My 13-year-old son and I set out to hike Flat Top Mountain on August 7, 2010. Since completing all of the Utah County Highpoints last year (2009), we had started on ultra-prominence peaks in Utah, and had hiked Timpanogos last year also, leaving only Flat Top unclimbed on our list of the eight Utah peaks with more than 5000 feet of prominence. I have lived in and around Salt Lake most of my life, but have never spent any time in the Oquirrh Mountains. Other trip reports call the Oquirrhs (and Flat Top) the Rodney Dangerfield of peaks and I would have to agree--it gets no respect, and it very well should. But as we discovered, this hike is a very pleasant climb and offers an exceptional opportunity for complete solitude just miles from the major population centers of Utah.
Anyway, we followed the excellent directions posted on the Flat Top SP page, traveling south from SLC through Lehi and out SR-73 to the turnoff to Ophir. I had never been to Ophir before and was surprised to see that the town is far from a ghost town--there are several nice new homes in Ophir and upcanyon from the little town there were several large camps of ATVers. When we passed by, a little before 8 am, they were just getting ready for a day of riding. We turned right on the South Fork Ophir Canyon road. The turnoff is hard to miss, both because it comes immediately before the diversion of all the water out of the creek, and because there is now an ATV sign at the turnoff telling you that the road leads up South Fork.
The road up South Fork is extremely rough and rutted. We were in a 2006 Hyundai Tucson and in that vehicle we were able to make it to the trailhead, but just barely. There were a couple of spots that taxed my vehicle to its limits. This road is an ATV trail, basically, that can be navigated by high-clearance 4WD trucks and SUVs. But if you don't have this type of vehicle do not attempt this road. There is one fork in the road, at Hall's Basin, but there is a sign there too now, and it is easy to figure out to take the right fork there and proceed on up to the saddle. From the saddle, you can see the Mercur mine in front of you. At the saddle, there is a 4-way crossroads, and the trailhead is up the left-hand turn just a short way. I would recommend trying to get your vehicle all the way up to the trailhead (which is a nice out of the way spot), as there is a fair amount of ATV traffic on the main South Fork road and I really didn't want to leave my car at the saddle.
The trailhead is at the end of the left-hand spur from the saddle. There is a sort of circular clearing there, and the trail begins near a pile of rocks (that used to be a cairn) on the left-hand side of the clearing. Others have noted how important it is to find this trail, and I would agree. Look for the trail until you find it, because the trail helps mightily. I rebuilt the cairn there at the clearing, but it will undoubtedly be knocked down again soon by cows or whoever. There was no one else at the trailhead, and it was clear from the start that we would have this mountain to ourselves.
The trail is little used and quite overgrown, but for the first 1 1/2 miles fairly easy to follow. It switchbacks right up the ridge directly to the east of the trailhead. The trailhead is at about 8100-8200 feet, and the top of the ridge is about 9100 feet. This first 1000 feet of elevation gain comes quickly, but with the trail to assist the climb it goes fast and isn't too bad. At the top of the ridge the trail swings north and into a little mini-saddle from which you can gain your first glimpses of Utah Lake and the valleys to the southeast. The trail proceeds eastward from this mini-saddle, contouring along the south side of the mountain in front of you.
The going gets a little complicated after about 1 1/2 miles. Here the trail begins to dip downward into a bushy swampy heavily vegetated area. The downward trend of the trail here is quite striking and not at all what you want to see after earning 1200 feet of elevation. The trail becomes extremely hard to follow upon emerging from the bushy area. We lost the trail for a while and it took us some time to figure out where it had gone. This route-finding slowed us down considerably. For future reference, the trail heads up and to the left upon emerging from the bushy area, and switchbacks up the slope immediately above (and to the right of) the bushy area. Eventually, after some unpleasant bushwhacking, we re-located the trail and switchbacked our way up to the top of the ridge above the bushy area.
There the trail more or less ends. We saw a cowboy hat atop a small fir tree that someone had left; perhaps this will still be there as a landmark later. From the top of this ridge, there is a little-used "trail," probably formed by infrequent hiker use, that runs more or less right up the ridge heading east toward Lewiston. When not right on the ridge, the use trail tends to traverse knobs, etc. on the left (north) side. After heading up this use trail for a while, the hiker will need to decide whether to go all the way up the ridge to Lewiston Peak, or whether to contour around the north side of Lewiston over toward Flat Top. The north side of this ridge, by the way, is a beautiful and pleasant spot, heavily wooded (mostly with Douglas Fir), a place that would make excellent elk and deer habitat. We, unfortunately, saw none of either.
We decided to bag Lewiston while we were there, and contour around Lewiston on the way back. The views from Lewiston are nice, and there is a good and rather heavy duty trail register hidden in the summit cairn on Lewiston.
From Lewiston over to Flat Top is a pretty easy walk, with amazing views the whole time. The summit of Flat Top has a mailbox with a trail register, as well as some sort of radio installation powered by a solar panel. We could hear voices emanating from the small metal shack, which unnerved us a bit until we determined that they were just radio voices. The views from Flat Top are truly amazing. From that point, you can see the entire Wasatch Range, all the way from the Wellsvilles north of Brigham City, Willard and Ben Lomond Peaks and Mt. Ogden, Thurston and Francis Peaks above Davis County, all of the Salt Lake County peaks, Mt. Timpanogos, and Mt. Nebo. I don't know of many other spots where you can view the entire length of the Wasatch at once. Turning around, you can see the Stansbury range, with Deseret Peak at its top, and behind that all the way out to the white cap of Ibapah Peak atop the far Deep Creek Range. We sat there on the peak for as long as we dared (with a thunderstorm massing to our southwest), enjoying the views.
On the way down, we contoured around the north side of Lewiston, following an easy-to-find trail from the saddle between Flat Top and Lewiston, and other than that simply retraced our route to the trailhead. We saw no one the entire time hiking, seeing our first people only upon returning to the South Fork Road heading down to Ophir.
Total mileage, according to my Garmin watch, was 6.56 miles round trip. The hike took us just over 5 hours, counting rest stops and route-finding. It was a beautiful day hike, and provided a stark contrast in terms of solitude with some of the other very crowded spots in the mountains around Salt Lake. It also felt good to knock off our last p5k peak in Utah.