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8 Secrets to Sustainable Travel in Park City

By Brian Higgins
April 27, 2023

A vacation to the mountains can often present an enviro-dilemma. You’re probably making the trip because you want to get in touch with nature, do some hiking or skiing and enjoy some cozy mountain town vibes. However, life on the road involves stepping outside our comfort zones, and it’s easy to end up leaving some of our eco-friendly habits back home. 

But the good news is that staying sustainable when you travel is easier than you think, especially in Park City. With lots of eco-friendly businesses, a free bus system and plenty of other ways to keep it green, you can leave this iconic mountain town the way you found it. Just follow these eight tips (number four will SHOCK you) and enjoy the best of Park City in the greenest way possible. You’ll leave with an even smaller footprint than the California Seagull, which is, of course, the state bird of Utah. 

1. Shuttle to Park City

Once you get to Park City, it’s pretty easy to get around without a car, but getting from the Salt Lake City airport to the mountains will definitely require a drive. Unless you enjoy 30-mile walks on the side of the freeway. 

But just because Park City is a 40-minute drive from the SLC airport, doesn’t mean you have to be doing the driving. Park City is accessible by public transit via the PC-SLC Connect Bus, which leaves from Salt Lake Central Station 5 times a day. Depending on where you’re staying, your hotel may also offer an airport shuttle for guests. And during ski season, there are plenty of private shuttle companies that can take you and your squad up to the mountains. If you can find a way to share a shuttle with other visitors or friends, all the better. 

2. Take the bus around Park City

It might sound intimidating to go on a trip without a rental car, but if you’re planning to stay in Park City it’ll be surprisingly easy. Even if you have a rental car, you can feel comfortable leaving it parked at the hotel while you explore town thanks to Park City’s free bus system. Not only can you catch a bus to downtown Park City or the ski resort from just about anywhere, you can also relax knowing that this bus fleet is just like everybody’s favorite 1976 line dance — it’s electric! 

Well, at least partially electric — 13 of the 50 buses in the fleet are zero-emission electric buses. That might not sound like too much, but these buses are used on some of the busiest routes to increase their eco-friendly impact. And if you don’t think your location fits in with the bus routes, you can utilize PC’s new microtransit system to catch a free ride to the nearest bus stop. That’s right, Park City wants you to take the bus so bad, they’ll even drive you to it. Cities across the country are advised to step their game up. 

3. Bike around Park City

If you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to take advantage of the e-bikes stationed all around town. A vast system of trails and bike paths will help you get around, so now matter where you’re staying you’ll be able to find a fun and safe route to your destination. And since the e-bikes feature pedal assistance, that “fun” and “safe” route doesn’t have to also be “sweat drenching.”

If you’re in town for a bike trip, or you have quads sturdier than the silver they once mined in town, you can take those same bike paths with a regular bike. There are plenty of places in town to rent bikes of all kinds, so you can enjoy your daily travels and adventures alike without revving a single engine. Please note: it’s illegal in Park City for riders to use an e-bike on mountain biking trails (with some exceptions), and it’s basically illegal to pass an e-biker on your regular bike without bragging about it.

4. Pick up some sustainable souvenirs

With a week of hiking, biking or skiing at altitude ahead of you, it can be tempting to just grab a few cases of bottled water at the grocery store and call it a day. After all, it’s easy to understand if you A) left your well-stickered water bottle at home for fear of losing it at the airport, or B) already lost it at the airport.

Well, the good news is, there are plenty of spots in town to pick up a reusable bottle that can double as a souvenir. You can stay hydrated without creating excess waste, and let everyone back home know that “Utah Rocks.” Or, increase your hydration dedication by visiting a local outdoor shop and grabbing a hydration bladder for your backpack. You’ll be able to hike all day and probably never have to refill, or at the very least, never have to use those annoying “hands” of yours.

This sustainable souvenir strategy also works for your daily shopping trips. Grab a reusable bag for your grocery store visits and/or lavish Main Street shopping montages, and let everyone at your local supermarket know that you “Hiked It and Liked It in Park City.”

5. Visit eco-friendly businesses

So far, every action on this list is something you can control yourself, but when you’re staying at a hotel, visiting local bars and restaurants and exploring all over, there are lots of things you can’t control. Right?

Yes and no. You can’t make businesses be eco-friendly (unless you’re part of Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang), but you can do a bit of research to ensure that you’re patronizing the local companies that do right by the planet. And in Park City, that still leaves you with a lot of options.

With over 100 participating members, Park City’s Green Business Program is an initiative that seeks to recognize businesses that demonstrate sustainable actions in five categories: energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable materials management, transportation and equity. One quick look at the list of participants tells you that it’ll be easy to grab a bite to eat, enjoy some entertainment or go on an adventure without compromising in the slightest. 

