Tackling the Adams Canyon Hike: What you Need to Know (Updated for 2020)

adams canyon hike

The Adams Canyon Hike (sometimes known as the North Holmes Creek Trail) is a very popular out-and-back trail near Kaysville, Utah.

The 3.8-mile hike – rated as ‘moderate’ – takes you into the canyon, through the beautiful Northern Wasatch forest with spectacular views of the valley, and then up to the stunning Adam Falls waterfall.

From how to get there and what to expect, to the difficulty of the hike and what to bring; in this extensive guide we are going to share with you everything you need to know about hiking Adams Canyon.

Adams Canyon: General Overview

Holmes Creek in Utah
Holmes Creek in Utah

This trail is the second most popular in Davis County and offers great views all year round. The waterfall at the top is stunning and well worth the effort; and the views into the valley can be spectacular, especially at sunset.

The Adams Canyon Hike (North Holmes Creek Hike) should take you between three and four hours to complete. With an elevation gain averaging only 1,400 feet, the hike is quite suitable for children (from about 6 years and older), although the last part of the trail could be tricky for younger kids. 

Adams Canyon: Hike Data

  • Main Trailhead: Adams Canyon Trailhead (41.066216,-111.909978)
  • Distance: 3.86 miles (Round trip)
  • Vertical Elevation Gain: 1,420 Feet
  • Hike time:  3+ hours
  • Restrictions: Visitors are subject to the rules and regulations of the National Forest Service
  • Animals: Dogs are allowed but should be leashed. A lot of owners regularly ‘forget’ about this rule. Horses are also permitted
  • Vehicles: Non-powered mountain bikes are permitted. No motorized vehicles are allowed on any part of the trails.
  • Restrooms:  None (there are no restrooms, not even at the car park)
  • Best Times to Visit: Although accessible year-round, the best time to go is late Spring, Summer and early Fall.

The History of Elias Adams

Monument to Elias Adams, early settler
Monument to Elias Adams, early settler | Photo credit: facebook.com/elias adams memorial group

On the second sandy switchback of the trail, there is a memorial to Ellias Adams, after whom the Canyon is named. He was related by blood to John Adams: Founding Father, Vice President to George Washington, signer of the Declaration of Independence and finally second President of the USA. 

Elias was a pioneer and veteran of the 1812 war, wounded three times in battle. Leaving his east Mississippi home with two young sons in tow, he trekked across the Great Plains towards Salt Lake City by way of covered wagons drawn by oxen. 

In 1850 he staked his claim at East Bench in Layton, Salt Lake City, Utah, where he and his sons hauled red pine logs from the canyon to build their first home at the base of the Wasatch Mountain. 

Two years later, he and his sons started to build the first dam at Adams Pond, which is still used today to supply the county reservoir. In 1886, at the age of 78, he built a two-story brick home by hand, with a cellar: the first brick house ever erected in Layton. Elias Adams died aged 93 in February 1886, and his Canyon memorial was dedicated in July 2016.   

Adams Canyon: Getting There

Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah
Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah | Photo credit: utah.com

From I-15 take Exit 330. Head toward S. Main Street, which merges onto S. Fort Lane. Turn right at East Gentile Street and continue onto Oak Hills Drive, turning Left onto US 89 N. Take a right on N. Eastside Drive (near the Chevron gas station) and then another right at the T-junction (just past ‘Grounds for Coffee’). Follow N. Eastside Drive all the way to the trailhead at this geographic location:

41.066216,-111.909978

Adams Canyon Trail starts at the bottom of a dirt car park. There’s only one trail from the trailhead, so it’s impossible to miss. Although there are plenty of spaces in the parking lot, you should try to arrive early as it always fills up quickly. 

We recommend arriving at 6:30 am if you want to get ahead of the pack. In fact, a lot of father & son duos camp locally for the night then start out for the trail at dawn. There’s more about camping a few paragraphs away, so stay with us…..

Adams Canyon: The Hike to Adams’ Falls

The hike to the waterfall at Adams’ Falls can be broken up into three stages:

  • Stage 1: From the Trailhead to the BST (Bonneville Shoreline Trail)
  • Stage 2: from the BST to the Crossing at Holmes Creek 
  • Stage 3: from the crossing to the Adams’ Falls  

 Stage 1: From the Trailhead to BST

Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah
Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah | Photo credit: utah.com

The hike is quite challenging to begin with, as you make your way 500 feet up the west face. The sandy switchbacks are quite steep, and can be difficult to negotiate. But you’re instantly rewarded with some great panoramic views, most notably of the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island in the distance.

