Salt Lakers are lucky to have the easy mountain access that so many enjoy. The valley's seven main canyons are just a short drive away, and each offers trails every way you turn. One could spend a lifetime exploring this small area from the Capitol to the Point of the Mountain and feel that you've seen almost everything the Wasatch has to offer—but, in truth, this grand range of the central Rocky Mountains stretches 250 miles from the Bear River in southeastern Idaho to Mount Nebo south of Provo. And every piece of it is worth exploring.
Forays beyond Salt Lake Valley's canyons and shoreline trails are surprisingly easy. In early February, I set out on a post-work hike that took me to a trail on the north side of the North Salt Lake refineries: the Mueller Park Trail in Bountiful. In the same amount of time that it takes me to drive from Sugar House to the top of Mill Creek Canyon, I arrived at the trailhead; an hour and a half later, I returned home just as quickly, despite rush-hour traffic. Though the parking area next to the trail only made room for a half-dozen vehicles, I was relieved to find that, unlike in Mill Creek, here I didn't have to fight for a space.
That's not to say I was the only one hiking that day. At the same time I hit the trail on foot with my dogs, an older man with an even older dog set out on cross-country skis (I wouldn't recommend skiing the trail unless you like narrow, steep, slick cross-country tracks; we easily stayed ahead of him the entire time). Around the first bend, I noticed a group of teenage skaters 50 yards up a steep side ravine enjoying the snow in a way totally new to me: hitting small jumps on their skate decks (the wheels, I guess, they'd left at home).
Over the course of those 90 minutes I spent on the trail, I was passed by a couple of joggers, two walkers with a pack of very vocal dogs and a man on a fat bike—a relatively peaceful hike, considering the crowds one must sometimes navigate through on trails around Salt Lake City. Without the distraction of people around me, I soon found my mind wandering. What was I going to eat for dinner? And why do people ride fat bikes? Biking on snow in the winter is a phenomenon totally beyond me. It's like eating a watermelon in January: There is a time and a place for watermelon, and that time is summertime. And there is a time and a place for biking, like spring, summer and fall. But winter is for skis, and sometimes walking, but not walking with snowshoes, unless you absolutely need them.
As I was trying to conceive of why anyone would wear snowshoes on a hard-packed trail, where there's no real chance of falling through the snow and thus no need for equipment designed to keep you from sinking in powder—I see this all the time in Mill Creek, and it drives me crazy—I came upon a bend in the trail and stopped in my tracks. The view was breathtaking. Since there were no leaves on the mountain maple and scrub oak, I had an unobscured view of the valley below and to the West. Just beyond the narrow swath of city, a dull metallic strip of development, I could see a patchwork of soft browns and icy blues, the wetland marshes of the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. Beyond that glowed the Great Salt Lake. It stretched out placid and unbroken, its mirror surface reflecting the brilliance of the setting sun. And then, even farther west, a long strand of purple mountains perfectly girded the lake's distant shore. It was a view worth hiking for—and, I decided, gauging the light left in the day, the right place to turn back.
But before I turned down trail, I promised myself I would return. After all, I hadn't even reached the trail's most popular feature, Elephant Rock, at Mile Marker 3, or even come close to the end of the 13-mile Mueller Park Trail somewhere high in the wild Wasatch pines. CW