall and winter snow.
Even in winter, when snow blankets the mountain, avid climbers and mountaineers make the ascent to Timp’s peak. The snow cover makes the routes more difficult and dangerous, however, requiring good fitness and planning on the part of even experienced climbers.
Deaths on Mount Timpanogos
Though many have safely ascended and descended Mount Timpanogos, at least 30 hikers and climbers have died on the mountain since the early 1950s. Many of the deaths were snow-related, with some involving attempts to speed up their descent by sliding down the Timpanogos Glacier. Others have been trapped beneath avalanches, succumbed to hypothermia, or have injured themselves hiking or skiing alone on the mountain.
Hikers have especially run into problems in the spring and summer, which are some of the most dangerous times to climb the mountain. As temperatures begin to rise and the winter snowpack begins to melt, it tends to form fast-moving streams. These streams frequently undercut the remaining snow cover, sometimes out of sight, where they melt and destabilize the surface above. As the snow bridges become increasingly thin, they pose a danger to hikers passing by who might mistake the snow for stable ground. Four deaths, two in 1980 and two more in 1982, have resulted from hikers falling into these “killer snow holes”.
Regardless of the time of year, anyone visiting Mount Timpanogos should exercise caution and pay attention to their surroundings. When hiking through a wilderness area, always let someone know where you’re planning to go ahead of time. Plan ahead and make sure you understand the potential dangers present in the area you’re visiting and ensure that you have the skills, experience, and equipment necessary to feel comfortable with them. Always remember that danger can arise even on designated trails!
What Wildlife Lives There?
Stunning vistas, gorgeous wildflowers, and ancient trees aren’t the only living things around Mount Timpanogos. The meadows, outcroppings, and forests below the treeline are home to a myriad of unique wildlife that rely on the area for shelter and natural resources.
Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii)
When ascending Mount Timpanogos, climbers are usually on the lookout for larger fauna like mule deer, moose, elk, and black bears. There are other, much smaller residents of the wilderness area, however, that are just as important to the ecosystem and are less frequently encountered. One such animal, Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii), spends part of the year in Timpanogos Cave in American Fork Canyon. They often rest within the cave during the day, venturing out into the wilderness area at night to hunt for insects.
Unfortunately, these and many other North American bats are in danger of extinction due to a fungal disease called white nose syndrome. The disease is devastating to all cave-dwelling bats and has, to date, wiped out millions of individuals. It isn’t clear exactly where the disease came from, but it spreads via several vectors and there are restrictions in place on those entering the cave to attempt to curtail its spread.
Rocky Mountain Parnassian (Parnassius smintheus)
Timp is also home to many species of beautiful moths and butterflies that rely on the mountain wildflowers as a source of food throughout their lives. One such butterfly, the Rocky Mountain parnassian (Parnassius smintheus) has a special relationship with Sedum lanceolatum, the spearleaf stonecrop. As it feeds during its larval stage, the insect accumulates a defensive toxin produced by the succulent plant. It retains this toxin throughout all of its life stages, poisoning any predator that dares to consume it. Though the pair have evolved a close relationship, the insect’s feeding activities trigger the sedum’s defenses. The caterpillars must therefore hurry to eat their fill from one host and move on to another before they are stunted by the sedum’s toxins. Interestingly, the plants are entirely toxic to the caterpillars throughout the winter months, only becoming edible in the spring.
American Pika (Ochotona princeps)
The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is crepuscular, meaning that it is most active during the dawn and dusk hours of the day. That makes them an uncommon sight for daytime visitors to Mount Timpanogos. During the daytime hours, these adorable little rodents hide among rocks and crevices at higher elevations, keeping them safe from their many predators. Hiding during the day is also important to shelter them from the heat in the summer months.
Pikas spend much of the summer gathering and storing the food that will carry them through the winter. As herbivores, they need to collect quite a lot of grasses and flowers to sustain them when food is scarce. To ensure that the food remains viable throughout the winter, pikas create piles in the open and allow the material to sun dry before stashing it away for later.
If you’re looking to spot a pika, rely on your ears. These little rodents live in colonies and vocalize quite loudly to communicate warnings, territorial shouts, and mating calls. Despite their cuddly appearance, they are some of the toughest animals on Timp. They do not hibernate and are active year-round, venturing out to forage when weather allows.