Donut Falls Trail is a beautiful hike in Utah that leads to an impressive waterfall inside a cave.
This trail is located along the Big Cottonwood Canyon Scenic Drive and is easily accessible making it one of the most popular day hikes from Salt Lake City.
The Donut Falls Trail is short and family friendly – perfect for quick weekend outings.
- Length: 1.5 to 3 miles long, depending on parking
- Time Needed: 2 hours to hike to the waterfall and back
- Elevation: Around 500 feet
- Difficulty: Easy. The trail is mostly flat with some rocky sections towards the end
- Cost: It’s free to hike
- Dog Friendly?: No. It’s located near watersheds so dogs are not allowed
Location & Parking
The Doughnut Falls trailhead is located off Highway 190/Big Cottonwood Canyon Road in northern Utah.
This is a busy trail and parking at the trailhead is very limited.
To get to the trailhead you will need to make a turn off Highway 190 onto FR019. At this time point you have a couple of choices:
- Park in a paved lot right off Highway 190
- Keep going on a narrow forest road and park in a smaller lot closer to the trailhead
- Park along the forest road that leads to the trailhead
If you plan to hike Donut Falls Trail on a weekend, you can expect this place to get pretty crowded. Most people park at the paved lot off Highway 190 and walk an extra mile to the trailhead.
Map of Donut Falls Trail:
I took my chances and ended up driving all the way to the trailhead and luckily found a spot right next to it. But getting there was a bit of a mess since many people were hiking along this road and parking was very tight.
About Donut Falls Trail
Donut Falls Trail is one of the most unique trails and best adventures to do in Utah. This trail leads to a stunning waterfall that flows through a hole in a cave earning its name as “Doughnut Falls”.
The Donut Falls hike is especially beautiful in fall when you can catch glimpses of fall colors along the trail.
The waterfall is located on top of a cliff that can be difficult to reach for smaller kids or people with knee or joint issues.
If you plan to finish the entire hike and see the waterfall, I highly recommend wearing slip-resistant hiking shoes to help you climb up the rocks. These Merrell hiking shoes have excellent grip and are lightweight – perfect for quick day hikes!
The Donut Falls Trail is located in a National Forest but it’s part of a watershed so dogs are not allowed on this or any other hikes nearby.
Unfortunately, all of Big Cottonwood Canyon does not allow dogs so that’s something to keep in mind if you are planning to bring your furry friend along.
If you’re looking for a place to take your dog on hikes, I recommend checking out Logan Canyon Scenic Byway in Utah that also has a lot of beautiful trails and is dog friendly.
You May Also Like: Tips For Hiking Tony Grove Lake In Utah
I love visiting waterfalls but capturing photos of moving water requires a different approach than most landscape shots. Usually, I take a lot of photos quickly on the go but for this trail, I had to change my approach to get a better image.
Here are a couple of tips on how to shoot waterfall photos!
For starters I recommend bringing a:
- Tripod. A stable tripod is essential to get that flowy waterfall look and to reduce camera shake.
- Camera. For moving water, you want to use manual settings and keep the shutter speed as slow as possible.
- Camera cleaning cloth. To wipe down waterfall mist.
- Small backpack. So it’s easier to carry your camera gear up the rocks.
Once I reached Donut Falls, I was able to set up my tripod in the cave right in front of the waterfall and change the settings on my camera. To capture that smooth, silky waterfall look:
- Change the settings from Automatic to Manual
- Change the shutter speed to several seconds or longer
- Increase the aperture as needed to make the photo darker
- Keep ISO number at 100 for the least grainy look
- Wait until everyone clears out & capture photos!
What To Expect On The Hike
It’s not every day that you get to experience a waterfall rushing down into a cave so this adventure is quite the unique experience. But it is a wilderness hike so there are a few things to keep in mind.
After parking near the Donut Falls trailhead, it was easy to spot the hiking path. There are information signs at the beginning of the trail with details about this hike plus basic restrooms for visitors.
The Donut Falls Trail is well marked and straight forward with a steady incline.
If you plan to hike this trail on a weekend, there will be a lot of other people heading the same way so just follow the crowd and they will lead you in the right direction.
It takes a couple of hours to hike the Donut Falls Trail, depending on where you park and your hiking speed.
Overall the trail is easy until you reach the last section. There is one part that climbs down a cliff into a river canyon that can be a bit challenging. I hiked this trail in fall and there wasn’t much water in general but in spring the river might have more water from fresh snowmelt.
Once you’re into the canyon keep heading straight along the river and soon after you will reach the ending point of the trail at a rocky cliff. Here you have a choice to enjoy the view and turn around or keep scrambling up the rocks to see Doughnut Falls up close.
The waterfall itself is located inside a cave so you can’t see it from the outside. The only way to reach it is by climbing across giant rocks until you reach the cave opening.
Yes, your feet will get wet from the water rushing down the cliff but the short scramble is well worth seeing the waterfall.
Tip: Bring an extra pair of shoes and socks to change into after the hike!
Once you make it up to the cave you might need to wait a few minutes for your turn to go inside. This cave can only fit a few people at a time but most people just peep inside and then head back down.
After taking a few long exposure waterfall photos I started to head back. It was chilly inside the cave and the water itself was very cold.
If you’re up for a challenge, you can keep going up the cliffs with assistance ropes to see the waterfall from up top where it flows into the cave opening. I personally skipped this section because my feet were already feeling wet and cold but I saw other people keep climbing up to this second viewpoint.
I do want to note that Donut Falls hike does not allow dogs so I had to leave my dog in my campervan with the fan turned on. Thankfully the weather wasn’t too hot and he was occupied with some treats.
If you’re a Utah local and plan to hike this trail – it’s best to leave your dog at home. While the Donut Falls hike is located in a National Forest, dogs are not allowed anywhere within the Big Cottonwood Canyon Scenic Drive. This includes rest areas, picnic spots, and parks.
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out some of our other popular hiking posts below:
- Backpacking North Dome Trail In Yosemite
- Indian Head Trail In Adirondack Mountains
- How To Backpack The Eagle Peak Trail In Yosemite
- Guide To Hiking The Skyline-To-The-Sea Trail
- Hiking & Camping On The Great Wall Of China
Interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips? Here is the camera gear that I use to create my photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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