How to Visit Timpanogos Cave National Monument

by

Share this article

Established in 1922, Timpanogos Cave National Monument preserves three caves located high up above the canyon floor on Mt. Timpanogos. Located on the outskirts of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, visitors will find it easy to get to the park. Getting to the cave, well that’s another story. 

If you’re going to visit a national park site that preserves a cave, you probably want to actually do a cave tour. Here, at Timpanogos Cave National Monument, that requires a 1.5-mile hike with a 1,092 foot elevation gain. It’s not exactly an easy hike! You’ll also need reservations for your cave tour.

Bonnie looks at American Fork Canyon on the hike up to Timpanogos Cave.
Bonnie checking out the American Fork Canyon.

As Grant found out when he first tried to visit in 1998, you can’t just swing by this park because you saw a sign. You’ll likely need to reserve a cave tour in advance. And you definitely need to prepare yourself, both mentally and physically, for the hike up to the cave entrance.

Whether you have a fascination with caves, are interesting in visiting all the national park sites or just love a grueling high-elevation hike, read on for everything you need to know about visiting Timpanogos Cave National Monument.

The History of the Caves

Timpanogos Cave National Monument actually preserves three caves, all connected by tunnels. You will explore all three with a cave tour. In 1887, Martin Hansen discovered the first cave, appropriately named Hansen Cave. 

Inside Hansen Cave at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Inside Hansen Cave

Unfortunately, he not only offered cave tours but allowed visitors to take “souvenirs” from the cave. For this reason, Hansen Cave really is not all that impressive as many of the interesting formations no longer exist. Still, it’s a good introduction to the caves and certainly a different environment than the one right outside the entrance!

The namesake Timpanogos Cave actually was discovered twice. A couple of teenagers first discovered the cave in 1915. The two families decided to keep it a secret hoping to mine the cave. In fact, they even hid the entrance behind a bunch of rocks. Thankfully, word got out and, eventually, there was a big push to find this “lost cave.”

Heart of Timpanogos
The Heart of Timpanogos formation

In 1921, an outdoor club rediscovered Timpanogos Cave and, soon after, Middle Cave. The following year, in 1922, President Harding established Timpanogos Cave National Monument, preserving all three caves for future exploration and enjoyment.

Planning a Visit to Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Some parts of Timpanogos Cave National Monument are open year-round. However, the visitor center and cave tours are only open in the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Cave tours are offered throughout the day and require about a three-hour commitment, including the hike to the cave entrance and the cave tour.

A ranger gives reminders about cave etiquette at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
The ranger giving our cave tour giving a briefing before we head in.

Typically, the park offers several different cave tours. In 2021, the park is only doing basic cave tours, due to COVID-19. Honestly, this is the main tour that most visitors will want. Check the park website for other possible tours and information.

Your tour time is actually the time that you will check in at the visitor center and start your hike. The actual cave tour will be 1.5 hours after that. If you think you’ll need more than 1.5 hours for the hike, be sure to check in and start hiking early!

The Hike to the Cave

Yes, the hike to the cave really does require about 1,100 feet of elevation gain in 1.5 miles! 

The trail up to Timpanogos Cave.
Note the red and yellow stripe… that means this area of the trail is prone to falling rocks.

Grant and I are no strangers to moderately strenuous hikes. I’ll be honest, though, we typically don’t do a lot of strenuous hikes, especially hikes involving a lot of elevation gain. But, we figured if we were visiting a park that preserves a cave, we should actually tour the cave. And, well, the only way to do that is to hike up to the cave entrance!

Originally, we scheduled a tour at about 1 p.m., thinking it’d be great to be inside the cave during the heat of the day. Once we realized that actually meant hiking at 1:00 and that the temperatures were forecast to be near 100 degrees that day, we changed our tour to 10:15 a.m. Wow, are we glad that we were able to get our tickets changed!

Grant on the trail to Timpanogos Cave.
Grant on the trail up to the cave entrance.

We started our hike at about 9:30, which was 45 minutes early. We figured we wanted time to take it easy and take pictures along the way. Also, anything we could do to beat the heat was worth it. At that time, we were hiking mostly in the shade, as the sun had not yet made it over the mountain. Thankfully, we also found many more trees than I expected along the route.

The hike is not easy by any means. But it is paved which makes it not quite as bad. You’ll find benches and shaded areas along the way. There are also a few interesting exhibits. And the views are fantastic! Just make sure you carry plenty of water and rest when needed and it’ll all be worth it in the end.

A bench along the trail at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
A well-placed bench to allow folks to take a break on the way up.

What if You’re Early (or Late)?

We actually made it up to the cave about 45 minutes before our scheduled tour time. Since we started hiking early, we expected this and were prepared to just wait for our tour time. Thankfully, there was room on an earlier tour so we didn’t have to wait too long.

Of course, we can’t promise that will happen. But, the rangers were very nice and accommodating. If you arrive early or late, I’d expect that they will do what they can to get you on a tour as soon as possible. 

Shelter and information sign at the entrance to the cave at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
The cave entrance has a nice shelter to allow you to wait in the shade for your tour.

That said, if you aren’t used to strenuous hikes, I’d certainly give yourself extra time. And it’s certainly not worth pushing yourself too much and overdoing it on the way up. Seriously, it’s better to be late and miss the tour than end up in the hospital!

The Cave Tour

The tour starts in Hansen Cave, then moves to Middle Cave and, finally, Timpanogos Cave. The exit is a different location than the entrance. 