Things ease up a little after the first half a mile, with no more hills (for now!) and the tree cover providing welcome shade. Following the trail takes you down to the foothills and the ancient Bonneville shore.

At this point, the National Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST) joins you from the left (north) and merges with the Adam’s Canyon trail. Just stay on the main trail and head straight up (east) into Adam’s Canyon.

Stage 2: From BST to the Water Crossing 

Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah
Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah | Photo credit: utah.com

Just after the BST breaks away from your trail, you’ll drop down to creek level and enter Adams Canyon through some woodland. Thankfully, there’s some more much-needed shade from the trees. You’ll start to hear the small stream, called Holmes Creek, that carries the run-off from the Adams’ Falls.

The scenery from this point is spectacular. The trail follows the creek through scrub oak and magisterial white pine, but you will notice lots of smaller trails. Eventually, these trails do converge so there’s not much chance of getting lost if you stray off the beaten path – however, we encourage you to stick to the main trail unless you fancy a small adventure! 

Whilst in the shade, you’ll be gaining in elevation with every step. However, the natural shade means there’s no blazing sun to sap your energy. It’s actually a quite beautiful part of the hike.

Stage 3: From the Crossing to the Waterfall 

Adams Falls
Adams Falls | Photo credit: tripadvisor.com

With only half a mile to the Adams’ Falls, you’ll cross a small footbridge over to the creek’s opposite bank. The trail now splits: straight on follows the creek along a rocky bench, the other option is to go up, across and down. The choice is yours – just bear in mind that the rocky bench gets very slippery when it rains, and many rescue parties have had to attend to breaks and fractures. 

After a few more minutes you’ll reach a small but very Instagrammable waterfall. If you want to rest, this is a great place to take a breather. 

Whether you decide to take a break or not, the next stage is your last as you make the final push to the waterfall at Adam’s Canyon. You’ll have to get a little bit wet as you rock-hop across Holmes Creek, but it’s the best way to get a good close-up view of the falls.

Adam’s Falls drops about 40 feet, and it’s a very photogenic waterfall. You’re sure to get a load of great photos, and no doubt some very jealous facebook posts once you’ve uploaded them! The stunning view is a great reward for making it to the end of the trail – and may we say: well done! (OK, maybe we should at least wait until you’ve booked your flights…!)

Camping 

Camping in the Northern Wasatch Forest
Camping in the Northern Wasatch Forest | Photo Credit www.pikist.com

If you fancy a chilled evening under canvas before hitting the trail, there are five or six great places for backcountry camping, often called primitive camping. These are all sited in the Northern Wasatch Forest, along the banks of the creek, so you’ll always have water available, but please remember to bring a purifier! 

The first one is set at the mouth of the canyon just inside the forest. The next three or four follow the line of the water, and you’ll find the last one just after crossing the little creek bridge. The last one is a particularly good spot, because it means you could get an extra hour of sleep and probably make it to the falls in time for the gorgeous sunrise.  

 What to Bring With for the Trail 

These items should be on your hiking checklist: 

