I’d categorize Utah as my freshy fresh 2017 love interest (the Supes are my local love, and Canada is my big love). There are lovely national parks in the state, but I’ve found that national parks only seem to have one or two relatively short trails that dogs are allowed to hike. On the other hand, national forests are prime-time adventure dog real estate! Backpacking to Whipple Valley would be perfect.
Trail Details for Backpacking to Whipple Valley
For this trip, my eyes were on Dixie National Forest in the southeast corner of the state – Whipple Trail in the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, to be exact.
Trail length: 12 miles (O/B)
Elevation gain: 2,890 feet
There is something to be said for planning far enough ahead. We’ll just get that statement out of the way right now.
A week before we rolled out is when I decided we’d be rolling out. The plan was to leave work early on Friday to drive the 7 hours to the Pine Valley Recreation Area. This is where you’ll find the Whipple Trailhead. We’d camp at a designated campsite. Then start hiking right away Saturday morning and sleep in Whipple Valley. Sunday afternoon, we’d hike down to spend the night at the campsite again. And then head home early Monday morning.
Not a bad plan for a regular weekend. But a horrible plan for Memorial Day weekend when everyone and their uncle’s cat decides to go camping and you’re trying to stay at a first-come-first-served campsite and work gets busy, so you can’t leave until Saturday morning.
We still had a grand adventure!
The Hike up to Whipple Valley
We arrived in Pine Valley around 2:30pm. As expected, no campsites were available. Luckily you can park for free at the trailheads if you’re just hiking for the day or doing overnights on the trails.
A three-person family was gearing up as I pulled into a parking spot. We compared notes on what we knew about the trail: Rangers had yet to clear it. Downed trees across the trail. Potential snow at higher elevation on north-facing areas.
The weather was warm, and the elevation hit me a little harder than expected. But it was a beautiful hike with spectacular views and just enough shade to even out the warmth. The hounds were on their best behavior – or maybe the elevation was hitting them a bit as well.
There was no water on the trail until we hit a few streams halfway up. Here we ran into our second human encounter. A couple was setting up camp. They reported that they’d only gone halfway up the remainder of the trail before turning back because it was more challenging than the first portion. Super!
I kept on trekking, taking breaks often, thinking about how easy it would be to turn back or just set up camp at any of the other sites we came upon after that point. We reach the first pocket of snow tucked up under some pines. Then a patch, closer to the trail. Another blob covering half the trail. Just as we came upon the next set of campers, snow-covered the remainder of the trail as it headed from the summit area of the trail down to where the trail spilled out into the valley.
We hopped and slid down to the green space ahead. I stared in awe as we stepped from the trees into the grassy valley that opened up ahead. Green grass, tiny spring flowers, a stream down the center. There was still snow tucked away in the shadows of the tree line, rumpled up dirt where the snowpack had moved along, and water simply flowing out of the ground from the thawing process.
We located a narrow portion of the stream to cross and set up camp across the way. I could see two other campsites when we explored a bit more. The the family of three arrive a short time later. We wound down with a beautiful sunset and retired for the evening.
The houndy hounds were a bit chilly at night (it dropped below 40) because someone forgot their winter jackets – no names mentioned – okay, it was me!! I covered them in every extra piece of clothing or fabric I had. And I was extra thankful for the morning sunrays that were a toasty piece of heaven.
We explored the valley for a while before making our way back down the trail. Then we were greeted by a dead car battery. I was grateful for friendly hikers willing to give me a jump start. Also for my dad for making me carry jumper cables in my car at all times because the other hikers didn’t have any. If you take anything away from this post, take that: Always carry jumper cables in your car!
Even with a few detours to the original plans, I loved every second of our adventure. And I can’t wait to get back to Utah for another one. I definitely recommend backpacking to Whipple Valley!