Co-existing – A Modern Western City and Its Surroundings

Posted On
Apr 08, 2010
Northern Utah

By Ben Dobbs


Photos Monique Beeley


There are few urban areas that have such a proximity to wilderness; to mountains and  forest-lined slopes; to wildlife (deer, moose, cougars, black bears and more); and to hiking and biking trails that lead into this majestic beauty - where the landscape  literally spills over into neighborhoods less than a mile from downtown high rise buildings. This is urban Salt Lake City. One can drive through its bustling downtown amidst tall buildings, turn up the street leading to the Utah State Capitol, park your car and walk or bike into a beautiful mountain canyon only ten minutes away.


It's no surprise that Salt Lake City topped the list of "The Fittest Cities in America" in a recent edition of Men's Fitness Magazine. This distinction was bestowed due to the abundance of park space, athletically motivated residents and below average obesity rates. Among numerous other physical activities, Salt Lake citizens rank the highest in participation for hiking and 23% less than average in television viewing. With the proximity to places like City Creek and Millcreek Canyons, it's no wonder they're the fittest.


The hiking and biking here is world class, the scenery awesome and chances to spot wildlife excellent.  City Creek Canyon is no more than a mile or two from downtown, but after seeing your third or fourth deer on the slopes above you'll feel worlds away from urbanity. Millcreek Canyon is a short 15 or 20 minute drive from city center and boasts one of the best trail networks for hiking and biking in northern Utah. lists several of the Millcreek Canyon trails as "Must Ride Classics" for good reason.


Before enjoying these wonderful and beautiful retreats from the city, one should know certain restrictions. Hikers and bikers are generally share the resource in harmony, but not always. To prevent conflicts, mountain bikes are restricted from the upper Millcreek Canyon trails on odd numbered days and from all of City Creek Canyon on even numbered days. These rules are in place to guarantee hikers a more serene and quiet experience on certain days. Cyclists can ride the road in Millcreek any day and the lower trails, such as the popular Pipeline Trail, are always open to mountain biking as well. Nearby Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Canyons prohibit dogs altogether, but hikers are free to bring their pets to both City Creek and Millcreek Canyons, leashed at all times.


City Creek Canyon


For Salt Lake City residents and visitors seeking a peaceful stroll or bike ride away from urban hustle and bustle, City Creek Canyon is a gem. The tree-lined entrance to City Creek beckons hikers onto its blacktop path and up a pleasant, shaded canyon. The free-flowing creek serenades the visitor with waters cascading gently downward toward the city below. For the first two miles up the canyon the creek is the hiker's constant companion. This is a quiet, gentle, and relatively easy stroll or bike ride. Watch for the dirt trail leading into the scrub oak to the left as you walk up the path - a good alternative to walking on the blacktop that usually provides a greater degree of solitude. Surrounding trees provide a shaded canopy.


Along the blacktop path, there are picnic tables located every half mile or so that can be reserved through the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities.  Restrooms are along the way. With its amenities and proximity to downtown, one might assume that this canyon would be a place unlikely to find solitude or beauty. That assumption would be incorrect. Of course, the canyon can be bustling on weekends and holidays, but the majority of the traffic clears up after the first couple of miles where the views are expansive and peaks of the inner Wasatch Range become visible. And, if you're lucky, wildlife such as deer, moose, elk, badger, and cougar can be observed in their natural habitat.


A local's tip: If you want more challenging hike or mountain bike ride, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail can be accessed from a pond near the start of City Creek Canyon. The BST provides a steep, winding dirt singletrack, technical rocky stretches and beautiful valley views.


Millcreek Canyon


More of the same spectacular scenery, excellent hiking and biking and abundant wildlife make Millcreek Canyon a local favorite. Many of the trails in Millcreek are open to hiking and horseback riding only. But the trails that do allow mountain biking in Millcreek offer some of the finest rides in northern Utah. The mountains that carve Millcreek Canyon are steep, dramatic and truly beautiful, but don't let that intimidate you. There are trails suitable for those just interested in getting some fresh mountain air with an easy walk in the woods, or all the way up to extreme backpacking treks, and just about everything in between.


There is a $3.00 per vehicle fee to use the canyon (hint: to avoid the fee, park your car before the fee station and ride your bike up, as cyclists are not charged).   Or, you may choose to stop shortly after the fee station and begin the hike or bike up Rattlesnake Gulch to the Pipeline Trail.  Your choice may depend on what time of the year you are there. In the middle of the summer, when temperatures are hovering around 100 degrees, it may be wise to pass up this trail and continue up the road to one of the trails past the gate, located just after the picturesque Millcreek Inn.


While all of these trails are beautiful (and tough to recommend one over another), the Dog Lake hike is a family favorite. This is an alpine hike through pine forests and beautiful wildflowers. The destination is a high alpine lake surrounded by soaring peaks reflecting in the placid, clear waters. If you're hiking or biking in the spring before the gate is open due to the heavy winter snows, or you just want a nice, easy walk or bike try the Pipeline Trail. It's a relatively flat walk, but again, some of the views from this trail are jaw dropping.


So if you're visiting Utah's beautiful capitol city on business or pleasure, take a bit of time away from urbanity for some nearby solitude in its backyard canyons.




Hiking, Mountain Biking, Road Cycling, SLC, Wildlife