Salt Lake City's Backyard Adventures
The heart of Salt Lake City beats with business, culture, education, commuters, eateries and all the accoutrements of metropolitan living. But unlike most other metropolitan areas, lush and beautiful mountains and canyons sit on the very borders of the city and offer hiking opportunities within minutes of its hustle and bustle. The outdoor lifestyle available near Salt Lake City draws many people to the area, whether to live or just to visit.
These Salt Lake City hiking and cycling destinations lead into the depths of the glorious, desert mountains and the respite they offer:
Bonneville Shoreline Trail
Miles of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail system (BSL) line Salt Lake City. Several trailheads to BSL are accessible within minutes of downtown, including City Creek Canyon, just three blocks from the city center. Hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and folks with dogs on leashes share the shoreline, either sticking to the benches that run parallel to the valley or taking spurs up nearby trails and mountains, including the popular Ensign Peak or Living Room.
Emigration Canyon is a classic Salt Lake ride accessible right out of downtown or by parking in lots at the canyon's entrance, just past Utah's Hogle Zoo. Beyond the 8-mile ride to the summit of Little Mountain, Big Mountain and loop options await stronger cyclists. A stop at Ruth's Diner on the way back down is necessary no matter your level. For that matter, newbies might start out with the gentle 2-mile ride the mouth of the canyon to Ruth's Diner, fill up on Ruth's famous homemade biscuits, and still feel accomplished. City Creek Canyon is a cyclist favorite for its bicycle-only roadway from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) to Labor Day (first Monday in September). The rest of the year cyclists are allowed only on odd-numbered calendar days.
Mill Creek Canyon
Mill Creek Canyon’s easy accessibility and cooler summer temperatures make it a locals’ favorite for hiking, mountain biking and trail running. Bring $3.00 to get in, bring your doggo and make a day of it. The 5-mile Dog Lake trail is an easy couple of hours round-trip that is popular with dog owners. Desolation Overlook, with its view down Mill Creek Canyon into the Salt Lake Valley, offers a scenic conclusion with views of the valley. The canyon always welcomes dogs but on odd-numbered days they may run off-leash, within control of the owner. For mountain bikers, even-numbered days in Mill Creek Canyon are all about the downhill. Access the Wasatch Crest from Big Cottonwood or Park City and be rewarded with endless alpine views and some excellent single-track into Mill Creek.
Thirty minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport and downtown Salt Lake, Salt Lake's Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood canyons are one-stop destinations for Utah skiing at Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude. In the summer, the Cottonwood Canyons are safe havens for incredible climbing, bouldering, hiking among wildflowers, trail running, cycling and mountain biking. Filled with great vistas, alpine lakes, moose and wildflowers, there are dozens of hikes in these canyons. Check out a starter option:
- Maybird Lakes (Little Cottonwood Canyon): 7.8 miles. Maybird Lakes (there are three) sit at the top of Maybird Gulch at the base of the Pfeifferhorn, which towers 11,326 feet above. The trail takes you to the middle lake, where you can enjoy the surrounding effects of a steep gulch and a high-mountain lake.
- Mount Raymond (Big Cottonwood Canyon): 7.8 miles. This hike offers lush aspen forests, open views up Big Cottonwood Canyon, fun rock scrambling, 360-degree summit views, and the challenge of a vertical climb combined with strolling through an aspen grove. It’s a winning combination that takes you to a 10,241-foot peak.
- Wasatch Crest Trail (Big Cottonwood Canyon to Mill Creek Canyon): 12.5 miles (car shuttle required). The Wasatch Crest trail is a daylong adventure filled with five-star scenery, dizzying heights and unparalleled vantage points. July and into August wildflowers add color to the alpine trailside, and the path into Mill Creek Canyon provides a beautiful, green, packed trail through the trees.
Retreat to Wilderness
One of the best-kept secrets of the Wasatch Front is its designated wilderness. Wilderness areas provide opportunities for the public to enjoy the quiet and solitude of landscapes left wild. Trailheads to Mount Olympus, Lone Peak and Twin Peaks wilderness areas in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest are all within a few miles of Salt Lake City. You'll need to hike a little further and need to carry a little extra water, but once there you'll quickly discover why Edward Abbey calls wilderness "a necessity of the human spirit."
Views of the Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake can be seen in the distance of many of these Salt Lake area hikes, but a visit to Antelope Island State Park or other northern destinations affords some of the best views of this giant remnant of an even more gigantic prehistoric lake.
- Frary Peak (Antelope Island): 6.6 miles. Frary Peak is the highest point on Antelope Island — a thoroughly original state park that sits in the Great Salt Lake (second saltiest body of water in the world) west of Salt Lake City.
- Mueller Park to Elephant Rock (Bountiful): 7 miles. Mueller Park is popular and used by mountain bikers, families, dog walkers, and trail runners as well as hikers. Elephant Rock has a bench perfectly situated for watching the sunset over the Great Salt Lake.