Tooele County, Utah’s largest county, is a place for outdoor adventure with its high, ragged mountains, broad sagebrush-covered basins, desert landscape, and a handful of pioneer towns. A world apart from the populous Wasatch Front, Tooele County (pronounced too-will-uh) provides visitors with less crowds and solitude. There is plenty to do in the county’s outback, including hiking, mountain biking, backroad driving, rock climbing, and fishing. It’s a place for real adventure, the kind that keeps you dreaming of climbing another peak or finding the next perfect campsite. Here are five great Tooele adventures to get you started.
1. Hike the County’s Highest Peak
Reaching the summit of the impressive Deseret Peak, the 11,031-foot county high point, is one of Tooele’s best outdoor adventures. The popular 6.5-mile round-trip hike follows a well-maintained trail through an alpine valley filled with wildflowers, fir trees, and aspen groves. Higher, a section of steep switchbacks leads to a saddle and a blunt ridge that edges above the peak’s sheer northeast face to the rocky summit and expansive views across Skull Valley and the Bonneville Salt Flats to mountain-studded horizons. Deseret Peak, easily approached from a trailhead in South Willow Canyon, is rarely crowded compared to the Wasatch Range to the east and there’s plenty of nearby camping. The peak, lying in Deseret Peak Wilderness Area, is the fourth most prominent peak in Utah with 5,800 feet of prominence.
2. Rock Climb in the Stansbury and Oquirrh Mountains
The wonderful sport climbing areas scattered around Tooele County make it an off-the-beaten-track destination for rock jocks. The Upper and Lower Narrows in South Willow Canyon on the east side of the Stansbury Mountains offer bolted routes on 75-foot limestone cliffs lining a dirt road. The Lower Narrows have a few routes next to a cave, while the Upper Narrows boast a handful of tough clip-ups like The Big Smile and a few easier lines including the classic River’s Edge and Tricks are for Kids. This is an ideal summer destination with perfect limestone, cool weather, and beautiful campsites. Ophir Canyon on the west flank of the Oquirrh Mountains is another great limestone area. The Portwoods Wall above Ophir Canyon Road is the best crag, with lots of moderate routes within five minutes of the road.
3. Hike and Bike on Stansbury Island
Stansbury Island, an 11.5-mile-long island in the Great Salt Lake, dramatically rises north of Interstate 80 above either salt flats or the lake, depending on water levels. The desert island, connected by a road on a causeway to the mainland, offers numerous hiking and mountain biking trails along its edges and over rocky mountains, including the 6,649-foot island high point. Good hiking trails include the 9.4-mile Stansbury Island Trail, the shorter Stansbury Island Interpretative Trail, and a trail to a couple spectacular prehistoric rock art sites. The 4.2-mile Stansbury Island Mountain Bike Trail offers a technical ride through the central mountains, gaining almost 600 feet of elevation. Bikers can also ride all the other island trails, including a long traverse on a bench above the lake. Be prepared for warm temperatures and little shade on the island. Bring lots of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, and enjoy stunning views across the lake to the Wasatch Range.
4. Drive Through the Silver Island Mountains
The 54-mile Silver Island Mountains Back Country Byway circumnavigates a rugged mountain range that towers like an isolated island above the white Bonneville Salt Flats near the Nevada border. The range, lying in sight of Interstate 80, is a remote landscape filled with solitude and raw grandeur. The rough road, requiring a high-clearance vehicle, skirts the perimeter of the mountains, dipping through washes and crossing stony plains. Stop along the track and hike into rocky canyons or climb the 7,242-foot Campbell Peak, the range high point. Drivers need to be prepared for a primitive adventure by bringing extra water, a working jack, and a good spare tire. In case of a breakdown, it’s a long hike back to the highway across a land that receives less than five inches of rain a year. Don’t drive the route after rain as it can get very muddy.
5. Fish in Desert Country
While most of Tooele County is desert country, with broad basins and salt flats, there are also plenty of lakes and streams for anglers to cast a line. The county’s three big reservoirs—Settlement Canyon, Grantsville, and Vernon—are stocked with trout every summer. The mountain creeks also yield plenty of trout. Two of the best areas are South Willow Canyon’s tumbling stream and North and South Willow Lakes tucked below the range crest north of Deseret Peak. Spring-fed Clover Creek east of Johnson Pass in the southern Stansbury Mountains yields good trout fishing as well. For largemouth bass and carp fishing, head over to Horseshoe Springs in Skull Valley. This unique saline wetland offers birdwatching, hiking, and fishing in a pond. The clear water seeps from a year-round 70-degree warm spring.
Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.