Minutes from downtown Salt Lake, Emigration Canyon is one of the most popular canyon rides in the area. There is less car traffic and lower speed limits in this canyon than the better known Big Cottonwood Canyon, and it has a bit more of a shoulder than Little Cottonwood Canyon (as well as a gentler grade). The accessibility of this ride from downtown Salt Lake can only be beat out by City Creek Canyon.
There are a few variations of this ride which will suit just about any ability level (though it’s not recommended for families due to the narrow and at times, non-existent shoulder).
Starting at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Emigration Canyon begins a gradual 8-mile, 1000-foot climb to the top of Little Mountain. For new but driven cyclists, this is a perfect challenge. The last mile kicks up a bit, but is short enough to dig deep and press to the top.
Once at the top, you’ll have great views of Salt Lake Valley to the west and of Little Dell Reservoir to the east. If you don’t have a ton of time to ride, but want to experience something outside of Salt Lake, this is it! Sunday mornings will be the quietest as far as car traffic is concerned.
More experienced riders may want to press-on beyond Little Mountain to the summit of Big Mountain. Just continue toward Little Dell Reservoir and turn left onto SR 65. This addition throws in an extra 1600 feet of elevation gain over 7-miles (one-way) and presents glorious views of the city floor below.
The initial 4.5 miles of the approach to Big Mountain Summit are fairly gradual, but the climb makes you earn the peak through a series of switchbacks over the last 2.5 miles. The sweat pouring off your brow should feel like satisfaction as you peer down upon the road you just ascended, twisting and winding through the trees.
Typically, this ride is done as an out-and-back. After you recover a bit at the top, turn around and enjoy the high-speed descent of Big Mountain. It is easy to clock speeds over 50 mph coming down this road, which will keep you on pace with the cars. Though not heavily trafficked, use caution, as there is no shoulder on this road. There will be a short climb back up Emigration Canyon Road to the top of Little Mountain before you continue the descent back to the zoo.
If you’re smart, you’ll make a stop at Ruth’s Diner at the end of your ride to refuel. Ruth’s is located toward the mouth of Emigration Canyon Road, about two miles uphill of the zoo. It’s known for its massive biscuits served immediately upon being seated. It’s the perfect end to a beautiful ride.
Note: Pros like to make a loop out of this ride by descending the east side of Big Mountain and turning right on Jeremy Ranch Road, which parallels East Canyon Creek dropping you into Park City. You have to follow a series of frontage roads, and descend on I-80 for two exits until following SR 65 back to Emigration Canyon Road.
City Creek Canyon
If you are looking for a family-friendly ride, take City Creek Canyon up to the water treatment facility (after this the ride gets significantly steeper). City Creek is closed to vehicular traffic on odd-numbered days, which means cyclists and pedestrians can enjoy the canyon with one less thing to worry about.
As an out-and-back, a family could do this ride at a leisurely pace and turn around at any point. There are also restrooms and water fountains along the route. Please be respectful of pedestrians on your way down the canyon and keep an eye out for the occasional off-leash dog!
Where to Stay
There are plenty of lodging options in downtown Salt Lake, but if you’re looking for an escape into the mountains, spend a night at the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. They have summertime adventures like zip-lines, a full-service spa, and great dining options all nestled into this hotel.
For dinner options in SLC, an absolute must is the Copper Onion. You should probably also sample some of the Mexican cuisine out of the Red Iguana kitchen — try to get a reservation if you can, or show up before you’re hungry because there’s often a wait.