September 20, 2020

Top Five Trail Running Spots in the Wasatch

This picture is looking north/northeast at one of the running trails at Utah Olympic Park on the Wasatch Back.  The trail gradient here is very conducive for trail running as its not too steep nor too flat
One of the running trails at Utah Olympic Park

While the Wasatch Mountains have many great hiking trails, sometimes you want to take a break from pounding the pavement while still training for that marathon that you have been targeting, or you just want to add some adventure to your normal exercise routine.  Thankfully, there are also many great trail running options in the Salt Lake and Park City area.  This list not only showcases some great trails for a run but also has the variety to appeal to anyone regardless of ability level, along with great views to match. Additionally, these trails are all very accessible with even the farthest one being less than an hour from downtown Salt Lake City.

Several of these trail runs could also serve as a prelude to some incredible stargazing after you have finished allowing for a two-part adventure

Trail running will likely make you pretty hungry afterward, so be sure to check here for some of the best restaurants that the area has to offer

Big Water Trailhead

~20 Minutes East of Salt Lake City

This is Big Water Trailhead which in the summer is the end of the road up Millcreek Canyon just east of Salt Lake City.  This is a great location for trail running due to the great views and the smoothness of the trail.
The start of the trail at Big Water Trailhead

At the end of the Millcreek Canyon road, about 20-25 min from the mouth of Millcreek Canyon and the eastern part of the Salt Lake Valley, you will find the Big Water Trailhead.  It can be easy to miss as the upper part of the road is pretty narrow and can get dozens of feet of snow in the winter.  However, in the summer and fall, it is well worth the drive.  Immediately when you start on the trail, you are surrounded by mountains on all sides that are covered in dense foliage.  It works its way farther up the canyon, crossing some streams(via bridges) and passing through alpine meadows before reaching the top of the pass where there are beautiful views of Canyons ski resort and Park City. At this point, you could descend down into Park City, or turn right and continue running along the ridge before getting on a connector trail to loop back, or you could turn around and head directly back to where you started.  In addition to the fantastic views, the altitude and the large amounts of shade on this trail means that the temperature could be up to 15-20 degrees cooler than in Salt Lake City.  This trail is on the more difficult end of the spectrum compared to some of the other trails on this list, but it is very rewarding.    

Mill Creek Pipeline Trail

~10 Minutes East of Salt Lake City

This is a trail leading up the hill from one of the many access point for the Pipeline Trail in Millcreek Canyon just east of Salt Lake City.  Once you ascend a short way up to the main trail the flat terrain is perfect for trail running while providing for some spectacular views.
One of the many access points to the Pipeline Trail

Another trail running highlight in Millcreek Canyon is the Pipeline trail.  One of the main benefits of this trail is that its length and multiple access points mean that there are a lot of opportunities for variety and customization.  Most access points require a short but moderately strenuous climb from the parking lot to the trail, but from there, it is mostly flat as it runs along the contours of the mountainside.  Especially on the lower part of the trail, you are also treated to spectacular views as you run far above the road up the canyon with a sweeping view in three directions(up, across, and down the canyon).  If you run far enough west on the trail, you will come to the lookout where you will have a full view of the Salt Lake Valley.  If you run far enough in the other direction, you will be able to continue with the incredible views while eventually coming out to another trailhead with two different options for continuing your run, albeit with a little more climbing than before.  This trail is also an excellent option for winter running as its south-facing slope ensures that it remains relatively dry year-round.

Round Valley

~5 Minutes East of Park City

Looking west with a great view of Park City Mountain and the Wasatch Back from one of the trails at the Round Valley trail system.  This is a great place for trail running due to its well-maintained trails and variety of terrain.
Even on a cloudy day you can get a good view of the Wasatch Back and Park City Mountain from the Round Valley trails

