Pioneer Trail |

Little Emigration Canyon

Hiking Pioneer Trail - Little Emigration Canyon Hiking Pioneer Trail
Little Emigration Canyon

Overview | Getting There | Route | Photos | Maps | Comments


RATING: Easy to Moderate


35 | 22


32 | 16


29 | 9


31 | 8


31 | 10

View Full Weather Details
SEASON: Summer, Fall
GEAR: Standard Hiking Gear
WATER: Filterable along most of the route if needed.


35 | 22


32 | 16


29 | 9


31 | 8


31 | 10

View Full Weather Details
Morning light heading down from Big Mountain Pass

Morning light heading down from Big Mountain Pass

The wherewithal of the early pioneers astounds me! In the summer of 1846, the Donner Party set off for California. En route, they learned of Hastings Cutoff, a supposed easier route to California that would make for a shorter trip. Nevermind Hastings himself had only traversed the route once of the same year and without wagons! His enthusiasm for California and the fact it was a shorter route convinced the Donner Party to take the new course.

They chose the route over Big Mountain Pass after scouting determined Weber Canyon was not a viable route. From Henefer, they built a road to Big Mountain Pass, then continued down from the pass to the Salt Lake Valley below. This feat took them 13 days of hard labor.

The party was destined to be stuck in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and become part of an American legend. It is hard to fathom looking down from Big Mountain Pass and seeing no choice but to build a road! Had they not lost two weeks building that section of trail, they may not have been stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountain and have faded into history.

The Mormon Pioneers used the same route the following year as they began making their way to the Salt Lake Valley.

The hike can be done in several sections. Most do a shorter piece at a time, but if you have two vehicles, hiking or biking the whole trail for a full-day outing. The history of the trail makes this a delightful excursion. I would strongly recommend this in the early summer when wildflowers are in bloom or fall when the leaves are changing color. Summer can be hot.

Note: Dogs are NOT allowed on most of the trail because of the watershed. The only section dogs ARE allowed on is starting from the Morman Flats Trailhead and up Little Emigration Canyon. Dogs are not permitted at Big Mountain Pass or beyond to Little Dell. If hiking with a dog, you can only do an out and back from the Morman Flats.
Fall colors near Mormon Flats

Fall colors near Mormon Flats

Getting There

Note: State highway UT-65 and the road to the eastern trailhead are closed in winter from about November to May, depending on snow levels.

Morman Flats Trailhead
Note: Reaching this trailhead is on a good dirt road. This trailhead is a 30+ minute drive to the other trailheads because of the circuitous route needed to reach the other trailheads.

From I-80 from Salt Lake City about 15 miles to exit 141 (Jeremy Ranch). Exit 141 is about 2 miles west of Kimball Junction if coming from the east. Once off the highway, go north and take the first left. Take the next right (Jeremy Ranch Road).

Follow Jeremy Ranch Road for 5.2 miles. Just after the golf course, the road turns to dirt but is well-graded and suitable for most vehicles when dry. The trailhead is on the left, with a side road to a parking and picnic area. The trail starts from the picnic area.

Little Dell
From Salt Lake City, travel east about 6 miles on I-80 to exit 134 (East Canyon / Little Dell). From exit 134, travel north on UT-65 for 2.9 miles. Little Dell Reservoir is on the right. Parking in the parking lot requires a fee.

Affleck Park
Continue from Little Dell an additional 2.4 miles to Affleck Park on the left. Affleck Park is a great camping area. Reservations required in advance, contact Salt Lake County ( ) for more information. The trail passes through the park on the west side of the stream. You can park on the road and walk-in.

Big Mountain Pass
Continue past Affleck Park an additional 3 miles to the pass. There is a large parking area here. The trail comes up from Mormon Flats on the north side of the parking. It continues down to Affleck Park on the south side. The south side is well signed. The north, on my trip, was a single track heading down from the parking lot without any signs.

An early winter day near Pioneer Camp

An early winter day near Pioneer Camp


Morman Flats to Big Mountain Pass
This section of the trail is probably my favorite. From Mormon Flats, the trail crosses a bridge over the river and enters Little Emigration Canyon. As it enters the canyon, there are two rock walls, one on each side of the canyon. The Mormon Militia built the walls in 1857 as a defensive structure in case a war between the Mormon pioneers and the US government broke out.

The trail continues up through aspen trees along a small stream. Pioneer Camp, a luscious wetland area is passed before the trail climbs more steeply to Big Mountain Pass. Once under the power lines, the trail braids. Follow any of the trails that follow under the power lines up to the pass. The trail I took, shown on the map, passes a lovely small pond with a bench.

Big Mountain Pass to Affleck Park
From the pass, find the wide, well-marked trail descending to the west, toward the Salt Lake Valley. The trail traverses the hillside, then descends to the stream bottom. It is lovely in the fall when leaves are changing!

Once in the stream bottom, the trail crosses UT-65 at milepost 6.5. Continue across the road, then steeply down to a junction just before Affleck Park.

If exiting at Affleck Park, go left. The trail goes down to Affleck Park, then follow the campground road up the hill.

Affleck Park to Little Dell
If continuing to Little Dell, go right. The trail meanders around, crosses the stream, the merges with the campground road. Follow the campground road, straight, through the campground. On the south side of the campground, the trail picks up again. It continues down along the west side of the stream, then reaches UT-65. Cross UT-65, then go across the bridge and pick up the trail again on the east side of the stream.

From this last road crossing, the trail meanders down, crosses the stream, and continues to Little Dell Reservoir.


Route - Full Route / 10.41 miles / Elevation Range 5,774 - 7,427 ft.
Route - Big Mountain to Little Dell / 5.72 miles / Elevation Range 5,774 - 7,426 ft.
Printable Maps:
Trailhead - Mormon Flats

12T 450676mE 4518441mN

N40° 48' 56" W111° 35' 05"


12T 445463mE 4520283mN

N40° 49' 54" W111° 38' 49"

Trailhead - Big Mountain

12T 444868mE 4519849mN

N40° 49' 40" W111° 39' 14"

Cross Road

12T 443768mE 4518984mN

N40° 49' 12" W111° 40' 00"

Jct - Affleck Park

12T 442858mE 4518276mN

N40° 48' 49" W111° 40' 39"

Jct - Left To Bridge

12T 442577mE 4518454mN

N40° 48' 54" W111° 40' 51"

Trailhead - Affleck Park

12T 442798mE 4517810mN

N40° 48' 34" W111° 40' 41"

Road Crossing

12T 442699mE 4516776mN

N40° 47' 60" W111° 40' 45"

Jct - Join Dirt Road

12T 442244mE 4514488mN

N40° 46' 46" W111° 41' 04"

Trailhead - Little Dell

12T 441859mE 4514371mN

N40° 46' 42" W111° 41' 20"


Want to make a comment? Login and let yourself be heard.