Year-Round Recreation in Salt Lake's Life Defining Mountains

We know you have your favorite haunts in our basecamp playground, but we’ve got so many new options for outdoor recreation options for you to explore.  

Ask any transplant—or native who’s stayed put—why they’ve chosen Salt Lake City as home, and the mountains are sure to be at the top of their list. The Wasatch Range looms large over Utah’s urban core, creating a dramatic eastern boundary to the city and serving as an 80,000-acre backyard for countless outdoor adventures. Here we touch on a few of the highlights that Salt Lake City’s spitting-distance proximity to the mountains affords both visitors and residents to create the perfect urban basecamp.  

Unparalleled Natural Assets 

The section of Utah’s best-known mountain range bordering Salt Lake City to the east is known as the Central Wasatch. Access to this high-alpine wonderland is gained through a series of canyons, including: City Creek Canyon, a carless preserve within walking distance of downtown set aside for hiking, cycling and picnicking; Red Butte Canyon, a designated Research Natural Area (RNA) located immediately east of the University of Utah and home to the ever popular Living Room hike; Emigration Canyon, a meandering roadway flanked by verdant hillside neighborhoods; Millcreek Canyon, a sparsely developed recreational mecca for cycling, hiking, picnicking, and cross-country and backcountry skiing; Big Cottonwood Canyon, a deep and serpentine quartzite canyon that’s home to Solitude and Brighton; and Little Cottonwood Canyon, a dramatic, glacially carved granite canyon and where you’ll find Alta and Snowbird. (Note: many of the Central Wasatch canyons are protected watershed where dogs are not allowed or allowed on designated days only.)

Millcreek Canyon

Take Wasatch Boulevard to 3800 South. Follow 3800 South east into the canyon (fee area). Millcreek Canyon is…

Trails to Rock: Routes for Getting Out There 

From the aforementioned canyons—as well as from Salt Lake City itself—hundreds of miles of trails spill out into the Central Wasatch. The new Foothills Natural Area & Trail System augments the multi-use Bonneville Shoreline Trail with a mountain biking and hiking network spanning a 6,000-acre area along SLC’s northern and eastern city limits. Seven established trailheads, open to both hikers and mountain bikers on alternating days, are found along the 6.7-mile paved road through Millcreek Canyon. Big Cottonwood Canyon is known for the hundreds of rock climbing routes scaling its craggy granite walls, lift-serving mountain biking at Solitude, spectacular hike-to destinations like Donut Falls and Lake Blanche, and fishing along the Silver Lake Boardwalk and Loop Trail. (Note: State Road 190, traveling through Big Cottonwood and over Guardsman Pass into Park City, is open May to October.) The steep granite walls just east of Little Cottonwood Canyon’s mouth announce this area’s status as one of the Western U.S.’s most revered rock climbing and bouldering destinations. Farther up the Little Cottonwood, shady and picturesque hiking and mountain biking routes lead deep into the mountains from the White Pine and Albion Basin trailheads. And both Alta and Snowbird offer more hiking (Snowbird allows hikers on its lifts, including the Tram, which will be outfitted with new cars this summer.) as well as by-your-own steam mountain biking along each’s respective trail systems.   

Skinny Tire Central 

Road biking enjoys such a loyal following in Utah that “Spin” Lake City might be a more apt moniker for its capital city. Case in point: earlier this year the speed limit on 70 percent of Salt Lake’s streets was dropped to 20 mph to ensure cyclist safety. Use your two wheels (or borrow a bike from the city’s GREENbike share) to familiarize yourself with downtown along Cycle the City, a mostly flat, 13.5-mile loop featuring historic, urban, and natural points of interest. Other popular urban road biking routes include the Jordan River Parkway, a 45-mile paved biking and walking pathway running north to south along the Salt Lake Valley floor, and the Parley’s Trail, an eight-mile spur of the Jordan River Parkway traveling east to the mouth of Parley’s Canyon. A few road cycling routes that climb into the nearby canyons include: City Creek Canyon, a 5.9-mile, leafy and car-free paved pathway east of Memory Grove Park where cyclists are allowed to travel on odd numbered calendar days, and Emigration Canyon, a gradual, 8-mile climb on smooth asphalt to the view-heavy Little Mountain Summit. Advanced road cyclists looking for a little more challenge frequent Millcreek Canyon, a beautifully forested 8.5-mile climb with 2,600-feet of elevation gain; Big Cottonwood Canyon a 17-mile relatively gradual climb to 9,700 feet above sea level; and the pièce de résistance, Little Cottonwood Canyon, where road cyclists spend 8.5 miles in the smallest chain ring grinding up to the town of Alta, elevation 8,500 feet.     

Memory Grove Park

This park features memorials to Utah’s veterans and a replica of the Liberty Bell. City Creek Canyon road is a…

Other Ways to Get Outside in SLC 

Just south of Salt Lake City along Interstate 15 is a landform known as Point of the Mountain. There, year-round and consistent updrafts attract paragliders and hang gliders from around the world to the Flight Park State Recreation Area, a launchpad apt for both newbies and veteran flight enthusiasts. Each year, thousands of migratory birds stop to rest and feed in the Great Salt Lake region, making SLC one of the U.S.’s best birding destinations—a passion that’s nurtured, in part, by the Tracy Aviary. And, thanks to multiple reservoirs and rivers located within 30 minutes of Salt Lake City, almost all forms of watersports—paddleboarding, sailing, kiteboarding, waterskiing, rafting, kayaking, and fishing—enjoy a healthy following here.  

Tracy Aviary

The oldest Aviary in the nation and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Over 400 birds…

Guides and Outfitters

Have one of the pros at Salt Lake City Bicycle Tours show you around town or visit one of dozens of locally owned shops—including Bingham Cyclery (336 Broadway), Wasatch Touring (702 E. 100 South), Contender (989 E. 900 South), and Salt Lake Ebikes (1035 S. 700 East)—each offering rentals, guided group rides, route advice and more. The seasoned guides at Utah Mountain Adventures have been sharing their passion for rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing and ice climbing in the Wasatch for decades. Other local mountain experts include Wasatch Mountain Guides and The Backcountry Pros. Or test your climbing meddle indoors at one of many local indoor climbing gyms: The Front Climbing Club (1470 S. 400 West), Salt Lake Bouldering Project (660 S. 440 West) and Momentum Indoor Climbing (3173 E. 3300 South).