Along the cave tour at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Inside the caves

As you move through the three caves, you’ll have to bend over and crouch down to avoid brushing up again the delicate cave formations. There also are a few stairs and uneven surfaces that you’ll have to walk over during the tour. I’d image that if you survived the trek up, you’ll be able to handle this. Everyone has different capabilities, though, so talk to a ranger if you think you might not have the flexibility needed for this tour.

If you have limited mobility, the first room of the tour is fairly easy to enter and view. Talk to a ranger to see if there are any other options.

You need to be a little flexible on the cave tour to avoid hitting some of the formations.
Bonnie hunched over in a tight spot on the cave tour.

Throughout the tour you’ll see a wide variety of cave formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, flowstone, popcorn and, our favorite, cave bacon! Also, be prepared for the ranger to turn out the lights at some point on the tour. While the tour route is generally well lit, it’s always fun to be in the absolute darkness when all the lights are out!

You won’t find any super unique formations (like the boxwork at Wind Cave National Park) but it is still an interesting tour. And, if you’re new to exploring caves, you’ll certainly learn a lot! We also liked hearing the details about the discovery of the caves and the people who found them.

Stalactites and Stalagmites inside Timpanogos Cave.
Stalactites, and a couple of stalagmites, in Timpanogos Cave

What to Carry

We always suggest that you carry the Ten Essentials when out on a hike. Since this particular hike is very well marked, with lots of other people, you won’t necessarily need all of the ten essentials, but there are a few things you should certainly carry.

First and foremost, carry plenty of water. The rangers suggest a minimum of 32 ounces of water per person. Honestly, I went through about 2.5 liters of water (about 85 ounces). I think Grant only drank about 2 liters of water. It’s definitely better to have too much than not enough water! There are water filling stations at the visitor center (bottom of the trail) but there is no water at the top. Carry what you need for the hike up and down.

Be sure to bring water and a fleece on the trail at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Grant on the trail wearing his new daypack, an REI Trail 25. In his pack he has water, a fleece, snacks and a few other hiking essentials.

You’ll also want some sort of sun protection. I suggest a hat, sunscreen and, perhaps, a long-sleeve sun shirt. This is particularly important if you are hiking in the afternoon when the sun is NOT behind the mountain.

Finally, you’ll want a jacket or fleece for the cave tour. The cave is roughly 45 degrees inside. Yes, this will feel amazing when you first step in. After a while, though, you’ll need that extra layer to keep you comfortable! In fact, about halfway through the tour, my legs started getting cold.

Cave Bacon on the walls at Timpanogos Cave.
We always love seeing cave bacon!

Depending on the time of your tour, you may also want some snacks. No, you can’t eat in the cave but you can eat on the trail. If you anticipate arriving early, you may also want a book or something to pass the time. Just a heads up – we did NOT have cell service (AT&T) for the majority of the hike. 

Other Things to Do at Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Before or after your hike, I certainly suggest a quick stop at the Visitor Center. Honestly, this is one of the smallest visitor centers we’ve seen but there are a few exhibits on the history of the area that are worth a look. You can also buy a couple of souvenirs to commemorate your strenuous hike up to the cave!

Be sure to check out the visitor center at Timpanogos Cave NM.
Grant checking out the exhibits in the Timpanogos Cave National Monument visitor center.

If you want a short extra hike, check out the 1/2-mile Canyon Nature Trail  across the street from the Visitor Center. This short trail does have a little bit of elevation gain but, overall, is very easy. You’ll see a variety of plants along the way. There’s even a viewing spot to see the cave entrance way up on the mountainside.

At the far end of the nature trail is the Swinging Bridge Picnic Area. This is a small but nice picnic spot with several shaded tables. This is a great spot for lunch before or after your cave tour.

Be sure to check out the short and easy nature trail at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Bonnie checking out the sign along the Canyon Nature Trail.

The surrounding area has a few other longer hikes and scenic drives. Check out the information at the Visitor Center if you have more time and want to explore the area.

Check out our article on visiting the Utah National Parks.

Final Thoughts on Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Located in the greater Salt Lake City area, Timpanogos Cave National Monument is an easy park to find. That said, you’ll need to book your cave tour in advance. Reservations open 30 days in advance, on recreation.gov.

There are plenty of options for hotels, restaurants and other things to do in the area. As usual, we always recommend Hilton properties.

Book a Hilton Hotel | Read TripAdvisor Reviews

We actually camped while we were in the area. Unfortunately, we can’t necessarily recommend the campground we stayed at.

American Fork Canyon
Views of the American Fork Canyon

Since the park only offers cave tours in the summer, we suggest booking your tour as early in the day as you can. Temperatures can be in the mid-upper 90s or even hotter in Salt Lake City in the summer. A strenuous hike in those temperatures can be downright dangerous. If you must do a tour in the afternoon, take extra water and give yourself plenty of time to make it to the top.

As you might expect, the hike down will be quite a bit easier and faster (it took us about half as long to hike down). That said, the steep downhill was a little tough on my knees.

While this is not a hike that should be done without preparation it, honestly, wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. And the cave tour at the top certainly made it worth it!

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.

We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.

Share this article

2 thoughts on “How to Visit Timpanogos Cave National Monument”

  1. Wonderful photos! I’ve been to Timpanogos Cave National Monument a couple of times, but it was before 1998! At that time, you really could just swing by and visit the cave without a reservation. From the your photos, it looks like a few things have been upgraded on the trail and right at the entrance to the cave since my last visit. The inside looks the same, though!

    Yes, it’s a very steep climb to the top! We were put in our place as we huffed and puffed to the top by a lively group of cub scouts who raced right by us like it was nothing.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much!

      Yes, that trail is steep but we took it slow and made it just fine… That said, we are well pas the age where youth passing us on the trail bothers us!

      Reply

Leave a Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy