Hiking the Jardine Juniper Trail to the Oldest Rocky Mountain Juniper Tree in the World
See the Oldest Rocky Mountain Juniper Tree in the World
Distance and elevation gain: 11 miles and 2,145 feet
Bathroom: Pit toilets
Where to park: Paid parking lot at the trailhead
Trailhead GPS coordinates: 41.797418, -111.646806
I have always been in awe of ancient trees, so I seek out old-growth forests and long-standing specimens wherever I go. There’s something special about going on a hike and seeing an old tree with its thick, gnarled bark and twisted limbs, suggesting the kind of wisdom that comes only with longevity.
The Jardine Juniper tree of northern Utah’s Logan Canyon is nothing if not long-lived. The tree was once thought to be more than 3,000 years old, but current measurements estimate that it’s probably closer to 1,500 years old — still older than most civilizations that currently exist on our planet. And it’s the oldest Rocky Mountain Juniper, as well. It’s a lovely reward after more than 5 miles of hiking (and ascending some 2,000 feet of elevation gain) along the trail that bears its name.
When the Jardine Juniper tree was just a seedling, Native American tribes roamed all corners of North America, hunting, gathering and thriving off the land. It’s possible that it was alive when great civilizations like the Roman Empire fell. It has lived through the Renaissance, the founding of the United States of America and the Civil War, continuing to deepen its roots, grow new branches and bear cones, all while weathering drought, lightning storms and forest fires.
It’s impossible to look at the Jardine Juniper and not imagine this rich past and the bygone eras it’s lived through. And it’s still alive: Its contorted branches stretch upward and outward, with a small bunch of greenery in its uppermost branches.
The 11-mile round-trip trail, which is an out-and-back until it intersects with the loop section around the tree, is mostly smooth, and its gradual incline lends itself to contemplation. I didn’t feel rushed or out of breath as I hiked — instead, I simply enjoyed the scenery.
The shortest and most traveled way to reach the tree is to begin at the Wood Camp Campground Trailhead, up Logan Canyon on U.S. Highway 89.
Logan Canyon cuts through the Bear River Mountains in the Wasatch Range, and the scenic canyon drive winds through thick, dense pine forests to aspens and sparse terrain. Highway 89 has been designated as a scenic byway and I highly recommend driving the whole highway, stopping at different lookouts and hikes along the way.
Park at the pull-out near the campground. The trail begins in a meadow, with open views of the aspens and a few far-off, snowy peaks.
As the path turns to climb up the slopes of Logan Canyon, the trail becomes slightly more strenuous. The climb is well worth the effort, because the higher you go, the better the views of the Mt. Naomi Wilderness Area. You might even be able to see Logan Mountain to the south. It’s beautiful year-round — some people also enjoy snowshoeing the trail — but when I did this hike in the fall, the canyon was lit up in a kaleidoscope of autumn colors.
Wind and climb gradually toward the ridge, taking time to enjoy the aspen forests and open meadows. In the spring, look for wildflowers that blanket the meadows and aspen groves — you’ll find plenty of Indian paintbrush and lupine.
As you approach the ridgeline, be prepared for it to be colder, even in the summer. At mile 3.5, you’ll see a Wilderness sign, and you can continue straight or right on this section.
Seeing the Tree
Top out the ridge, and around mile 4.5, you will see two different routes to the tree along this looped section of trail: the “shady” or the “scenic” route. Stay right to enjoy the scenic, high valley views of Logan Canyon, or go left to the shadier walk towards Cottonwood Canyon (this one is slightly quicker).
If you can’t decide, do what I did — take the sunny, scenic route on the way up and the shady route on the way down. If you take the scenic route, you’ll have views of the Bear River Range in the Naomi Wilderness. Some of these peaks are over 10,000 feet and retain snow long into the summer.
Finally, at the end of the loop trail, you’ll see a sign that points to the Jardine Juniper tree. Hike downhill to the viewing platform, where you can take your time basking in the glow of Logan Canyon’s longest-standing tree. The Jardine Juniper certainly chose a scenic spot to preside over, with Logan Canyon down below and Cottonwood Canyon to the north.
After enjoying your lunch, head back down the trail the same way you came.
Trip Planning & Logistics
You’ll find pit toilets and picnic tables near the trailhead, but there’s no water here, so be sure to bring plenty of your own.
Any time you’re hiking at elevation, take your time and start more slowly than you might be used to.
This hike is great for all abilities — just be sure to give yourself 4-6 hours so you have time to rest, especially during warmer months.
It can be cold on the ridge, even in the summer, so bring a jacket and don’t forget sunscreen.