Tom Kelly’s Sunday Drive: Towering mist
Standing at the base of the falls, the thunder of the water and the wind-driven mist create a maritime atmosphere at one of Utah’s iconic natural wonders. The cascades of Bridal Veil Falls offer an easily accessible opportunity to experience nature and learn about the tremendous power of water.
Ever since I was a kid and our family visited Niagara Falls, I’ve been captivated by waterfalls. Who isn’t? With a double drop totaling 607 feet, Bridal Veil Falls is the tallest in Utah and among the biggest in America. It collects the drainage from Cascade Mountain and sends it careening down over limestone rock formations that date back over 300 million years, coursing its way down to the Provo River and on to Utah Lake.
The legend of Bridal Veil Falls is that an Indian maiden jumped to her death here, seeking to join her beau in the afterlife – her spirit then creating the misty bridal veil.
For nearly a century, the falls were a target for entrepreneurs who wanted to capitalize on its magnetism and natural beauty. A state senator bought land there in 1929 to build a resort, then died shortly thereafter. In 1961, the Eagle’s Nest restaurant was built high up on the falls. A tram was added in 1967. In the ’90s, avalanches and fires took their toll on the restaurant and tram. Today, few remnants remain
In the past decade, Utah County acquired the land but developers kept coming with more plans for facilities and a new tram. Finally, in 2020, Utah County put the land into a conservation easement with Utah Open Lands to protect it from future development. The state legislature then gave it state monument status to further preserve it as a state treasure, not a commercial attraction.
Today, public picnic areas and paved trails along the Provo River attract families for outings. Kids play in the pool of water well below the base of the falls. Adventurous hikers ascend a short quarter-mile switchbacking trail up to the base of the falls. Less cautious individuals try to ascend the rocks leading up to the falls – a route that is highly discouraged.
A fun family trip is to park at Vivian Park, a few miles upstream, and hike or bike down to Bridal Veil Falls and back on the Provo River Trail (warning, it does get busy on weekends).
After navigating the steep switchbacks up to the falls, hiking poles in hand, I made myself comfortable on a rock. The deafening roar of the waterfalls filled the air. Wind grabbed onto the columns of water and turned it into a fine mist.
Looking up I could see the towering columns of white reaching skyward to the upper cliffs. It was a dizzying sight looking up towards the heavens. It’s a very special place.
Out of the mist I thought I caught a glimpse of the legendary Norita, leaping down after her mate Grey Eagle.
Overview: This is a simple drive, just head down US40 to Heber City then US189 through Provo Canyon. Turn into the Upper Falls parking lot then drive down the access road to more parking directly across from Bridal Veil Falls.
Fun Stuff: Kids, research other waterfalls before you go. This is a big one! If you do hike to the base of the falls, use the switchback trail (access it by the picnic kiosk just to the north) – do not climb the rocks! And be cautious about slippery rocks – it’s a long way down.
Dining: Other than the ice cream trucks in the parking lots, you’ll need to head back to Heber City or maybe a stop at Sundance Resort.
Next Week: Next week we’ll head west to Wendover to visit the historic airfield to check out the Bonneville Salt Flats, which recently became a body of water again with all of the August rain.
This is that weekend. At least, I think it might be. The one perfect fall weekend where the aspen trees are orange and yellow against the evergreens and the maples are red, and the slant of the light tells us the days are getting shorter.
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