Salt Lake City has lovely parks, many of which have facilities for recreation. The U.S. Forest Service manages Mill Creek and Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (entrance at Wasatch Blvd. and Mill Creek Rd., 3800 South) as part of the Wasatch National Forest. Located just east of the city, these canyons provide easy access to hiking and biking trail systems and to popular fishing streams.
For more information, visit Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Recreation in the REI store (3285 East 3300 South, 801/466-6411). For information about the city's park system, contact the Parks and Recreation office (801/972-7800 or www.slcgov.com/whattodo); for county park information, call 801/468-2560 (www.recreation.slco.org).
City Creek Canyon
In the city itself, a pleasant and relaxing route for a stroll or a jog follows City Creek Canyon, a shady, stream-filled ravine just east of the State Capitol. The road that runs up the canyon extends more than five miles from its beginnings at Memory Grove, just northeast of the intersection of East North Temple Street and State Street, to Rotary Park at the top of the canyon.
Since pioneer days, people have obtained precious water from City Creek and enjoyed the diverse vegetation, wildlife, and scenery. Because City Creek is still part of the city's water supply, regulations limit dogs, horses, and overnight camping.
Hikers and joggers may travel on the road every day. In summer (Memorial Day-Sept. 30), bicyclists may enter only on odd-numbered days. Motorized vehicles are allowed on holidays and on even-numbered days during summer; a gate at the bottom controls entry. No motorized vehicles are allowed the rest of the year, but bicycles can use the road daily, weather permitting. A $3 charge applies if you drive through to the trailhead at the upper end (no reservation needed).
The entrance to City Creek Canyon is reached via Bonneville Boulevard, a one-way road. From downtown Salt Lake City, head east on North Temple Street, which becomes Second Avenue after crossing State Street, then turn left (north) and go 1.3 miles on B Street (which becomes Bonneville Boulevard after 11th Avenue), to City Creek Canyon Road. Returning from the canyon, you have to turn right on Bonneville Boulevard to the state capitol. Bicyclists and joggers may approach City Creek Canyon from either direction.
A popular hiking destination from the trailhead at road's end (elev. 6,050 feet) is City Creek Meadows, four miles away and 2,000 feet higher. After 1.5 miles, you'll pass Cottonwood Gulch on the left; a side trail leads up the gulch to an old mining area. After another half mile on the main trail, a spring off to the right in a small meadow is the last reliable source of drinking water. During the next mile, the trail grows steeper and winds through aspen groves and then passes two shallow ponds. The trail becomes indistinct here, but you can continue one mile northeast to the meadows (elev. 8,000 feet); a topo map and compass help. For splendid views of the Wasatch Range, climb north one-half mile from the meadows up the ridge to where Davis, Salt Lake, and Morgan Counties meet. Hikers also enjoy shorter strolls from the trailhead along the gentle lower section of trail.
The big attraction for many visitors is a stop at one of the picnic areas along the road. Picnickers can reserve sites by calling 801/483-6705. Sites are sometimes available on a first-come, first-served basis (midweek is best). Picnic permits cost $3 and up depending on the size of the group.
Mill Creek Canyon
Great mountain biking, plentiful picnic areas, and many hiking possibilities lie along Mill Creek, just outside Salt Lake City. You can bring your dog along, too—this is one of the few canyons where pets are welcome. In fact, odd-numbered days are designated "leash-free" days in Mill Creek Canyon. However, these off-leash regulations are fiercely contested and may change. Obey the posted regulations when you begin your hike. Bicycles are allowed in Mill Creek Canyon only on even-numbered days—days when dogs must be leashed.
Salt Lake Overlook on Desolation Trail is a good hiking destination for families. The trail climbs 1,200 feet in two miles for views of the Salt Lake Valley. Begin from the lower end of Box Elder Picnic Area (elev. 5,760 feet) on the south side of the road. Energetic hikers can continue on Desolation Trail beyond the overlook to higher country near the timberline and go all the way to Desolation Lake (19 miles). The trail runs near the ridgeline separating Mill and Big Cottonwood Canyons, connecting with many trails from both canyons. Much of this high country lies in the Mount Olympus Wilderness. See the Mt. Aire and Park City West 7.5-minute topo maps.
Alexander Basin Trail winds to a beautiful wooded glacial bowl below Gobblers Knob; the trailhead (elev. 7,080 feet) is on the south side of the road, eight miles up Mill Creek Canyon, 0.8 mile beyond Clover Springs Picnic Area. The moderately difficult trail begins by paralleling the road northwest for a few hundred feet, then turns southwest and switchbacks one mile to the beginning of Alexander Basin (elev. 8,400 feet). The trail to Bowman and Porter Forks turns right here, but continue straight one-half mile for the meadows of the upper basin (elev. 9,000 feet). The limestone rock here contains many fossils, mostly shellfish. From the basin it's possible to rock-scramble to the summit of Gobblers Knob (elev. 10,246 feet). (The name comes from an attempt by mine owners to raise turkeys after their ore played out; the venture ended when bobcats ate all the birds.) See the Mt. Aire 7.5-minute topo map.
Bikers should follow Alexander Basin Trail to the end of the Mill Creek Canyon road, then set out on the Big Water Trail. The Great Western Trail (a 3,000-mile ridgetop trail, stretching from Canada to Mexico) intersects Big Water at 1.5 miles. Bikers can turn off of Big Water and follow the Great Western Trail to the ridgetop divide overlooking the Canyons Ski Resort. Here, the route turns south and follows the Wasatch Crest Trail along the ridge and around the head of the upper Mill Creek basin. To avoid conflicts with hikers, Big Water, Little Water, and the Great Western Trail are closed to mountain bikes on odd-numbered calendar days.
Picnic sites are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis; most lack water. The first one, Church Fork Picnic Area, is three miles in at an elevation of 5,700 feet; Big Water Picnic Area is the last, 8.8 miles up at an elevation of 7,500 feet. A $2.25 per vehicle usage fee is charged in Mill Creek Canyon.
There are abundant reasons to spend time at Liberty Park (southeast of downtown, bordered by 900 and 1300 South and by 500 and 700 East, 801/538-2062), including the Tracy Aviary, the children's play area, and the acres of shade and lawn. The park also affords plenty of opportunity for recreation. The tennis center on the western side offers 16 lighted courts. The outdoor swimming pool adjacent to the tennis center is open in summer. During the sweltering Salt Lake summer, the shady boulevards provide a cool environment for jogging. You'll find horseshoe pits to the north of the park's historic Chase House.
Red Butte Garden
The four miles of trails outside Red Butte Garden (300 Wakara Way, 801/581-4747, www.redbuttegarden.org, open year-round with irregular hours and days, $6 adults, $4 seniors and children 3-17, free access to hiking trails in the natural area), east of the University of Utah, are a quiet place for a walk or a jog. The hiking trails wind through wildflower meadows and past old sandstone quarries. You don't need to pay the admission to the gardens proper to hike the trails.
Mormon pioneers manufactured beet sugar at Sugarhouse Park (1300 East 2100 South, 801/467-1721), on the southeast edge of Salt Lake City, beginning in 1851; the venture later proved unprofitable and was abandoned. Today, expanses of rolling grassland in the 113-acre park are ideal for picnics, strolling, and jogging. The park has a playground and fields for baseball, soccer, and football. In winter, the hills provide good sledding and tubing. A lake attracts seagulls and other birds for bird-watching. Sweet smells rise from the Memorial Rose Garden in the northeast corner.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition