Santaquin and nearby Loafer Mountain are two of those lower, but still very nice hikes in the mountains of Utah County. The hike to get there is fairly long, and with a long drive from Salt Lake, takes a full day. Santaquin is two feet lower than Loafer Mountain, but the hike seems to have a better reputation. It would not be difficult to climb both peaks on the same trip.
I started my trip early from the Payson Lakes trailhead along the Nebo Loop Road. The drive from Salt Lake to here is at least an hour. I followed the trail up and down a few times to an intersect with the Bennie Creek cutoff trail. From here, the trail heading northwest across and up the hillside is the one to take. Already behind you will be a good view towards the Mount Nebo area. After a while of hiking on ups and downs, you'll arrive at a saddle only about 300 feet above the trailhead. Be ready for the extra climbing on the trip down.
From the ridge the trail starts to climb up and away. It starts to switchback as you draw nearer to another higher ridge. Once you get there you'll be able to make Santaquin Peak for the first time as a pointed gray peak to the north of the ridge you are on (which is the slightly higher Loafer Mountain). Follow the ridge trail which is more gentle climbing than what you've been doing until it splits and cuts across for a saddle between Santaquin and Loafer Mountain. From this forrested saddle you'll have a good view down some rugged terrain on the east side of Santaquin. From here it is only a 350 foot climb up the trail to the peak. The trail gets more and more faint near the top, with fairly sharp drops below, so be careful not to loose footing on the slippery gravel. Once past this section, the final ascent is easy.
The peak offers commanding views in all directions, particularly north into Utah County. Loafer Mountain to the south sits a little higher, but looks like nothing more than a long, bland ridge. Should you desire to climb this peak you can climb the exceedingly steep slope from the saddle below, or easier is to hike back to the split on the Loafer Ridge, where a track leads up much more gentle slopes to the summit. The trip back down is a long one, and because of the southern exposure, it takes the full heat of the sun, so bring a lot of water. On my trip down I encountered a group from North Carolina who remarked how much bigger and steeper the mountains here were than the Appalachains of their homestate. Those extra ups and downs get frustrating when all you want to do is get back to your car. From here it was a long drive back home.
The roundtrip distance for a Santaquin climb is about 12 miles, with a vertical climb of 3,300 feet. However, with the extra climbs, plan on a vertical climb of more like 3,600 feet. The hike took me about eight hours, plus a little over an hour of driving time each way. The hike was good, but like Spanish Fork, it didn't compare to the rugged beauty encountered on the higher peaks of Nebo or Timpanogos nearby.