Bells Canyon is a very popular trail in any time of year. With colorful autumns and snowy winters, it is hard to find a little solitude in this beautiful area. One small trick is to take the more challenging side route and head up to the falls. After coming up the normal Bells Trail, go around the reservoir clockwise until you see a sign marking a trail heading off to the southeast on your left. Keep in mind this trail is much steeper, but it's well worth it. Even in the winter it's plenty packed down, so microspikes are usually the best option. You can do it just in boots, but it's extra steep and slippery near the end, extra traction is recommended.
The trail up to the falls is significantly more dynamic and beautiful than the lower section around the lake, and it is another reminder of why Salt Lake is such a great place for outdoor recreation. Even though it is located just along the Wasatch Front, the trail gets densely covered with trees and provides a sense of escape from the concrete jungle below. Large aspen and pine line the creek that hugs the trail, and at one point a small bridge provides a crossing. Keep an eye out for moose, deer or porcupine, which are all common this time of year here.
The pitch increases steadily as you get close to the lower falls, but you'll also get some views back down the valley. A sign lets you know to break off from the trail to head to the lower falls. The upper falls are another 1.5 miles up and entail some some serious incline. The final stretch of the lower falls trail heads north for a bit and has a steep decline to get to the base. Be careful here, especially on icy or slippery days. The waterfall at this base section is a few stories tall, and it has a few cascading sections below that you can see if you decide to head northwest and descend a bit further. There is not one large drop-off, but rather a multitude of cascading sections. The largest is at the top, where the trail essentially ends. Some incredible unobstructed views of Salt Lake can be seen further down, but be careful: It is snow on slick granite at a steep grade, and it can slide easily.
The canyon around the waterfall is beautiful, especially when it is covered in snow and clouds. Considering the aspect of the canyon, this hike is perfect to start at about 2 p.m. and head back down with the sunset. Overall this trail gives you serious bang for your buck and a lot of rugged beauty without having to go too far to see it. If there has been heavy snow lately, avalanche danger is a concern on this trail. Make sure to check the Utah Avalanche Center to check current danger rating before you go.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.