On the outskirts of Park City and next to the US Ski Team’s Headquarters is the Round Valley trail system.  This is different from the other places on this list as it is not in the mountains, and instead, it consists of a collection of large hills and the valleys in between and offers over 30 miles of trails while providing a great view of the Wasatch Back.  As a result, and unlike the other places on this list, the biome here is more of a high desert, providing a nice change of scenery.  The best thing about Round Valley is the diversity that it offers both in terms of terrain and trail type.  This diversity of terrain makes it perfect for a trail run as you can make it as hard or as easy as you want by sticking to the flatter terrain or taking one of the trails that head up one of the larger hills to add a little more to your workout.  The trail system consists of trails that are wide enough for a car to drive on them and narrower trails(just make sure to watch out for mountain bikers).  If you decide to head up to one of the higher points on the trail, you will find a great view of Park City Mountain Resort and the Wasatch Back.  Whichever trail you decide to take, you can be sure to have a small adventure while you are out. Just make sure to bring some sunscreen as the desert foliage does not provide a lot of shade.

Utah Olympic Park

~10 minutes from Park City or 25 minutes from Salt Lake City

Looking south on one of the trails at Utah Olympic Park situated on the Wasatch Back between Salt Lake and Park City with a great view of the Olympic Ski Jumps.  The grade here is perfect for trail running while providing variety as the trails run both above and below the ski jumps.
The lower portion of the trails have a great view of the Olympic ski jumps

Overlooking Kimball Junction in between Park City and Salt Lake City lies the Utah Olympic Park.  This location is aptly named as it sits at the base of the ski jumps and bobsled track that were used for the 2002 Winter Olympics.  However, despite its winter sports reputation, it is also a popular location for summer activities such as trail running.  From the base of the ski jumps, there are several directions you can go.  You could take the trail going up where you will work your way up the mountain that the jumps are built into on a well-maintained single-track trail that makes liberal use of switchbacks to minimize the grade of the trail.  This trail will eventually either take you into one of Park City’s hillside communities or to the top of the bobsled track.  There is another trail that can take you back down to the base where you started. If you are feeling ambitious, you can continue working your way up the mountain to the top where you have the option to connect to a trail that crisscrosses the slopes of Canyons Ski Resort or head back down to your car.  For a less hilly adventure, you can cross the road and head down from the ski jumps to another set of trails that, although less expansive, provides a nice loop along with large amounts of shade provided by the abundant birch trees.  This area is also popular with mountain bikers so make sure to keep a lookout.

Wasatch Crest Trail

~45 Minutes from Salt Lake City or ~20 minutes from Park City

Looking west toward Salt Lake City and Lake Desolation on the Crest Trail.  This is one of the best spots for trail running due to the incredible views and rolling terrain.
A great view from the trail overlooking Lake Desolation

The Wasatch Crest Trail, just as its name describes, sits along a ridge at the top of a ridge separating Big Cottonwood Canyon and the Wasatch Back/Park City area. As a result, the trail has a nice rolling terrain coupled with amazing views which makes it an ideal location for trail running.  While there are several access points to this trail, the best and the most accessible access point lies at the top of Guardsman Pass. However, the multiple access points create a lot of flexibility, meaning that you can make it as easy or as hard as you want.  This trail has some of the most scenic spots in the Wasatch as even at the parking lot, not to mention the top of the ridge, you will be greeted by incredible views of both Big Cottonwood Canyon and the Park City area.  This view might take your breath away in more ways than one as you will be at an elevation between 9,000 and 10,000 feet.  Starting from at this point on the trail, it runs through rolling terrain going in the general direction back towards Salt Lake City.  Given that the trail continues for a long way, only the most ambitious would want to go all the way to the end and back.  Thankfully there are some great destinations along the way that make for a perfect turnaround point.  A highlight of the trail is about six miles in, where you will come to an area with a gorgeous view overlooking an alpine lake called Lake Desolation.  At this point, you can turn around and take the trail back and enjoy the views all over again. 

Trail Running Gear Information

If you are looking for some new trail running shoes, REI always has a great selection and a knowledgeable staff

Additionally, it is is important to have the right clothes when you are outside for extended periods of time so for some good information about trail running gear click here

Note: All of the photos in this post with the great views were taken by the author, Brandon Brewster

Seven Slopes

Seven Slopes in a local's guide to what to do in Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Mountains.  The articles on this site were written by students from the University of Utah as part of a digital marketing curriculum.
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