Donut Falls Hike In Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Beautiful Donut Falls waterfall flowing down a cave in Utah

Donut Falls Hike is a beautiful trail 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.

If you’re planning to hike the Donut Falls Trail, our guide covers where to park, trail difficulty, and what you can expect along this gorgeous trek. Let’s dive in!

Donut Falls Hike In Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah:

Donut Falls Hike Highlights

Here are a few quick trail highlights before we go into more details:

  • 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
Beautiful fall colors along the Donut Falls hike.

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:

  1. Park in a paved lot right off Highway 190
  2. Keep going on a narrow forest road and park in a smaller lot closer to the trailhead
  3. Park along the forest road that leads to the trailhead
Doughnut Falls 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:

Donut Falls Map from AllTrails

I took my chances and ended up driving all the way to the trailhead and luckily found a spot right next to the trailhead. But getting there was pretty challenging since many people were hiking along this road and parking was very tight.

Google Map Location: Donut Falls Summer Trailhead

The trail is well-marked with many signs

About Donut Falls Hike

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 in the forest.

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.

You will need to scramble up large rocks to reach the waterfall.

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 Danner Trail 2650 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 which also has a lot of beautiful trails and is dog-friendly.

Fall colors along the Donut Falls Hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

What To Expect On The Hike

It’s not every day that you get to see a waterfall rushing down into a cave so this adventure is quite a 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 straightforward 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 crowds and they will lead you in the right direction. You can also follow the Donut Falls Trail route on the AllTrails hiking app.

Follow the trail signs to reach the waterfall.

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. 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.

Scrambling up steep rocks to the cave.

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.

Your feet will get wet from the water rushing down the cliff so be sure to wear good hiking shoes with lots of grip. If you are able to do this section, the short scramble is well worth it to see the waterfall up close.

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.

Donut Falls Cave.

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 the second viewpoint.

Donut Falls from the outside flowing inside the cave.

I do want to note that the Donut Falls hike does not allow dogs. 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.

Donut Falls hike is one of the most beautiful wilderness treks in Utah!

Photography Tips

I love visiting waterfalls but capturing photos of moving water requires a different approach than most landscape shots. Usually, I tend to take a lot of photos quickly on the go but for this location, I had to change my approach to get a better image.

Here are a couple of tips on how to capture 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.
  • Sony a7c 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.
Donut Falls inside the cave

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:

  1. Change the settings from Automatic to Manual
  2. Change the shutter speed to several seconds or longer
  3. Increase the aperture as needed to make the photo darker
  4. Keep the ISO number at 100 for the least grainy look
  5. Wait until everyone clears out & capture photos!

Looking for more Utah travel inspiration? Check out some of our other popular Utah posts below:

This post is written by Laura. Hi, I’m the founder of the Fun Life Crisis travel blog who left my 9-5 finance job to travel full time. Now I help 100,000 people a month plan their adventures across the world!

Interested in stepping up your photography game? Here is the camera gear that I carry everywhere I go to create amazing travel photos:

  • Main camera: Sony a7c Camera. The Sony a7c is tiny, light, full-frame, and durable – in other words, amazing!
  • Polarizer Filter: Hoya 40.5 mm Filter. Polarizing filters reduce glare in water, protect the lens from getting scratched, and bring out the best colors when it’s bright outside. Having a polarizing filter is a must-have if you plan to photograph lakes, oceans, rivers, and waterfalls.
  • Wide Lens: Sony 16-35 mm F4. Great for capturing wide panoramas, nature landscapes, and cramped city streets. Mounts to any Sony mirrorless camera and features autofocus, image stabilization, and incredibly sharp images.
  • Lightweight Travel Tripod: Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod. A good tripod is essential for capturing images in low light conditions, such as during sunset and sunrise, or creating smooth water effects when shooting waterfalls. The Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod is very sturdy, light, and folds small so you can take it on all of your adventures!
  • Memory Cards: SanDisk Extreme 256 GB. It’s always good to bring a few extra memory cards on trips. SanDisk Extreme is ultra-fast for capturing high-quality images, bursts, long exposure night shots, and 4k videos. This memory card is also durable and reliable yet very affordable.
  • Camera Batteries: Wasabi Power Battery Set. I’ve made the mistake of getting to a location to realize my camera is out of battery. Always keep your batteries charged with this camera charger set.
  • Camera Bag: Lowepro adventure shoulder bag. A camera bag is something you should definitely invest in! Without having a proper place to store it I would get my camera scratched, sandy, or even occasionally drop it.

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