LAYTON — For years, the most popular hiking trail in Davis County has had a largely unkempt dirt- and rock-filled lot for hikers to park in.
And that’s assuming hikers going to Adams Canyon can find a spot in the parking lot in the first place.
The popular Adams Canyon trailhead, located next to the intersection of U.S. Highway 89 and Oak Hills Drive in Layton, is so popular with hikers local and non-local that the parking lot is often full, leaving many hikers to park on North Eastside Drive between the street and the highway.
In a couple years, the area will be unrecognizable.
Included in the newly begun, $470 million U.S. 89 reconstruction project are plans to revamp the trailhead with a new parking lot, bathrooms, water fountains and an informational trail kiosk, among several other additions in a joint project by UDOT and Layton City Parks and Recreation.
The project should enhance the experience for hikers from the start.
“That poor little trailhead ... you’re always worried about dropping your oil pan if you pull into that parking lot, (it’s like the) backside of the moon,” said Erik Bornemeier, first vice commander for the Davis County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team. “It’s so bad, and so that’s why, a lot of the times, people park on that road is they just don’t want to pull into that parking lot.”
For the time being, there’s some construction happening on North Eastside Drive, which is now essentially a dirt road, as crews relocate utilities in preparation for creating more space to accommodate the highway expansion.
Hikers should plan extra time to get to the trailhead since crews will be working on North Eastside Drive, which is how many hikers get to the trailhead.
“Our project plans are to maintain access to the trailhead as much as possible. We recognize it’s a popular destination,” said Zach Whitney, UDOT Region 1 spokesperson.
According to Whitney, many trailhead improvements came from suggestions UDOT gathered during the public input phase of the Highway 89 project.
“That’s when we really started diving into the Highway 89 improvement and coordinating with UDOT. We knew that trailhead would be absorbed with the improvements for Highway 89,” said Layton City Parks Planner JoEllen Grandy.
Whitney said one of the main reasons for the trailhead improvement is safety.
Since there’s typically a long line of cars parked alongside North Eastside Drive, that creates situations where hikers are crossing a busy street that doesn’t have crosswalks.
As anyone who’s gone to Adams Canyon in spring, summer or fall knows, there’s a ton of hikers around.
ALMOST 100 CARS
If the parking lot’s full, people typically park on North Eastside Drive between the street and the highway, and the cars can number in the dozens.
Layton Police Lt. Travis Lyman said there have been just three parking complaints from residents in the immediate area since 2007, which indicates that, at the very least, trailhead parking isn’t a full-blown residential nightmare.
But in some places along the frontage road, cars are separated from the highway by a barbed wire fence and in other places, that fence has horizontally merged with the ground.
Grandy was doing some research about the trail one day and, as part of a grant application process, she tried to find out how many people were using the trail.
Grandy found an image on Google Earth and the photo was from a few years ago in July.
“There was, I swear, almost 100 cards parked along the frontage road,” she said.
In peak hiking season, that’s common because hikers want to see the end reward for the 3.8-mile hike: a stunning waterfall nestled between two tower-esque rock walls.
The trail starts at the dirt parking lot with a steady and rather sandy incline next to a retention pond, leading to a series of switchbacks.
Once the construction is done, even the approach to the trail will be different and hikers will come in from the north side where the new parking lot will be instead of the west.
The new parking lot will be to the east of North Eastside Drive and contain approximately 100 spaces, according to a project rendering provided by Grandy. Crews have started cutting and filling dirt where the new parking lot will be located.
North Eastside Drive will also be moved slightly to the east to make room for an Oak Hills Drive park and ride, which will be between the road and Highway 89 and contain approximately 50 parking spots.
The new Oak Hills Drive interchange will take over where the current dirt parking lot sits. Once completed, drivers from Layton can either take Oak Hills Drive straight to the trailhead or simply get off the highway at Oak Hills Drive to get to the trailhead, making trailhead access easier.
Near the new trailhead, there will be a new flushable restroom facility, a drinking fountain, water bottle filler, dog watering station and a kiosk with informational boards about the trail and area geology, Grandy said.
As for why the trailhead work is being done now instead of years ago, Grandy said it had to do with the timing of the U.S. 89 project.
“It would have been disheartening if we had made improvements to the trailhead before now because they would have been in the way for the alignment of the proposed Highway 89 improvements,” she said. “They would have needed to be moved further to the east where they are now ... tax-paying dollars would have been spent twice: once for the initial improvements and (then) to relocate and reconstruct the improvements higher. So, it is a blessing it worked out the way it did.”
In total, it’s expected to be a nearly a $1 million project on Layton’s end.
Layton is using $200,000 and Davis County $385,677 in funds from Proposition 1, the 2015 ballot measure that increased sales tax by a quarter-cent to help municipalities and the Utah Transit Authority fund transportation projects.
Another $150,000 is coming from the Utah Outdoor Recreation Grant out of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, according to figures provided by Grandy.
Grandy said the best-case scenario for the trailhead-specific work is for everything to be completed in fall 2021.
UDOT is responsible for the park and ride construction, but UDOT is helping Layton City with the trailhead parking lot.
The Oak Hills interchange work is part of UDOT’s Phase A and is expected to continue through the end of 2021, according to Whitney.
“It’s a big project and it takes everyone pulling together to fund this thing,” Grandy said.
THE REWARD AT THE TOP
The Adams Canyon trail is a 3.8-mile round trip hike with 1,900 feet in elevation gain, according to the US Forest Service.
The trail starts with a series of exposed switchbacks along the foothills of the bench, follows the north fork of Holmes Creek and ends with a dramatic setting: a tall, roaring and misty waterfall flanked by high rock walls on either side.
Hikers start flocking to the trail en masse in late April and early May once most of the snow is off the trail, which coincides with high water runoff and a subsequently larger waterfall.
The trail then stays busy for most of the year until the first snowfall, according to Bornemeier.
This year isn’t expected to be much different, even with health protocols in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grandy and Whitney said access to the trail isn’t expected to be affected by the construction; however, things are going to start to look a lot different in the trailhead area over the coming months.
This is the first part of a two-part series examining construction efforts at the Adams Canyon trailhead as well as the trail itself. A story about trail construction will publish Sunday.