The Great Love Story of Timpanogos Cave National Monument
Breaking the horizon of Utah’s majestic sky is the Wasatch mountain range, home to Mount Timpanogos. Soaring at 11,750 feet in elevation, Mount Timpanogos is the second-highest mountain in the range, taking its name from its earliest residents – the Timpanogos Ute people – who lived in the valleys around 1400 A.D. On Mount Timpanogos, you will find three limestone caves at the end of a strenuous hike filled with stunning formations, native legends… and bats!
As with any good story, there are many variations to the Legend of Timpanogos. In fact, at least 12 recorded versions exist today. The legend is centered on the outline of a woman that can be seen in the peaks of the mountain, and on the large stalactite called the “Great Heart” that is found inside the caves.
The legend is “Romeo and Juliet”-esque, featuring the Indian warrior Red Eagle and the beautiful Indian princess Utahna. While their exact roles and circumstances vary from version to version, the story goes that Utahna was chosen as a sacrifice to the gods to end the great drought. When she was about to jump off the cliffs, Red Eagle begged her not to end her life. Thinking Red Eagle was the great God of Timpanogos, Utahna went to the caves with him and they fell in love.
One day, Red Eagle was injured by a wild animal – which proved he was human after all – so Utahna left to finish her sacrifice to the gods. After she jumped, Red Eagle found her and took her back to the caves, where it is believed their two hearts became one, forming the stalactite that is now called the Great Heart of Timpanogos. People say you can still see the outline of Utahna lying on top of the mountain.
Visiting the Caves
When you visit Timpanogos Cave National Monument, take time to explore the canyon or hike to the cave. The trail leading up to the cave is about 1.5 miles long, climbing steeply and offering stunning views of Utah Valley and the American Fork Canyon.
Once inside the cave, you can explore hidden underground rooms and see beautiful formations – but keep in mind that access to the caves is by tour only. Take the Introduction to Caving Tour to experience what it’s like to be a caver, venturing away from lighting and developed trails with the help of a ranger and provided equipment. Get ready to crawl and get dirty! Just remember to purchase tickets in advance, as they sell out quickly.
Meanwhile, non-cavers might be interested in the driving tours available through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest that surrounds the monument. The picnic areas and hiking trails located throughout the forest allow you to experience the beauty of the mountains and surrounding valley without descending into the caves.
Whether you want to bask in stunning scenery, hike wooded trails, or explore the underground world contained within the caves, Timpanogos Cave National Monument is sure to delight with its breathtaking views and haunting legend.