Wasatch Crest Trail
Ask Salt Lake City mountain bikers what their favorite trail is and they will respond, emphatically, the Wasatch Crest Trail, for it is the premier mountain biking trail in the Wasatch Range. Along the Crest Trail, you'll climb through sun-dappled woods, cross luxuriant basins, and trace the "Backbone of Utah." There are steep hills to conquer, many miles to log, and tricky sections that require a full repertoire of bike handling skills. But when you're not riveted to the trail, you'll be captivated by the alpine architecture of these majestic mountains. The Wasatch Crest Trail is part of the Great Western Trail, which runs 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico. This 20-mile section (out-and-back) highlights the Great Western's midsection and is well suited for intermediate to advanced cyclists.
The trailhead is found at the end of Mill Creek Canyon's scenic drive on the east side of Salt Lake City, which is a popular destination for picnic goers, recreationists, and tourists. The ride begins on the Big Water Trail, the Wasatch's second most- popular bike trail, with gentle climbing through dense shadow- filled woods. At times the trail-side foliage seems as lush as that of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. After 1.5 miles, leave Big Water and take the Great Western Trail through the upper reaches of Mill Creek Canyon to the ridge-top divide overlooking The Canyons Ski Resort. Here, the route turns south and follows the Wasatch Crest Trail (proper) along the ridge and around the head of the upper Mill Creek basin.
The trail first ducks into aspen groves then emerges at overlooks of the broad, fertile valley surrounding Park City far below. Farther along, alpine bowls scooped out by ancient glaciers drop from beneath the trail. One cups emerald green Lake Desolation in a wooded glove. On the horizon looms the serrated summits lining Big Cottonwood Canyon. Over the next few miles, the Big Cottonwood Ridge draws nearer and grows to a colossal aggregate of ragged crowns overshadowing ice-carved cirques and hanging valleys. Because the Wasatch Crest now hovers at nearly 10,000 feet, the distant peaks do not tower overhead, but are at eye level. As captivating as the scenery is, the thread of dirt beneath your wheels compels you to shift your attention to the immediate vicinity. For miles to come, the Wasatch Crest Trail captures the essence of mountain biking.
Near Scotts Hill, singletrack reverts to a jeep road and the trail leaves the national forest. Solitude and Brighton Ski Areas lie below and across Big Cottonwood Canyon and the entire sky is stuffed with mountains. Turn around here and enjoy the Wasatch Crest Trail from the new and varied perspective. Motorists must pay a fee to drive up Mill Creek Canyon. Bicycles are allowed on upper Mill Creek Canyon trails on even-numbered calender days only.
By Gregg Bromka, author of The Mountain Biker's Guide to Utah.
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