Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Utah > Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Covering an area of less than one square mile, Timpanogos Cave National Monument protects three interlinked limestone caverns, 1,060 feet above the floor of American Fork Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains, reached by a steep 1.5 mile trail up the rocky slopes. The hike is quite strenuous, so relatively few make the journey yet even so, in summer a wait of several hours may be necessary before entering the caves, which may only be visited as part of a ranger-led guided tour. The formations are on a much smaller scale than in other more famous cave systems such as Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico but are still very pretty, the main attraction here being the multitude of helicites - an unusual, twisting, microcrystalline variety of calcite with many delicate forms.

The Trail

Timpanogos Cave National Monument also contains two picnic areas on the banks of American Fork Creek, a short nature trail and a visitor center from which tickets for the cave tours are purchased (2014 prices are $7 per adult, $5 per child age 6-15 and $3 for those age 3-5). The tours have a maximum of 20 per group and take about 40 minutes. As waiting space at the cave entrance is limited, visitors are given a suggested time at which to start the hike; on some popular days, all places may be taken by early afternoon and advance reservations are recommended. The usual time for hiking the 1.5 mile trail is given as 1.5 hours but it can be done in around 40 minutes. The path is consistently steep from the beginning, climbing up the crumbing igneous rocks of the canyon - composed mainly of quartzite and dolomite. Rock falls are common, especially in winter, and as a consequence stopping is not allowed on some parts of the trail deemed to be most at risk. There are various numbered points of interest along the route, mostly rocks and plants. The path offers grand views of American Fork Canyon, especially to the southwest - towards Provo and the desert beyond. Conditions are especially atmospheric in early fall, as the trees begin to display their bright red and orange colors, and the tops of the mountains are often hidden by low cloud. Deteriorating weather closes the caves from late October to May.


Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites American Fork
Holiday Inn Express American Fork, 10 miles from Timpanogos Cave
The trail ends at a covered waiting area, elevation 6,300 feet, in front of the entrance to the first cave. The three caverns were discovered at different times and were originally separate; they have since been linked by short artificial tunnels. Earliest to be explored, and first entered today, was Hansen Cave in 1887; this joins Middle Cave, discovered in late 1921 by the family of Jim Hansen who found the original cave. Timpanogos Cave is the third and most spectacular; this was found in 1914 but its location became forgotten until being rediscovered in summer 1921. The national monument was proclaimed in 1922, and about 60% of the 2 miles of underground passages are visited on the guided tour. The caves are relatively new - they were formed along fractures in the limestone around 200,000 years ago and are still actively changing, as water - principally from the spring snowmelt - continually seeps into the passages depositing more minerals and creating new crystalline formations.

Inside the Caves

Inside, the passageways are mostly quite narrow but with a few large chambers; all are subtly, rather dimly illuminated by lamps operated by timer switches, so as not to damage the formations by constant light; as a result, photography is quite difficult and long exposures are needed. The artificial tunnels have doors to prevent draughts and maintain a high moisture level - water is a vital part of the ecosystem, dripping from above creating new spaeleotherms and collecting in numerous pools. Helicites form by capillary action and are unusual because they are unaffected by gravity, growing randomly in all directions. Mostly pure white, some have bluish tints caused by nickel impurities. Other features are the usual stalagmites and stalactites, plus draperies and flowstones - large scale rippled deposits that resemble solidified waterfalls or cascades of rock. Wildlife underground is quite limited - just bats, crickets and spiders; the pack rats that once occupied the caves have disappeared since the entrances were sealed.

Timpanogos Cave Hotels

The nearest towns with hotels close to Timpanogos Cave National Monument are Orem, Lehi and American Fork.
Highlights: Small cave system quite high up the south side of American Fork Canyon, near Mount Timpanogos in the central Wasatch Range - reached by a steep, 1.5 mile trail and viewable only via a ranger-led tour
Nearest city with hotels: American Fork, 8 miles
Management: NPS
Location: 40.443, -111.705
Seasons: May to November - closed during winter because of snow

Timpanogos Cave - Photographs

  • 6 views of Timpanogos Cave National Monument
  • photograph
    Pool and stalactites
    Nearby places Similar places

    Nebo Loop Scenic Byway (35 miles) - narrow, winding road through the southern end of the Wasatch Range

    Wasatch Mountain State Park (30 miles) - wooded hills at the east side of the Wasatch Range
    Nearby places Similar places

    Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico - the most famous cave system in the world

    Lehman Caves, Nevada - another cavern system with beautiful limestone formations


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