- In the Mt. Nebo Wilderness south of Provo
- 13.2 miles (round trip)
- Day 1: 5 hours
Day 2: 7 hours
- Elevation Change:
- 5400 feet
- June to October
Mount Nebo, the centerpiece of the Mount Nebo Wilderness Area, is the highest peak in the Wasatch Mountains. As one might expect, the views from its summits are spectacular, but it is also one of the most strenuous hikes in this book. The trail to the southern summit climbs 5,400 feet, over a mile of elevation gain, in only 6.6 miles of trail; and, to make matters worse, there is no reliable source of water along the way. Most people who climb Nebo reach only the southern peak (11,877 ft.), where the trail stops, but the northern peak (11,928 ft.) is actually the highest point. The two lie about a mile apart on a long knife-edge summit ridge, with a third, slightly lower peak between them.
Many hikers climb Mount Nebo’s southern summit as a day hike, and a few hardy souls even manage to ascend the northern peak in one day. But it is a very strenuous climb, and if you enjoy the mountains I suggest an overnighter might be more appropriate. There are several good campsites along the way, and the extra day will give you time to really appreciate the rugged alpine wilderness.
Day 2: 7 hours
From the trailhead the Nebo Bench Trail begins by ascending in a westerly direction through the dense conifer forest. Then, after about 0.5 mile, it swings to the north to begin the first of four wide, altitude-gaining switchbacks up to Andrews Ridge. This section of the trail appears to have been improved and relocated in the early 1990s, probably for the benefit of the many pack horses that use the Nebo Bench Trail. After 2.0 miles the trail finally breaks out of the forest into a relatively clear area of wildflowers, sage brush, and scattered shrub oak. This clearing represents the beginning of Andrews Ridge, up which the Nebo Peak Trail runs for the next 1.5 miles.
The Nebo Peak Trail departs from the Nebo Bench Trail just above the point where it first reaches Andrews Ridge. Watch carefully as you leave the clearing, and after about 200 yards you should see a smaller trail leaving the main trail on the left. The Peak trail is unmarked and, worse, it is obscured by a dense undergrowth of gamble oak, but if you are attentive, you should be able to spot it. The main trail continues climbing gradually in a northerly direction, while the trail to Nebo Peak rises more steeply to the west.
Beyond the trail junction the Nebo Peak Trail makes its way westward along Andrews Ridge for a distance of 1.4 miles before finally dropping off the north side of the ridge. I suggest you establish a camp here at the top of the ridge. At this point you are 3.1 miles from the south summit of Mount Nebo, and the elevation is 9,450 feet. There are also some nice camp sites on the summit ridge, 1,100 feet higher, but you will sleep much better at the lower altitude. Furthermore, carrying a backpack above 10,000 is very tiring.
From the top of Andrews Ridge the trail bears north for 0.9 mile, crossing into South Nebo Basin, and then turns west again for the climb up to the top of the summit ridge. Don’t be confused by another less well used trail that continues north across South Nebo Basin. This is the old route of the Nebo Bench Trail. Finally, 1.3 miles after leaving Andrews Ridge the trail reaches a shallow saddle in the summit ridge. An old wooden sign indicates that this is also the point where Willow Creek Trail reaches the ridge. The Willow Creek Trail is another route to the top of Mount Nebo that begins east of the town of Mona.
The next 1.3 miles along the summit ridge, towards the base of Mount Nebo’s south peak, is probably the most pleasant part of the hike. The views are outstanding. On the west side of the ridge is the farming community of Mona, surrounded by fields of grain and alfalfa, with I-15 snaking past on its way up the Utah Valley. To the east, as far as the eye can see, are mountains and forests-Uinta National Forest, Manti-La Sals National Forest, and beyond that, Ashley National Forest. But most spectacular of all is the view to the north along the summit ridge. The three peaks of Mount Nebo, each one more rugged than the last, cling tenuously to the knife-edge ridge of uplifted limestone as they reach for the open sky above. Even in July the ridge is often accented with patches of white snow, and the prevailing west winds frequently pile the snow into long graceful cornices along the eastern side. The trail avoids the cornices by staying slightly below the western side of the ridge.
Just before reaching the south summit the trail crosses a small flat bench, then it climbs the last 500 feet to the top. The trail ends at the south summit, and this is as far as most people go. The north summit, 0.9 mile further on, is 51 feet higher, but getting there and back adds at least two more hours to the hike. The route is not technically difficult, but some hand-over-hand scrambling is required and there are a few places where a fall could be disastrous. The north summit is particularly dangerous in bad weather. Do not attempt to reach it unless you have plenty of time and the weather is good.