  • Water: Make sure you bring lots of water! Some people underestimate how much water they’ll need and have to turn back before getting to the waterfall. The rule of thumb is to take as much water as you can, then add a few more bottles somehow. Also, always remember to bring a water purifier, so you can make drinkable water from rivers and streams. 
  • Plenty of food:  There’s nowhere to get food once you’ve left the parking lot, so it’s always a good idea to bring fruit or a light snack. Choosing light and compact foods, such as dehydrated or freeze-dried meals for energy.
  • Navigation: Includes map, compass, altimeter and a GPS device. Most phones have these capabilities, but a dedicated device is always a good idea if you’re planning to do more than one or two hikes a year.
  • Suitable hiking boots: You’ll need something sturdy as the hike involves some scrambling over rocks, but also lightweight with good traction and water drainage. Try the  Clorts leather waterproof hiking boots for men, or the Keen Newport Hydro sandals for women.  
  • Weather-appropriate clothing: If you can, pay a bit more for moisture-wicking clothes, and jackets that have removable layers or can double as a waistcoat.
  • Sunscreen:  Even on cloudy days, you can still get sunburn. And the chances increase at higher altitudes, so always protect yourself with plenty of healthy SPFs, even on a winter’s day.
  • First Aid Kit Andy basic camping kit will give you the basics, but remember to add foot powder, a muscle-relaxant heat spray and some insect repellant.  
  • Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  • Torch Don’t rely on the one that comes with your phone. Get a proper torch, or even a headlight for your head, and don’t forget some spare batteries.
  • Duct Tape Duct tape is, without a doubt, the single best thing in the world. You can use it to patch up anything. Anywhere. Rule number one: always know where your duct tape is!
  • Emergency Blanket A foil blanket is super-lightweight and folds into a tiny square, making it easy to fit in a spare nook or cranny. On cold winter nights, it’s a must-have item
  • Portable Charger: Not many phones or multi-devices last a day nowadays, so a battery bank/portable charger is a must. There are some which charge by solar panel, which is great for sunny trails. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah
Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah | Photo credit: utah.com

How Long of a Hike is Adams Canyon?

The total distance you’ll travel is 3.86 miles (6.21 km) for the round trip, and you should allow a minimum of 3 hours to complete the trail. Some experienced hikers, and the athletes who run the hill every day, can make the trek in under 2 hours. 

Is Adams Canyon a Hard Hike?

Going through the sandy switchbacks can be strenuous, but the trick is to take comfortable steps and not try to overdo it. Also, sometimes the going can get quite slick and muddy, especially in the spring when the snowmelt is high. But overcoming this is quite easy. So no, it’s not a hard hike. It’s actually officially rated as ‘moderate’, and these ratings normally inflate the difficulty. We know of two brothers, aged 5 and 6, who made it to the top without (much of) a struggle.

How Steep Is the Trail on Adams Canyon Hike?

The trail has a fairly steady incline, eventually elevating you by 1,420 Feet. The steady incline means it’s great for cardio exercise, and several athletes regularly run the trail. If you see a runner coming uphill in your direction, be nice and stand aside! Thanks.

Are Dogs Allowed?

Yes, dogs are permitted on the trail. Although regulations state that all dogs should be kept on a leash, many dog owners stupidly let their dogs run free. Just be aware that a dog could come tearing around a corner at any time, so be prepared and be extra careful!

Are There Any Areas that are Off-Limits?

Yes. We must ask you to please not hike above the falls. The terrain is steep, wet, and slippery, and accidents have happened. Most local rescues are to save hikers who have decided to hike above the falls.

 Does The Waterfall Flow All Year Round?

The waterfall flow varies depending on the time of year, but we’ve been told it doesn’t ever dry up. 

Is Adams Canyon Dangerous? 

The area is known for rattlesnakes, so be aware and watch where you step, especially if you wander off the main path.  We’ve also been advised there are a few tarantulas that like to take a stroll along the trail on late summer evenings. But rule number one of nature applies: if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Can I still Hike the Trail During Coronavirus?

As of 29th May 2020, all State Parks in Utah have completely reopened to the public.  Please note that some visitor centres may remain closed due to COVID-19 concerns. 

The National Forest Service have stated, “Enjoying the outdoors can certainly help us all stay sane during this COVID-19 pandemic, but please continue to follow local protocol with regards to social distancing: Separate yourself and honour the social distance of others (6 feet); stay away from parks and recreation areas when you are sick or have symptoms, and help keep parks clean by taking your trash home.”

Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah
Adams Canyon Hiking in Utah | Photo credit: utah.com

A Final Word

The Adams Canyon Hike is a great way to spend half a day, breathing in the clean forest air, taking in the views of the Great Salt Lake, and watching that stunning waterfall at the top of the trail.

If we’ve helped you make the decision to hike the trail yourself, our work here is done. We hope you have a great day and we’d love you to upload some photos so we can display them in our blog, with your name there for all the world to see!

If you want to check out some other cool hikes, then have a look at our guide to hiking the Kanarraville Falls in Utah, or for something a bit more far out, take a look at our guide to the best hikes in Hawaii. If you want any more information on Adams Canyon, hiking in Hawaii or just want to chat about travel then please get in touch with us – we’re happy to help and we love to talk!

Happy trails……

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