6. Seek out eco-friendly accommodations

You’ll also see a few hotels on Park City’s list of sustainable businesses, and while some of them are pretty pricey, there are plenty of affordable options, and plenty of ways to make your stay as sustainable as possible.

For instance, if you’re not sure about a hotel’s recycling and waste policies you can always check its website or call to ask. You can ask if they have a recycling program, where you can recycle in the building and if they compost their discarded food waste. The same goes for a rental property. The owner might list their recycling and composting policies on their listing page, but don’t be afraid to reach out with questions. If their rental does have a composting area, be sure to ask about what you can or cannot compost.

If your accommodations don’t have an easily accessible recycling area, the good news is that Park City makes it easy for its residents to properly dispose of their recyclable materials. The Recycle Utah Center is located just off Main Street, so you can easily drop off the day or week’s load of recyclables on your way into town for dinner. And if you have any leftover non-perishable groceries at the end of your trip, there are plenty of food pantries in town that will happily accept your donations.

7. Practice Proper Outdoor Etiquette

When biking or hiking in Park City there are several ways to ensure that you’re leaving the local environment the same way you found it. You can start before you’re even hiking by taking the free bus to your trailhead. There are plenty of hikes just outside of town that are easy to get to without a car. Be sure to also check trail and weather conditions beforehand to make sure you won’t end up straining local rescue resources (and having a bad time while you’re at it). And once you’re on the trail? Stay on the trail. You don’t want to damage the flora surrounding the trail, so forget Robert Frost and take the path most traveled. 

The only exception is when you need to yield to other hikers or bikers, and in that case you should only step as far off the trail as you need to. A few notes on when to yield: bikers and hikers always yield to horses, bikers always yield to hikers, and downhill travelers always yield to uphill travelers. Horses, bikes and hikers should all yield to horses on bicycles, because that’s seriously impressive. 

Another way you can stay sustainable on the trail is to download your hiking maps instead of bringing paper copies. This helps prevent excess waste, and downloading ahead of your trip also keeps you prepared in case you lose service on the trail. The worst time to search for directions is when there are none to be found, so plan ahead.

And of course, if you’re hiking with a four-legged friend (or a particularly free-wheeling buddy) remember to bring bags to pack out their poo. Your dog will likely have to be on leash for most trails, as you don’t want them interacting with any large wildlife you may find, but there are a few areas in town with plenty of space for your pooch to roam off leash. Run-A-Muck park and the Round Valley Trail System are two local favorites! 

Lastly, be sure to leave everything you encounter on the trail the way you found it. That means not adding any extra waste, of course, but it also means not changing anything about the natural environments you come across. For instance, you should never carve anything into a tree or paint on a rock. Not only does this leave an ugly mark on an otherwise pristine scene, but in the case of trees, it could leave them open to infection. Tree bark works the same as skin, and you probably wouldn’t want someone carving into your skin and possibly infecting you just to declare that “Jim and Kate = Forever.”

8. Keep food in containers when hiking or camping

An important part of keeping Park City and the surrounding areas the way you found it is the way in which you interact with wildlife. For the sake of both hikers and animals, it’s best to keep animals away from trails and other well traveled areas.

One way you can help in this regard is to never spill food or crumbs onto the trail. A little food here and there might not be a big issue, but if everyone leaves food on the trail, animals will start to return there for food. Reducing close encounters between humans and wildlife in Park City is beneficial for both parties, and helps keep the trails safe and fun for everyone.

So keep food in well sealed bags or containers, be careful not to spill crumbs and always pack out waste. And packing it out means packing out everything. Even the food waste you think might be fine to discard, like fruit peels, can take years to break down or bring animals close to the trail.

Being responsible with your food is probably most important when camping overnight. Black bears are strongly drawn to the scent of food, and even though they’re less aggressive than their grizzly cousins, it’s best to avoid confrontations with bears at all costs.

When camping in Park City (or anywhere for that matter), keep your site as clean as possible. Don’t leave any food sitting out, and be sure to wipe down any surfaces that may have come in contact with food, like grills, picnic tables, stoves and plates. If you’re car camping, keep any food in your car rather than a tent. If you’re backpacking, see if your site has a bear-safe container, and hang your food as high as possible off the ground if not. Even though bears would be happy to have a go at your food, they probably wouldn’t be as happy to be startled by a group of campers. Campers who certainly wouldn’t be of the happy variety for that matter.

Because our bear friends love Park City just as much as the rest of us, and they love it just the way it is. And just like another famous bear urges you to prevent forest fires, Parky the Park City Bear (who we just made up) urges you to be as green as possible during your visit. By taking even a few of these small actions, you can ensure that you’ve made as little impact as possible on this incredible town and landscape.