Explore: Mountain goats in Southern Utah’s pristine alpine refuge, the Tushars

Kelsey Buchanan scrambling off the summit of Delano Peak towards the east side basins of the Tushar Mountains, Fishlake National Forest, August 1, 2014 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST — A little-known, remarkably pristine alpine haven – the Tushar Mountains – are often overlooked by hikers set on Southern Utah’s legendary desert sanctuaries. But even Rocky Mountain fanatics will marvel on this summertime high-altitude hike through a refuge of exposed peaks, snow-fed creeks, wild mountain goats, and flower-filled meadows.

Hiking into a basin often filled with Rocky Mountain Goats on the east side of Delano Peak, Tushar Mountains, Fishlake National Forest, August 1, 2014 | Photo by Kelsey Buchanan, St. George News

Hike at a glance:

  • Distance: 7 miles up-and-back
  • Difficulty: Strenuous, nontechnical, but steep
  • Altitude: With a high point of over 12,000 feet above sea level, the trailhead alone begins around 10,000 feet up
  • Elevation: The hike gains about 2,000 feet of elevation, plus the same loss, gain, and loss again – it’s a calf-burner
  • Season: Small weather window: July-August. August is best for wildflowers
  • Summary: High-altitude hike through a rugged alpine zone with unbelievably vast birds-eye views of Southern Utah

Half an hour drive east of the town of Beaver, Utah, stand peaks that could easily hold their own against the nearby Rocky Mountains. Fortunately, exploring the highest of the Tushars, and the highest point in Southern Utah – Delano Peak, is a moderate hike compared to the 12,000-foot peaks in the Rockies.

The West’s main thoroughfare, Interstate 15, intersects a network of backcountry roads that lend easy driving access to the west side of Delano. It’s lucky that this gradually sloping side of the mountain also lends itself to a pleasant hiking experience, especially for a giant alpine peak.

Taking a water break near a snow-fed stream on the east side of Delano Peak, Tushar Mountains, Fishlake National Forest, August 1, 2014 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

The real beauty lies on the other, more rugged side of Delano peak, accessed by a hike of 2.5 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain up the grassy east slope. Most people stop at the peak, sign the register and consider themselves victors; but, more adventurous types willing to tromp down the more rugged east side will get the real mountain experience. The east side reveals those crystal clear streams, colorful meadows, jagged peaks, and yes, over 60 wild Rocky Mountain goats. If you wander around for more then a few hours on the east side, you really can’t miss the notorious herd goats.

Be sure to prepare at your local gym’s stair-stepper machine, because this hike has lots of up, and up, and more up. And down, and down, and more down; and then back up, and up, and … shall I go on? It’s a foot-propelled high-altitude stomp, for adventure hikers.

To the trailhead

Thanks to the unpaved mountain roads on the west side, which are well kept in the late summer months (July and August), you can drive surprisingly close to Delano Peak.

A few of the Rocky Mountain goats that roam the east side of Delano Peak, Tushar Mountains, Fishlake National Forest, August 1, 2014 | Photo by Kelsey Buchanan, St. George News

From Main Street in the town of Beaver, drive 16.4 miles up the canyon on Highway 153. Turn left onto a well-graded dirt road at the Big John’s Flat sign. Stay on this road – Forest Road 123 – for 4.8 miles to the Skyline Trailhead, marked by several big signs and a bathroom. Park here and get ready for takeoff.

Hiking Directions

From the trailhead follow the well-marked, well-traveled Fish Lake trail (trail 225) east for 0.9 miles to the apex of a ridge. Instead of continuing forward by dropping down the steep other side of the ridge, where trail 225 continues, branch off the trail left and hike along the ridge through several groves of pine trees. At this point you are route-finding as the Delano Peak trail becomes overgrown every summer. Just follow the ridge southeast for a half-mile until you reach the base of a massive bare mountain. This is Delano.

From this angle Delano appears more like a giant grassy hill. Hike up the hill, finding whichever path seems best to you. From the base of Delano, it’s almost exactly 1 mile to its peak.

Hiking up the west side of Delano Peak, which looks more like a grassy hill from this point, Tushar Mountains, Fishlake National Forest, August 1, 2014 | Photo by Drew Allred , St. George News

The Forest Service map designates a trail that follows this path, but due to lack of foot traffic and summer plant growth, it is not visible. Just hike up, and up and up, until you reach the top which is marked by a rocky ridge and a traffic-sized sign that reads “Delano Peak.” From the trailhead to this point is 2.5 miles, and over 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

Instead of turning around here at this mesmerizing viewpoint, immerse yourself in the real beauty of the mountain by continuing down the other side. Follow the eastside drainage of Delano where a few hundred feet below the summit a large snow patch begins a steady flowing stream. For the next half-mile keep your eyes open for the herd of mountain goats. They usually reside in this or one of the nearby basins. If you can’t see them, you might want to traverse the mountain and look into some of the other basins nearby. This heard isn’t known to travel very far off from here.

Kelsey Buchanan taking a rest at the turn-around point in a flower-filled meadow near the Bullion Canyon trail system, Tushar Mountains, Fishlake National Forest, August 1, 2014 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

If you’re done watching the goats, continue following the drainage for a steep stomp downwards before picking up the official Delano Peak trail which becomes visible about half a mile below the peak. This trail connects with one of the most beautiful trail systems of the area, the Bullion Canyon Trails, which are protected from high traffic by the rugged topography. This area is truly pristine.

Stay on the Delano peak trail for another half a mile until you reach the base of the mountain where hikers are treated to awe-inspiring flower-filed meadows. Take a rest here, power up and return the way you came. It’s 3.5 miles back to the car over one massive mountain.

WARNING: This hike reaches altitudes of over 12,000 feet, an extreme height for most people. High altitude hikes are notoriously dangerous. Weather conditions change swiftly and some people’s bodies react more severely then others. If you start to feel lightheaded, or experience headaches, this can be an early sign of altitude sickness. Turn around, don’t risk it. Sickness on this remote, isolated mountain could present serious problems.

ADVISORY: This review is not meant to be your guide. If you’re an inexperienced backcountry explorer, you need to learn mapping skills, and self-rescue skills. Although this hike does not require technical skills, it is recommended to have someone along who knows backcountry rescue techniques in case they are needed.

This mountain is in an isolated part of Utah. There is little-to-no cell phone service once you leave Beaver. There are several mountain streams that you cross on the hike but, unless you have a water purifier, refrain from drinking the water. This river system has been known to contain bacteria unsafe for humans.

As this mountain is covered in snow most of the year, this hike is only accessible for a few months in the summer on an average year. Stop at the Forest Service office, 575 S. Main in Beaver, and purchase a map and get weather updates before leaving the pavement. Bring more water and food than you think you need and preplan scenarios in which you might get stuck on the mountain for the night.

SIDE NOTE: This is not the only way to hike Delano Peak. If you like the area, consider returning and taking other routes to the top or to nearby peaks like rugged Mount Belknap or bizarre Mount Baldy.

Resources

  •  The Beaver Ranger station has several maps of the area, including the most detailed, the Fishlake National Forest map
  • The Tushars also host a slew of well-maintained ATV trails, not to mention one of Utah’s least-known ski-resorts, cherished by backcountry skiers: Eagle Point
  • There are numerous bathrooms and camping spots nearby the trailhead. Many of the camp spots are big enough for RV camping

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery. 

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Email: dallred@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Paul Bottino August 6, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Great article. I didn’t know it was so popular to hikers. I have been up there twice on an ATV. Magnificent.

  • Real Life August 6, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Awesome pics.

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